Main content | Sidebar | Links

Friday, July 22, 2005

Flirting with Emergent.

[Thanks Jason for kicking things off, and thanks Philocrites for the wonderful introduction and for letting me crash out on your internet sofa. For now I am going to blog about an experience I’ve had over the last month and reflect on connecting it back to UUism.]

Earlier this month I found myself in the unusual place of being in town but out of the pulpit for several consecutive weeks. So I embarked on an adventure. I had been hearing in some of the ministry circles that I run in about this thing called Emergent Christianity. And I had been running into hip young people in Kansas City who attended a local Emergent Church called Jacob’s Well. So I decided to be a “mystery worshipper” for three consecutive Sundays and see for myself.

Emergent Christianity is a movement fronted by Brian McClaren from the D.C. area. It is a theological and ecclesiastical style that is a response to inadequacies in both evangelical/mega-church Christianity and liberal/mainline Christianity. Emergent is post-modern, neo-orthodox, and hyper-culturally literate. You can read about it in McClaren’s New Kind of Christian books.

Jacob’s Well is one of the leading Emergent congregations in the country and is located in mid-town Kansas City.

I went to worship there on three consecutive Sundays and in future entries, I’ll describe more of that experience. For now, I want to leave off with some of the questions I had about the experience that I will be reflecting on.

• Is Emergent a style/form or a theology/theological process or both or something else?

• Would an Emergent-style UU church work?

• If so, would such a UU-Emergent church need to be grounded in U/U/UU Christian theology, or could such a church work with a theology that wasn’t Christianity-based?

• If our congregations could learn one thing from a place like Jacob’s Well, what would that be?

More later.

Copyright © 2005 by Thom Belote | Posted 22 July 2005 at 3:19 PM

Previous: Into the fray.
Next: More on 'Singing the Journey.'



Clyde Grubbs:

July 22, 2005 09:09 PM | Permalink for this comment

Based on my observation, congregations like those in the Emergent network develop a coherent story of freedom and liberation based on the Biblical narratives.

If a Unitarian Universalist group decided to build a church on such a model the founding group would need to covenant around a set of stories to create a narrative of freedom and liberation, and develop its various ministries to bring those stories to life in people's lives.

It would not need to be confessional Christian, it could be like Emergent a Broad Church. But I think many UUs would experience a broad church informed by a narrative based, liberation theology with a lively worship and mission oriented ministries as being "too Christian." After all if Sunday mornings worship at this last GA got accused of being "too Christian", we might as well own it, and get on with our lives.


July 24, 2005 12:42 PM | Permalink for this comment

Chutney responds to Thom's questions at MyIrony. (Still don't know why trackback isn't working, folks. Sorry!)

Scott Wells:

July 24, 2005 11:37 PM | Permalink for this comment

I did, too. (I think MT hates WP, re: trackback.)


July 25, 2005 10:35 AM | Permalink for this comment

Thanks to Clyde, Chutney, and BitB for responding. I'm glad that these thoughts are not just my own little fantasies.

Clyde and Chutney, I think the problem with saying, "Let's create our own story of liberation" is that this seems really, really hard to do. I'm hard-pressed to think of any from our own tradition that would work, except of course for the Bible-stories which are, of course, our own tradition. "Henry at Walden", "Servetus on the stake", "Murray at Gloucester", and "James Reeb in Selma" all seem a bit played out. We've got all the mileage from them we're gonna get.

BitB, I think your comment about ecclesiology is interesting. I think that it is precisely because CP is such a shibboleth that we need to be open to new eccesiologies.

I'm writing my next post...


July 25, 2005 11:00 PM | Permalink for this comment

An excellent self-critique of the emergent movement can be found at:

The author is Frank Viola who is, I am guessing, not the same Frank Viola whose left arm led the Minnesota Twins to the '87 World Series.

Jeff Wilson:

July 26, 2005 01:16 PM | Permalink for this comment

RevThom, I think you're much too quick to dismiss precisely those foundational stories. I can understand that perhaps current and ex-seminarians (i.e. ministers) have heard these stories time and again and feel they are tapped out, but let me tell you, the people in the pews have not. Especially because so many of our members are not birthright UUs, these are stories they've never heard, or only heard references too. Few if any could recite these events to you the way any Christian of at least a modicum of commitment could recite the founding stories of his/her tradition.

My own feeling is that maybe "Reeb at Selma" is played out, because he always seems to be our great white martyr who proves we were hip during the Civil Rights era and sometimes assuages our guilt over not doing enough more recently. But other than that possibility, I think these are good stories that need more and DEEPER mining than they've received. Most people know Henry was at Walden, but there's much more richness to that story than the fuzzy "I like camping" storyline that tends to dominate. Some, but fewer, know that Servetus got toasty on the stake, but not many can tell you the details of the circumstances. Heck, I don't even know what Murray at Glouchester is, and I study UUism as an academic. The one I love, love, love about Murray, the one I've been intending to turn into a play to be performed at UU churches, is Murray at Good Luck. I bet you can't find 10 UUs in your own church who can tell you that story (people who've been to seminary don't count).

When I started my blog, I wanted to bring more of these foundational stories to light. That's why I was going back over the famous sermons, such as Channing's "Unitarian Christianity." I got a couple out, but I'm so damn busy as a Ph.D. student that I can never find the time no matter how much I try. Still, I think it is a worthwhile project. One thing I would add: all our stories seem to be individualistic in orientation. That's a problem. We need both stories of heroic persons and of heroic communities, or otherwise we'll never move beyond the relatively atomized current UU orientation.

Rev. Hank:

July 26, 2005 05:41 PM | Permalink for this comment

I think the real issue is not story, but loyalty. we can create/ borrow plenty of common stories even if it was one of, "our church was dying and then we did the Welcoming Congregation and were saved by the GLBT community who felt saved by being with us."

The real issue I see is about how loyal/ committed are UUs to our faith. Sure we've all heard, and many said, I didn't know I was a UU until I came here... but will those folks give more money, will they drive a van w/ the churches name on the side to pick up older members, will they commit to taking classes, and talking about their faith to strangers.

This can be done, but I wonder if it might be easier to start a new emergent UU church rather than try to change an established one. I've been doing it and it is really hard.

Comments for this entry are currently closed.