Crossed Purposes?

Tonight, for reasons I’m still not entirely sure of, I was invited to sit on a panel for a discussion of ‘The Emerging Church’ at International Christian College.  If you read yesterday’s post you’ll probably realise that i was pretty nervous about it for a number of reasons.

If you missed it, my article on Emerging Church is in the newly published OneKirk Journal (along with an interview with Scott Rennie and some amazing words written by Roddy Hamilton).

However, back to tonight.  It went pretty well I thought, despite me outing myself as never having been an ‘Evangelical’ which I guess was one of the inevitabilities of taking part.  Oh well.  Never mind.  I think my ‘outsider in terms of the evangelical church but maybe more insider in terms of emerging church’ position added a wider perspective to the debate.

I enjoyed the discussion but there were some things that I wanted to pick up on and perhaps save others having the same problems.

The first is that we always need to be pretty clear which emerging church we’re talking about.  This evening’s discussion grew out of the visit of Brian McLaren last year and the students wanted a forum to discuss some of their unanswered questions.  I saw the value of this but I’m not sure I see the point of only discussing what McLaren thinks the emerging church is, no matter how much fun that might be.

I don’t buy that McLaren is leading this emergence on his own.  I’m concerned that if we focus all of the discussion on what Brain thinks we miss the very real question about why stuff is emerging from ALL kinds of churches.  What is driving this experimentation?  What is it that people are dissatisfied with?  I think McLaren has a go at answering some of those questions, but he’s not the only voice in the discussion.

The second is that, believe it or not, this ain’t America.  The drivers for the Emerging Church in America are its particular political, social, cultural and spiritual context… none of which are the same here in Scotland, despite the very obvious homogenisation of western culture.  The evangelical context in America has a social and political dimension that is not replicated here in the UK where the ‘religious right’ doesn’t have the same influence in the political or social agenda.

I think we need to be more deliberate about finding out what’s happening here and who, if anyone, is writing about it.  That’s one of my hopes for Emerging Scotland, that people will share their stories and begin to chronicle the emerging church here in Scotland.

The third is that, even though it’s a crowd pleaser, cheap stereotypes about liberals sitting round candles isn’t an accurate representation of any of the Emerging Church.   Please don’t make fun of people who are trying honestly and earnestly to seek God’s will and to worship Him in ways that make more sense to them than whatever they have found in a denominational church setting.

So, overall, a good night I think.  It was filmed but I don’t know if or where that might appear…

5 thoughts on “Crossed Purposes?”

  1. Thank Goodness that faith isn’t so intertwined with the political agenda like it is in the USA lol. Wish I could have went to the forum, seemed interesting. What do you mean by evangelical/non-evangelical, I’m not sure what I am…actually I’ve heard those terms used for a few different things so I don’t even know what they mean haha. For some reason McLaren doesn’t really spring to mind when I think of Emerging Church, but maybe that’s because I’ve just discovered him recently. Might see the film if it emerges anywhere


  2. I guess I’m being pretty loose with the terms ‘evangelical’. What I really mean is conservative. I think we’re all evangelical in the proper sense of the word. I grew up in a pretty liberal Church of Scotland congregation and would probably describe myself as more toward the ‘progressive’ end of the theological spectrum if pushed.

  3. Glad it went well, Stewart. I’ve always considered ’emerging church’ to be a process that is not yet complete (otherwise it would be called the ’emerged church’!).

    As with all things which are still growing, it needs to be nurtured, loved, occasionally chastised, nourished and cajoled but, most of all, it needs to be allowed to find its own way and make its own decisions. This is the problem I have with the American superimposition .. they tell us what the finished product should be like and, if it isn’t like that, let us know that we must have been doing it wrong!

  4. I agree with almost all you’ve said Leo but I wonder if the American superimposition is actually a self-imposition. There is such a temptation for us here in the UK to forget that things are different here. There is such a wealth of literature, blogging and resources coming from our friends across the pond it’s easy to see why people think that the emerging church is American. After all we buy lots of other cutlural stuff (and wars) so why not this too?

    I guess that was part of last night’s discussion. What is the Emerging Church… here? And how much of what comes from the States applies, helps or really doesn’t describe or inform what’s happening here?

    As I said, I’d love to see some more people here in Scotland and around the UK blogging and publishing about the emerging church here in our context. So, come on people, get your pen/typewriter/laptop out and share your thoughts.

  5. My last essay was a critical appraisal of some expressions of emerging church and I have to say I wasn’t too impressed – distinctly iffy theology and an almost total disregard for scripture and history (to be fair, like any short academic essay you pick your sources to create the argument). Anyway, now you’ve raised the point, I wonder how much of it was a US influence. I tend to follow a number of US theology blogs and sometimes I wonder if we share the same faith. Often it’s that old adage of ‘two peoples separated by a common language’. Often terminology is applied to things that I just don’t recognise as my experience or understanding of it.
    But I’m a bit gutted about the candles thing though – I like candles.

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