Faith Seeking Understanding

I feel bad. It’s the kind of feeling I get when I try to join a conversation already in process by interjecting a remark that turns out to be entirely inappropriate because I missed something that was said earlier. It’s embarrassing. Even worse is the feeling I get when I start asking questions to get myself caught up on the subject of the conversation and others become impatient because they’re eager to take the discussion to the next level, not waste time bringing me up to speed. Sometimes I try to to camouflage my faux pas behind a wisecrack, but more often I just shut up and listen, hoping for a few understandable crumbs to fall from the table of their esoteric dialogue. In either case it’s painfully (to me, at least) obvious that something has been going on—something essential to the conversation—that I missed, and that my attempt to fit in demonstrated that I had not first acquired the necessary background.

So what should I do now? Your conversation’s been going on for years now, and I feel left out. I’ve always considered myself someone who is deeply interested in the subject you seem to be discussing, but when you talk about it not only the vocabulary but the concepts themselves seem different and even strange. I don’t know whose fault it is, or if it’s even anyone’s fault in particular. Perhaps while you were reading Bosch and Newbigin I was reading Ladd and Eichrodt. Maybe while you were immersed in a postmodernist university setting I was navigating my way through conservative evangelical colleges. Or could it be that while you were plumbing the depths of Gadamer and Derrida, I was parsing Greek verbs?

On the other hand, maybe our backgrounds have far more in common than I realize, but it’s just that for the moment we’ve arrived at different places. Whatever the case may be, I clearly have some catching up to do. I care about the church, and I can tell you do, too. I’m intensely concerned about non-Christians, and your concern for them is obviously no less intense. So how did our ideas on how to “do church” and reach unbelievers become so different? And why are some reacting so negatively to what you’re saying and doing? And why can’t there be more dialogue between your emerging views and practices and the ones that most of us are more familiar with?

I hope I’m not interrupting what is obviously a lively conversation, but I have lots of questions and I don’t quite know which one to ask first. So I’ll start with this: I went to Barnes & Noble yesterday, bought a copy of Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy, and started reading it. I showed it to my pastor and he asked to borrow it when I’m finished. Is this a good place to start learning about the Emerging Church, or should I begin somewhere else?


9 thoughts on “Faith Seeking Understanding

  1. Hey Ron. It was said already, but a good place to start, as you’ve read already over at my place, is that this phenomenon is not one homogeneous unit. There are common threads for sure, but not one thing.

    “We’re” (whoever “we” is) not trying to keep anyone out of any conversation. It’s more about living than conversing anyway. This thing is hard to talk about without having “skin in the game” as it were. I’m willing to try to answer whatever I can from my perspective. Peace to you.

  2. Once I received the following email from Dana Ames, I changed my blog’s Comments settings so anyone can leave a comment here.

    She wrote:

    Hi Ron,
    I can’t leave a comment because I don’t have a Blogger profile, though I always sign my name. (I can operate a computer, but please, no bells and whistles!)

    So welcome to the conversations. “Generous Orthodoxy” is not a bad place to start; it will give you many talking points, I’m sure! Don’t worry- not everyone who is talking has read Gadamer and Derrida, and your ability to parse Greek verbs is enviable, at least in my book. Ryan will be a good conversation partner, too.

    I think your best resource for things emerging is the blog of Andrew Jones,
    As his name implies, he was born in NZ but he has also lived in Australia, studied and ministered significantly in the US, and is presently based in Stromness, Orkney Islands. He has connections to lots of different expressions of church. He has missionary connections to places all over the (mostly northern, first/second) world. He’s a Baptist. He is one of the brightest, kindest and most pastoral people you will ever know. He also highlights many other “emerging” resources- if you scroll down his posts, you will find his “best books on the emerging church” list, and there is general agreement that he is spot on. Also good conversations of a slightly more academic tone are to be found at Scot McKnight’s blog,

    I see the short answer to why there is so much controversy, at least in the US, as: a) the question of “absolute truth” is not the main question of emergers, and this makes some people very uneasy; and b) the questions people are asking lead to questioning the legitimacy of the civil religion of this country, and that makes some people very uneasy.

    God bless you. He’s up to something in your life and in the world. I’m no expert, but if you want to converse with me, you now have my e-mail address.

    Merry Christmas.
    Dana Ames
    Ukiah, CA

    Thanks, Dana!

  3. I enjoyed McLaren’s book, and I think it’s a good introduction to the concerns and perspectives of many folks who are in on the “emerging conversation.”

    But if I may suggest, talking about “the emerging church” is kind of like talking about “the early church.” You just can’t do it, because there isn’t one: there are lots. Some of these congregations have some things in common, and many of them believe some pretty different and contradictory things about how the faith is to be lived, and what’s important.

    We don’t beat the same drums, as it were.


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