Emergent Christian Cliches to Avoid
Following the creation of my first five articles in this ongoing series about Christian cliches (links below), I was alerted to the fact that my lists were notably absent of particular cliches often employed by emergent Christians. While the emergent Christians are endeavoring to re-imagine the way we engage faith, one another and the world differently, the movement still is dependent on human beings. As such, we tend to screw it up.
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So in the spirit of fairness, I offer you a list of things emergent Christians can and should strike from our daily lexicon …
We Don’t Use Gender-Exclusive Language for God. There has been plenty of pushback against speaking of God only as a “he,” and this has been addressed with new worship music, updated translations of the Bible and from the pulpit. And while it can be affirming to speak of God in broader terms, while also recognizing the baggage some people carry with regard to certain terminology for God, it’s unfair to suggest that any gender-specific descriptions of God are somehow inaccurate or inferior. If some people find comfort in thinking of God as father, mother, or even both, it’s not our place to take that away from them. Engaging in substantive discussions about why we all use the words and imagery we do to describe God can be a good thing, but not if we’re starting from a position of having some kind of theological high ground.
Is this (fill in the blank) fair trade/organic/locally grown/humanely raised? I think it’s great that part of the ecological and social stewardship at the heart of the emergent Christian movement is to know more about where all of the goods we consume come from, and at what cost. But making a big scene about such values in public serves to draw attention to ourselves more than the cause we value if not done with some discretion. And as the text in Proverbs says, to everything there is a season. There are times to ask where your chicken came from, but probably not when you’re a guest at someone’s dinner table. Trying to make others feel bad because they don’t share your values only serves to buttress the stereotype of Christians as morally superior, arrogant and insensitive.
I’ve kind of moved beyond the whole (fill in the blank) Christian doctrine. I bristle as much as anyone in emergent Christianity when someone tries to pin me down with a certain Christian doctrine like my position on the trinity or my doctrine of salvation. But to reject these traditions outright is both a potential affront to those who still embrace them as well as a rebuff of our religious history. It’s healthy to have a reason for embracing or setting aside doctrines of our faith, but if we talk about getting over them or moving past them, it implies those who don’t agree with us are, well … dumb.
That is a very colonial/imperial attitude. Most people would agree that plenty of harm has been done in the name of the Christian faith, or faith in general, for that matter. And while some call for the dissolution of religion all together, others believe that it is the marriage of faith to the power of a political empire that creates the real abomination of an otherwise peaceful and affirming faith. But while it is a worthwhile endeavor to seek to separate Christianity from its history of Christendom, casting knee-jerk judgments on sentiments or perspectives held by others only deepens the divide between two already deeply-entrenched camps. Yes, Jesus spoke truth, but he did it in love. And if we’re not coming yet from a place of love, it’s probably best not to speak at all.
I love Jesus but not religion/the Church. Though this kind of began as an emergent Christian mantra, it’s actually begun to be embraced even by some evangelicals. But can we really cast such a broad net over the whole of organized religion and the entire history of the church? Has nothing good at all come from our 2,000 years of history? Can we take nothing forward with us, despite our resistance to the established norms of institution? The whole “I love this but hate that,” attitude reeks of modernist duality, which seems to work directly against what emergents claim to value. So be bold in critiquing the institutions of power in our midst, religion included, but don’t throw our entire collective history under the proverbial bus because the phrase trends well on Twitter.
We don’t do traditional worship. Emergents tend to define ourselves as much or more by what we’re not than by what we are. And like the cliche above, we have a bad habit (bordering on tradition?) of kicking everything that smacks of traditionalism to the curb. Yes, some traditions become false idols that should be challenged, if not completely toppled. But tradition also is part of how we continue to create and pass on our collective story. Plus, while many emergents reject the very idea of tradition, we’re already in the process of creating some new traditions of our own. I wonder how we’ll react when a future cohort of Christians calls us on our own dusty, rigid ways?
This last one isn’t necessarily limited to emergents at all, but it came to mind as I was wrapping up the list I’ve created so far. Plus, after compiling the list of emergent cliches above, I realized I had 39, so I squeezed out one more to make for a nice, round number.
I don’t (insert activity here); I’m a Christian. It’s fine that you choose to live differently because of your faith. In fact, one’s faith should inform much about their daily life. But by making public announcements about what you do and don’t do because of your religious beliefs, you’re not only implicitly casting judgment on those who think or act differently than you; you’re also exalting yourself, which I’m pretty sure is something Christians aren’t supposed to do. Yes, I know we can find a Biblical basis for “boasting in Christ,” but if what you’re doing makes you look like a self-righteous tool, you’re probably doing more harm than good.
To see the rest of the series of Christian Cliches, go HERE.
Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He is Director if Church Growth and Development at First Christian Church in Portland, Ore. Christian is the creator and editor of "Banned Questions About The Bible" and "Banned Questions About Jesus." His new memoir on faith, family and parenting is called "PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date."
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