There has been some push back on a recent post from the United Methodist Reporter comparing the early Methodists to the emergent church. I thought the analogy made sense and was excited about it. I also wrote about it on my church’s blog.
I read the article in The United Methodist Reporter the other day, and it left me scratching my head. I cannot figure out how some of our most intelligent thinkers in the church see the emerging/emergent church as a modern-day Methodist movement. Missional, yes, but evangelical? Only the later independent and mainline churches that undermined the original intention. The Methodist movement went to the streets, extending a fairly strict orthodoxy on an unsuspecting world. Not so, emerging church. The Methodist movement aimed at the lower classes — the workers, blue collar and otherwise, with little advanced education. Emergent? Primarily the privileged classes with above average income and education (with some exceptions). Methodist movement governed by rules, regulations, and protocols. Emerging/emergent… not so much. Methodist movement ruled by a hierarchy; uhm, not so’s you’d notice in the emerging church. Context is hugely different. Sources and backgrounds, very different. Focus, fundamentally different. Energy — okay, energy and passion pretty close (but you can say the same of American Idol).
Now, I might be missing the point of Rev. Dick’s argument because there is a bunch to unpack here. This is just the last part of the first paragraph of his post! And Dan is also right when saying that the translation of emergent thought and praxis into mainline/mainstream churches has been mostly disingenuous .
But Ill start with this paragraph and see where the conversation leads, if anywhere at all.
1. “The Methodist movement went to the streets, extending a fairly strict orthodoxy on an unsuspecting world. Not so, emerging church”
I think part of my confusion with Dan’s post is that he is referring to a longer emergent conversation that I am not aware of. My understanding of the emergent church is based on the conversation/movement that has coalesced around Emergent Village with voices from a few others who aren’t as directly tied to EV. Think Rob Bell and Shane Claiborne.
The emergent church doesn’t have a “fairly strict orthodoxy” but there are definitely some guiding principles. From the Emergent Village website:
- Growing”: which indicates our desire to develop as the dreams of God for the healing, redemption, and reconciliation of the world develop.
- “Generative”: which means that we expect our friendship to generate new ideas, connections, opportunities, and works of beauty.
- “Friendship”: Because we firmly hold that living in reconciled friendship trumps traditional orthodoxies – indeed, orthodoxy requires reconciliation as a prerequisite.
- “Missional”: Because we believe that the call of the gospel is an outward, apostolic call into the world.
Though this can’t be construed as “orthodoxy,” perhaps we can see this as A Wesleyan Quadrilateral for the 21st century? Or anti-orthodoxy? And taking that “fairly strict orthodoxy to an unsuspecting world”? While most Christians during the last decade plus spent most of their time dreaming of mega churches and political power in the vehicle of the religious right, emergent folks were quietly organizing their churches and theology for a post-Christian right America.
2. “The Methodist movement aimed at the lower classes — the workers, blue collar and otherwise, with little advanced education. Emergent? Primarily the privileged classes with above average income and education (with some exceptions)”
Are emergents in the prisons, in the fields, in the unemployment lines, at the Wal-Mart? Probably not enough–but what church is? There are of course some very smart people who head up the emergent conversation–but didn’t John Wesley go to Oxford?
Tony Jones likes to tell the story of Trucker Frank–a pastor-turned truck driver–who embodies working class sensibilities. Here is a video of Trucker Frank. Most emergent folks I know are intentional about building a “church” that includes the poor and working class– and art kids!
3. “Methodist movement governed by rules, regulations, and protocols. Emerging/emergent… not so much. Methodist movement ruled by a hierarchy; uhm, not so’s you’d notice in the emerging church. Context is hugely different. Sources and backgrounds, very different. Focus, fundamentally different. Energy — okay, energy and passion pretty close (but you can say the same of American Idol).”
Yes, the energy and passion of the early Methodists and the emergents are “pretty close” but I wouldn’t say that the emergents’ passion is “American Idol”-esque. Most of the emergent leaders don’t make much of a living through there writing and church leadership gigs. There has to be a real passion to keep this thing moving!
There isn’t an emergent hierarchy and Emergent Village has just got rid of its national coordinator position. But there was seemingly much room to operate within the hierarchy of the early Methodists –especially on the North American Frontier. Here is a quote from Wikipedia bout those early Methodist circuit riders:”
They traveled with few possessions, carrying only what could fit in their saddlebags. They traveled through wilderness and villages, they preached every day at any place available (peoples’ cabins, courthouses, fields, meeting houses, later even basements and street corners.
It was those efforts that built the early Methodist Church and made it the most importan protestant denomination in the country. Many of the Emergent leaders carry on this same spirit–minus the hierarchy.
Now, I don’t think the Early Methodist movement inspired the emergent convesration all that much–but that both originate from a similar historical place. I think the emergent conversation overall could give many UMCers room to operate in ways that could potentially challenge and transform the United Methodist Church into something much closer to what Wesley was all about.