It always blows my mind when young leaders, finding their way into leadership in their local churches (this is not meant as a reflection on any folk in our own church), are so ready to dump whatever tradition or denomination of the church they grew up in (or found Christian faith in) when they meet a major disagreement or an old opinion which resists change. We want to leave. Start something brand new. No constraints. Gianni Vattimo called it “the tyrrany of the new.” It is that part of hypermodernity we can’t escape. I fear emergent church folk fall into this trap.
This however makes little sense amidst the postmodern worlds where knowledge has become fragmented, loosed from foundations and can really only gain stability from within a tradition. In After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre argued for the inherent repository for proven truth in the progression of traditions. In the midst of the demise of science and objective reason as the arbiters of all truth, traditions become the central enclave for the testing and proving of truth. It is within a sustainable conversation that has lasted longer than twenty years that we move forward towards understandings of God that have depth. Sustaining a conversation within a denomination is a discipline that creates substance and richness in our conversations and theologies. I feel more and more the denominations are open to this. As more and more younger evangelicals look for historical depth to their faith, they leave the independent rogue community church for the Roman or Anglo Catholic churches. Why can we not begin to see our denominations as traditions which extend the ancient faith. When you think about it, the independent local community church can only survive as long as everyone believes having an inerrant Bible is enough to arrive at all truth. Then you can rely on the autonomous superstar pastor as the only authority you need. But of course this is idiocy. I’m not saying the Bible ain’t inerrant, I’m just saying it needs a history of interpretataion to make that inerrancy worth something. We need traditions.
This is why I was encouraged by Maggie Dawn’s comments on the value of traditions for the emergent church. (I first noticed her comment on a blog entry of Jordon Cooper’s which I couldn’t find tonite.) This is why I think the association of emergent church with post-denominationalism may be premature. This is why I question the anti institutionalism of some emergent friends as misplaced. More and more I see the denominational leadership recognizing they are dead if they keep trying to be a franchise that just seeks to protect turf. I see more and more cooperation between the denominations in missions, church planting. And look at what the Salvation Army has nurtured with Pernell Goodyear up in my in my old hometown in Canada. Look at what my own denomination has nurtured in the birth of our brand new community. I believe there is much more, much more to come. What is happening? Based upon all this, I believe the emergent churches and thinkers who are within the denomninations must keep working within and keep working together across denominational lines. Am I just way too optimistic?
For the furtherance of Christ’s Mission in North America through His Church