Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tooley on Emergent: So wide an emptiness

Add Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy to the list of those not lamenting the demise of the "emerging church."
Is, or was, the emerging church merely a passing fad primarily for bored yuppies smugly unhappy with their conventional suburban churches and pining for a spiritual theater more hip and supposedly more relevant? One Sojourners writer, quoting a blogger, credited emergents for their contributions to "women's issues, conversations about sexuality, environmentalism, anti-foundationalism, [and] social justice." But those "conversations" have been mainly only that. Not for nothing do emergents usually insist they are not a movement but a "community" or an ongoing "conversation."

Brian McLaren himself, in his own short piece for Sojourners, readily agreed with the need to "shift away from white, Western, male hegemony and homogeneity." He also wants to emphasize that while the "the postmodern conversation" occurs in the West, the global South is more interestingly having its "postcolonial conversation." It's not clear exactly what McLaren means by "postcolonial." Now a frequent speaker to liberal Episcopal Church audiences, he almost certainly does not sympathize with global South Christians rebelling against liberal Western church sexual and theological trends.

More revealingly, McLaren noted that "theological conversations about the shape and purpose of the gospel, along with issues of justice -- racial, environmental, and economic -- are far more urgent and important than arguments about what goes on in church services, as valuable as church services are." Himself a Baby Boomer guru for mostly much younger emergents, McLaren has become increasingly a Jim Wallis-type Social Gospel proponent who prefers activism to doctrine. Championing Palestinian liberation and Obamacare have been two of his most recent causes.

Far more biting is a subsequent Sojourners commentary from "urban-monastic" Shane Claiborne, a young author and lecturer popular among college age evangelicals who heads a Philadelphia, almost Quaker-like spiritual center called "The Simple Way." He is an Anabaptist enthusiast who urges his listeners to reject the world through anti-materialism and aggressive pacifism.

Claiborne regretted that the emergent church became "narcissistic, and often became little more than theological masturbation: feels good but doesn't give birth to much." He surmised that overly loquacious emergents like to "talk about talking about theology" and have "repeated some of the mistakes of fundamentalism (only with more tattoos)." Claiborne aptly observed that emergentism seemingly "has no real life or DNA of its own," but is primarily an endless circle of spiritual self reflection. He wonders why so much ink and talk is spilled on so wide an emptiness.