f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Stealing Everything But the Candles—Four Parallels to the Emergent Church for a New Philosophy for Fiction

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

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Stealing Everything But the Candles—Four Parallels to the Emergent Church for a New Philosophy for Fiction

I’m am not an emergent church insider. I have attended services, read books, visited web sites, spoken with insiders, followed the debate, checked daily blogs, and the rest, but this makes me only conversant in the issues, not fluent. These are my impressions of how a vision for new Christian fiction shares many of the same guiding principles and values as the emergent church. These are the things that have resonated with me in the poking around I’ve done. If I’m wrong in any of them, please contact me or leave a comment and let me know.

1. Reactionary – To me the emergent church movement is a two-pronged reaction. There is a reaction to societal changes and a reaction against how the modern American Christian church, particularly the “Evangelical” church, operates. The premise of the first is that society has essentially become post-modern and old notions of how to engage culture no longer work. The underpinnings of the second is that many people—postmodern or otherwise—feel quite disconnected from the modern evangelical American church both in style and content of worship and study.

I think the reaction of this journal and those calling for a change in CBA fiction are fundamentally closer to the second-prong discussed above. Twenty-five years of establishing the genre has institutionalized habit and predictability that we are now trying either to undermine or overcome. Socially, I think we need to be aware that even well-written, genre-busting Christian fiction may still be looked at askance by a postmodern culture. And so rather than ignore this facet of change, we need to remain cognizant that our greatest chance of staying relevant to culture is to lay the foundation for postmodern Christian fiction. We’ll look at what that might mean either tomorrow or Thursday.

2. Authenticity – Not to be reductionist, but there are a number of key concepts within the emergent church that sum up the core of their beliefs. Authentic expression of faith, authentic worship, and other similar phrasings are one of these. What this means in actual practice becomes a lot hazier, but it is a phrase you will see a lot.

In Christian fiction, the call you hear is for “realistic fiction.” There’s a desire for an honest portrayal not only of society but of faith. I will note right here that discussions like this become worrisome because the implication is that modern evangelical churches AREN’T concerned with authentic worship and that CBA fiction is wholly unrealistic. These are broad charges and tend raise the ire of those being criticized. In the end, this is the kind of thing at the heart of the philosophical split that takes place in #1 above. Right or wrong, I feel CBA fiction is too unrealistic and hope to help change that.

3. Missional – This is a bit harder to describe, but as far as I understand it, this concept is one of taking or expressing the Gospel to the people in relevant ways to them rather than expecting them to convert to your established pre-ordained and acceptable understanding and expression of faith. In practice, it often becomes manifest through relational witness, through consistent involvement in the community, through the strict decision not to fall into exclusionary patterns of speech, behavior, etc.

In fiction, this fiction is linked intrinsically with “realistic” fiction. It shows a vital, joyous, raucous, flawed world—warts and all as they say—in which the themes of faith and Jesus’ teachings are expressed through the lives of the characters rather than explicitly preached. This is the book that many will claim isn’t really Christian because it doesn’t specially spell out the Gospel message.

4. Humility – I think humility in faith is a core concept of the emergent church. There are answers we don’t know, failings we can’t seem to overcome, and nobody is pretending otherwise. We learn from each other and are absolutely reliant on the perspectives of others to keep us humble. Discussion and a free exchange of ideas are implicit in the church’s focus on community—be they virtual or physical.

To me, fiction is all about questions and doubting and the struggle and search to make sense of this complex, amazing thing called faith. If I wanted an apologetics instruction I’d find one of those instead. To paraphrase Homer Simpson: “I want my beer cold…my TV loud…my homosexuals flaming…and my Christians flawed.”

Go to Day 2 of our look at the emerging church.