What is changing in the church?

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

This post is part of a synchroblog event organized by Julie Clawson, around the question "What is emerging in the Church?"


As the book launch approaches, I’ve been warned by several advisors to avoid aligning myself with the “emerging church.” Identifying with this group will alienate potential readers, they say.  It will box me in and limit my influence, they say. It will subject me to unwanted criticism, they say. 

While I’m no fan of labels—(and “emerging” or “emergent” can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people)— it would be dishonest for me to say that I have not been influenced by many of the writers and speakers that are associated with this movement. In fact, I’m currently reading Brian McLaren’s latest book, A New Kind of Christianity, and plan to include an interview with him on the blog later this month.

It is rare (and frankly, disappointing) to find a book or blog in which I agree with every word, and the pieces springing from the emerging movement are no different. But what I like about the emerging conversation is that it provides one of the only forums in which I feel safe to explore and talk openly about the changes I’ve experienced in my own faith and the changes I’ve observed in the Church.  It has helped me find the right words to describe my observations and ideas. It has helped me feel a little less alone.

Maybe “changing” is a better word than “emerging.” Maybe talking about the “changing church” instead of the “emerging church” will bring more voices into the conversation and add some diversity to the group.  Because most Christians I know—especially young Christians—seem to sense that something is indeed changing about their faith and that something is indeed changing about the Church. They just don’t know what to make of the word “emerging,” and they’re just not sure they want to jump on board with everything that Brian McLaren and Peter Rollins have to say.

In my own faith journey, I have experienced a lot of changes in the last five years. I went from thinking that being a Christian means having the right opinions about Jesus to believing that being a Christina means following Jesus.  I went from knowing all the answers about Christianity to asking a lot of pesky questions about Christianity. I went from having a long list of fundamentals (young earth creationism, biblical inerrancy, religious exclusivism, conservativism, etc.) to having a short list of fundamentals (love God, love people, affirm the creeds).  I went from anticipating the Kingdom of God after death to participating in the Kingdom of God in the present.  I went from resting in the security of certainty to wrestling with doubt and struggling at times with unbelief. I went from defending Christianity against change to accepting change as a part of faith.

I also sense some major shifts in the Church as a whole. I sense a shift from glorifying individualism to embracing community, especially when it comes to biblical interpretation and Christian living. I sense a shift from fierce denominationalism to ecumenicalism. Among young people I sense disenchantment with the way religion has been politicized and a healthy suspicion regarding how carelessly we often use God’s name. I sense that Christians are growing more open to women in church leadership. And I sense that I’m not the only one who struggles with how to approach people of different faiths.

Perhaps people feel as though we have to decide ahead of time whether or not all of these changes are good and healthy for the church and that’s why discussions surrounding the “emerging church” can be so divisive. All I know is that my faith has been both challenged and enriched by change, but the degree to which it has made me a more faithful follower of Jesus remains to be seen.

I am a work in progress, as I suspect most of us are.

What about you? How has your faith changed over the last five years? What changes to you sense in the Church as a whole?
 (If you participated in the synchroblog feel free to include a teaser and link to your post in the comments.)

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