The Trouble with Trending
If you do not know, there is a movement in Christianity worldwide called the "Emergent" church movement. Some of you are well acquainted with it while others are not. I can't really go into all the various nuances, as those of you familiar with the movement understand, because there is a wide variety of methods, means, expressions, etc. of what it means to be Emergent. For example, fiery skull-cracker Mark Driscoll refuses to be called "Emergent" because he believes that all Emergents want a "limp wristed hippie Jesus" (see his book, Vintage Jesus for the full quote) but instead refers to himself and his church Mars Hill (Seattle) as "emerging." He claims to want a Jesus with a sword in his hand and tatoos down both legs. I digress. On the other hand Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill (Grand Rapids) doesn't claim either Emergent or emerging appellations yet he's often the foremost target of criticism aimed at the Emergent church movement. On and on, ad nauseum...
Dr. John Castelein, a brilliant guy who has influenced me greatly, once gave this model in a theology lecture during my class with him on postmodernism. The model is of what happens to create a trend and how the trend often finishes.
I - F - S -I
It simply means that the whole thing starts with an "Institution" that produces a disenfranchised group that rebels against the institution, a "Fringe" group--lets just call the "I" church as it has been since 1990 and the "F" as Emergent/emerging church folks. That fringe group sees the need for its own statements of belief and defenses for its existence so it begins to "Systematize" its thoughts and values into clear, repeatable, articulate statements. What results, as the fringe holds on against criticism from the "I" as well as others is that it creates leadership structure, process, etc. and then becomes....
<drum roll please>
...an "Institution" again.
We really can't scoff at this because this process started with Jesus and the disciples and ended its first evolution with Constantine and imperial Christianity in the 4th C. AD.
I finished reading Tony Jones' The New Christians this morning and it will likely be a formative text in the current discussions about "Emergent" church and the movement that surrounds it. The most interesting thing is that Jones was named the "head honcho" of the Emergent Village, which sadly seems to be the systematizing of the fringe. Granted, the appendices of the book deny it, but the reality of human beings almost demands that this movement will become systematized and may very well become an institution.
That saddens me, because there is great value in active fringe folks like Doug Pagitt, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell and even Mark Driscoll though I disagree with him profoundly. The issue in all this that causes me to ponder and question is the issue of "trending." Is neo-socialism, Wendell Berry worship, tiny farms/gardening, emphasis on community, social justice/action, study of the Prophets, arguments of church wedding with Empire, ancient/future worship, organic communities, fair trade, N.T. Wright, etc. etc. all part of a vast set of contemporary trends that will no doubt become systematized until someday they are rebelled against by a fringe group? Is it delusional to say "This is how it should be" when every trend that has gone before has said the same thing (i.e. Luther vs. Catholicism, right on some counts but what about the anti-semitism?)
What is the value of trends in the life of a disciple of Jesus and the greater body that bears His name and His mission? Are trends to be ignored completely? If so, how can we objectively evaluate whether or not we are simply "trending" in ignoring trends? Is this simply circular reasoning on amphetamines?
Shout out, fellow trendsters.