Tony to Tony: “Don’t Emerge”
One of the criticisms of the emerging church is that it (as if “it” is cohesive and uniform enough to discuss as one monolithic thing, but I digress …) is stuck in deconstruction mode and hasn’t had any substantive (i.e. “successful”) reconstruction projects “emerge” out of it. It’s “all talk and no action.” But, as I was listening to Tony Jones share some recent comments made to him by Tony Campolo, I was struck by the force of them. Campolo said,
“Don’t emerge. The Church needs you to not emerge. Keep being emergent. Keep saying what you’re not. Keep saying what you’re against. Be a prophetic voice in the Church, ’cause as soon as you say, ‘OK we’re done being against, we’re done kind of calling out the failings of the modern church, the weaknesses of the modern church,’ then you will become something, and you’ll no longer be Emergent. Then you’ll start ‘workin’ for The Man.’ You’ll become part of the big institution.”
Campolo apparently prefaced all of this by saying he was speaking as a sociologist, and what he meant was that the way to sustain the emerging church movement is to keep pushing, pushing, pushing.
Well, Jones says that’s just one opinion about what Emergent Village should be doing. He doesn’t really indicate any strong agreement or disagreement with Campolo. It got me thinking about a couple of things:
1) What is Emergent Village a protest against? If Emergent is essentially Protestant, and I think it’s safe to say it is, then of course there’s a long history there, but today, in 2007, what are we, those of us who self-identify with Emergent Village, “against”? I can come up with a short list for myself: economic inequity, extreme poverty, racial disharmony, the false Gospel of prosperity/”health and wealth”*, lukewarm/”nominal”/spiritually dead Christianity, “Christians” who withhold friendship and fellowship from members of the GLBTQ community, churches that keep women out of leadership roles, etc. I wonder what others would care to add.
2) To what extent is Emergent Village already “workin’ for The Man”/”part of the big institution”? Christine A. Scheller makes this point in her wonderful summary of the session from which that audio of Tony Jones was recorded. Scheller writes, “It seems to meâ€”as both a writer and book editor acquainted with the tensions between markets, thinkers, and publishersâ€”that the emergents are already ‘answering to the man’ to some degree, at least the ones who are published authors, conference organizers, speakers, etc. Do they have their own t-shirts yet?” Of course, the published authors tend to be the conference speakers, and, by default, the most widely recognized “leaders” of the emerging church movement. These guys (mostly guys) have bills to pay, families to feed, etc. So the market forces Scheller alludes to are most certainly already at work.
Emergent Village is planning several major events next year, most of which will not happen without some kind of corporate sponsorship of some kind. Partnerships have been (or will be) formed. The difference with Emergent, from my perspective (as I’ve talked with Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Brian McLaren, and others), is that none of them seem to be blinded to that market reality, nor are they resistant to having that critique aired and addressed. There’s an accountability loop that needs to constantly be at work, and the blogosphere is often the primary sounding board for that feedback (sometimes good and resonant, but often just noise).
So these are just some things I’m thinking about. My friendship with Emergent Village remains strong despite the flood of anti-Emergent material filling my RSS reader (and email inbox) on an almost daily basis. I’m strangely encouraged by statements like this one by Glenn Hager: “I donâ€™t think church history is over. The best days are not behind us. The story is still being written. Change will come hard and some of the new reformers will be persecuted (as were the old reformers.) … It goes back to God loving those with simple faith that moves them to action.”
Amen and amen.
[*Honestly, the Prosperity Gospel thing is something I’m really struggling with right now, especially with the recent government investigations into major TV evangelist ministries going on—I find myself really hoping the federal government will do what the evangelical church has failed to do, and that’s open a can of whoopass on the Prosperity Gospel peddlers!]