I have been applying a cultural rather than a theological lens to the emerging church. Firstly I examined how the emerging church was a reaction to mass culture. I then made the point that the emerging church is heavily influenced by Gen X culture. Now it is time for the third stop on our journey.
The emerging church was initially a grassroots movement, but now it is a media phenomenon.
The media in the United States sees the world through two channels, that is two grouping in which it can place phenomenon. In the last decade America has divided into two partisan camps, liberal and conservative. Everything and everyone is marked with one of these two strokes.
- Red States vs Blue States
- Liberal Cities vs Conservative Cities
- CNN vs Fox
- Democrat vs Republican
- The Coasts vs Middle America
- New York Times vs New York Post
- Hollywood vs Nashville
- Bill O’Reilly vs Al Franken
- Organic vs Deep Fried
- Rosie O’Donnell vs Elisabeth Hasselbeck
You get the idea. The concerns of the emerging church reflect many concerns of the new left. A concern for global justice, for the environment, an interest in community development, for minority voices. In many ways what are seeing with the Emerging Church media story is the emergence of a left wing or liberal (in the political rather than the theological sense) evangelicalism. If you like, a reaction to the formerly dominant politically conservative voice of the evangelical religious right.
If American culture sorts everything into left and right, then it only makes sense that this occurs within evangelicalism, hence the Emerging Church.
One of the hallmarks of this partisan age in American life is a diminishment of conversation across the dividing lines of left and right. Instead of debate, and constructive argument, the two sides only listen to their own voices, rejecting any ideas from outside of their own camp. All we have is shouting and name calling across the trenches.
One event, say a car bombing in Basra will be spun by right wing media voices as a justification for a military presence in Iraq, where as the left wing leaning media, will see the exact same events and use the event a justification for exiting Iraq. This is the end game of postmodernism in action, the victory of political relativism. Facts are no longer important, all that matters is how those facts are politically spun.
The problem is that many of us find ourselves unhappy with the labels of left and right. How would we categorize many hero’s of faith from the past. What about Mother Teseasa,? Well she was pro life, yet favoured an incarnational ministry amongst the poor. Where would she fit? What about the founder of the Salvation Army William Booth, he was theologically and socially conservative, yet also radical in his use of emerging technologies and was heavily criticized for his use of secular pop culture. What about Wesley, Chesterton, Lewis or Carey?
Many of the giants on who’s shoulder we stand, defy current labels, rejecting the simple categorisation of left and right.
Maybe so should we.