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The current installment of the COEC began meeting in 2007.

We are currently on a "break," for no particular reason, and many little reasons - mostly pertaining to life circumstances. If anyone is interested in calling a meeting, feel free to post on the blog, join the google group (see link below) and send an email, or contact either Nancy (nancykj10@yahoo.com) or Jesse (schroeder.jesse@gmail.com) for more information.

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11.15.2009

Definitions....

Here is an interesting post that discusses evangelicalism's obsessions with defining who is "in" and "out." I thought there were some interesting points for those of us who have come "out of" evangelicalism, and also now struggle with defining what exactly "is" the "emerging/ent church."

It is astonishing that so many intelligent Christians seem to believe there is a deficit in emphasis on evangelism and scriptural literalism, and that, if the hatches are just battened down on a more solid “worldview,” evangelicalism can resume explaining the universe to new generations of believers. In this respect, evangelicalism’s true believers resemble the faction of the Republican Party that asserts with a straight face that returning to “core principles,” and not a radical restructuring of priorities, will bring waves of Americans back to the right wing.

But so many twenty-somethings are not calling themselves “post-evangelical” because they know too little theology or have put too small an effort into synthesizing it with reality. They have come from the most apologetics-obsessed generation of Christians in American history, and have realized that many of their prepared answers are for questions that no one is asking. Adrift in the cultural sea, many turned to traditions and theological systems of the past, only to find those similarly unequipped to address the questions of our time. The only choice has been to begin the messy and at times overwhelming process of drafting something new.

The growing collection of post-evangelicals is what the defensive, definitional evangelical fears the most, and could by itself explain the recent obsession with protecting the label. Surely many of the intelligent professors, students, writers and bloggers rushing to its defense have also felt the naggings of cognitive dissonance and the inkling that the world might make more sense if they abandoned some of their cultural presuppositions. But haggling over the details of theology provides a psuedo-intellectual haven from real-world questions, where evangelicals can exercise their minds without coming to any unsettling conclusions. And thus the cycle of definition and redefinition continues, providing endless diversion as it cuts deeper and deeper ruts into what was once known as the Christian dialogue.

Refusing to align squarely with evangelical shibboleths requires courage, but the sooner it happens on a larger scale the better. All signs point to a near future where religion will play an increasingly climactic role in global culture and politics. Men and women who, as Mark Noll puts it in the final pages of The Evangelical Scandal, “think like a Christian”—by which he means “take seriously the sovereignty of God over the world he created”—should be leading the way on the meta questions that are already besieging society. But as long as they are busy drafting manifestos in their barricaded salons, hubristic rationalism will continue charging unchecked into the 21st century.

22 comments:

Chris said...

Another quote from the article.

"Some evangelical denominations have kept a firmer grasp on their senses than others, but the broad sweep of American Christianity is hopelessly fractured, diluted, politicized, ideological, nationalistic, and often plain idiotic."

Wow. Now there's a gracious, loving call to conversation if ever I heard one. This opinion piece was about as shrill and strident as anything you could see or hear on FOX news or MSNBC. I'm not offended because I consider myself evangelical. I don't know if I am one or not. Although others might want to categorize me that way. But the bottom line in this editorial is typical of a lot of others I've heard from so-called "progressives". That being; evangelical, traditional, conservative = bad, backward, dullard, nit-wit. Progressive, post-modern, liberal = good, open, thoughtful, etc.
You can talk all day long about how we shouldn't be preoccupied over who's in and who's out, but this kind of "loving, warm-hearted" progressive rant makes the call for inclusiveness, to my mind ring hollow and hypocritical.

Chris said...

Adam,

you said: "There is such a vehement hatred for us among a large percentage of evangelicals that I can't help but sometimes use strong language myself in my defense".

First off, believe it or not, it's my contention that a large percentage of evangelicals still haven't even a clue as to what Emergent is, so I'm quite sure they really don't hate you. I've been checking out a local decent sized, what some would probably call evangelical church lately. I've been asking some of the leadership if they were familiar with the emerging church movement. Blank stares. Even the pastor was kind of like, "Oh yeah, I think I've heard of it", but this was not something that was on the radar screen of most anyone in this congregation. Most people really don't have a lot of time to hang out on the internet and read a ton of books. They're busy taking care of business, visiting shut-ins, helping the needy, and trying to live life in between. I understand that emergents think that their views should be at the forefront of everyone's mind, but it just isn't the case. If you don't get out and interact you start to lose perspective.
I find that when I jump around various discussions and forums, people throw the word "hate" around the way Wyatt Earp draws his gun. It's the trump-card that people like to toss out today when they've run out of arguments. Pretty soon people just talk past each other. This is the same as a person saying that you're going to hell if you disagree with them. It cuts conversation off at the knees. I don't wish to minimize your experience, but this is the language of demonization and we want to be very careful if what we are seeking is dialogue. But I could be wrong. Maybe this isn't what emergents seek.
My preference would be, come, let us reason together. Talk to me.
At some point the arguments have to settle down to where meaningful conversation can take place, otherwise we just hole up in our respective camps, which Jesse suggested was not the intention when he corrected my misunderstanding.
I didn't speak to the merits or faults of any of the particular points of the opinion piece in question (although I surely could have). I just wanted people to be aware of the kind of rhetoric that people say that they disdain in others. I've also been on the receiving end of marginalizing tactics from "progressives" as hard as that is to believe. Being obnoxious doesn't make you wrong, and being soft-spoken doesn't make you right. I've heard some soft spoken individuals say some crazy and even bashing things towards others. I've also heard some loud, shrill people say some things I've agreed with, but wished that they had said it another way or that it was coming from someone else because I knew how it was coming across. But tone and charity in language go a long way towards whether or not we will have dialogue, and whether or not people will listen. It's something I try hard to be aware of. I may not be as successful at it as I'd like to be but it's what I strive towards. I found the comments of the writer of the article to be worse than uncharitable as well as just plain wrong (as well as right) in some areas, and if you are sensitive with regards to harshness of language when it comes to yourself, and if you are sincere about desiring conversation, you ought to be just as sensitive the other way around.

Adam Newby said...

I deleted my post before you replied. Sorry to the readers. I deleted because it was too strong language. Again, I'm just not good at this kind of conversation. Hate is a strong word. And what I should have said is "I FEEL like there is hate." And I react defensively.

Paul Rimmer said...

It has happened the same way dozens of times. A small community, maybe no more than ten, begins to look seriously into the commands of Scripture and the character of the early Church. They pray sincerely for a renewal, a revival, a recovery of this Church they no longer see in the world, and the Holy Spirit inspires them, raining upon them the miraculous graces of God. One of them, often a wanderer from outside the initial community, is granted the chrism of preaching, and becomes a fiery speaker and dogmatic Christian witness, and the rest of the core community begins to work wonders, prophesying, performing miracles, casting out demons, healing body and soul, and spreading the faith like a wild-flame. Spiritual disciplines abound, such as unceasing prayer and frequent fasting. Soon, the community grows to thousands and, like a vibrant sun, spiritually illumines its surroundings, becoming, by any meaningful definition, Church: the shard of that Kingdom of God radically transforming the world around her.

A generation or two passes, and the Church changes substantially. She begins to define herself more rigidly, often because certain messages at variance with the implicit teaching of the core community, certain heresies, begin to grow like weeds within the church. Whether the church be Jesuitical, or acreedal, she adopts a set of beliefs, eventually explicit, defining that boundary beyond which one is excommunicate: no longer one of “us”. Even the oft-spoken sentiment, in restoration movements of yesteryear and emerging movements now, “no creed but Christ” is itself a creed; a statement of what one must believe to be part of this spiritual community. As this definition inevitably occurs, miracles begin to slow, then stop, and healing and prophesy becomes more scarce. Also, insofar as this community retains the Christian creed within her own, she continues to be Church.

The rub is that, from this generation on, the community ossifies, locks its doors, and ceases to enrich the world in the same way; it becomes just another building on the corner of a block, with a small group of families attached to it, until the community shatters over disagreements about “orthodoxy”, or more often orthopraxy. Or it dies of boredom and lethargy, a suicide due to spiritual depression. Or it finds in itself a small group of people, a remnant, and thus is born a new revival.

Paul Rimmer said...

I write this in the style of a prophetic repetition, though the prophesy is not mine. It has happened before, and it will happen again. As new, or messy, or different as the emergent movement may seem right now, it's history is old and repetitive. It is, in a sense, a tired ritual that has been performed at the reformation, the restoration, the fundamentalist movement, and for the first time at Pentecost; it has been the originating principle of the hated parents of the new emergent child. And the emergent child, like so many children, is bitter at her parents until she find out, years later, that she is “just like her mother”. I don't write this as a “less-evangelical-than-thou” Catholic, free from troubles, to my post-evangelical evangelical separated brethren. I write this as one who has seen this trend in his own Church but forty years ago: the second Vatican Council, the strongly spiritual movement, the ossification, and then the divisions and the sort of “counter-reformation” reform-of-the-reform hermeneutic of continuity.

More manifestly in this peculiar age, but extant in all ages, is the desire for relevance and authenticity. The emergent movement is far wiser than most in that it seeks what was there at the first few years of the Church: it genuinely, intelligently searches for the “Pentecost moment”. Only communities that seek that moment survive and thrive throughout the ages, and evolve without these dreaded punctuated equlibria prevalent in so many others. Only these sorts of movements are known by their founder's grandchildren as Church through the ages.

Relevance isn't found in pop songs or statements from the sixties, or books about Orthodoxy from the new millennium. These will be scoffed at by your very children. Lasting relevance and genuine authenticity is found only in some eternal truth expressed in a way both eternal and meaningful in its time and place, for all time and all places.

What is relevant still in the Catholic Church, that I promise will be relevant in a hundred years, as it was a hundred years ago? The immaculate conception and assumption of the Blessed Ever Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Queen of Heaven. The Triune nature of God and total divinity and humanity of Christ Jesus. The transubstantiation at the Mass. Worship in Latin those very prayers sung during the time of the Church Fathers. Cloistered orders of celibate men and women. Papal infallibility. The apostolic succession, and rule by Bishops as Princes of this Church on Earth. The prayers for the dead in purgatory and the prayers of the Saints in Heaven.

These things last. They have withstood the test of time. Some bishops in the 60's, as in tumultuous periods before, have tried to say that the Church is most relevant when she abandons these things and defines herself with the age; all who said this in the 60's are past their 60's, and youth has returned to the grassroots of God's Kingdom, and to these eternal principles I listed above.

This may be just a polemical comment to a polemical post. But this I believe to be true, and without this, I think you will go the same way as main-line Protestants did at the turn of last century, and as Evangelicals are going now; your children will be talking about the emergent movement like you talk about the Republican party: as a nearly-irrelevant establishment in disparate need of serious reform. And they would be right.

The emergent movement is a movement full of hope, full of youth, in the prime of that Pentecostal moment; before the writing on the wall, I encourage you to consider very carefully those eternal principles above, in order to preserve this movement, and more importantly, as the only means to an authentic and relevant Christian life.

Zack said...

I think part of the problem is stereotyping. That we hear people saying "All emergents are like THIS" and so end up speaking back that "All evangelicals are like THIS" and really there are very few people who would fit the description of what we might be thinking when we say evangelical or what they might be thinking when they say emergent.

I have a lot of respect for people who are able to stay within churches they clearly disagree with, and calling them out to answer the difficult questions of the day. However most of the people who I have seen attempt this have been eventually pushed out. So for those of us who have been kicked out or left churches should we try to go back to churches that we know will push us out? Again I have a lot of respect for those who are willing to endure that painful dialog and to search out those pastors who aren't afraid of emergents and are willing to talk, but I've decided to go a different route. To be a part of that messy processes of finding something new. When I discovered the emergent movement I also discovered I might actually be able to like being a Christian, that there might be a better, fuller way of understanding God, and living out Christianity, and that hope of a full free Christianity has made all the difference.

NancyJ said...

I have to admit I too was saddened after reading this article. It seemed unnecessarily harsh.

There is nothing simple or straightforward about coming to terms with the fact that there are questions that cannot be easily answered and beliefs that will no longer hold. I have mourned the loss of my once solid beliefs and have experienced the far-reaching implications of a Bible less than literate.

My heart goes out to anyone who is willing to attempt this path as well as compassion for those who would not choose it at all.

I would offer that those who embark on the road towards God (whether a defensive evangelical or twenty something post-modern) need our empathy, our humility, the absence of judgment and yes absolutely…Courage.

Kyle said...

I agree that the tone of the article was strident and harsh. It is sad that such polarization and accusation occur within the body of Christ. It is one thing to criticize one's own movement from the inside; quite another to throw stones at another movement. I think people sometimes speak of the inevitable collapse of evangelicalism in order to allow themselves to believe that there will in fact come such a day.

That being said, the editors obviously knew they were using provocative and inflammatory language and decided that this was the best way to communicate what they wanted to say. Who are they addressing? Not the self-appointed defenders of evangelical orthodoxy. These leaders have denounced anything emergent from the start. The article does not stop the dialogue because it was never allowed to start.

I agree with the article that focusing so much on determining who is "in" and who is "out" is monumentally foolish. Especially given the fact that one segment of evangelicalism is trying to hijack the term and define it narrowly, confining it to only those who believe as they do. I have to believe they are aware that not all who call themselves evangelical hold these views (inerrancy of scripture, penal substitutionary atonement, etc.). They are re-defining the movement in order to cast another group to the outside. Some go so far as saying a non-evangelical is a non-Christian. Ridiculous and sad.

But it is also sad if the result of the article is to produce greater animosity toward evangelicals. The editors make it clear that they wish evangelicalism would hurry up and go away, but the evangelicals they focus on do not represent all evangelicals (even if it did it would still be inappropriate to demonize them; it would also be spiritually damaging to readers who take up such attitudes). We need to continue to work and pray together.

Many of us became unable to function within evangelicalism. We came to tension and disillusionment on our own. We did not need outside antagonists shouting out its shortcomings. We seek other paths because we cannot walk the one we were on; self-consistency will not allow it.

Others will remain happily on the evangelical path. This is OK. No movement is THE way (not even Catholicism).

Labels suck when they are used to identify in order to slander and disparage.

And someone should have caught the error in the Noll citation. It is The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. What a bunch of stupid, idiotic, %#*#$, #*%&**... (just kidding)

Paul Rimmer said...

I just think, as I said above, that eventually a creed is going to be necessary.

Eventually, any group is going to have to define who is "in" and who is "out", or, I suspect, it will lose its coherence, and break into small groups that define "in" and "out".

It takes time, though. A group shouldn't try to define itself too soon, or it may cut out its very heart. But it shouldn't shy away from defining itself forever, or else it will adopt an implicit set of beliefs, an unspoken creed that becomes a minefield.

Unspoken creeds are often the most dogmatically adhered to, and are far more difficult to understand, to challenge, or to grow from, than spoken creeds.

Adam Newby said...

Paul, your last sentence ("Unspoken creeds are ...") really hits home for me. I grew up in a Christian tradition that had no written creed, no convention, no central authority. Yet there was an unspoken creed that was held to relentlessly. I think this is a wise observation, and it's given me some good things to think about.

At the risk of writing down my preliminary thoughts before really thinking it out. My question (not directly to Paul, just to anyone) is: Does my/our creed have to look what "traditional" Christian creeds generally look like? What if we rethink what a creed should be? I know this isn't much detail. My apologies. I'll try to be more specific in the future.

Jesse said...

I'm thankful for all the discussion - like I said, I thought the article was "interesting."

There has been a lot said that I could jump in on, but the idea of "creeds" reminds me of some previous cohort conversations. I specifically remember over a year ago (at the McLaren 'Everything Must Change' event) we kicked around the idea of a creed or a "covenant" and we agreed that it wasn't necessary, and in fact could be harmful to the group. I also agree with Paul that unspoken/unwritten creeds can be the most harmful, and I also would like to imagine with Adam what a different type of creed might look like, or how it might function differently.

I am thinking of the ideas of Rollins that we have repeated before - orthodoxy vs. orthopraxy. Should a creed be less about what we believe specifically, and more about how we believe. Not believing the right things, but believing in the right way. Thus, it's possible for us to embrace anyone who believes drastically differently, because how we believe does not necessitate separation from those who believe differently.

To clarify: I'm not in any way saying I want to write a creed for our cohort. But I think Paul's point and historical perspective is interesting, valuable, and accurate. So if emergents will end up "writing a creed" (eventually) what might it look like?

This goes back to the initial point of the article, which may have been lost in all the discussion - evangelicals are trying to (re)define themselves, sort of an attempt to "circle the wagons" hoping to gather back the faithful. But the point is that they are failing. Thus, IMO, the need for an evolution of creed-ology.

Scot said...

dang! Ok, if I can get a vacation day from work I'm going to read all these "long" comments and perhaps chime in. Perhaps I'm not "using my time wisely"...wow! I just remembered how that failure was always checked on my report cards in grade school. Like I said before, "dang!".

Kyle said...

Paul, you make good points. Any group or movement has some set of values, beliefs, and definitions, whether implicit or explicit. I would probably rephrase my statement about the foolishness of defining who is in and who is out. It is the way in which this subgroup of evangelicals is trying to redefine the term that is foolish and dishonest. It is more like a hostile takeover than a collaborative definition of shared beliefs.

Also, implicit "creeds" (beliefs, practices, etc.) differ from explicit creeds in that explicit creeds tend to become static litmus tests of inclusion rather than being flexible and adaptable boundaries. Perhaps there is a place for some absolute criteria of inclusion, but a group would have to be very careful about identifying these criteria. There should be room for differences within any community or larger group. Pushing out those who are different (unless they really don't belong) robs the movement of the creative power of multiple viewpoints.

Adam and Jesse, great points about rethinking the nature of creeds. Definitely something to think about.

NancyJ said...

Empty me of hope that I may come and find you
Let doubts chafe so that I may learn trust.
Break my heart so that I would have yours.

Only words until my hope is gone, doubts become relentless and my heart breaks.

Because it is then I find God
Then I learn trust
And then I realize I have a heart more than my own.



I don’t know why this works this way for me.
But allowing this process breathes fire and passion into my words and into my life.
This is what I would hope of a creed.

Jesse said...

[Not to shift the whole discussion to creeds only, b/c there is certainly more here to discuss. Nevertheless....]

We probably all know this, but "creed" comes from a root word meaning "believe" or "belief." I really like what Nancy says, "...breathes fire and passion into my words and into my life." That is the type of "creed" or "belief" I'm looking for.

Or rather, I am trying to believe in such a way that passion and life are the result and product, not the opposite, which is so often the case (perhaps as Paul pointed out with the cycle of churches birthing and dying).

IMO, this would be a new type of creed - one in which the essential purpose is not to limit and define those who are "in" - but rather because it is "life-giving" it would be an ever-expanding, growing fire including more and more people into a life of believing.

Also, I hear in your poem Nancy a type of creed that is more of an admission that I really don't know much, and not so much a list of beliefs in which I am confident.

Mark 9:24 as a starting place?? "Lord I do believe....but I also have lots of unbelief. Help me."

Kyle said...

thanks Nancy

Paul Rimmer said...

Adam,

I think you ask a very important question.

I would, of course, suggest looking at all the old creeds, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, the way they were "said". I would also encourage you to take time considering why they say what they do, and what role they had in the communities that first made them.

I placed "said" in quotes, because traditionally, creeds were sung. They were seen as expressions first of worship, and then of assent. This involves the two different etymologies of "orthodoxy": "right belief" and "right glory".

Accepting an ancient formula for a creed is one way in which diverse communities, from the Nestorians to the Monophysites, from the Orthodox to the Catholics to Anglcians and many others, express a point of unity, not only in the present, but through time, to the age early Church and the apostles.

As a matter of personal taste, I prefer to sing the Creed in Greek or Latin, because it hightens my awareness for the ineffable mystery of Christian faith, as well as the awareness that I am not alone at this time and place, but am connected, by this very statement "Credo: I believe" to all Christians through all ages.

It would, of course, be right to alter the Creed you would be saying, even the form of the creed, to best express what it means to be part of your community. I cannot tell you how this would be done; this is something you would have to determine together, prayerfully.

I realize that I am not part of your community. I wish I could attend your worship and other meetings more often. I would encourage, though, singing the Nicene Creed at one of your meetings, just for the experience of it (and respecting the desire of some to be silent through certain portions about which they disagree or are unsure), and go from there. I would be more than happy to help out with this in any way I'm able.

Paul Rimmer said...

Kyle, I strongly agree with you. It is not wise to write down a creed quickly, without serious time for reflection, something that may take more than one generation. It took over 300 years for the Early Church to decide on a creed. I don't mean to imply that this should be done tomorrow.

An acreedal spirit, though, might risk establishing as much of a litmus as a Tridentine Jesuitical spirit. I remember some lessons I learned attending a Disciples of Christ community. As open and loving as they were, they had a very monolithic community (in most senses of the term), and really could not accept into their community those who did not meet with their unspoken creed. The heretic in question, myself in this case, was often anathematized by a different language, as "closed-minded", "over-ridged", or "obsolete".

I do not fault them for doing this (as I said above, all communities have to, to a degree). But I would wish that they would make their creed explicit, so at least then I know where I stand.

Paul Rimmer said...

An expression of what one doesn't know, I think, also has place in a Creed.

Nancy's inspiring poem provides a beautiful basis for this.

The part of the Creed, best translated "The Father almighty, creator of all things, visible and invisible", I sing this in the light of reason: "creator of all things I do understand, and that I don't". And I dare anyone to say he or she really understands what "consubstantial" means. Cardinal Ratzinger, in his "Introduction to Christianity" talks about that tention all creedal Christians live with, when they profess belief in things they cannot completely understand, mysteries, in an ancient form given by another, in a language not their own.

There is, maybe, an aspect of a creed that involves wrestling. It's not right simply to sing the words, but to question them, to confront them, to combat every alien syllable, every time you sing it. This could not be done in the comfort of my own language and writing, but only in that form which is not mine, nor longer any single person's. It is so totally "other", yet expresses a faith that is so completely my own.

I hold that Creeds are most meaningful when sung.

Adam Newby said...

Paul,
Thanks for your insight. It's always a pleasure when you contribute to the blog. I think we should take up your advice on singing the Nicene Creed.

Jesse said...

Paul - thank you for discussing your love of creeds at length. You bring up many of the points of why I love creeds as well, and I why I feel like they have a hugely valuable role in Christian life - communal and individual. I appreciate your words very much.

I also love the idea of singing the Nicene creed together (in any language) for a component of a worship time.

Paul Rimmer said...

It sounds like there's some real interest. Wonderful.

I have Latin (Gregorian) and English (Byzantine) chants for the Nicene Creed, both of which are pretty easy to follow.

I don't have Greek chant for the Creed, but if people want to say it in the language it was first written, I can go quickly over to the Orthodox Cathedral on High and grab a copy for us. Hopefully, I can also grab a friend to help us sing that version.

I'll try to stop by for a couple minutes this Sunday. You can let me know then what time will work best for you.