Sunday, July 13, 2008
Emergents are often accused of being little more than repackaged liberal Christianity. One place where this comes up is in our understanding of what it means to be a Christian. The typical evangelical pat answer here has to do with believing the right stuff, and having a conversion expereince. The flip side liberal answer has to do with doing the right stuff. Many emergents, unsatisfied with their own evangelical background which was focused on rigid orthodoxy now stress a focus on orthopraxy, and speak of being a "follower of Jesus". In this focus on following the moral teachings of Jesus over and against right belief they do seem very much to echo liberalism.
There is however a third relational way that goes beyond this liberal/conservative divide between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. This way is one that is not so much new as it is a rediscovery of ancient faith (I realize that this is a claim nearly every group makes for itself, that they are the original and true version, so take it with a grain of salt). The term orthodoxy as it was originally used does not actually mean right belief or right doctrine, it means right worship ("dox" as in "doxology"). In this sense what we believe, value, embrace, and affirm is directly connected to how we live, and in fact how we live and love God is primary - that is, our expression and formulation about who God is and who we are come out of experiencing God in history transforming our own history. As a consequence being a Christian is not based on our moral performance, nor is it based on our ability to arrive at the right formulations (a kind of intellectual salvation by works). It is based on God entering into our lives and doing a work in us. This relational view assumes a real living God who can be known by us relationally and that being in this relationship is transforming. It is not simply following the teachings of a dead guy on our own, nor it is affirming the formulations of who God is that were written by some others dead guys, it is about being connected to the living and risen Christ - to the one who is life abundant itself, and having that new life form who we are, how we see, and how we live. Being a Christian is about being alive in Christ. It means having Christ abiding in our hearts, being transformed into his image through his present love in our lives changing us from the inside out.
Now all of this is pretty much a Wesleyan view of salvation as integrally connected to sanctification. It is the kind of intimate relationship with God that many evangelicals have been familiar with from day one. In may be more familiar within charismatic denominations than reformed ones, but it is not really anything "emergent". What is emergent is an additional "catholic" twist to this relational view. That's "catholic" with a small "c" as an adjective not a noun, meaning not the Roman Catholic church, but simply a focus on the church as a body rather than on individual personal salvation in isolation from the community of faith. Here church is not understood as an authoritarian institution that meets on the weekend to dispense correct teaching, but a living community of those who indwelt by God in Christ are being transformed into living out Christ-likeness together. Simply put: loving God cannot be separated from loving others. We learn God's love by seeing it modeled and lived out, and the vocation of the body is to be this salt - to reveal Christ. We can't really speak of a relationship with God if we divorce this from living in relationship with others in community. That's pretty much the point John makes over and over in his epistles.
This communal idea of living in relationship together as the body of Christ in the world is an idea that has been pretty neglected. For many of us we go to church in the sense of it being an event, close our eyes during worship and face forward to listen to the sermon. We sit next to others, but we might as well be alone. Afterwards we might small talk a bit over donuts before we drive off in our cars back to our own private lives. Not exactly the same as the vision of koinonia community in the book of Acts where they lived together sharing everything in common, living and dying together, living out agape love. We know from Paul's letters that this was not always rosy or without problems, but it seems that this kind of real relational living together in our world of commuter church events is not really even on our radar at all. Frankly I am uninterested in whether a church has cool moody candles and overhead beamers with interactive worship video, and would love instead to just have some people sharing their lives and being real - less postmodern glitz and more plain old unromantic friends hanging out and sharing their imperfect lives.
(thanks to emerging grace for the above poster)