Emergence Christianity in a Post Modern World

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As I prepare to finish my time at Wesley Theological Seminary I am exploring the ECM’s role within the larger Church.  Last week I looked at what defining characteristics could be applied to the ECM and over the coming weeks I am going to give a brief timeline of the beginnings of the ECM, and examine the ECM in practice.  My findings are but a small sketch of the overall ECM in the United States.  These findings should not be considered final because the ECM is still in it’s infancy when considered within the history of Christianity.  This week I want to examine how the ECM is influenced by a post-modern view of the world.

A Post-Modern View

The ‘post-modern’ view of the world is one that, according to John Caputo, pays attention to all narratives and acknowledges that all narratives matter. It is in these narratives that an organization or community finds it’s direction. This view of the world, allows for many views of the world, as many views as their are people. Knowledge and not authority is power, and the desire to objectify our reality is abandoned. It is through this view that Emergence Church has taken shape.
Stanley Grenz lists “contours of the post-modern Gospel”. The first is, ‘post-individualistic’. The community is the priority. God exists within the community, and the church no long exists within the community and has not become the community. Second, the soul and body are united, as well as mind and matter. People within the community are a unified whole, rather than a collection of individuals. Finally, the accumulation of knowledge is not the ultimate goal for the community. The purpose of life is attainment of wisdom, specifically ‘biblical wisdom’. Doctrines show a community how to live life but ultimately the goal is not to simply create ‘just doctrines’.

Flat Is Flat

So then, what is the result of ‘post-modern’ Christianity? How does this world-view change or affect the mission of the ECM? A major, if not the most significant effects on the ECM of the ‘post-modern’ view is the flat nature of church leadership structures. Flat meaning the community itself leads and makes decisions rather than the top-down method that is favored by many institutionalized churches. This is where the ‘priesthood of all believers’, one of the hallmarks of Luther’s theses that has yet to be embraced by many institutionalized protestant traditions.
A flat structure of leadership and organization results in a cultural shift from what the modern era has presented. This shift gives us a bottom-up, or grassroots, way in which ideas are cultivated and presented. The result is a cultural shift within organizations. The dissemination of information and ideas shifts. Within this style of leadership pastors and other community leaders must push back against their own insecurities and begin to listen. They must listen the members of the community and those outside of their community, so that all parties involved will be able to learn and grow with one another. When the time is appropriate a leader may use the skills they have when, and only when, it is their turn to do so.

Crowdsourcing is a way in which ECM leadership can gain information and information can be received. As much as we like to think, we are not experts on all matters that we must be involved in. Members within ECM communities utilize the wisdom of crowds in the ‘post-modern’ worldview. This is where open source information along with seeking out experts within the community can be to the advantage of leadership as well as the community. The knowledge or education a pastor has is not a trump card. The pastor, in this model, is not the ‘smartest’ person in the room. Google, YouTube, and internet has given free and instant access to anything and everything that has ever been taught or studied. Everyone within the community has access to this information and is encouraged to use it.
Social-Media-IconsSocial media has been a power player in the movement towards the crowd sourcing of information. Social media has resulted in an increasingly connected world. A world that is as connected as we are today allows for the spread of information to happen almost fast than the news or data can be created. An example of this occurred in Virginia during the earthquakes that struck the central region of the commonwealth. The news of the earthquake travelled north to the Washington, D.C metropolitan region quicker than the earthquake could travel in the same direction.

Brief Post-Modern Critique

A problem that arises in this ‘post-modern’ view is that because of our over connectedness and the theories surrounding crowdsourcing, it can be difficult for Christians to wrestle with the fact that we know more about our surroundings and the world in which we live, but that even with all of this information we will never know everything there is to know about God. In the ‘post-modern’ view of the world, Christians are called to be lifelong learners. As lifelong learners, we acknowledge that we do not know everything and we continually seek information and to learn more. Phyllis Tickle says that Christianity is not a math problem, with a right or wrong answer. Christians in this view then ground their beliefs in Jesus’ character and nature, then move to apply what they have learned in a more broad sense knowing that every subject or question will not be answered or addressed.