Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Emergence and Purpose

Amongst the folks I blog-feed, there are many who are wrassling now with the state of "emergence," that conversational/relational movement within Christianity that fluttered into being just about a decade ago.

Emergence has been described as many things, and presented in many ways.  It's resistance to the theological rigidity of literalist fundamentalism.  It's a struggle against the strangling formalism of the dying old-line denominations.  It's a wandering away from the bright shiny falseness of marketized Christianity.  It is those things.

But mostly, it has been talking.  Or rather, talking about talking.  Emergence is, in my experience, a fundamentally epistemological movement, to use a big honking incoherent philosophical term that just shows you how very smart I am.  Ahem.  Epistemology means, more or less, the study of knowing how we know.  It is seeking to know how we know.  It is talking about how we talk.  It's very postmodern.  It's very academic, in the pejorative sense of the term.

Epistemology is a sign, pointing to a sign, pointing to a sign.   It goes nowhere, an ouroboros serpent devouring its own tail.   Epistemology has defined philosophy for a hundred years, which is why philosophy as a discipline is now utterly irrelevant.  It is also a defining feature of emergence, which is an ill wind for those who hope it might become something more than it is.

To be a movement, emergence needs to find its ontology.  Meaning, it needs to be articulating something fundamental and transforming about the very nature of being.    Philosophy used to have the ovaries to make such statements.  That's what made it fun.  That's what gave it purpose.  That's what made it relevant.  Not "culturally" relevant.  Bigger than that.  Deeper than that.  Relevant to our existence as beings writ into the fabric of reality.  Relevant to what God hath wrought.

Making those statements...using theology as a way to point to the depth of the creation we inhabit...is one of the things that faith needs to do if it is to be meaningful.  Faith says: this is how the Creator has spoken and shaped the Universe.  This is the Real.  Because of this, I will orient myself towards reality in thus and such a way.  It doesn't dither about, unwilling to commit itself to any statements about anything.

Why is it important for the faithful to be tolerant and open minded?  Why is relationship and transforming conversation so meaningful?  Why should we place such a high value on creativity and dynamism and seeking the joyous New?

And...for Jesus folk... why is this way of understanding faith a more reliable expression of God's Word than the faith claims of fundamentalism?

Emergence needs to be able to claim that it knows something about what is true.  

I think it can, but for that, the conversation will have to change a wee bit.

More on that tomorrow.