f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Don't We Just Have So Much in Common? More Connections to the Emergent Church

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Don't We Just Have So Much in Common? More Connections to the Emergent Church

Today we’re continuing yesterday’s look at the ideologies of the emergent church that resonated for me as I began to formulate a plan to discuss a new kind of Christian fiction.

5. Diversity – A buzzword for the PC-crowd of the late 90s, the notion of diversity is look at with a good deal of skepticism by the modern Christian church. Diversity, too often, smacks of weak-hearted tolerance of lifestyles and ideologies that conflict with the cross. In some ways, I don’t disagree, however, in place of diversity, the modern evangelical church has become homogenized, particularly in its steadfast link to political ideologies. The emergent church has not, to this point, made such a link and in fact often stands firmly opposed to many of the policies of our current administration.

This isn’t a political rant, however. And I’m certainly not calling for more political fiction on either side of fence. What I’m saying is that the emergent church celebrates, more than most evangelical communities of which I’ve been a part, a diversity of opinion on non-creedal issues that stands at the heart of intelligent debate and discourse. Fiction needs to champion that same freedom of expression. In the simplest of terms, and not to shock people, but I don’t think the world will end if a Christian book has a character with (gasp) Democratic leanings.

6. Urban – So far it seems that many of the larger, thriving emergent churches are coming out of urban areas. Whether the congregations reflect the city as a whole is yet to be seen, but urban areas bring issues their own wide-ranging issues of race, ethnicity, class, and lifestyle that aren’t quite so dramatic, especially in suburban areas popular with larger mega-churches.

CBA fiction, without a doubt, glorifies the small town, rural life more than any other art form currently being practiced in America. Cities are seen as bastions of evil and sin and are shown mostly in characters’ rear-view mirrors as they flee. The vitality of the city has yet truly to be explored in Christian fiction, nor the unique problems and concerns faced in urban areas. This is a rich, rich field that is so far untilled.

7. Post-Seeker-Sensitive – This comes directly from Kimball’s book and so I may be remiss in claiming he speaks for the entire emergent movement, but it is a valuable point. Kimball essentially says that today’s modern church, witnessing mostly to baby boomers, created “seeker sensitive” services, both in worship and study. The services were designed to reach a generation of men and women who, born in the 1950s-1970s, had grown up in the church and had chosen to leave for a variety of reasons, usually boredom or out of some wound from the church. Now as adults in the 1980s and 1990s, churches tried to reach them by creating services that would not remind them of what they attended as children. Music become contemporary, orthodoxy was stripped out, denominational links were covered over, and there was a great effort to make church be anything other than “church.” This is being seeker sensitive. Post-seeker-sensitive throws all of that out the window and says that the next generation (1970s-90s) dislikes “contemporary” church and connects mainly with churches that not only revert back to how things were in the 1950s, but often how things were in far earlier periods of Christian worship.

The link to this in fiction is a point I’ve made earlier in this journal about how, to reach a broader market, our books don’t need to be less overly Christian, but MORE Christian. We need to understand that for many, Christianity has become just another interesting sociologic phenomenon or lifestyle choice (on par with say, Buddhism or homosexuality or veganism) that appeals because a reader hasn’t experienced it or understood before. This reader is simply part of our post-modern, post-Christian culture.

8. Ideologic, Not Generational – At heart, the emergent church movement is not a generational movement. There are links, of course, as you simply can’t escape the fact that most proponents tend to be younger. What’s more important, however, is a particularly ideology. One simply has to see or feel the need to be reached by the changing power of Jesus’ life in a way different from that offered by the modern American church.

Same with fiction. I don’t care if you’re 85 or 15. If you’ve grown weary of the genre of CBA Fiction and want to be a part of subverting, transcending, or ignoring that genre I want to hear from you.

Two Pitfalls I Share With the Emergent Church Movement

1. Arrogance – There takes a certain amount of chutzpah to look at something like the modern American church or CBA Fiction, shrug, and say, “You know what: This doesn’t work for me.” Saying just that isn’t arrogant, however. It’s when we say, “You know what: I can do better.” I may fall into that trap some times. I hope you’ll call me on it. I think the emergent church faces that criticism (and validly) quite often and I know they catch flack. So just for the record, what I’m saying in this journal is just this: “You know what: I want to do it differently.”

2. Oppositional – How do we define ourselves? We can fall into a bad habit of describing ourselves by saying how we’re different from the other guy. New Christian fiction won’t be so fluffy. This emergent church won’t read The Purpose-Driven Life as though it were the fifth gospel. New Christian fiction won’t feature cardboard heroines and square-jawed heroes with names like Cale. Our new emergent congregation won’t do any of those praise choruses with eight words that you repeat seven-hundred times. As a human, I’m want to complain about that which I’m trying to change. It’s much more powerful and useful, instead, to talk about the positive values and principles that form the foundations used to look forward. I can only promise I’ll do my best.

Tomorrow, a look at the role of community in a new vision for Christian fiction and some discussion about what a postmodern Christian book might look like.

Also, a quick note of apology to my foreign readers. As you may have noticed, I kept saying the modern American church. Mostly that's because that's all I know and all I felt comfortable talking about.
Go to Day 3 of our discussion of the emerging church.