Emerging Church Movement hits New York Times

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.

  • Per­haps the ideas of the emer­gent church were lost in the arti­cle, but the cul­ture of the move­ment is what seems to attract peo­ple. After all, what does the Emer­gent Church believe?

  • in new york this week­end and won­der­ing what these church­es are now call­ing themselves.

    • Hi Andrew, cool to see you here. I’ve lost touch with your blog, I should add it back to my blogroll. It seems like a lot of ener­gy in the “alt” “emer­gent” world has been spent com­ing up with cool names and neol­o­gisms. I’m sure what­ev­er they were call­ing it back in 2004 is total­ly passé now.