Perspective: Shane Claiborne & the Emerging Church

I have a very mixed view of the Emerging Church movement – especially as one who embraces ideals of Post-Modernity and Modernity and doesn’t feel “at home” in Emergent or mainstream Evangelical contexts. One the one hand I appreciate the willingness of push the status quo, the focus on Orthodpraxy (justice, reconciliation,  grace, etc.), embrace of the trinity and narrative perspective of scripture, and their engagement with the artistic community. One the other hand, I deeply question the “Generous Orthodoxy” position of many in the movement, find the lack of engagement with non-White churches/communities frustrating,  the movement from being reformative to divisive and have been turned off with the arrogance some more prominent individuals within the movement hold.

I just discovered this article from Shane Claiborne and found him speaking my thoughts.

First, I want to say I do not want to discourage those who have found renewed hope in Jesus and the Church through “emerging church” conversations and circles. And I am fully aware that there are all sorts of “emerging church” conversations happening, especially overseas, and some promising new signs of hope such as the indigenous (First Nation) youth movement that embraces the language of “emergence.” There are lovely things happening inside and outside of the great “emergence.”

If you are unfamiliar with the language of “emerging church,” it has become a very confusing trend within the contemporary renewal happening in the Church. A decade or so ago, a bunch of young, mostly white evangelicals started seeing similar conversations beginning to spark all over the place about the reshaping of evangelicalism, the rethinking of missions, and reimagining what it really means to be the church. See Article Here.

What are your response/thoughts? What role should the emergent church play in society and in world Christianity? What is/has been your engagement with the emergent church?

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4 thoughts on “Perspective: Shane Claiborne & the Emerging Church

  1. Well, I think the critique that it is mostly white, though accurate, is a little frustrating for two reasons: 1) The movement is a work in progress and I believe they are doing what they can to move towards greater diversity and 2) within evangelicalism they are one of the more gender diverse movements which doesn’t often get much air time either.

    Neither of these are reasons to not encourage them towards greater racial and ethnic diversity, but both of them should be taken into account. The “Big Tent Christianity” event hosted by JoPa last summer got a lot of critiques for being mostly white. Tony Jones posted a comment about the lack of diversity at the conference:

    “Progressives rightly desire robust diversity in their ranks. Flip through Christianity Today, and you’ll see ad after ad for pastors’ conferences in which the speaking roster is unashamedly full of white men. This is not acceptable among progressives. Good. Yes. I agree. However, one does what one can and then one lives with the consequences. So Philip, Brian, and Tripp cast the net and the invitations far and wide, and got as many acceptances as they could, and the line-up of speakers is still too male and too white. Having said that, there’s nothing more we can do about that now. If we all sit around an bemoan our failures at diversity, we won’t advance the ball down the field.”

    I appreciate that they made an attempt at diversity, but they did so with a little bit of ignorance as Big Tent Christianity was the same weekend as CCDA, which I imagine drew away many from participating in BTC.

    That said, I think Shane was simply trying to distance himself from a label that he received unfairly. I don’t think he set out to tear down Emergent here, but it is a bit ironic that he bemoaned the coverage that Emergent gets while giving them quite a bit of coverage. I think his point could have been made without speaking about Emergent in such length. I think he is correct, that there is a movement and it is not exclusively or even predominantly Emergent. I appreciate Emergent’s voice, their push towards gender diversity and their focus on Orthopraxy. I think they will grow in diversity as they learn, but we have to let that happen without discouraging them every time they host an event. My guess is that racial and ethnic diversity won’t take place until they invite minorities to participate in organizing and planning events.

  2. i’d seen shane’s posting a while ago, and i was a bit disappointed in his reply… Heath on the otherhand defended it well, i’ve not been to any emergent churches besides the 509 which, as i’d mentioned before did not have “generous orthodoxy” actually, it was all about the Word, and only about that… It is only after reading about other emergent churches that i began to realize that they weren’t all like the 509 apparently, as far as theology was concerned…granted, we did/do have “generous” minded people there but as far as the teaching was concerned, it was solid, and biblical there…
    anyway, you should read Heath’s response to the whole ordeal…he owned it, and didn’t try distancing himself from it at all…it was just straight talk…
    http://thekenosis.blogspot.com/2010/09/hello-my-name-is-heath-and-i-am.html

  3. Joey, I get the tension too. I agree that they are trying for diversity, but so are many evangelical institutions/churches. And they used the same defense of “we invite people”, I don’t think it is that simple. Moreover, it is frustrating to me to hear some folks in the emergent camp talk about racial issues, but not have congregations and communities that look different (some, not all). It reminds me of academic liberal-arts colleges that talk diversity, but don’t really live it. I also believe that because the movement is young they have the awesome opportunity to stop and reevaluate the low ethnic/racial diversity and move towards transforming. I don’t think they (and they aren’t unique) are willing to regress in order to add more ethnic-minority voices because the brand and I.D. is so strong at this point. I will say though, for African-Americans the “generous orthodoxy” presented might offer a real obstacle because although many are socially progressive they are theologically more conservative as a whole (I believe I can say the same for most ethnic-minorities Christians).

    I also agree with the gender comment, but mainstream Evangelicalism doesn’t talk about it even within current denominations (Free Methodist, Evangelical Covenant, Foresquare Church, Vineyard) that have females in leadership and trying to encourage more. I don’t know if people are not acknowledging the emergent movement, I think it is more they are ignoring the current presence and changes occurring.

    Nabrissa, what did you not like about Shane Claiborne’s post? I actually don’t think Shane was “distancing” himself, because like Joey mentioned above the emergent movement is something he was placed in not really something he put himself into. Shane also starts of acknowledging the good that is within the emergent movement. His point is to give a critique of the emergent church. Interestingly, many folks in the emergent church movement are willing to critique – which I deeply value – but not be critiqued even by those who are sympathetic and want to see the movement mature (i.e. Scot McKnight & Soong Chan Rah).

    I am glad that you realize that although the “emergent” culture of 509 wasn’t a “generous orthodoxy” presented from the leadership – I believe Shane is critiquing what he sees in the mainstream movement which is a little different than at the 509. Some emergent congregations are too generous. What I liked about the 509 was that is was plugged into a denomination which gave it accountability.

  4. I think he is also distancing himself from the neo-fundamentalist side of the “emerging” conversation – the Driscolls and what not.

    Bell has found himself in a similar predicament in that he never associated himself with Emergent, other than having relationships with those who are involved, yet he gets the same label. I think theologically Bell and Claiborne of very similar, considering Jesus For President has a side note that most of the book’s Bible teachings are based on the teachings of Rob Bell.

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