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The Emergent Church & The Wild Goose


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Today, Odyssey Networks posted another video about the Wild Goose Festival. I put a link to it in the Links section of tcpc. Here it is for your convenience-- http://www.odysseynetworks.org/. Scroll down and you will see five or so videos on the Wild Goose Festival. Really interesting. Everything I come across with this group seems to flip expectations upside down. For example, all 78 presenters at the conference worked for free. Supposedly, the musicians were all Christians, but none of them were part of the Christian music scene. One night all the presenters showed up in their tents, and had no topics prepared - the attendees ran the show, so to speak.

 

Anyway, has anyone here been involved? Is this the long awaited reformation for our time?

 

 

By the way, the Wild Goose is the symbol of the Holy Spirit in Celtic Christianity....

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Guest billmc

Robert, though I haven't been to any of the Wild Goose meetings, I am a member of Emergent Village and have cut some of my progressive teeth on books/podcasts/blogs by Brian McClaren, Doug Pagitt, Rob Bell, Tony Jones, Karen Ward, Spencer Burke, Diana Butler Bass, etc. These folks, as you probably know, are influencial (in a good way) as grassroots motivators in the Emerging Church movement that some institutional churches are open to, but others are not.

 

One of the misconceptions of the Emerging Church is that it is a church or a denomination. It is neither. Most of the folks in the Emerging movement remain within their respective faith traditions, often calling those traditions back to the teachings of Jesus which, as you have said, go against established power structures, speaking truth to power, and are pro-social action in our world. The Emerging movement has no establish heirarchy and doesn't want one. Emerging folks call the movement "a conversation" because they believe that through honest and open communication about the issues that affect us and our world, God will work to make a difference here. I personally find this sort of spirituality very appealing. The movement is also quite inclusive. The goal is not to make Christians or more church members, but for the church to be an influence of blessing and positive change in the world.

 

Is this a new reformation? Only time will tell. The more conservative ranks in Christianity generally don't trust the Emerging movement because it doesn't "play by the rules" of established denominational or doctrinal guidelines. But it is a well-known maxim that one century's heretics become the next century's spiritual pioneers. ;) Many people who consider themselves "spiritual but not religious" relate well to the Emerging movement because the focus is on compassion and action for the good of the world, not on building more buildings and shoring up "church as usual." Is God doing something here? I hope so. I think so. But then, the Spirit is notorious for blowing where it will, isn't it?

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Is this a new reformation? Only time will tell. The more conservative ranks in Christianity generally don't trust the Emerging movement because it doesn't "play by the rules" of established denominational or doctrinal guidelines.

Bill, I am glad we had a voice of experience because mine is not.

 

After watching the videos I think it helps to figure out who the audience is for each of the streams in the Emergent Church movement. Brian McLaren exclaimed about how much had happened in the movement in a decade. Members of mainstream churches would not think that Interfaith actions are anything new - at least 50-60 years if not longer informally. A renewed and enlivened understanding of the Bible would not be new to many mainstream seminary graduates of the 60s, 70s 80s, etc., equal rights regardless of sexual/gender orientation has been a struggle for decades in the PCUSA and others denominations. And women?! So I think one has to find out here what grows your crop.

 

Certainly challenges to structure are threatening and it is difficult to find new ways to do church effectively. Our former pastor, well loved, fresh out of seminary moved the congregation to give up committees - so that the Spirit could bubble up wherever it wanted. This was done before I came and I am learning that much of the Spirit went underground waiting for committees to return.

 

Like the Evolutionary Christianity movement much of the energy seems to come from conservatives who want to "modernize" (I apologize for that word but I can't think of the right one.) their walk in the 21st century so much of the language reflects a pushing off from that background. Which is why much doesn't apply to mainstream denominations.

 

The Emergent church movement has suggestions for my church about organization in a post no-committee era. And, along with the Evolutionary Christianity, ideas to enliven worship.

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

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Just watched the Wild Goose video. I am very familiar with Phyllis Tickle as I heard her speak at the Decatur Georgia Book Festival several years ago. I bought her autobiography which I have read innumerable times.

 

Last year at church I did the "Living the Question" series. It was wonderful and is in the same vein as the Wild Goose seminar. I want to encourage people to do it since I got so much out of it.

 

There is so much out there that gives me hope that we will either succeed in changing the world despite global warming, etc or we will go down fighting the good fight! Since I am 59 it will probably be after my lifetime.

 

Kay

I copied Kay's reply from the links section

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Thanks for topic, Robert.

 

I've followed the Emergent Church with some interest over the last couple of years. As Dutch noted, the issues that it tackles are - in a way - not very novel to mainline denominations, which have had 50 or so years of liberal theology. The Emergent movement seems to an evolving interface of liberal theology and post-modern theology with the larger Evangelical community. Yet I do not mean to suggest that the emergent movement is then merely catching up to mainline denominations, for in an equally important way it is bound to be something very different. It is growing in a different kind of soil. It makes use of post-modern culture; it is alive with the possibilities of 'inter-network' and open conversation.

 

I'm not sure if this is the 'next Reformation'. It seems to me that the church has been too rapidly evolving since the time of the Reformation to pinpoint any particular leap: liberal thought, biblical scholarship, and science have drastically changed the context in which people are doing theology. But who knows? Perhaps this grassroots movement represents something that Christianity can, and maybe someday will be. It is not just a matter of belief, it is a matter of practice: a different way of doing Christianity.

 

Peace,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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Dutch, your comment that "A renewed and enlivened understanding of the Bible would not be new to many mainstream seminary graduates of the 60s, 70s 80s, etc." is really interesting. When I first came across the Emerging Church material, my reaction was the same. Likewise, with Evolutionary Theology. When I went to seminary in the late 80s, Process Theology was becoming popular, and I loved it! However, I went to two seminaries, both mainstream. The first wouldn't touch Process Theology then or now. The second was very open and liberal.

 

So what happened? It seems that in the 90s we began a conservative sweep across society. Think of what happened in politics. We are now seeing the "fruits" of the movement to the far right during this time. Likewise, in the churches we moved from Vatican II back to Pius X. Evangelicalism became political, and their theology moved from saving souls to saving society from the liberals. Even in the mainline churches the tension is alive. Just yesterday, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod announced they would no longer cooperate with the ELCA on a range of programs including those providing services to the homeless. Why? Because the ELCA is too accepting of gay people. The Methodist battle is raging - same issue.

 

I wonder if the whole Emerging Church movement is coming from those people who identified with the "open" theologies of the 60s through 80s, but who never truly found their place in the churches. As one example, I have known many women who, after Vatican II, were sure it was only a matter of time before ordination was open to them. Not only did it not happen, their views are now fully rejected. Many of those women are now finding places in independent Benedictine communities and such. Likewise, if you look at the mainstream churches, the average member age is now above 60, and the membership is shrinking. Could it be that the more independent thinkers found no place for them on Sunday morning, and so they looked to New Age movements and Buddhism to meet their needs? I have many friends that fit this model.

 

If any of this is an accurate evaluation of what has happened in the past 20-30 years, then indeed the Emerging Church may have enormous potential.

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Likewise, if you look at the mainstream churches, the average member age is now above 60, and the membership is shrinking. Could it be that the more independent thinkers found no place for them on Sunday morning, and so they looked to New Age movements and Buddhism to meet their needs? I have many friends that fit this model.

 

I agree this is definitely a problem for most mainline churches. It is an interesting question, to see what will happen to these churches in one more generation, I predict many of them will be closing their doors. The virtues of the Emergent movement may be in the way it is done - and we know that so often the message is contained in the medium.

 

'Independent thinkers' have been turned away from churches, even liberal ones, probably because these churches are seen to lack the the innovations that speak to where our culture is at presently. My interest in Eastern thought and Buddhism were instigated by looking for new territory that I did not see Christianity touching. I still hold these in high esteem and continue to draw heavily from them, but I came to see that Christianity has its own comparable schools of thought and practice. Not to mention that Buddhism, like any institute of religion, has its own foibles. Some times 'independent thinkers' are too quick to believe the grass is greener on the other side. :lol:

 

Peace,

Mike

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Guest billmc

For me, the initial draw was the freedom to ask questions about my faith and my spirituality without the fear of being labeled a heretic or "not a true Christian."

 

Although I had already done so in my mind, I was openly allowed to asked such questions as:

 

Can a God of love really send people to hell?

 

Do I have to agree with Paul that women should be silent in church and barred from pulpits?

 

Do I have to accept "substitutionary atonement" as the only valid, biblical understanding of Jesus' death?

 

Why is homosexuality the dividing issue for the Church when Jesus never mentions it even one time?

 

Does God really condemn people of other faiths?

 

Of course, PC talks about many of these issues also. And like PC, the Emerging movement does not focus on providing all the answers or settling these issues once and for all. The focus is on asking the "right" questions, much as Jesus did.

 

IMO, the Emerging movement is much more than "Liberalism for Evangelicals." At least, I hope so. I appreciate liberal Christianity. It has given us many good gifts. But in my own journey, the Emerging movement has supplemented the side of me that is "mystical", that longs for an experience of God and the presence of others that comes from more than just historical-critical Bible study.

 

I listened to a podcast today where the speaker said, "The question that the Emerging church is asking is: Who should we love?" And I love the T-shirt in the linked video that says "I Love Haters." This isn't a message we hear often enough in our churches. To me, love is the mark of those who follow the Way of Christ, whether they self-identify as Christians or not. This is certainly *not* a new message. It just tends to get covered up with "churchianity" from time to time and needs to be rediscovered and allowed to bloom.

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IMO, the Emerging movement is much more than "Liberalism for Evangelicals." At least, I hope so. I appreciate liberal Christianity. It has given us many good gifts. But in my own journey, the Emerging movement has supplemented the side of me that is "mystical", that longs for an experience of God and the presence of others that comes from more than just historical-critical Bible study.

Sounds like the Frozen Chosen and I think that is an apt critique of Liberal Christianity. Liberals accepted evolution a long time ago in a polite way. And even wrote a few songs about it. What didn't happen in my experience is the celebration of it and a change in language to reflect an evolutionary understanding of the divine. Bruce Sanguin's complaint against the UCC Canada is the loss emphasis on the mystical or God experiences, I think you are talking about.

 

Robert - the liberal conservative swing - the conflict between liberal clergy and conservative laity was obvious 20 years ago but I hadn't thought about the other half - that the conflict resolved with both clergy and laity swinging conservative.

 

Lutheran Church Missouri Synod - do they yet allow women in leadership roles?

 

Garrison Keelor's description of the Lutherans of Lake Wobegon, who are not Missouri Synod, fits many mainline denominations.

 

Dutch

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"Frozen Chosen" HAAAAA! I must remember that one!

 

@DUTCH, in answer to your question regarding women in the Missouri Synod, the answer is no way. The Missouri Synod is shockingly conservative (forgive my expletive). For example, not only do they practice closed communion, but in some LCMS churches you are not allowed to take communion unless you have previously gone to confession.

 

Some other doctrines that have been big sources of tension in the past:

 

* It once was considered a sin to purchase life insurance.

* Lutheran musicians could not play the organ or other musical instruments in non-Lutheran weddings or funerals and some were even excommunicated for doing so.

* Lutherans (like Baptists) were not allowed to dance and were often chastised and even excommunicated for doing so.

* Lutheran pastors and people were not allowed to pray with anyone, anytime, anywhere, outside their own church.

* Women were not allowed to sit in church together with the men.

 

@BILL, your comment "the Emerging movement has supplemented the side of me that is "mystical", that longs for an experience of God and the presence of others that comes from more than just historical-critical Bible study" is right on the button. I have a theory that there are two practices that are most threatening to mainstream Christianity: 1) Spirituality, and 2) Social Justice. Those are the two areas that require people to change, and change is threatening. It's the Frozen Chosen thing again!

 

@MIKE, you note that "My interest in Eastern thought and Buddhism were instigated by looking for new territory that I did not see Christianity touching." Indeed! I once put together a video documentary on Buddhist - Christian dialogue, based on discussions at UC Berkeley. Why in the world would we not want to learn the insights of this wonderful tradition? Thich Nhat Hanh used to give presentations at the UCC church in Berkeley. That's the way it should be. Of course that was in the 80s.

Edited by robertmaynord
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I think what's happening is the age gap at work. One thing I've noticed is that the Emerging church movement seems to resonate more with younger Christians and surveys repeatedly show that even younger evangelical Christians are more accepting of gays and are more concerned with things like the economy and ecology than they are with things like church politics and theocracies. Emerging church figures like Rob Bell have the power and universal appeal to reach out to younger Christians across the theological divide and make a different in how they think. Like I'm still in the closet and so I still have to attend my parents' fundamentalist church but Rob Bell is very popular with the younger Christians at my parents' church. While they disapprove of Rob Bell's universalism theology in his recent book, they still respect him more than they do the Jesus Seminar which they view as being too dismissive of the gospels whereas they connect more easily to something like Rob Bell's NOOMA videos even if they have serious theological differences with Rob Bell.

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Guest billmc

Another aspect of the Emerging movement that I appreciate is that it, overall, wants to focus on meaningful reconstruction. This is just my opinion, but I think liberal Christianity did a good job (if we want to call it that) of deconstructing and demystifying much in Christianity that needed it, but it hasn't done a very good job of reconstruction. I think this is reflected in the fact that attendance in mainline churches is on the decrease (and has been for quite a while) where "church as usual" just doesn't work for people any more, but liberal Christianity took a very skeptical posture against spirituality also and didn't really offer a kind of spiritual alternative to the more conservative understanding.

 

Conservative churches seem to think that EC is just liberalism for young people. Mainline churches, unfortunately, seem to think that EC is just about removing pulpits and pews and bringing in pillows and candles. :lol: Granted, I grew up with hard, wooden pews, but soft pillows do not a church make. :)

 

One of the questions that the EC is asking is, "What does it mean to be the church in our time and place?" For better or worse, most conservative and mainline churches already think they know exactly what it means to be the church and, therefore, any deviation from the status quo is seen as a threat. Therefore, yes, the EC is attracting the younger crowd who haven't yet subscribed to the "famous seven last words of the Church." ;)

 

So what we see, especially as captured in the above videos, is a group of Christians who are very concerned, not about perpetuating the church as such, but about social and personal issues that affect us and our world everyday. But they also explore more mystical or experiencial avenues of faith that, IMO, will keep it from becoming, as the liberals have been (wrongly) labeled, Country-Club Christianity. The EC believes that we need *both* the personal transformation that evangelicals have always called for, coupled with the social change that the gospel of Jesus (and the liberals) have called for. In other words, you can be a spiritual humanist. :) And many of them remain within their own faith traditions because they know and appreciate the historical role of the church but just want to see it more relevant to our post-modern culture. So you can find Emerging Catholics, Emerging Lutherans, Emerging Methodists, and even Emerging Baptists (though rarer). I've even seen a few references to Emerging Mormons. I suspect that people are hungry for both spirituality and action that makes a difference. So I think the Emerging movement is a good thing.

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Great observations, Bill. One key element: "we need *both* the personal transformation that evangelicals have always called for, coupled with the social change that the gospel of Jesus (and the liberals) have called for." Both of these areas are absent from so many churches. Even the social justice stuff done by the liberals often consists of guest presentations and donations to external food pantries. It is rare to find a congregation where the people sitting in the pews are sleeping overnight at the shelter for homeless people, at least in my experience.

 

The motto for the Wild Goose Festival is: "Art, Spirituality, Music, Social Justice" (I may have the order wrong). That list sure makes sense to me.

 

It is interesting that Spong suggests that the Emerging Church will move beyond "liberal solutions that focus the church on social action, self-help counseling, and efforts at spiritual direction" -- he says these things are "dead as is fundamentalist hysteria". First time I heard anyone take this position, but it is intriguing.

 

I can affirm your observation about "Emerging Catholics, Emerging Lutherans, Emerging Methodists", etc. The same is true of the prominent figures. Brian Mclaren is an Evangelical, Richard Rohr is Catholic, Borg is Episcopalian, etc.

 

Another important thing about the EC movement is the European background. The US groups benefit from 50 years of struggle in Europe. Many of the Wild Goose people were regular attendees at the festivals in England. The Europeans seem to have fresh ideas in abundance, perhaps due in part to the extreme loss of faith in traditional church organizations there.

 

All interesting and exciting stuff...

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I also think part of the reason for the failures of the mainline liberal churches is from a poor effort to communicate ideas. Like fundamentalist Christians have this entire network of communication; they have dozens of 24/7 religious networks, religious radio stations, bookstores devoted solely to conservative apologetic books, and Christian pop-rock music. In comparison, the most you get from liberal Christianity is a bunch of books by stuffy academic professors shelved away in the back of the religious section of Booksamillion and a handful of podcasts that you can count on one hand. If progressive Christianity wants to get off the ground, they can't keep all their ideas locked away in an Ivory tower but need to be more actively involved in things like the media to promote this alternative way of believing. This is another area where I think the Emerging church movement could handle better. Like Rob Bell already has an established media presence that he achieved with fundamentalists before coming out of the closet as a universalist that he can use to reach a broader audience as opposed to someone like Marcus Borg who is almost unknown outside of liberal circles.

Edited by Neon Genesis
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I also think part of the reason for the failures of the mainline liberal churches is from a poor effort to communicate ideas.

 

In an age of instant messaging, texting, youtube, facebook, and twitter, younger people experience communication much differently than those of us who are, well, older. :rolleyes: Younger people seem to want to be entertained while being informed, and shorter is better. Music trends have changed also; rap and country show what young (and not so young) people are feeling. What's more, it is not just the music, but the whole message at contemporary Christian concerts- the musicians don't just sing and play, they preach and they pray.

 

If progressive Christianity wants to get off the ground, they can't keep all their ideas locked away in an Ivory tower but need to be more actively involved in things like the media to promote this alternative way of believing.

 

IMO, many progressives, especially those with the knowledge and insight to be teachers have stayed in ivory towers, perhaps unintentionally excluding others. The reason, I think, is the language that is being used. Quite often, much of the progressive material tends to read slightly above the 8th grade level at which it is said most people read. (That is a not a jab at either “most people” nor at progressives.) :P

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Neon said....

If progressive Christianity wants to get off the ground, they can't keep all their ideas locked away in an Ivory tower but need to be more actively involved in things like the media to promote this alternative way of believing. This is another area where I think the Emerging church movement could handle better.

 

 

By that statement i assume you see Progressive Christianity as an entity, an organized religion that needs to proselytize. Personally, i like to look at PC as more of a way of life. A following that found an approach to God through the teachings of Jesus that speak to our hearts and moves us beyond the dogma and doctrines of organized religions. An individual personal journey shared among a progressive community not limited to one idea or one book or one religion. A personal transformation centered on our changing understandings that started from the teachings of Jesus but expands to include other understandings and deeper revelations of the mystery we call God. To me the emerging church is not a unified organization in that sense but rather a body of individuals each using the gifts they are blessed with not to proselytize PC or any religion but rather to allow that light that is within all people to surface for the harmony of all til there ceases to be US and THEM.

 

Joseph

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Humm... three levels of possible structure:

 

1) The mainline liberal churches - mentioned by Neon Genesis.

2) Progressive Christianity - in some organized form.

3) "Way of life" - mentioned by Joseph.

 

a) For several months, I was attending a structured "mainline liberal" church that had a great liturgy, classical music, and art - all important to me. But, I must confess, I couldn't handle the creeds, and with a couple of exceptions the people were friendly, but somewhat impersonal.

 

B) Last week, I went to a more Progressive Church, and within a short period of time had extended conversations with many friendly people. No creeds, more social justice activity, good quality contemporary music.

 

c) Community is very important to me. But I also feel that Christianity must sometimes be practiced in the desert, alone with God.

 

 

Ha! All this is proof of the schizophrenogenic nature of my struggle ;-)

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By that statement i assume you see Progressive Christianity as an entity, an organized religion that needs to proselytize. Personally, i like to look at PC as more of a way of life. A following that found an approach to God through the teachings of Jesus that speak to our hearts and moves us beyond the dogma and doctrines of organized religions. An individual personal journey shared among a progressive community not limited to one idea or one book or one religion. A personal transformation centered on our changing understandings that started from the teachings of Jesus but expands to include other understandings and deeper revelations of the mystery we call God. To me the emerging church is not a unified organization in that sense but rather a body of individuals each using the gifts they are blessed with not to proselytize PC or any religion but rather to allow that light that is within all people to surface for the harmony of all til there ceases to be US and THEM.

 

Joseph

I'm not trying to see progressive Christianity as an entity, but there is this certain mindset that some liberals have that all forms of evangelizing is offensive and religion is one of the three things you're not supposed to talk about with others. I used to think this way myself and there are some moments where I still think it's inappropriate to talk about religion. Like I'm not suggesting we go on door knocking campaigns or intrude on foreign cultures, but I don't think it's wrong in itself to share your faith with others and raising awareness about promoting tolerance and the problems with religious extremism and discrimination. Jesus didn't keep his ideas to himself because it might make people uncomfortable but he went out and interacted with others to promote his vision of what the kingdom of God should be like. The more I think about it, the more I don't see that evangelizing itself is wrong but it matters more on how you do it and what your message is.
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