The Common Good

Why Outsider Critiques are Important for Emergent

[Read more of this blog conversation in response to the Sojourners magazine article "Is the 'Emerging Church' for Whites Only?"]

A wise man once told me, "Sometimes the best show of support is to raise a challenge." I was also once told that you argue with your cousins, you don't argue with strangers.

I am not "emergent." It doesn't really fit with my experience. I don't necessarily mesh with the culture of emergent. I don't fit it theologically. I actually like being an evangelical (theologically at least). I say this to confess that I write as an outsider/observer of emergent rather than one who knows the movement inside and out. At the same time, my outsider status does not mean that I have nothing to say about emergent or that I am not allowed to offer a valid critique.

A common mistake in reading my chapter on the emerging church in The Next Evangelicalism is that the main target of my chapter was the emerging church. On a much deeper lever, I was confronting the evangelical world that rushed to make the emerging church the next big thing for the American church. That's the Western, white captivity of the church at work in establishing the image of the emerging church as a hip, young, white male. (We should also acknowledge that, as is often the case, evangelicalism eventually turned on the very thing it helped to create). In our cover article for Sojourners, we (Jason Mach and I) attempt to offer up a picture of what the fullness of the emerging church could actually encompass.

In fact, I believe that we offered a fairly positive outlook and picture (Please note that the cover design and the title of the article were not under the control of the authors) of the possibility of the emerging church by intentionally featuring ethnic minority and female voices in our interviews and by proposing that emergent can contribute to the larger stream of the real emerging church that is global and multi-ethnic. Emergent may not be the largest tributary or the dominant voice, but I'm trying to figure out where in the article we even implied an utter rejection, condemnation, or silencing of emergent.

On another note, it seems disingenuous to me that both Jason and I would be criticized for offering an unflattering image of emergent when that is our actual experience. These stories actually happened to us. To say that we are not fair in our portrayal seems to invalidate our experience

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