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‘Both,’ ‘And,’ ‘How,’ ‘What’

September 1, 2010

Speaking of churchie buzzwords, anyone familiar with “Emerging Church”? I remember spending some time on this concept (sometimes called a “movement”)  in seminary but I must confess I don’t remember much.

Well, I was just emailed something that uses the term so it inspired me to reacquaint myself. Here’s author Ian Mobsby, who says that “Emerging Church” includes:

Forms of church that are not restrained by institutional expectations. Open to change and God wanting to do a new thing. Use of the key word …”and”. Whereas the heady polarities of our day seek to divide us into an either-or camp, the mark of the emerging Church will be its emphasis on both-and. For generations we have divided ourselves into camps: Protestants and Catholics, high church and low, clergy and laity, social activists and personal piety, liberals and conservatives, sacred and secular, instructional and underground. It will bring together the most helpful of the old and best of the new, blending the dynamic of a personal Gospel with the compassion of social concern. It will find its ministry being expressed by a whole people, wherein the distinction between clergy and laity will be that of function, not of status or hierarchical division. In the emerging Church, due emphasis will be placed on both theological rootage and contemporary experience, on celebration in worship and involvement in social concerns, on faith and feeling, reason and prayer, conversion and continuity, the personal and the conceptual.

Some of that sounds a little vague and utopian to me. (You’re going to bring together the most helpful of the old and the best of the new? Good luck getting everyone to agree on that!) But I like the idea of trying to shake things up in our churches by embracing all the different elements of Christian faith and practice via that emphasis of “both-and.”

Personally, I’d like to see more “both-and” regarding belief and practice in our modern American churches. Nowadays, there seems to be so much emphasis on what one believes when assessing whether or not a person is a Christian, with only passing attention devoted to how one lives daily in the world.

The Franciscan priest Richard Rohr is fairly involved in debates over what the “Emerging Church” should or should not be. He’s put out recorded lessons on the subject and so on. Here he is on the topic of belief vs. practice:

Whatever “Emerging Christianity” is going to be, it will have to be much more practice-based than doctrine-based.  Where has this obsession with believing correct dogmas and doctrines gotten us?  Presently, the Roman church, and fundamentalists of all stripes, are right back into it.  It creates great dramas on both sides.  Maybe that is why God is humbling us at this time.  The obsession with being right and having the whole truth has not served the Gospel well at all, nor has it kept us humble and honest.

If you go to the four Gospels and read what Jesus actually taught, you will see that He talks much more about the “How” (practices which we ourselves must do) rather than the “What” (which just allow us to argue and try to be verbally right).

Amen Brother Richard!

But doesn’t that mean he’s privileging one aspect of Christian tradition (“WWJD,” for short) over another (spirited theological debate)? It doesn’t seem like he’s being very “both-and” at all. Am I missing something? I still don’t feel like I understand what “Emerging Church” means. Anyone want to help me out?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Murray permalink
    September 2, 2010 9:56 am

    It may be neither what one believes nor how one lives, but the extent to which one has been transformed.

    We, in and of ourselves, are capable of believing and doing various and sundry things, but we are not truly capable of transforming ourselves. Only Christ can transform us.

  2. jamiemcelroy permalink*
    September 3, 2010 10:39 am

    But doesn’t transformation involve our actions and our beliefs? How can we be transformed without it affecting how we live and how we view the world?

  3. Murray permalink
    September 3, 2010 10:55 am

    Absolutely yes, transformation always changes our actions and beliefs.

    The problem is that changes in our actions and beliefs are not always indicative of transformation.

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