Join us under the Big Tent

Confession: I get super jealous when everyone’s talking about a big conference I really want to attend but can’t because I’m a poor writer from a small townYou know how it goes. First comes the tweets, then the impassioned status updates, then a wave of inspired blog posts from the happy attendees whose lives have been changed by what they heard. I pretend to be excited for them, but deep down I’m green as the grass on the other side. 

Well today I have the chance to be at one of those conferences—Big Tent Christianity—primarily because I’m a poor writer from a small town whose publisher took pity on her and paid the way. (Gotta sell some books while I’m here, though!) 

I really wish everyone from our little online community could be here in Raleigh. So at the risk of inflaming jealousies, I’d like to keep you updated on what’s going on…and give you the chance to weigh in with your own ideas and questions. 

Thanks to the miracle of technology, I’ll be able to tweet through each session. You can follow me on twitter, or simply check out the little bird in the right-hand corner of the Web site. (You may have noticed that the poor monkey is gone. Killed off by the branding gods who say it’s time for me to move beyond all the monkey motifs and make way for the next book. May he rest in peace.) 

In addition, I’ll be checking the comment section regularly over the next two days, so please use it to respond to my tweets, pose questions for the speakers, or share your own ideas about Big Tent Christianity, theology, Bible, justice denominationalism, sexuality, and spirituality. Who knows? I may even get the chance to pose YOUR question to your favorite speaker. 

Here’s the schedule:

Wednesday

1:00-3:00 p.m. Big Tent Christianity
Philip Clayton, Brian McLaren, Phyllis Tickle, Emmanuel Katongole

3:45-5:30 p.m. Big Tent Theology 
Tim Conder, Terence Fretheim, Jo-Ann Badley, Peter Rollins, Adam English

Thursday

9:00-11:00 a.m. Big Tent Justice
Gareth Higgins, Hugh Hollowell, Anthony Smith, Victor Anderson,  Bruce Reyes-Chow

11:15a.m.-12:30 p.m. Big Tent Denominationalism 
Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, Bill Leonard, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Tim King,  Shane Claiborne 

12:30-1:30 p.m. Big Tent Sexuality
Jay Bakker, Frank Green, Ian Markham, Brian Ammons

3:45-5:00 p.m. Big Tent Spirituality 
Christopher Copeland, Stephanie Spellers,  Spencer Burke,  Ian Cron, Tom Oord

***

What session strikes you as most interesting? Which speakers? Got any questions you would like to pose? Ideas you would like to share? I’ll keep you posted!

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McLaren, Miller, and me

Happy November! I hope you are enjoying the crisp air, blue skies, and vibrant colors that fall always delivers. Only a few weeks left until winter settles in.

So this is going to be an especially exciting month for me, as I plan to attend several local events featuring popular authors/thinkers. 

The first, beginning this weekend, features Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo. Hosted by First-Centenary United Methodist Church in Chattanooga, the three-day conference is named after a book that McLaren and Campolo co-authored entitled, Adventures in Missing the Point. The stated goal is to teach Christians how to “talk with each other about sensitive issues without missing the point,” and topics include: end times, evangelism, homosexuality, environmentalism, worship, and postmodernism. 

It’s unusual to have such a progressive conference in this part of the country, and I’ve heard of pastors from several local congregations preaching passionate sermons against the emerging church in response to the event. 

You can learn more about the conference here. I plan to attend events on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, so if you will be there, please let me know. Maybe we could grab lunch!

Later in the month, (November 21), Donald Miller comes to town!  As part of his “A Million Miles” tour, Miller will be stopping by Ridgedale Baptist Church in Chattanooga.  You can learn about the tour (and order tickets, which are only $15) here. I'll try to write a review of his new book before the event.

I’m pretty stoked about the possibility of meeting Miller, whose writing style and publishing career has inspired me so much over the past few years. (There’s a joke among CBA writers about the optimism…and arrogance…of using the phrase “Donald-Millerish” to describe your book! I’m just hoping that seeing my name within a few sentences of his will force your brain to make a subconscious link between us.)

Again, if any of you plan to attend, please let me know. We've already got a small group together. 

I'm interested to learn about  your opinions of Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, and Donald Miller? Have you read any of their books? Which were your favorites, and how did they impact you? How do you tend to agree or disagree with these guys? Have you heard any of them speak? What did you think? 

And finally, as you will also notice on my schedule of events, I’ll be speaking to a class of Bryan College freshmen next week. I’m excited about the opportunity, but a little unsure of exactly what to say about how my perspective on “Christian worldview” has changed over the years.

Any ideas? What sort of advice/ encouragement/ instruction do you wish you had received your freshman year of college?

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Review of "Deep Church" + Your Thoughts on Creeds

One of the perks of blogging is that sometimes you get free books in the mail to review on your site.  I have to admit that I was somewhat skeptical about Deep Church, the most recent book I received, in which Jim Belcher examines the divide between the emerging church and the traditional church in an effort to forge a third way.

I know what you’re thinking.

Define emerging. Define traditional…Oh, wait, you can’t.  How can there be a clear third way between such diverse, multi-faceted, and nuanced perspectives?

This is a problem that sneaks up on Belcher every now and then, but for the most part, he handles it with more clarity, intelligence, and compassion than just about any author I’ve read.  What sets Deep Churchapart is that it explains the emerging church phenomenon without putting it in a box. Belcher allows the diversity of the movement speak for itself, and does an excellent job of dispelling some of the myths and mischaracterizations that have dogged the emerging church and its proponents.

Highlights for me included:  1) Belcher’s call in Chapter 3 to find common ground in classic/orthodox Christianity (the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed) which, if applied, would dramatically reduce some of the name-calling and accusations of heresy that have been most unhelpful in the discussion between the emerging and traditional camps, 2) Belcher’s fabulous treatment of postmodernism and postfoundationalism in Chapter 4, where he rightly explains that when talking about postmodernism,  folks in the emerging church and the traditional church are using the same term to refer to two completely different things, and where he concludes that “a third way rejects classical foundationalism and hard postmodernism,” and 3) Belcher’s fair handling of the atonement issue in Chapter 6, in which he clarifies that most emergering church leaders “are not against atonement theories and justification, but want to see it balanced with the message of the kingdom of God.” These are just a few examples of Belcher's remarkably balanced approach, which is such a breath of fresh air.

Of course, in a book like this, it is inevitable that those of us who tend to identify with one side or the other will nitpick some of the author’s characterizations or claims. For example, I disagree with complementarian positions that limit the role of women in church leadership, but I don’t think this puts me in the category of “revisionists” who are “open to questioning key evangelical doctrines on theology and culture,” as Belcher asserts on page 46. I felt that occasionally, Belcher’s Calvinism got in the way of his third way, (particularly in Chapter 6 on “gospel” and Chapter 10 on “culture”), but I am of course a bit oversensitive to that because of my general aversion to systematic theology, particularly Reformed Theology. 

These are little things considering Belcher’s ambitious goal of trying to both define and bridge the gap between the emerging church and the traditional church—which he does marvelously. I am deeply grateful for his fair treatment of the subject and his commitment to pursue unity and understanding within the Church.

Blessed are the peacemakers!

Now, on to the subject of creeds in the context of “A New Kind of Fundametnalism”:

The part of Deep Church that I found to be most relevant to our conversations here at “Monkey Town” was Chapter 3, in which Belcher issues a stirring call for unity around classical Christianity. Citing Robert Greer, Belcher advocates developing a two-tiered approach that divides the essentials of orthodoxy from the particulars of differing traditions within the boundaries of orthodoxy.” The top tier, writes Belcher, “matches the creeds of the early church that have historically and universally defined orthodoxy. The bottom tier corresponds to the distinctive of each individual church body.” (p. 60)

Belcher identifies these creeds as The Apostle’s CreedThe Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.

I thought that this subject could really augment our discussion surrounding my recent post about A New Kind of Fundamentalism, in which I argue that a commitment to love God and love people provides the foundation for the Christian faith. The post generated a variety of responses (both here and on other blogs), with some folks calling for a doctrinal element to this kinds of fundamentalism.

So what do you think about this approach: Love + Affirmation of the Nicene Creed = Orthodoxy.

It differs from traditional fundamentalism in that it acknowledges love a fundamental element of faith, but it remains distinct from mere moralism in that it includes certain basic beliefs about God and Jesus Christ.

(To clarify, this is my take on the issue, not Belcher's.)

What do you think? Is such a definition of orthodoxy too limiting or too broad? Is trying to define orthodoxy counterproductive or helpful? Which creed do you think is most useful for defining orthodoxy? 

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Is the Emerging Church soooo last year?

It is ironic and telling that within a few days of writing a post about how young people seem to be gravitating toward either neo-Reformed theology or the emerging church, I should come across a piece by Dan Kimball in which he speaks of the emerging/emergent phenomenon in the past tense.

This has been happening a lot on the blogosphere recently. The general consensus among the movers and shakers the conversation-formerly-known-as-emerging seems to be this: “It was a wild ride. We learned a lot. We deconstructed, reconstructed, and changed our approach to a lot of things. Now it’s time to go our separate ways.”

Writes Kimball:

I know now that through time various theologies and differences have been discussed as categories within the emerging church world have been created... And that different people in the emerging world now focus on different things, different theologies, different networks. But those early days were quite a fun few years and very life-saving for me in many ways.

Now, I completely agree that among evangelical writers, pastors, and speakers, the “emerging church” as a cohesive movement is clearly a thing of the past. Together these guys (it was mostly guys) felt and engaged the changes brought on by postmodernism, and together they responded with new questions, new ideas, and new approaches to Christianity. As the conversation became more detailed and the initial splash turned into ripples, these leaders drifted in different directions as their interests and emphases and traditions diverged. This, of course, should be expected of any movement, particularly an evangelical one, and is probably a good thing.

But here’s the problem I have with declaring the “emerging conversation” over:  Some of us are still talking.

Perhaps in McLaren’s church, “everything has changed,” but in mine, addressing global poverty or AIDS or healthcare will get you branded as a “bleeding heart liberal” if you don’t do it right. Perhaps among McKnight’s students, it is assumed that women should have the same leadership opportunities as men, but in my community, the concept of a female pastor is about as foreign as a gay one. Maybe Kimball assumes that everyone has read N.T. Wright, rediscovered the significance of the kingdom message of Jesus, and re-framed the mission of the church as being one that should benefit the world, but when I tell people around here that I think God has a plan to redeem and restore the entire creation right here on earth, I get called a heretic. 

What I’m trying to say is that some of the most basic and important elements of the emerging movement have yet to catch on among the general public. Even though I know better, from where I stand, heralding the end of the emerging church is like heralding its defeat. It’s like declaring modern fundamentalism the victor and conceding that the skeptics were right all along about how this whole thing was nothing more than a fad. From here, saying that the emerging church is yesterday’s news is like signaling the end of a movement before it ever really got off the ground.

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining about  how long it takes for new things to catch on in the rural South. That’s just how things are down here, for better or worse. But on behalf of all the isolated “emergers” living day-to-day in communities like mine, I’m tempted to pull the obligatory, “Y’all ain’t from around here, are ya?” on my blogging friends.

It’s important for these leaders to remember that there are still a lot of environments in which the “emerging conversation” is desperately needed and incredibly relevant.  What may seem passé in academic circles is still trickling down to laypeople across the country. What was discussed and published last year is still being read this year. Conversations that some are finishing, many are just beginning.

The truth is, there are a lot of us out there whose only connection to like-minded believers has been though the blogs and books of “emerging” writers and thinkers. Maybe “emerging” is not the best word anymore. Maybe “emerging” is “so last-year.” But for people like me, “emerging” has come to signify a sort of community, maybe even an identity - the one group where we feel we actually fit.

It may sound silly and petty...(it may actually be silly and petty)...but I wish we could keep the “emerging” label around just a little while longer because, around here, if I’m not an “emerger,” I’m just a liberal.

Even though it's nothing more than a name...it's a name. And I'd be lying if I said I wasn't going to miss it.

What do you think? Is the emerging church a thing of the past?

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Reformed or Emerging...Must We Choose?

I ran across an old Mark Driscoll interview this weekend in which Driscoll was quoted as saying, “The two hot theologies today are Reformed and emerging. Reformed theology offers certainty, with a masculine God who names our sin, crushes Jesus on the Cross for it, and sends us to hell if we fail to repent. Emerging theology offers obscurity, with a neutered God who would not say an unkind word to us, did not crush Jesus for our sins, and would not send anyone to hell.” (Driscoll himself is Reformed.)

Now, I’m no fan of Mark Driscoll. I am troubled by the way he talks about women, gays, masculinity, and, quite frankly, Jesus. He’s been known to call anyone who disagrees with him a heretic, and often ridicules as “weak” or “queer” those who emphasize Christ’s teachings about loving enemies and turning the other cheek.

But as I read this interview, I had two thoughts: 1) Driscoll is absolutely wrong in the way that he characterizes emerging Christianity, and I hope he is absolutely wrong in the way that he characterizes Reformed theology, and 2) Driscoll is absolutely right about the fact that Reformed and emerging are the big trends.

The quote was from a 2006 Christianity Today interview, and since that time, I have seen more and more young people gravitating toward either Reformed Theology or emerging Christianity.

For example, I graduated in 2003 from a non-denominational Christian college, and I can say pretty confidently that most of the graduates with which I interact today are either hard-core Calvinists or Brian McLaren fans. (Most still living here in Dayton are Reformed; most with whom I correspond via e-mail are emerging.) Just Google “neo-Calvinism” or “Emerging Church” and it becomes immediately apparent that this is nationwide trend...not so much among older adults, but among those in their twenties and thirties.

In my mind, there are a few possible explanations:

  •  Neo-Calvinism is a reaction to emerging Christianity, as progressive movements are often met with resistance from traditionalists.
  • We have simply resurrected the age-old Arminianism/Calvinism debate in a new context, with new leaders, new terms, and new issues.
  • People from my generation are asking very similar questions about religious pluralism, salvation, justification, inerrancy, and faith. Neo-Calvinism offers clear, unambiguous answers for those who want closure. Emerging Christianity offers a community and a forum for those who aren’t satisfied with those answers.

What do you think? Have you noticed your friends trending toward either Calvinism or the Emerging Church? Why do you think this is? What do you think about Driscoll’s characterization of Reformed Theology and Emerging Christianity?

I’d love to hear from Reformed folks and emerging folks...as well as those of you who consider yourselves a part of a tradition that is neither Reformed nor emerging. (And yes, I know that “emerging” can be a bit hard to pin down; just go to Wikipedia for a pretty decent summary of the movement.)

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