One of the things that's happening, now, in response to this shift we're going through in the church that I've been trying to describe, is that there are some - mostly younger - Christians who are trying to make sense of their faith rather than walking away from it. They have experienced a Christian faith that is simplistic, overly-rule and lifestyle oriented, dualistic (separating spiritual and physical, sunday from the rest of the week), subculturized and removed from world engagement, and seemingly unable to answer many tough questions that have arisen in the world they experience. But, the good news is that they are not willing to abandon their faith. Here's what has happened. Many young Christians have instead sought to deconstruct the current framing story in which Christianity is embedded. Many have talked about the move away from Christendom and into this emerging world that is post-Christian culturally. They've sought to personally discover, I think, at least five things:
- A biblical understanding of the heart and soul of the gospel.
- A biblical understanding of the heart and soul of true community.
- A biblical understanding of how to engage and transform culture.
- A biblical understanding of God's heart for the world as understood through the message and actions of Jesus.
- Biblical and historical practices of experiencing the presence of God.
That's an awesome thing. Think about it: instead of abandoning a faith they've experienced (remember, experience is a person's felt truth, whether it is true or not) as irrelevant, they've sought to discover God for themselves and try to redesign or remodel the contemporary church with two important things in mind:
- Biblical faithfulness
- Cultural relevance and influence
That's what I think a lot of so-called "emergents" are trying to do. (Oh, and I should, just for full disclosure, put myself into this category whether I take personally the label emergent or not. Label me however you want.) In any case, as we've watched new and different iterations of this desire to rediscover the heart of faith, the gospel, and the church, we've seen some real messes. We've seen some people misinterpret the Bible, misunderstand spiritual practices, and walk on the edge of some pretty scary and dangerous beliefs. However, we've also seen a resurgence in "straight to the bible" seeking, an increase in concern for justice, a new heart for the poor and the marginalized, a higher challenge towards peace instead of violence, a new appreciation for the arts and beauty, and a powerful movement for the stewardship of creation. So, sure, this new adventure of discovery of a new generation who is seeking to understand and appropriate the faith of their fathers has made some great correctives to areas we've gotten off course while also opening some theological and/ or moral doors that we're not so comfortable with, and probably shouldn't be. But remember, this is a generation seeking God and seeking truth, not rebelling against it.
And that is exactly where we have gotten it most wrong. Rather than walking the road of discovery with this new generation, rather than praising them for wanting it to be real and make sense in their lives and matter for their neighbors and make a difference in the world, we've offered not help, wisdom, and humility, but instead rebuke, correction, frustration, name-calling, and even derision. The church should value those pursuing God and humbly walk with them. Could it even be that God is doing a new thing (he's done that before) or that God is correcting his people (he's done that before) and that he's using a new generation to dream dreams and see visions? (he's done that before, too.) So before we get too far down the road of being critical of the emerging generation seeking to rediscover the biblical church, biblical community, biblical impact, biblical passions, and biblical spirituality, it might be good for us to listen to what's going on and hear if the Spirit has anything to say to the church.
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