The prophetic calling from the Emergent Church to “American Christians”


Regardless of its rightness in the eyes of human theologians or its correctness in practice, the emergent movement’s deconstruction and critique of modern Christianity is overdue[1] and similar to the prophets’ call to repent and return to justice, mercy, and humility[2].

Christianity’s history marks itself with the same greed and wickedness that befell any other powerful religion and state combination[3] that came before it. It became the metanarrative[4] that the West knew. It seemed to trump every other culture that stood in its way, and often killed, raped, or enslaved in the name of God. It left the message of Jesus and hopped into bed with capitalism and world domination[5]. What happened to most cultures that encountered Christianity post 360 c.e.a. resembled a form of imperialism denying the cultural universalism and liberation from world systems present in the message of Christ.[6]

Within the United States, Christianity has become synonymous with the religious-right often co-opting a hatred for Muslims, homosexuals, and only caring for unborn children.[7] Any other religion must be demonic[8], and its followers converted or destroyed. It was marked by a large anti-intellectual sentiment and legalist twist[9], shoving its moral hierarchy down the throats of anyone who challenged it.  Don’t smoke, don’t chew. Don’t go with girls that do! Don’t dance. Don’t wear pants. Don’t go the movies. This type of Christianity does not want grace it would like a new law and wants to enslave every convert with it.

Preaching in most evangelical services revolves around a topic, never bothering to dig out the meaning of the text to the culture it was written[10]. To some the Bible exists as repository of quick help for modernity’s ailments although the writers wrote it to a specific audience in an ancient time. Many use the Bible to form intellectual systems to constrain and confine or explain God[11]. Others believe the Bible is the fourth member of the trinity, and that it died for the sins of the world. A major complaint some have with evangelical church is its view on Scripture. Many hold it as literal. They make large protests against environmentalism, Darwin, and pacifism. They alienate the intellectuals in society who believe in some forms of evolution and God.  The Bible deserves a fresh way of viewing, not as a book that fell from Heaven. Evangelical Scholars renounce most forms of literalism, but academia rarely trickles down into the local body. The church in america seems quite dumbed down. I am not suggesting that everyone go out and pay 80 grand for a master’s degree- no, God calls everyone everywhere to serve. But, when country fed boys tell stories to country fed boys, whats left are country fed boys telling stories. 

  Even deep within the Bible-belt[12], you will find those who feel that Christians are judgmental hypocrites. After reading the parable of the judge, in Peter Rollin’s Orthodox Heretic, how many people could be convicted of following Christ- dying to self, caring for the poor, giving drink to the thirsty, and praying for their enemies?[13] Many could be considered Christians because they have the t-shirts, the bumper stickers, the tattered bible and the latest music from Casting Crowns.

 The Christian name now connotes those who favor big military and big business[14], who hate big government, those who defend torture and deny foreigners entry, those who shut themselves in a bubble of apparent piety and neglect the culture transforming power of the story of Christ. Many churches proudly display an American flag[15] like they have sworn allegiance to the state instead of the very subversive message of Christ[16] that is above all states, all kingdoms, all governments, and all authorities. Would a newly Afghani refugee feel welcome in a church where the congregants would rather give praise to the government than the state? The church in America created a “self-isolating, self-serving, self-perpetuating, self-centered subculture instead of a world-penetrating, world-serving, world-transforming God centered counter-culture.”[17]  

The American Church according to Tony Campolo resembles “a whore, but she is my mother.” Along with this already long list of grievences comes another set of ninety-five to be nailed the doors of the church. The rape and pillage of the earth[18], the lack of creation care, and a consumerist mindset that says create more stuff, have more stuff, and throw away stuff. The hierarchy of the church, its political corruption, and its lack of support for laity rank high on lists of critiques against the Church.  These concerns are not only in emergent circles, but also in reformed and evangelical think tanks. Unfortunately, the conversation seems to cease at the church level. The lack of care for the disabled, the demonization of those with mental illness, or the over-spiritualization of circumstances instead of an intertwined approach resonates with many drop outs from the church and followers of the emerging churches.[19]

 

So what’s next? The prophetic call is to come back again to Justice. Come back to Mercy. Come back to Humility. 

Yeah, these words aren’t new. They aren’t solving problems. Perhaps, they are making a few “American Christians” re-think their faith.

Later this week from Pastor Bec: posts on new and ancient forms of Christianity…


[1] Tony Campolo, Letters to a Young Evangelical (New York: Basic Books, 2006), 6.

 

[2] Micah 6:6-8

[3] Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations. (Grand Rapids:

Zondervan,  2003) 26.

[4] Bauckman, Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007 )27.

[5] Brian Mclaren, A New Kind of Christianity (New York: Harper-Collins,2010) 98.

[6] Bauckman, Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World, 27.

[7] Tony Campolo, Letters to a Young Evangelical 8

[8] Brian Mclaren, A New Kind of Christianity, 134.

[9] Tony Campolo,  Letters to a Young Evangelical, 4.

[10] Brian Mclaren, A New Kind of Christianity, 22.

 

[11] Brian Mclaren, The Story We Find Ourselves In (San Fransico: Josey-Bass, 2004), 4.

 

[12] Dan Kimball, They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations. ( Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2007), 67.

 

[13] Peter Rollins, The Orthodox Heretic: And Other Impossible Tales. (Grand Rapids: Paraclete Press 2009), 23.

[14] Tony Compolo, Letters to a young evangelical. 36.

 

[15] Peter Rollins, Church in the Present Tense(Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006), 22.

 

[16] Peter Rollins, Insurrection (United Kingdom: Howard Press 2011), 39.

 
[17] Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo,  Adventures in Missing the Point: How the Culture-Controlled Church Neutered the Gospel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 4.

 

[18] Tony Campolo, Letters to a Young Evangelical. 57.

 

[19] Doug Pagitt, Spritual Formation needs community: a week in the life of an experimental church (Grand rapids: Brazos Press, 2006), 68.

 

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