The running discussion over on Steve Hayes’ blog on emerging orthodoxy and heresy has gotten me thinking about why some find it so hard to grasp what’s going on in the emerging church conversation. And I think some of it has to do with the shear diversity of sources emerging church leaders are drawing on.
For instance, various people I regularly engage with have been inspired by Orthodox Christianity, Celtic Christianity / Catholic Monasticism, Anabaptist Christianity and even the milder forms of Restorationist Christianity. And that’s just the Euro-American stuff. Beyond that the house church movements of China and elsewhere have also made their mark. I myself have also been influenced by engagement with Asian and Indian Christian theology amongst many (but not all) of those traditions already mentioned.
Now at face value some of this is widely divergent. I mean, Orthodoxy represents one of the most ancient and conservative strands of Christianity, while Anabaptists were the radical extremists of the Reformation, so how do you reconcile that? Well, the truth is, to a large extent we don’t, we are not looking to adopt everything. We are looking for is correctives for Protestantism, not conversion from Protestantism. And so we are selective and leave aside many things. If we look closely and honestly it becomes evident that the emerging conversation is very much a Protestant conversation, and for all our aspirations to ecumenism the emerging conversation is very much governed by Protestant concerns, specifically, perceived deficiencies in Protestant evangelicalism and Protestant liberalism in so far as they are both very dualistic, reductionistic and individualistic movements.
So what do we go looking for? I don’t think it would be inaccurate to say that, by and large, its for things that will help us forge a more holistic Protestantism, things that will help us recover more historical depth and cultural breadth. So we listen to the ancient traditions, we listen to the foreign traditions, and we integrate what helps. But we also listen to the anti-institutionalists, the reformers who went way beyond the mainstream Reformation. You wont hear many emerging voices equating apostolic succession with institutional continuity though, we are still distinctly Protestant despite our experimentation. In fact, now that I think of it, it probably wouldn’t be out of order to suggest that this sort of experimentation is itself a mark of Protestantism.
Now at its worst this can devolve into horrible religious consumerism, a deconstructive process that leaves people adrift from all tradition. But at its best it holds out a promise, of a more holistic tradition, one that has incorporated some of the strengths that Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christianity each have to offer.