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,

Tony Campolo“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 me—as both a writer and book editor acquainted with the tensions between markets, thinkers, and publishers—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 don’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!]

 

 

Posted on 11-23-2007

Comments

  1. Dave B. says:

    November 24th, 2007 at 1:10 pm

    Great post and very insightful questions. As a person trying to live out the implications of question #1 (something I think all Christians should do), and a friend (but outsider) to “Emergent Inc.”, it was good for me to see you ask question #2.

    God bless you, Steve. I love you guys.

  2. MT says:

    November 29th, 2007 at 5:19 pm

    I like what is being said in #1 about the emergent movement being against “economic inequity, extreme poverty, racial disharmony, the false Gospel of prosperity/”health and wealth” lukewarm/”nominal”/spiritually dead Christianity” but I find myself wondering what it looks like for the Emergent community to fellowship with members of the GLBTQ community, and how that has become a core issue for the Emergent church. Any clarity you can offer Steve?

  3. Random Acts of Linkage #37 : Subversive Influence says:

    December 1st, 2007 at 2:41 pm

    […] Tony-to-Tony (Campolo to Jones): “Don’t Emerge” — “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.” […]

  4. Being Negative says:

    December 3rd, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    […] Yesterday in church as we began our celebration of Advent we focused on Idolatry. Granted that isn’t one of the common themes of the season, but the advent of this different type of Messiah calls one to examine idolatry of empire versus allegiance to the Kingdom of God. As one stands against the false messages of empire, it become important to not only live differently but to have a prophetic voice where one is at. One needs to have the ability, the right, and the courage to stand up at times and say “this isn’t right.” Unfortunately that prophetic voice is generally suspect or corrupted in the church and in American society. As we discussed this, I was reminded of a recent quote of Tony Campolo to Tony Jones that I have seen posted on a couple of blogs (HT – Brother Maynard and Steve Knight) “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.” […]

  5. dp says:

    December 3rd, 2007 at 7:05 pm

    Nice thoughts Steve. It reminds me of a recent conversation when a friend of mine said that he feels it’s time for him to move from merely critique-ing culture to inviting people into a different idea of culture. He doesn’t want to stop pushing buttons and being a rabble-rouser, but merely to step into a role where he feels he’s offering a vision of a different way, however unformed that vision may be.

    I think that’s a bit of both worlds as it relates to Tony & Tony. I don’t think that Campolo has ever been seen as content with where things are, and he rankles plenty of nerves (a good thing), while also inspiring others to join him on his trip. The major chink in the armor there is that he’s such a forceful presence on his own that people may rely on him to carry their own protests, dissatisfactions and restlessness. The protest has to eventually come from communities, not figureheads. I’m not knocking Campolo here, just saying that the promise of Emergent will have to come from how McLaren, Kimball, et al find communities to take their work much farther.

    As for the question of what it looks like to “fellowship” with the GLBTQ community – I’d offer that it looks like any other community inviting people into its midst. My wife and I attend a church that has a significant GLBT membership. One of the things we notices years ago was that we had a growing list of friends that had been burned by the Church (and by that I usually mean a couple individuals, not a local institution), many of whom were gay. What we decided was that we would find a church, as best we could, where those friends would feel welcome – where we knew that if they visited on any Sunday they would not feel they had to hide anything, as they’d already be on guard. For our friends who would be uncomfortable with that we knew: 1) that the primary discomfort they would feel was worshipping with people they weren’t used to worshipping with, and 2) they had scores of other churches they could go to and feel comfortable; our other friends did not.

    That has stretched us in so many amazing ways, and we feel great knowing that our kids weekly see a community where everyone is welcome, and that the reverse is a foreign concept to them. I was 18 before I knew that women in ministry was a controversial subject in some arenas. That blissful ignorance allowed me to see phenomenal women minister to my family for 18 years without limitation. Of course, I was also 18 when I learned that many churches were afraid of social justice because they feared that personalized evangelism would be lost of we didn’t build in a way to make sure people knew why we were doing things for others and that they should accept that motivation as their own as a grateful response to our generosity:)

    That post makes me sound way better than I am, as I’m trying to say that when we witness inclusion, acceptance and the confidence that God will speak to us wherever we are, its bound to rub off eventually, perhaps in far different ways than we thought.

    Enough about me, let’s talk about me:) Thanks for your thoughtful post(s) and transparent processing Steve.

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