Monday, November 15, 2004

The Emergent Mystique Conversation: An Around the Room

The Emergent Mystique Article

The November 2004 Christianity Today had a cover story by Andy Crouch entitled The Emergent Mystique that lead to a good bit of emerging blogosphere comment.

Towards the beginning of his piece CT Columnist Andy Crouch wrote:

Gentlemen, start your hair dryers—not since the Jesus Movement of the early 1970s has a Christian phenomenon been so closely entangled with the self-conscious cutting edge of U.S. culture. Frequently urban, disproportionately young, overwhelmingly white, and very new—few have been in existence for more than five years—a growing number of churches are joining the ranks of the "emerging church."

Crouch emphasizes the degree to which emergers are in harmony with current culture. But he hastens to note that emerging church adventurers such as Rob and Kristen Bell of Mars Hill Church are not merely what some call stage one emergent - accomodating contemporaneous cultural notes to clarify communication. Rather the Bells, and many others with them, are on a journey out of the converting confines of a settled evangelicalism and are looking for "a faith that is colorful enough for their culturally savvy friends, deep enough for mystery, big enough for their own doubts. "

The Bells say that their lifeboat was Brian McLaren's book A New Kind of Christian.

Crouch goes on to sketch some of the thoughtthreads of McLaren's NKOC and the emergers who read it among which are an emphasis on mystery and wonder and a move away from a perceived exclusive focus on private salvation to a concern with the needs of the world.

The Response

Cory Glover was unhappy with the piece:

The author of the feature article completely misses the point, makes frequent generalizations, and even mocks those of us who identify with this "conversation".


And how does a writer for one of the most respected magazines in the Christian subculture get away with stereotyping and identifying emerging people by their hairstyle?


Glover finishes with

I think that the author is expressing a great deal of fear on behalf of his peers. Fear that power might be slipping away. But the truth is (even the author acknowledges this in the article) that the Emerging Church doesn't want the power...that is still a by-product of an outdated system and a place of long-passed cultural dominance. (Though such distinctions probably don't exist) As "they" continue to throw grenades over the fence, "we" will continue to ignore them...

Tony Jones commented on some of the controversy the article precipitated:

In writing, as he does in person, Andy came off as sly, with a twinkle in his eye. However, he did seem to capture, as a journalist, some of the ambivalence within emergent/emerging church (there's one ambivalence right there: which is it?). Is Rob Bell one of us or not? Does the Emergent Convention represent us well or not? Is it a movement or a conversation? Ask 10 people these questions and read 10 blogs, and you'll get 20 answers. So if a journalist walks around and interviews a bunch of us, he's going to hear a lot of dissensus. I think that was one of the major themes that came through in the article."Now I personally think that dissensus is a wonderful thing and we should emphasize it. That difference of opinions is what makes the conversation so fruitful, and the inner critique is only going to make the EC, our books, etc., a lot better. Let's be honest, the EC got a major overhaul for '05 based on some of that inner critique."However, bloggers like ***** **** are already using this article to (once again) say that emergent in the US is merely altered evengelicalism while in the UK it's really an orgasmically great thing. That's sick, and if anything needs to be blogged about by some of us, it's that this was a journalist's view about what we're up to, and as such, it is partly right and partly a misrepresentation. That's what happens in journalism."Some I've talked to on the phone think that Andy tried to marginalize us by making the hair jokes a running gag throughout the piece. I personally think that Andy is an important dialogue partner for us; if when he looks at us he sees more style than substance, then we'd better work harder at making substance our priority (I bet that even Andy knows that the hair jokes were a cheap shot). And CT may want to marginalize us, but I think a lot of organizations would kill for a cover article highlighting their impact.Some have a valid gripe that the piece only profiles one church (Mars Hill (the Grand Rapids variety)) and one author (Brian McLaren), and that neither of these does ministry in an urban context. Now I haven't talked with Andy yet, but I'm sure that he'll acknowledge that the emerging church is more complex than he could possibly report in a 3,000 word piece. Again, maybe the lesson is that we need to emphasize the small, urban church plant as we talk about emergent with others.If we can't all take a deep breath and learn something at a time like this, then we're really screwed.

Andy Crouch then took the time to respond to some of those commenting on the CT piece on Tony Jones' Blog:

Among other comments, Crouch writes:

First, the only thing that really bothers me about people's responses to this article are those who say I'm preoccupied with style over substance. True, that's where the article begins. But a good two-thirds of the article--and the last word--is completely about substance. I give a ton of space to letting Brian, Rob, and Kristen articulate some theological concepts that I take to be central to the emerging-church phenomenon.


The more substantive criticism, which I expected, is using Rob/Kristen (NOT just Rob--why does no one notice that some of the most trenchant comments were from Kristen?) and Brian as the sole stand-ins for an incredibly complex movement. Well, this was a tough decision. MHBC is not an "Emergent" church in many ways. But as I talked with the Bells, I realized that the fascinating story here was that this was a culturally-relevant megachurch plant whose founders--after planting the church--had read A New Kind of Christian and begun a theological journey that summarizes much of what seems core to the emergent conversation.

And Tony Jones follows with some further comments.

The entire conversation is an education in the diversity within the church emergent.

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