Why I don’t really care about [D]mergent.


Not long ago, I was a part of a conference call. Some of the people I knew, some I had never met, and some I only knew through various social networks. The purpose of the call was to establish a community of individuals who were both interested in the emergent conversation and were active participants in the Disciples of Christ denomination. It is, in theory, an opportunity to give some in the DoC an opportunity to explore postmodern thought and to deconstruct those things that might be holding us back from being as faithful as we could be to the “way of Jesus.” More than that, it is meant to be a place where clergy and laity can connect with one another despite geographic distances.

Those of us on this conference call agreed to write a few blogposts intended to start the conversation. One particular prompt was, “Why is [D]mergent important to you?” The more I wrestled with this question, the more I realized that this new [D]mergent thing doesn’t matter to me. At all. Let me explain.

First, I’m not even a member of a Disciples church. Sure, I attend one regularly; I volunteer to help out around there; I show up on Wednesday nights even (probably a leftover habit from my days as a Southern Baptist), but my wife and I haven’t joined. We’ve talked about it but only because our membership is at a church in a different city—and one we weren’t particularly happy with when we left. So, even if I were to join a DoC church as of right now, it would only be a vindictive act against some other church. In fact, I know next to nothing about the DoC. The only thing I know for sure is that I go to one now; no one bugs me when I play Scrabble on my iPhone during the service; they don’t pressure us to give them our money; and they listen when we ask the questions that got us shushed in other churches. But most importantly, this church cares about justice. It’s concerned with diversity. And it challenges me to believe that God, about whom I often have doubts, cares about those things enough to lead the charge against injustice and evil—though in an admittedly counter-intuitive way through some sort of submissive, subversive “kingdom.” In other words, I have no loyalty to the Disciples of Christ. I don’t know their history, and I don’t really care to find out. But I like my church, and it just so happens to be a part of some denomination.

Second, I’m not sure that I believe in this thing called “emergent.” And even if I did, I’m not sure it’s still a thing. I suppose I should clarify a bit. See, I’m currently doing graduate research on the emerging church movement (ECM); so sometimes and in some ways, I love to generalize about the EMC, then put those generalizations into well (or not-so-well) organized papers, turn them in, present them at academic conferences, and bask in the accompanying glory (guffaw). In that regard, I firmly believe that the EMC is a thing and that it will continue to be a thing despite any recent protests against taxonomic titles or categories.[1] On the other hand, I personally can’t help but agree with a great many of those complaints. If emerging/ent thought is just another socio-religious movement, then it is self-defeating. What made emerging/ent great and what drew me to it was not its organizational structure but its willingness to deconstruct everything. If we simply allow ourselves to build new ivory towers and authoritarian systems, organizations, and clubs, then we will forget our obligation to deconstruct, which is crucial to our survival since the enemy is not evangelicalism but our own arrogant certainties. So, as one friend has argued, the word “emergent” and all of its baggage can die, but the beauty and value behind what it once meant can and must live on.[2]

All of that is to say, I don’t think I believe in [D]mergent at all. It seems like it could be an attempt to organize and solidify an organizational understanding of a perpetually deconstructable conversation. But I know that such a thing is not the intent. We hope that you will join our conversation, ask bold and dangerous questions, betray everything we falsely believe is sacred, and help us to become ever more faithful to this “way of Jesus” those crazy emergents keep talking about.

by Matt Gallion

[1] I’ve written about this elsewhere, and as a budding young scholar, I think it is my duty to cite myself. See http://matthewgallion.wordpress.com/2010/01/12/the-death-of-the-emerging-church/

[2] Again, as a young scholar, its always wise to cite one’s friends. Phil Snider is both my pastor and my friend, and he is another one of these new, soon to be super-hip [D]mergent types.  See http://philsnider.wordpress.com/2010/03/30/is-emergent-still-necessary/

Matthew Gallion is a graduate student at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri, where he is pursuing a Master’s degree in Religious Studies. He studies responses to American evangelicalism in postmodern contexts, particularly the emerging church and the emergent conversation, and the intersection of faith and culture, particularly in crossing the “digital divide.” Matt recently presented a paper called “The Body Disrupted: Homosexuality and the Body in Emergent Christianity” at the 9th Annual Graduate Symposium at Florida State University and at the annual Midwest American Academy of Religion meeting at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. He is also the author of “The Price of Freedom: Bribery, the Philippian Gift, and Paul’s Choice in Philippians 1:19-26,” which won the prize for best graduate paper at the annual meeting of the Central States Society of Biblical Literature. He received his B.A. from Southwest Baptist University in Biblical Studies and recently served as a campus minister in the United Methodist Church at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg.
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9 thoughts on “Why I don’t really care about [D]mergent.

  1. I must be missing the point. Because all I’m getting from this article is anger. The reason I LIKE [D]mergent and the Emerging church is because it gives me hope. It isn’t about anger toward something that used to be. It is about possibilities, new happenings, and new ways of looking at things.

  2. I don’t hear anger as much as I hear a provocative call for those in the [D]mergent conversation to be willing to go wherever an emergent deconstruction takes us, particularly because it has the potential to lead to very uncharted waters (precisely because it is, as David L. rightly points out, “about possibilities, new happenings, and new ways of looking at things”). I think Matt is trying to make it crystal clear that what is of ultimate significance isn’t [D]mergent, but rather the call that [D]mergent is responding to.

    • This is why I loved Matt’s post so much. It was from a provocative space and one of that didn’t completely say the answers that some might have been expecting.

  3. I would like to support what Matt & Phil are saying. [D]mergent is only as good as far as it keeps the conversation, hope, and possibilities going. We at [D]mergent hope not to create institution as much as we hope to revive ideas and inspire folks to answer the call of Christ where they may be and in the fashion they are being called.

    Anger is a part of the conversation as much as disapointment, hope, joy and the gamut of human emotion. If we can’t go everywhere as “the church” then we hide opportunities for healing and growth from Jesus the Christ.

    I hope we expose and engage all of our sacred cows here through [D]mergent. If we can reconnect with that OG spirit of the restorationists I believe we can revitalize “the church” and offer a relevant and transforming sacred space to be a community of faith, a place of Disciples.

    Thank you very much for your support, David. Peace Be with You!

    • Well, As I noted with my first post, I must be missing the point. Thank you Phil & Ryan for the clarification. The unpacking you did made sense and I understand (at least a little) better of what is (possibly) being said.

  4. Let me comment as a retired DoC and formerly living in Springfield. First off to Ryan, it might be said that Emergent church ideas are very compatible with Disciples of Christ heritage, seeking on the early 1800s frontier to reach people in new ways. So I think while not ncessarily new this “movement” is doing the same. At Brentwood Christian Ch. one service has a different and meditative Taize type format. At my home church at National Ave. Christian innovative expressions of worship are evident. At some UCC congregations lay members are encouraged to share testimonials. That is what the church we attended today is doing in the Boston area where we now live. Hope to read that Emily/Phil book soon!
    Bill Longman…Watertown, MA

  5. Correction: I’m a retired DoC minister, not retired from DoC although in the Northeast we may be UCC before long. Bill Longman

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