The emerging self
February 18, 2004 9:51 AM   Subscribe

The postmodern Church. 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.
posted by the fire you left me (18 comments total)
See also Jesus Plus Nothing.
posted by the fire you left me at 10:35 AM on February 18, 2004

Protestant churches are certainly taking some funny turns in their search for the next big thing (is there life after megachurch?). This site is like the mothership for this movement.

There is also another trend going on which borrows some of the same content as the emergent movement (like, old and funky is better) while not breaking the church form quite as much (like, organs and pianos instead of drumkits and electric guitars). Both 'hip' and 'conservative'. The press hasn't been so kind.

I'm not so sure I want my church to be hip. It would make me suspicious or something.
posted by footballrabi at 11:23 AM on February 18, 2004

Good post.
posted by konolia at 11:32 AM on February 18, 2004

I'm not so sure I want my church to be hip. It would make me suspicious or something

I want MY church to be real. To me a lot of the traditional stuff is just traditional stuff. I take my faith seriously...I go to a church with more than 2000 members, biblically very sound but we do have things like worship bands (I'm part of that.)

The neat thing is that there are a smorgasboard of styles out there for church. From the beauty and majesty of a liturgical service to the simplicity of a house church to the ebullience and joy of a charismatic fellowship, etc etc-all that matters is that God is worshiped and that His sheep are fed. He does like variety, and He knows we do, too.
posted by konolia at 11:36 AM on February 18, 2004

I'm not so sure I want my church to be hip.

Depends on your definition of "hip." If you mean "hip" as in "knowing, cynical, blase." Then I can see your point. If you mean "hip" as in "aware, open to new ideas/variety, accepting of people," then that would be cool, methinks.
posted by jonmc at 11:44 AM on February 18, 2004

I want MY church to be real.

Exactly. Church should be about being, not about trying to be.
posted by footballrabi at 11:46 AM on February 18, 2004

Religion fulfills a need for people to believe in something bigger than themselves and more absolute than the uncertain and mutable propositions by which they'd otherwise live their lives.

The ritual and structure of liturgical and hierarchical churches fulfill this need naturally. Evangelical churches, lacking either liturgy or hierarchy, need something else. The fundamentalist churches among them have the only signifier they need in absolutely centering on the Bible, but the rest are left chasing signifiers of structure and transcendence.

The sheer scale of the megachurches was one solution, although your average megachurch has no more congregants than your typical suburban Catholic church -- the megachurch just packs them all in at one 10 a.m. Sunday service, instead of spreading them out through the 6 p.m. Saturday masses and six Masses throughout the day Sunday.

I'm very interested in the development of liturgical or quasi-liturgical practices in evangelical churches. I suspect that it will end up not really getting the job done -- sort of the way that high church Anglicanism seems to have two endings, equally unsatisfactory from the standpoint of Anglicanism -- the high churcher decides to go all the way and becomes Catholic or Orthodox, or the high church ceremony devolves into an empty theatricalism.
posted by MattD at 11:48 AM on February 18, 2004

I find this fascinating, although some of the descriptions make it sound like marketing people coming up with a church for Generation Y - EXTREME JESUS! or something. But it may have something going for it:

Like discussion groups on the Internet, the churches are nonhierarchal and open to multiple points of view, which has drawn criticism from some leaders of established churches who say the emerging churches undercut absolute truths for the vagaries of multiple interpretations.

That line, more than anything, made me feel like there is something more than just pandering to hipsters. If it makes the church elders sputter, it may be worth listening to.
posted by RylandDotNet at 11:52 AM on February 18, 2004

Churches take these lunges into the hip new fads, grow to epic proportions and then burn out in turn for the next new thing. The "reproducers" had their big shot in the 60's, but blew out, then you've got your "Young Life" and "Guitar Mass" crap. This is what happens when people stop believing that they are going to hell if they don't blindly adhere to the dogma. Damn free will.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:56 AM on February 18, 2004

I don't care what these "believers" do as long they don't flaunt their "lifestyle" in public.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 11:56 AM on February 18, 2004

Well, jonmc, I guess I do mean 'hip' as knowing and cynical. This exposes me, because that's how I tend to be. If grace exists, it certainly isn't knowing or cynical. I hope that it would be totally unlike me.

Which is why these movements, (megachurch, emergent, missional, etc) wrankle me. They smell too much like marketing. I'm wary of that because of the old medium is the message argument (which originated, for my money, with St. Paul in his letters to Corinth: weakness and fear vs. power and eloquence). It seems that when grace is marketed it simply becomes another commodity. And, really, God help us all if grace is just that.

If, on the other hand, these forms are coming out of the fact that this is how these ministers and people actually are, then I should be less pessimistic (if they are real, as konolia wrote).

I think that MattD is right about this 'trending up' in evangelical circles. It seems to have been going on for about 10 years now. Why do you think this is the case?
posted by footballrabi at 12:09 PM on February 18, 2004

See also Jesus Plus Nothing.

This article made me want to vomit in terror. For real, yo.
posted by jennyb at 12:54 PM on February 18, 2004

i got a bang out of, which footballrabi linked above. not only do they have that edgy, 'nu-tech' name, they have a stylized "e" and - get ready for it - a swooshy logo. whoa, like dude, when's the IPO?!
posted by quonsar at 1:25 PM on February 18, 2004

quonsar, I'm down with the "image pilgrimage for your spiritual formation" over at eV. I mean, they have to use that cool, tech-like acronym, right?
posted by billsaysthis at 6:26 PM on February 18, 2004

If I had a church, I'd want my church to be as far from other human beings as it could possibly get.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:43 PM on February 19, 2004

open source theology is a particularly facinating "emerging church" blog that I've been keeping my eye on for some time. It's "Outline of an emerging theology" gives a general sense of where they're coming from theologically, as does this recent dialogue between the site's founder and a more orthodox Lutheran pastor that criticized the site.

One can debate the theological soundness of their specific beliefs (or, more accurately, their range of beliefs) but I think the idea of theology as a dialectic rather than a set of immutable truths is quite facinating and potentially far more useful for at least some believers. Reminds me of Kierkegaard.
posted by boltman at 12:32 AM on February 20, 2004

Please, please, please tell me that Jesus Plus Nothing is fiction.
posted by Skwirl at 7:24 AM on February 23, 2004

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