The Emerging Missional Church is Greenwich Village – More Thoughts on Fracturing

Sorry for the slightly pretentious if not strange title of this article, but I wanted to add some further thoughts to my article The Emerging Missional Church Fractures into Mini-Movements by making some comparisons between the cultural symbolism of Greenwich Village and the Emerging Missional Church.

New York’s Greenwich Village has for decades carried a tremendous amount of symbolism in the popular imagination. The neighbourhood’s bohemian flavour can be traced back to the beginning of the 20th century when artists, dancers, poets and actors were drawn to the accessible art-friendly spaces of the area. As the decades passed various artistic, cultural and intellectual movements found a home in the area. In the 1920’s it could be radical playwrights, in the 1930’s it could be Dadaists and Surrealists, the 40’s were about the Abstract Expressionists, the 50’s saw the beat writers such as Jack Keroauc and Allen Ginsberg, in the 60’s the village became the hub of the folk music movement lead by Bob Dylan which drew in the anti-war movement and the hippies. The late sixties and early seventies saw the village become the centre of the gay rights movement and of radical political groups such as the weather underground.

So over the last century Greenwich Village has been home to various divergent and often oppositional movements, philosophies, political agendas, artistic visions. What then has drawn all of these diverse groups to the Village? A common sense of being ‘defined against’, of wanting an identity that is in contrast to what is seen as the mainstream culture of the day. Thus Greenwich Village is not a movement or manifesto in of itself, it does not stand for a set of beliefs or accompanying actions. Instead it acts as a kind of floating symbol which unites people who are defining themselves against the mainstream culture, despite the fact that many of the groups and movements which found a home under that umbrella would totally disagree with each other, they all agree that they don’t want to be part of the mainstream. 

I am more and more inclined to see the Emerging Missional Church as a similar floating symbol, an umbrella under various divergent and often disagreeing mini-movements and ideologies gather, all united by their desire to not be like what they see as the defunct or irrelevant mainstream mode of Church.This is why so many find it so difficult to come up with a satisfactory list of common factors that unite those who would label themselves Emerging/Missional and why so many people found it difficult to place themselves in the large amount of mini-movements that I outlined.

But just as you thought that might simplify things a bit  they only get more confusing. Let’s return to our metaphor of Greenwich Village.  Today the Village is in many ways is gentrified and home to the kinds of wealthy professionals that the original inhabitants of the village were trying to define themselves against, one of the great ironies is that the thing that draws in the upwardly mobile to the village is the bohemian ethos. This is the reality of our post-hip culture, in which pretty much everyone defines themselves against the mainstream, and in which the mainstream no longer believes that it is mainstream. Thus today when people shell out the big bucks to live in Greenwich village they are not making a disentsablishmentary political statement, rather they are investing in their identity, finding a sense of self in the historical cultural symbol of Greenwich Village.This is is the score in the society of ‘cool’ in which we are encouraged to live in a state of permanent faux rebellion against the mythic ‘mainstream’.

And this is the rub for us folks. Do we find a sense of identity by defining ourselves against those in the mainstream church, those in the broader Christian culture? I remember back in high school the secret sense of superiority I felt being an ‘indie’ kid, looking down my nose at my classmates and what I saw as their ‘plastic FM’ mainstream music tastes. To my shame and to be really honest over the last decade or more of being part of this whole “emerging scene’ I have secretly felt the same sense of delight I felt in High School at times as I defined myself against what I saw as others in the ‘mainstream’ church. I have wrongly at times sought sense a sense of self as I wrote a mental list of the ways in which I ‘got it’ in contrast to others. One thing that grabbed me in many of the blogs written about the various mini-movements is that many people used the language of ‘where I fit or where I do not fit in’ and ‘belonging’, such language made me wonder if part of this all is about how we construct identity.

Therefore we who place our selves somewhere under the broad umbrella of the Emerging Missional church must ask ourselves if have we defined ourselves against the mythical ‘other’ in order to find a sense of self? When we define against what we see as the mainstream church we marginalize others from the conversation, creating the precise ‘us and them’ dynamic which the story of the Good Samaritan subverts.

Therefore as previously stated I see the fragmentation that is occurring as a positive thing, as that we are forced to define what we are about, rather than getting caught in the cultural trap of finding a sense of self by defining against. Fascinatingly most of the mini-movements that I named in my previous article are really not that unique or new, but rather re-discoveries of older traditions. I find this incredibly encouraging, as too often a sense of arrogance accompanies new movements, and often subverts them. As we mature we may begin to realize that we are not the last great hope, maybe all we are doing is what Christians have always done, that we are simply applying unchanging truths to a changing context.

The more I read history I am not sure if we are experiencing a great Emergence: I am more inclined to wonder if what we are seeing is the same dynamic that we have always seen since the birth of the Church, that is the highly dynamic and adaptive nature of our faith. Yes I know it does not sound as sexy as labelling a our time in history as a momentous hinge, but I have a hunch that it is closer to the truth. I will leave the last word to Alistair McGrath, whose book Christianity’s Dangerous Idea started this whole train of thought,

“Those who are anxious about the future of Protestantism often urge that radical change in it’s self understanding is necessary if it is to survive, let alone prosper…The historical and theological evidence presented in this book offers a rather different answer. We have seen that Protestantism possesses a unique and innate capacity for innovation, renewal, and reform based on its own internal resources. The future of Protestantism lies precisely in Protestantism being exactly what Protestantism actually is.”

Is Fracturing Positive?

Oh its a funny old thing the internet. On Thursday I am sitting there with an hour to kill between a couple of meetings I bang out this article The Emerging Missional Church Fractures into Mini Movements. I Forget about it and then come back today and find that it has gone bonkers.

There has been a number of responses to my article but the best of the bunch is from  Jonny Baker who despite being a Chelsea supporter always has a great things to say. Jonny takes a positive spin on my article which is probably more in tune with what I was meaning. For a movement to last it must wrestle through the internal differences and conversations to move towards working out what it is really on about.Check out Jonny’s article here

The Emerging Missional Church Fractures into Mini Movements

I just finished reading Alistair McGrath’s fantastic history of protestantism  Christianity’s Dangerous Idea. It’s interesting how when the Reformation began, Protestantism united itself against what it saw as its binary opposite, Catholicism, but as time passed, Protestantism began to split into various movements and factions (eg Calvinist, Anabaptist, Anglican, Congregationalist etc), overtime these groups began to define themselves against each other rather than against the perceived enemy of the time, Rome.

The history of protestantism is a classic example of movement dynamics. Dissatisfaction creates a ground swell of support against a perceived problem, injustice or enemy. This ground swell coalesces into a movement; at first the movement’s energy and internal dialogue is centered around defining itself against the common enemy. But then as time passes the internal dialogue of the movement begins to shift away from ‘defining against’ to ‘defining itself’. Then the conversation changes and people inside the solidfying movement begin to discover that although they are united in their distaste of their ‘enemy’ there is much that they disagree with each other over. Then tensions and differences arise, fractures are followed by factions, and the new movement breaks up. (For another historical example of this check out the French revolution.)

The emerging missional church seems to be following  a very similar path, having seemingly fractured into multiple movements. In the early days it could define itself against the perceived enemy ‘the mainstream church”.The problem was that whilst everyone agreed that something new and different must be birthed that is in contrast to the ‘mainstream church’, many had differeing definitions of what ‘mainstream church’ was. For some it was large mega churches who had seemed to have capitulated to consumer culture, for others it was irrelevant, overly traditional mainline churches, for others it was  churches that were too theologically conservative, but others were rebelling against what they saw as a mainstream church that was made impotent by liberal theology. Some saw the task as being centered around creating a contextually appropriate church for post-modern people in contrast to the ‘mainstream church’ which was perceived as being too closely wedded to ‘modernity’.

Many in the United States saw the enemy as the conservative Evangelical ‘religious right’, whereas some in the UK saw themselves creating something fresh and culturally relevant in contrast to the perceived irrelevance of many Anglican parishes. For some the problem with mainstream church was it’s politics, for others it was a lack of genuine mission. So as time went on and as conversations went deeper, many in the emerging missional movement found that they were more divided than they realised. For a while a sense of tribalism and common cultural interests seemed to hold these divisions at bay. But then things started to get weirder as something unexpected happened. Not all, but many institutions, leaders, and churches that had been labelled ‘mainstream church’ by the new movement began to listen to, converse with and imitate the emerging missional movement.

Justice went from being a sidelined issue to one of the hottest causes in many mainstream churches. Books like Blue like Jazz , the Shack and The Irresistible Revolution, which most likely if had been released ten or even five years earlier, would have only been read by a small amount of readers within the emerging missional movement, began to sell by the container ship load,  and most of the readers were from ‘outside’ the movement. The line between mainstream church and the emerging missional church had become very blurred.

Inevitably the movement began to fracture and I believe now has broken up into a number of mini movements. Here is my rudimentary attempt to name  and describe some of them.

Neo-Anabaptists:  Some have called this movement the new monastics, which is quite a helpful term, but I think that a more accurate description would be Neo-Anabaptists, as this group is shaped by the ethos of the Anabaptist movement. This movement tends to be pacifist, favours incarnational living amongst the urban poor, and has a strong distrust of power, sees contemporary Western Culture and Society as being controlled by “Empire” and thus favours an approach of prophetic action by small grassroots Christian communities.I would also place in this group the growing Christian-Anarchist movement in Australia and New Zealand. This group tends also to be strongly influenced by the Catholic Worker Movement started by Dorothy Day. A key leader in this movement would be Shane Claibourne. Key books The Irresistible Revolution. The New Conspirators by Tom Sine.

Neo- Calvinists:   This group puts an emerging spin on classic Calvinism. This group views reformed theology as way out of the morally relevatist mess created by postmodernity. Whereas traditional Reformed theology viewed gifts of the spirit with suspicion, the new calvinism tends to have a charismatic edge. The neo-Calvinists also in contrast to early Calvinism, place a high emphasis on mission, and thus have begun a number of church planting efforts. Key Leaders in this movement, Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller.

Neo-Missiologists:  This group are in many ways the heirs to the church growth movement created by Donald McGavern, a returned missionary who advocated a missional approach to the West. However whereas church growth was influenced by the mechanistic leadership, marketing and organising techniques of the corporate world, the new missiologists borrow instead from the organic models found in nature. Building on the work of Christian Schwarz this group favours small simple highly reproducible forms of church. This group is also highly influenced by the missiology of Leslie Newbiggin and Paul Hiebert and favours an incarnational mode of church, that is not ‘attractional’ but rather missional. This group also borrows some of its eccleisiology from House Church theorists and practitioners such as Robert Banks and Wolfgang Simson. Thus many label this movement ‘missional’. Key leaders Neil Cole and Wolfgang Simpson and Frank Viola. Key books the Forgotten Ways, Pagan Christianity and The Organic Church.  

Neo-Clapham’s:   A strange name yes but I think a descriptive one as this group tends to be influenced by the ideas of William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect. Whilst this movement is technically not concerend with ‘church’, one cannot underestimate its effect upon the contemporary church, and the lives of christian young adults. Whilst just as passionate about justice as the Neo-Anabaptists, the Neo-Clapham’s  tend to take a very different approach. Whereas the Neo-Anabaptists tend to favour an approach which is local, grassroots and suspicious of larger institutions, the Neo-Clapham’s take an approach that is global, large scale and campaign driven.In contrast to the Neo-Anabaptist’s, this group are less suspicious of power and thus work closely or within corporations, governments, the Entertainment industry, NGO’s and denominations. Much of the energy of the Neo-Clapham’s can be found in various movements such as Make Poverty History, Fair Trade, Human Trafficking, Blood Chocolate, and so on. Key Leaders Jim Wallis, Tim Costello, Bono, Steve Chalke, David Batstone.

Digital Pentecostals:   This movement is a recent development within Pentecostalism in the West, specifically developing out of Australia. While Pentecostalism classically was defined by outward expressions of response to the Holy Spirit, the digital pentecostals create experiential spaces through cutting edge media and technologies in which participants can respond to the Holy Spirit. This group attempt to reach out to postmodern culture by creating large church worship experiences which are highly experiential and tech savvy thus being attractive to postmodern tech savvy, experiential Gen Y’s. Many Digital Pentecostals has eschewed the ‘prosperity theology’ of their parents and instead are highly influenced by or part of the Neo-Clapham movement. In many ways this the second generation of Gen Y kids who have come of age being influenced by Hillsong. Key Leaders Joel Houston, Judah Smith. This group would not have ever seen itself as part of the emerging missional journey at any stage, but never the less is an interesting response to post-Christian culture.

Neo-Liberals:   Many who began in the Emerging Church have taken the journey further and embraced a kind of 2oth century liberalism with an emerging spin. In an attempt to reject what was seen as the cultural captivity of evangelicalism, many have questioned a number of key components of evangelical life and theology and found themselves swimming in for want of a better term ‘soft liberalism’. Whereas traditional liberalism was born out of an attempt to create a theology that fit with modern sensibilities, the Ne-liberals find themselves creating a new theology in response to the post-modern context. Interestingly this group seems to be finding more and more in common with mainline liberal Churches in the United States than they do with Evangelicals. Critics would place some of the voices within the ‘Emergent” camp here.

Blenders:   This group would have placed themselves in the emerging church camp five years ago, but in response to the move away from evangelical theology by many of their former travellers (the Neo-Liberals)  they have re-affirmed their commitment to evangelical theology. This group also seems to be questioning some of the assumptions of the Neo-Missiologists and are attempting to blend a missional approach, whilst still affirming some elements of the attractional mode of church, hence the term blenders.Key leaders Erwin McManus, Dan Kimball.

 Obviously there is much cross-pollination between these groups. As well as many problems with my analysis. I am sure that there are more that I could come up with, maybe you can think of some too.

Hyperreal Missional Churches

When I wrote in the Trouble with Paris about how hyperreality has affected contemporary Christianity, people went to town pointing the finger, which many had a right to do. But I did notice that people tended to point the finger at certain types of churches, which tended to be either contemporary Mega Churches or churches with a prosperity based theology. However what I did observed is that a lot of people, particularly those in Missional Churches failed to notice the ways in which Hyperreality influenced their own communities of faith.   

Thus the influence of Missional Churches has been in my opinion damaged by our blindness to our own peculiar forms of cultural captivity. Whilst critics have blasted some contemporary churches for the way in which they confused the gospel with a consumerist aspirational lifestyle. Many have failed to note how unwittingly some missional and emerging churches have made the same error.  Whilst on the whole missional  churches are started and run by fantastic people who are personaly convicted to engage in mission; one of the biggest problems that many of these leaders find, is that the people who join their churches are not that missional. That they may initially have the right edgy style, they may say the right things and be reading the right books. But  three years later, either things have fallen apart or the group has failed to grow or has done very little mission.

What many leaders fail to recognize is that many join Missional churches because they believe that it will culturally enrich their lives, they may think that they are joining because of mission but deep down other motivations are influencing them. The idea of leaving their staid church experience and entering a hyperreal missional world is incredibly enticing. Churches in Cafes, hipster leaders, people with your tastes, a more liberal approach to behaviour, cool urban locales, plus the culturally seductive whiff of ‘radicalness’ all combine to create an intoxicating mix. However the problem is that mission is not sexy, mission operates in the realm of reality, it actually requires hard work. It can carry a significant cost. It can be lonely and difficult, to be honest it can sometimes mess up your life, to be blunt it is anything but hyperreal.

For more on this phenomenon check out

The Trouble with Incarnation and The Emerging church is about culture not theology

Is the Missional Church sinking?

“Not long ago I was on a panel with other church leaders in a large city. One missional advocate in the group stated that younger people in the city will not be drawn to larger, attractional churches dominated by preaching and music. What this leader failed to recognize, however, was that young people were coming to an architecturally cool megachurch in the city—in droves. Its worship services drew thousands with pop/rock music and solid preaching. The church estimates half the young people were not Christians before attending.

Conversely, some from our staff recently visited a self-described missional church. It was 35 people. That alone is not a problem. But the church had been missional for ten years, and it hadn’t grown, multiplied, or planted any other churches in a city of several million people. That was a problem.”

The above quote comes from a really interesting article By Dan Kimball author of the Emerging Church, questioning just how missional has the missional church ended up being. Read whole article  Here

RIP Emerging Church. Now can we change the conversation with some help from Al Pacino?


A number of people including myself have been writing on the net of the demise of the Emerging Church movement (or at least the terminology) over the last little while see

Out of UR       Dan Kimball     Andrew Jones   Me

I guess that for the first time I feel a sense of hope. My hope is that the conversation will now change. For sometime I have felt like a lone voice, as I have advocated our need to understand that if God is going to change the church, first he wants to change us. Whilst the discussion about church shape, missional movements, cultural relevance, social justice, missional movements and creative worship has been vital and essential, a key element has been ignored.

We need a revolution of the self.

We have failed to address our own souls and our own sense of self. We have pointed the finger – analysed and critiqued church patterns, missional models and Christian culture, but have remained naive to the way in which we ourselves as individuals have co-opted by contemporary culture. For we carry within us viruses. Parasitical organisms which are capable of ruining all of our plans, of wounding, weakening and even destroying our movements, churches, communities, ministries.

I have compiled here from previous writings some of these viruses and the influence they play on our selves that we must address.

The Lure of the Hyperreal World. Our culture offers us a vision of the future that is air brushed perfect. Just over the horizon there seems a perfect world, all you have to do is make that purchase, book that vacation, or pay for the right experience. This mirage like future is presented to us thousands of times in day in our media and advertising drenched world. If you really listen to people you will find that this perfect future is a very real competitor to the Christian gospel, it is one of the most virulent implicit religions of our day. For more see my book The Trouble With Paris

Commitment Phobia One of the flow on effects of the worldview of consumerism is that it has a caustic, corrosive effect upon our ability to commit. I remember as a kid seeing a shirt that I wanted to buy, I had my money, and was ready to head to the cash register, when my mother taught me a key tactic known to every shopper, that is shopping around for a better bargain. We headed off to the others stores to see if the same shirt was on sale for a cheaper price. Hyper-Consumerism has taught us all to be good shoppers in almost every arena of life, we have learnt to not commit and hang on for the better bargain. For consumerism to operate effectively as a system, it needs a low commitment environment.

We only have to look at the arena of human sexuality to see how the world view of consumerism has shaped our behaviour. Consumerism shapes our civic life, and our community habits. In all areas we are taught to hold off, and not commit. In my book The Trouble With Paris I write,

“We run from those promises and covenants that humans have made to each other for thousands of years because they frighten us to death. Many today fear such commitment-based social institutions because self now takes precedence over commitment. As the worldview of hyperconsumerism has taken hold of our imaginations, everything has become shopping. We must not become entangled in commitments, because they could limit our options on finding something better. This constant search for something better means that the supershoppers of hyperconsumerism are still waiting for a better deal after the mall has closed and then are forced to return home empty-handed. Or we find ourselves always on the move, searching for a home that shifts and shimmies over the horizon. We keep up this restlessness as our fears of not being stimulated take over.

The key to life, we are told, is to keep holding out for that perfect bargain. But the less we commit, the more we become passive. We never make a move; instead, we simply stand and watch life go by. Our fear of commitment has turned us into passive consumers.”

Of course this deeply effects how we view church. In my experience most young adults would view staying in a church for three years as a long term commitment. Most seem to re-examine their commitment to communities of faith on a rolling 12 month basis, this contractual view of church attendance is based on a fear of ‘missing out’ on something better.

Therapeutic Faith. We have taken on what some label as a therapeutic faith, that is a faith in which feelings rule over facts, in which the heart beats the head. A faith that is built only upon feelings can truck along nicely until the rough weather comes along. Our culture values pleasure and feelings over almost everything else, we need faith’s in which our hearts and our heads work in tandem. A faith that is only heart driven has no discernment. The word warned of false prophets, we must take everything we feel and experience back to scripture to be weighed.

Life as acting. Young adults today emerge into a world in which we act all the time. You can pretend to be someone online that you are not, you can make your life look more awesome on your myspace or facebook than it really is. There is tremendous pressure to live as though we are acting. Media theorist Neal Gabler in his book Life the Movie notes that today many live their lives like they are acting all the time. Young people live in a perpetual spotlight, they are their own media channels, their own brands, and their own public relations firms. In such a world who you are on the inside is irrelevant, instead we act out a life script our audience is our peers.

Double Lives. A number of recent surveys have found that large segments of Evangelicals privately do not hold to evangelical beliefs. Ron Sider’s book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience points out that Evangelicals behaviour is no different to that of those who do not hold to faith and in many cases worse. One of the traits of contemporary culture is what Danel Gergen in his book The Saturated Self calls multiphrenia, that is the ability to hold contradictory beliefs at the same time without a sense of guilt or cognitive dissonance. Sadly Christians have begun to mirror this phenomenon. Many young Christians pick and choose what parts of the gospel they want to adhere to and seem to not feel the guilt that past generations did about doing so.

Choice Anxiety. If you live in the West you are rich, not just financially, but you enjoy an affluence of options and choices. On one hand this is fantastic, we have access to millions of opportunities and experiences that our forebears could never dream of. But the flipside of this abundance of choice means that we become paralysed in the face of a million possibilities, choices and variables. Barry Schwartz in his book The Paradox of Choice notes that the more choices we are given, the more our well -being and happiness deteriorates. Why? Because whatever choice we make we are always comparing our decisions to the myriad of other possible choices. Thus we can never be at peace with the paths that we take, we are always comparing and fretting, we are stuck with a constant gut level anxiety or angst over our choices. Add to this the fact that daily we are confronted with thousands of advertising messages all of which are designed by experts and marketing psychologists, and each has the purpose to make us feel discontent with our lives in order to make new purchases, and you can see why we are stuck in choice anxiety. 

Christian young adults are stuck with a constant splinter in the mind, the never ending nagging feeling that they might have made the wrong decision. Did they even make right choice in following Christ? Maybe they should move Cities, States, Countries? Should they change partners, careers, lifestyles, ethics? All of these factors create a constant and nagging feeling that young adults must leave their churches in order to find fulfillment. However as soon as you move and set your tent down, that nagging feeling returns. Sadly more and more young adult believers are experiencing a harried, exhausting and restless spiritual homelessness.  

Get these on the Talking Points

There are influences on the contemporary self that we as Christians must turn our attentions to. My prayer is that these issues can find their way onto the list of contemporary Christian talking points. If we do not, whatever vision you have the church’s future is in serious jeopardy.  

I can’t help but wonder if these issues have not really been on the agenda because they require us to turn the spotlight upon ourselves, that all come with a price tag. They require of us that oh so unhip concept, repentance.

How Al Pacino can help us

Two things struck me when I first watched Al Pacino’s classic 70’s film Serpico. Firstly Al trotted out in the freshest thread I have ever seen (see top pic). But secondly I was struck by the story. The movie is based on the true story of an honest yet avante garde cop Joe Serpico, who blew the whistle on rampant corruption within the police force. In the film Serpico faces tremendous pressure to conform to the wider culture of corruption, at first it is just peer pressure, but as the film progresses, he faces violence even death. The point of the movie, is that one honest person who sticks to their values and sense of self, can bring down and reform a culture which has gone toxic.

If we are to reform our culture it is not just enough to pioneer new forms of church and mission, we must evangelise ourselves, our primary post modern mission-field is our own hearts. Change our hearts, rid them of the aforementioned toxins, and we could have a genuine revolution on our hands.

Are you game?

How the Emerging Missional Movement Could Fail

When I posted my article 5 things we got wrong in the Emerging Missional Church I was not expecting the amount of traffic that would be generated and the discussion and buzz that would start up on other blogs.

So I thought that it would be worthwhile point people who may be new to this blog to an earlier article that I wrote with similair as well as additional reflections on where the whole missional/emerging movement can/could go wrong, as well as what we can learn from the mistakes of the Bauhaus school of design, plus some hope from the book of Genesis.

Check out The Pink Elephant in the Missional Room

5 Things We Got Wrong in the Emerging Missional Church

For over a decade here in Australia I have been involved in what some have labelled the Emerging Missional Church. Over the last two years I have been asking a lot of questions and critically reflecting upon this movement. The following points are my reflections on some of the mistakes that we have made. But before I continue I would like to make something absolutely clear.

When I say that I am reflecting upon the Emerging Missional Church (EMC), I am not referring to the newer American Emerging Church movement which I think is a very different creature to what we have here in Australia. What I am reflecting upon is the Emerging Missional Church movement that sprung up here in Australia in the early to mid 90’s  in an attempt to reach secular Australia with a missiological approach. Some of what I may write will be applicable to other contexts but I wanted to make clear what I was referring to.

I am still 100% passionate about reaching Australia with the gospel, and with approaching our context with a missionary mindset, so I write this article to help others become more effective in their outreach. So in the spirit of praxis and constant improvement here is my list of the top five things we did wrong in no particular order.

Read More Here

The Emerging Church: Left vs Right

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.

For example

  • 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.

Emerging’ Church is a Gen X not a Gen Y Phenomenon

I talked last time about how the Emerging Church is not a theological movement but a reaction to mass culture. 

The Emerging Church is also about Gen X culture.

The Contemporary Church model of grew out boomer culture, and thus naturally reflecting many of its values. So it is with the Emerging Church, which grew out of Gen X culture, reflecting many of its shared values.

Yeah but i heard you say that you don’t believe in generational theories. Don’t worry I did not either, that was until my phone started running hot with calls from Gen X young adult and youth pastors who were tearing their hair out trying to get their heads around Gen Y’s and their culture. So I read everything on Gen Y and interviewed as many Gen Y’s as I could, and it dawned on me they were totally different to Gen Xrs. If anything Y’s are more like boomers than Gen Xrs, hence the reason why advertisers call them echo boomers. They are boomers on steroids.

(and of course we are generalizing, you have to do that with cultural analysis Silly!)

Then it went crazy, everyone seemed to want to get their heads around Gen Y. I ran seminars, did consulting, and spoke with leadership teams, helping them get their heads around Gen Y. My colleague Sarah Deutscher and I even made a DVD for leaders to get their heads around Gen Y. Then two bombshells dropped for me.

The Emerging Church is Gen X

One day I was preparing a slide for my powerpoint presentation on Gen Y which compared the cultural values of Gen X vs that of Gen Y. As I looked at the left of the slide which described the values Gen X, I suddenly realised that I could replace the header of Gen X with Emerging Church. The value matched.

The second bombshell hit as I was at an “emerging church” conference. The person up the front was describing the emerging church as the newest expression of church. As I looked around the room I noted that the average age in the room was around the late thirties to forties mark. Not exactly the youngest group in the world! Down the road meeting at the same time was a large pentecostal Young Adult conference, for 18-25’s over 8 thousand people were in attendance.   

Lots of Gen Y’s tell me that they find themselves ‘out of place’ at emerging church events. They find the Xrs too obsessed with consensus and navel gazing; Y’s see Xrs as too negative and cynical. Gen Y’s have told me that they find Gen Xrs judgemental of Y’s confidence and aspirational values. 

Gen Y’s like action rather than talk, they like to be told in which direction to march, they don’t want to discuss the nature of truth they want to conquer and change the world. They know that they are children of consumerism, however they don’t pretend they they are not like their older Gen X siblings.

Strangely the emerging church may in the next few years find itself being hit by a boomerang of critique. Those charges of irrelevance that have been directed at the contemporary/boomer church just might to come back to bite them on the behind.


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