Emerging or just Liberal?

What exactly am I "emerging" into?

Plenty of visitors to this site would accuse me of being nothing more than a neo-liberal. And sometimes I wonder...

Can I keep holding conflicting ideas in tension? Can we keep pulling on opposite ends of the strings of faith, hope, love and personal spirituality?

There are plenty of Emergents who hold to a very conservative (even fundamentalist) view of theology and personal spirituality. They acknowledge the need for Christian change, but they are simultaneously terrified of what we may evolve into.

There are plenty of Emergents who have rejected a lot of Evangelical views, beliefs and theological stances. They see a need for change, but seem just as unwilling to open themselves to a mysterious, uncontrollable Holy Spirit.

Here's the thing: I don't think Marcus Borg is any more (or any less) "emerging" than Mark Driscoll. They are poles of the same globe - head and tail of the same penny.

I was thinking this morning: will we ever be finally "emerged?"

In the name of Jesus, I certainly hope not. Not in this life - perhaps not ever. Evolution is a natural part of God's creation - the physical creation and the spiritual one (if they are, indeed, separate at all).

I confess to not knowing what it is I am. I am confused. And searching. Searching for what I've already found: Jesus Christ. But my knowledge is limited. Like Kierkegaard, I understand that I do not understand.

Maybe that's why I feel conflicted. In my gut, I feel liberal. But in my heart, I believe God is far wiser than I am. And so I concede that my own instincts, and my own sense of morality, are frail, faulty and fallen.

I'll keep asking questions. I'll keep appreciating theologians like Willard and Schaeffer, as well as those like Spong. And hopefully, I won't agree with any of them completely - not because I think I'm smarter than them! (I'm a mess) I won't subscribe completely because, in humility, I recognize that none of us is clearly hearing the Holy Spirit. We see in part. We hear in part. We know in part.

I Corinthians 13:12 reminds us, "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."

What are YOU emerging into?

Are you a neo-liberal? A hipster fundamentalist? Or are you truly emerging?

"Retreating" to the Legend of Zelda...

What is it about the nostalgia of old-school video games? In particular, the endless, romantic joy of exploration and battle in The Legend of Zelda for the original NES...

Tonight I plugged into the original adventure of Link through the wonder of WiiWare and transported myself back to simpler times.

We all have means of "escaping" the difficulties and stresses of this life. And why not? We weren't created to work 60-hours a week. Six day workweeks. Day in, day out. Few of us take time to breath... how in the world do we take time for Sabbath?

I don't know. But I'm thankful for little joys like Zelda, cold beer and a Kurt Vonnegut read.

I've gotten myself all worked up about the presidential race, about starting Fall Semester at seminary, about the stresses of marriage... marriage. Wow. It's amazing how quickly marriage falls to the end of that line. The most important thing in my life becomes the most taken-for-granted.

Jenny, I'm sorry for being so impatient, so quick to judge, and so selfish. When you get back from class orientation tonight, you can play with the First Player controller if you want. I love you.

Woohoo! #1 in Search Engines...

Wow, I can't believe it!

Today www.EmergingChristian.com became the #1 Google search result for searching...
  • "emerging christianity" - #1 of 5.6 million Google search hits
  • "emerging christian" - #1 of 7.4 million Google search hits
  • also, #1 through Yahoo out of 49.8 million hits on "emerging christian"
  • #1 through Yahoo out of 10.8 million hits on "emerging christianity"

It took a long time to beat out (not a very nice way to put it) Wikipedia's entries for the subject and www.JesusCreed.org (a fantastic blog by scholar/author Dr. Scot McKnight, by the way).

So, what's the goal? What's the hope and intention of this site? Big picture: I want to offer just one more voice (of many, MANY) of someone struggling to discover and articulate Christianity in a postmodern context.

More selfishly, I want to be a full-time writer. Some day. Yes, this blog is sloppy, but I'm working on some shizzle...

Thanks, everyone, for visiting! I'm blessed by my online friends AND critics.

I Need My Mouth Washed With Soap...

Don't judge this comment just yet...

"Anonymous" Commented:

Hey Pete, I hope that your peity and language skills are of your own making, and not representative of the emergent church leadership as a whole. I wash my kids mouth out with soap for talking like that, and they would be ashamed that a man pursuing the pastoral ministry (which is what I will assume is your goal as a seminary student, until otherwise informed) is setting such an example for the people of God. Of course, I know it's not unique to you. I've heard plenty of other emergent church groupies not acting their age, and who use the fact that they have gotten away/"been liberated" from their parents' faith as a cover for gross indecency.I'm pretty dissappointed with what I see coming out of GFU's seminary, as well as with the blatant misrepresentations of Christian history and theology that Sweet passes off as being exciting scholarship. I'm glad that I took my M.Div. at Westminster Seminary in California, where serious study is still respected, and where godliness in the life of the future ministers of the church is still expected. Take care, and think about these things.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I know I'm a jerk. "Anonymous" is probably right about "Emergent groupies" too, and right that I've been guilty of being one. There needs to be more substance to these emerging conversations than "I'm willing to swear and drink and listen to secular bands" (see: Mark Driscoll).

I felt a little hurt and a little defensive of this feedback, until I went back and read the post "Anonymous" was commenting on: click here to read. You're right - I had forgotten I wrote such a crass and immature post. But that was 2 years ago! I've grown so much! Now, I can't say I wouldn't write something so ridiculous again, but you have every right to be disgusted! C'mon though, I'm having fun here! I love the Lord (really, I do) and I'm trying to figure out what my faith really looks like. And I'm honestly - WHOLEHEARTEDLY - seeking guidance through the Holy Spirit.

But yeah, I'm an immature jerk who listens to ego, acts on hubris, and revels in toilet humor too often.

I'll get better though. I'll grow. I promise. And the church isn't doomed by the likes of me. It's doomed by those who don't explore their faith and don't claim freedom (for better AND for worse) in the love and grace of God through Jesus Christ. It's doomed in quiet surrender to habit and comfort.

"Getting Along With Right-Wing Relatives..."

A gay friend of mine handed me a copy of an article from The Advocate the other day: "Ready to Make Nice: How to get along with your right-wing relatives."

It's a good reminder of how painful some beliefs are, issues that many Christians take for granted. So how many gay friends do you have? No, not a hipster popularity contest. Do you have cultural accountability? A friend to tell you when you're being a real asshole? More importantly: do you have relationships that keep your perspective on PEOPLE (individuals) vs. POLITICS (impersonal bullet-points).

I have a close friend who had two abortions in college. They were emotionally devastating to her, but she remains pro-choice. I think of her when I see picket signs.

After fourteen years, Tim's sister won't let him spend time with his nephew anymore - her church forbid it because "he is no better than a child molester." I think of him when I see picket signs.

It's easy to fight blind culture wars when you don't have to think about people you know...

God's "Other" Son...

This is too hilarious... you will feel dirty for laughing, and thank me. Props to Justice & Compassion for linking to this gem:


I was reading Wikipedia today and was enjoying re-reading some of the definition-material on "emergence," and how it relates to all of these conversations about God, church and culture. Really fascinating, the way almost everything we talk about and write about falls under the umbrella of Organic Evolution, natural organisms developing based on the environmental factors around them. Whatever "Emergent" looks like now, it doesn't have to look like that everywhere. And certainly not for any prescribed period of time. Not even a generation. The only errors we can make in the process of ecclesiological evolution are (a) not praying and listening for the Holy Spirit, and (b) refusing to continue evolving...

In philosophy, systems theory and the sciences, emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions...

...Merely having a large number of interactions is not enough by itself to guarantee emergent behaviour; many of the interactions may be negligible or irrelevant, or may cancel each other out. In some cases, a large number of interactions can in fact work against the emergence of interesting behaviour, by creating a lot of "noise" to drown out any emerging "signal"; the emergent behaviour may need to be temporarily isolated from other interactions before it reaches enough critical mass to be self-supporting. Thus it is not just the sheer number of connections between components which encourages emergence; it is also how these connections are organized. A hierarchical organization is one example that can generate emergent behaviour (a bureaucracy may behave in a way quite different from that of the individual humans in that bureaucracy); but perhaps more interestingly, emergent behaviour can also arise from more decentralized organisational structures, such as a marketplace. In some cases, the system has to reach a combined threshold of diversity, organization, and connectivity before emergent behaviour appears.
Systems with emergent properties or emergent structures may appear to defy entropic principles and the second law of thermodynamics, because they form and increase order despite the lack of command and central control. This is possible because open systems can extract information and order out of the environment.

Saddleback Politics...

I have to say that I was disappointed in what I've seen of Obama's performance at Saddleback last weekend. From the kind of progressive-but-passionate faith he writes about in his books, to the speeches he's given with such figures as Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo, Obama could have (and should have) been far more prepared to deal with hot-button questions concerning issues like abortion.

He almost choked a little bit on the abortion issue, as if it wouldn't be the foremost topic raised at a mostly-white Evangelical megachurch!

At an AIDS conference at Saddleback Church in 2006, Republican Senator Sam Brownback turned to Obama and said, "Welcome to my house." The audience of evangelicals howled with laughter. But when Obama had the chance to speak a few minutes later, he returned to what Brownback had said: "There is one thing I've got to say, Sam: This is my house, too. This is God's house."

That's the kind of Obama I've been inspired by. He knows how to talk faith without caving to a few bullet point issues. Obama could have talked (I would imagine) for hours about "a consistent ethic for human life," not just one that focuses on the unborn. He did not. He could have discussed the facts that abortion rates went down during the Clinton Presidency, and began to climb again during Bush Jr.'s. He did not. Even radically left-leaning liberals can get on a bandwagon that praises fewer abortions due to decreased public demand, when other social needs (like education, childcare, retirement, debt relief, healthcare, public safety, etc…) are being adequately met. But Obama didn't seem to go there. He was almost strangely nondescript.

NEVERTHELESS, in a follow-up sermon on Sunday (the following day) Rick Warren preached a surprisingly suggestive sermon:

"Don't just look at issues, look at character," Warren said. "Look at the candidate and say, 'Does he live with integrity, serve with humility, share with generosity, or not?'"

Who knows who Warren will actually vote for, but I gotta give him credit for going in a different direction than so many of his Evangelical friends and affiliates. And if I were to paint a picture of the candidate who more closely resembles his description of 'character beyond issues,' I'd swear he was an Obama man.

I hope that the senator from Illinois recognizes his need to go a little deeper into those "gray area" issues so many Christians wrestle with in Evangelical America.

A Third Way...

I'm reading Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World by John Stackhouse Jr.

In it, he brilliantly argues for a "third way" of envisioning Christianity in the real world. Not countercultural, against the world. Not apart from the world - an escapist "city on a hill" model. But rather a dualistic, even paradoxical commitment as a citizen of both the world and the Kingdom of God.

Stackhouse writes:

Most of us live in a world that is grayer than these black-and-white options [the apart or against poles], and some of us earnestly want Biblical guidance for such living. Indeed, most of us make our way in a world in which success means asking for ten, hoping for eight, and settling for six. We experience compromise, disappointment, unexpected impediments, and unintended consequences.
It is obvious that the international order is far from Christian in its identity and conduct. In that crucial sense it is clearly not the Kingdom of God. Nonetheless, the Kingdom of God is partialy and mixedly, but also really, present in the extension of these [true and good] values into spheres previously not deeply shaped by them.
We see the marks of the Kingdom of God, then, wherever light penetrates darkness, wherever good makes its way against evil or inertia, wherever beauty emerges amid upgliness or vapidity, and wherever truth sounds out against error or falsity. And as we gladly recognize these marks, we also long for the complete manifestation of God's reign in the return of his Son.

Stackhouse writes of "the Kingdom of God, incognito" working its way in and through human systems. It may not be the ultimate manifestation many Christians expect and pray for, but it is good nonetheless.

Kierkegaard Quotation...

"The first thing to understand is that you do not understand."

Talk about intellectual and spiritual humility. Isn't that really the crux of what we're talking about here, with the conversation on postmodernism? We don't understand.

Kierkegaard recognized that truth, as we understand it, is subjective.

Kierkegaard gives an example of two men praying: one is praying to the "true" (Christian) conception of God, but doing so "in a false spirit."

Another man is a pagan, praying to his own concept of a god... but he does so "with an entire passion for the infine."

To Kierkegaard, the second man prays in greater truth because his spirit - however subjective - is rightly oriented.

Reconciling Evil & Sunsets...

I can't do it. I've been avoiding CNN.com for the last few days because it seems each time I read the headlines, I find graphic details of another serial killer torturing victims, raping, destroying, torturing, and so on.

Last night the sky was a deep, deep orange with pink hues, and thin veils of cloud scattered across - looking like fragmented dustings of dry sand. It was indescribably beautiful. A graceful end to an unbearably hot summer day.

I don't know how to experience beauty like that and then reconcile it with such evil, such darkness in other parts of the world. At the same time.

The "problem of evil" has never given me cause to question my faith - perhaps the paradox of God and evil is more complex than my simple mind comprehends. But it doesn't bother me in relation to God. What it does, however, is make me want to curl up and live in a cave, away from the horrific darkness and sadism of corrupted society. But there is probably a serial killer in the cave, so I'll stick with suburbia.

I'll be okay... just need to avoid the front page.

What is Truth? And Why?

The word "truth" gets thrown around in Emerging Conversations an awful lot. Both as a weapon and a a defense. Often as a question in itself.

What IS truth (beyond Jesus himself) and should we be so consumed by finding that answer?

Russian Aggression...

What do we do with it? How do we talk about military aggression and war in an emerging church conversation?

Emergent and emerging: are we all automatically pacifists? Certainly not...

Am I a pacifist? I don't know, yet.

I know that treaties and alliances, promises and pacts mean absolutely nothing if strong nations do not come to the aid of weak ones in times of need. So what is NATO? What is the UN? What is the United States if our words carry nothing but just that: words.

Ah, but this is a slippery slope, because Saddam was corrupt and I did not support U.S. intervention. Maybe I'll become a Mennonite (with all respect) so I won't even have to wrestle with the question...

Bernie Mac Dies...

It may seem trite to say this - I never met the man - but I loved Bernie Mac. I am so very sorry to hear he's gone...

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read more about my thoughts on Christianity in the real world at www.essenceproject.blogspot.com...

More Antichrist Allegations...

I can pretend to be outraged, as a Christian, a Democrat, and an Obama supporter...

... but I grew up in Fundamentalist-Americhristianity. I get it: this new ad from Mcain at attempts to position Barack Obama as the Antichrist. Frankly, if I was still a Republican and card-carrying member of the Christian Coalition (don't be too hard on me, I was still in high school) I would do exactly what McCain is doing - and I would have started earlier.

The machine of pop-End-Times-Dispensationalism as characterized (and monetized) by Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins has identified good fruits (peace, hope, love, unity) as suspect symbols of evil based on a narrow and uninformed translation of Revelation.

No matter a Gospel that declares: "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them." Matthew 17:19-20

A Christianity that distrusts good fruit is no Christianity at all.

At least they may leave Bono alone for awhile...

Click here to read more.

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read more about my thoughts on Christianity in the real world at www.essenceproject.blogspot.com...


So I'm preaching this Sunday for a church in Portland I haven't spoken at before, and...

... perhaps they assumed my actual credentials (shhhh... I'm not ordained - except by the State of Nevada).

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read more about my thoughts on Christianity in the real world at http://www.essenceproject.blogspot.com/...

The Gospel of Comfort...

It's an old adage: "The most segregated hour in America is on Sunday mornings..."

And a recent CNN article supports that truism. (click here)

Wow, I sure have taken this blog toward a racial slant lately, haven't I? And that's one of the wonderful (and perhaps, disappointing) things about the Obama presidential run: we have to look at these issues. We have to look in the mirror (it ain't pretty). All of this is right in front of us (it always has been, but denial is so comfortable) on prime time news.

One of my complaints about modern American Evangelical churches is their focus on comfort: "come in, come in, our coffee is hot, our seats are comfy, and our multimedia systems are state-of-the-art!"

"And you're just fine the way you are..."

But you aren't. You aren't fine. And neither am I. I'm a real asshole. I need to change. I need to get uncomfortable and start loving something more than my suburban safety and detached, arrogant compassion for "those less fortunate."

Don't you need to change? Don't you need to be a better person?

Not a new kind of Christian; a new kind of human...

(One who doesn't breathe a sigh of relief, realizing the man walking behind is white)

An emerging Christian is really, more accurately, an emerging human, recognizing the "Suicide Machine" of the modern world (read: Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change per Len Sweet).

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read more about my thoughts on Christianity in the real world at http://www.essenceproject.blogspot.com/...

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