Today’s New York Times has an article called “Hip New Churches Pray to a Different Drummer” about postmodern and emergent churhces. The article has some good observations and interviews many of the right people, but the presentation is skewed: there on the front cover of the print edition are some New Agey hipsters holding their ears and hearts in some sort of mock-Medieval prayer, sitting in big chairs over the headline about the “different drummer.” Egads.
The photo reminds me of my New York Times moment, when the photographer insisted on a few shots of me holding a guitar, which made it onto the “CyberTimes” cover, but the paragraph describing the movement is a good, concise one:
Called “emerging” or “postmodern” churches, they are diverse in theology and method, linked loosely by Internet sites, Web logs, conferences and a growing stack of hip-looking paperbacks. Some religious historians believe the churches represent the next wave of evangelical worship, after the boom in megachurches in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
Still, much of the article talks about the superficial stuff, what Jordan Cooper calls the “candles and coffee” superficiality of some of a form-only emergent church style. There certainly is a lot of chaff with the wheat. Julie read the article and was really turned off to the dumb side of the emergent church:
Honey, I just can’t get with it. I empathize somewhat, but I’m a traditionalist, so I can’t say I don’t take just as much offense at “borrowing” Catholic and Orthodox spiritual practices as I do at the importing of the sweatlodge ripped off from Native Americans. I’m not saying that all Emerging Church groups do rip off, they’re trying to find something legitimate, I can see that. It’s just that they are settling for part of the truth without looking at the whole picture. Lectio Divina is part of a larger Catholic theology and really shouldn’t be divorced from it, etc. I empathize with the unchurched and the unfriendliness of traditional churches to the completely unchurched. I don’t know what the answer is, but this movement just strikes me as bizarre. Of course, again, I’m coming from a traditional Catholic perspective here, so “church” to me means something utterly different than to many, especially the unchurched and evangelicals, for example, who see worship as more open and dynamic and involving the heart, not so much about form. I guess in the end, it’s just that some of this Emerging Church stuff is just too “cool.” I’m glad that it puts some people in touch with God, and that’s a good thing. But church should never be too cool or too comfy or too sentimental. It should challenge too. What I’d like to hear in one of these articles is how these new forms and this new movement actually challenge people to commit to Christ and to change their lives. Hmmm.
So true, so true. What I’ve wondered is whether traditional Quakerism has a threshing function to offer the emergent-church seekers: we have the intimate meetings (partly by design, partly because our meetings are half-empty), the language of the direct experience with God, the warning against superficiality. I can hear Julie laughing at me saying this, as Friends have largely lost the ability to challenge or articulate our faith, which is the other half of the equation. But I’d like to believe we’re due for some generational renewals ourselves, which might bring us to the right place at the right time to engage with the emergent churchers and once more gather a new people.