Monday, March 28, 2005

an introduction to emergent

I was at CPK's place for a church camp committee meeting on Saturday. Over satay and pizza, I posed this question to him, "How would you describe the Emergent movement in a simple concise sentence?"

Seeking clarity as to what Emergent is all about is a pretty futile attempt. Brian McLaren, the author of the book A New Kind of Christian, resists calling Emergent a "movement". "Right now, Emergent is a conversation, not a movement," he says. "We don't have a program. We don't have a model. I think we must begin as a conversation, then grow as a friendship, and see if a movement comes of it." [1]

Despite its seeming lack of structure (at least not one that we normally associate with), Emergent does seem to thrive in exactly what is missing. The absence of formal boundaries does make way for open, honest conversations between fellow believers and friends about the various issues pertaining to the Christian church today.

I had the privilege of participating in one such "conversation" last Saturday at Bangsar Lutheran Church. After breakfast at Taman Tun post-Kiara, we found ourselves drawn to the informal meeting that we had heard about over the grapevine...dirty, sweaty bodies and all. Hopefully they'll welcome us in, just as Jesus welcomed even the lepers...heheh

After a brief welcoming address by Sivin Kit, the man I understand to be the main contact for Emergent Malaysia, this guy, Kia Meng shared his story and the lessons about his faith that he had picked up along the way. Later, we broke into smaller groups of 3 - 4 to share our respective stories, with the question "What Does it Mean to be a Christian in Malaysia Today?" providing some direction.

Looking around, it certainly looked like many interesting conversations were happening in the various groups. Keith and I were in the same group, together an Ipoh lass going by the name, Wan Ching (Ipoh gals seem to be EVERYWHERE these days!). Coincidently, we all share the commonality of being involved in youth ministry. With that common ground, we shared our concern in seeing the youth in our churches growing up all groomed to be "cultural Christians" (not a term that anyone mentioned that day, but one that I feel encapsulates the idea of being moulded by our surroundings and circumstances), yet not engaging in a real relationship with God.

We also heard some of the other groups share their stories at the end of the session. I think the general consensus was that the world is changing i.e. "the modern, colonial world is coming undone and a new postmodern, postcolonial world is emerging". [2] The challenge today is for the gospel of Christ to remain relevant to a generation that carries very different beliefs and values, and which requires different approaches, as compared to the generation that lived say, 20 years ago.

To quote McLaren, "Can I still call myself a Christian if I don't buy the whole package of what many call Christianity today, which includes a lot of modernity and has little to do with authentic Christianity?" [3]

Still, the waters should be tread carefully. I'd better be praying about this.



[1] Andy Crouch, "The Emergent Mystique", Christianity Today, November 2004, Vol. 48, No. 11, p. 36.

[2] Emergent Village,

[3] Glenn T. Stanton, "The Postmodern Moment", Christianity Today, June 2002, Vol. 46, No. 7, p. 53.


discordant_dude said...

Perhaps giving things a clear definition is a 'modern' practice. :) Postmodern prefers to leave things open-ended? Emergent conversation, to me, resembles the fellowship of the ring; where hobbits, ranger, wizard, elf and dwarf despite their differences can sit together for a common mission.

While I think leaving things open-ended is a virtue (sometimes), muddling things up is definitely not. Leaves me in despair. Joining you in prayer as we tread this path together.

jv. said...

i guess i'm still very much a modernist at heart then...hehe

Sivin Kit said...

I guess when it all comes down to it - it's just plain human to desire an open-ended sense of discovery in matters of truth and life. And it's also plain human to want clarity and some way of thinking.

And guys, let's face it though modernity and postmodernity (whatever that means to some - but taken as a western catergory in historical analysis) has impacted us in Asia because of colonialism and globalisation (two other more changgih terms)- My gut feeling and unrefined thoughts are that we never past through them or fully entered them as compared with the west. So, I feel holding them loosely just for the sake of processing is helpful and yet limited (if not inadequate)

when all is said and done, God became human - not premodern, modern or postmodern. And yet, he does not ignore the context that he sets foot in. :-) Glad to have both of you in the conversations and our joint futures together in our respective locations.

Sivin Kit said...

one more thing ... I fully agree with Brian McLaren about the "conversation, not movement" thing. But, more on this another time.

jv. said...

i'm did u find this place? i.e. my blog? ;)

Keith said...

I think to me the most significant part of the meeting was hearing Kia Meng's story... i really felt connected to him in some way even when I've never met him before. The beauty of it was that he was coming from a different background and that just highlights the fact that if we all sit down and actually look at our stories we will find similarities and commonalities eventhough it sometimes seems very diferent. I must admit that it does make me feel a little... "safer" at times.

I like what Chris said about the Lord of the Rings. If you notice each character had their own story too.

jv. said...

"safer"? I'll have to ask you to elaborate on that one..hehe

Kia Meng's experiences (Pentecostal to Anglican to Reformed etc.) were "interesting" to say the very least =) But yeah, I think I shared with you earlier that I liked the fact that despite the meeting being inter-d, we all shared many "similarities and commonalities" as you put it.

Perhaps it's a way of telling us that denominational practices aside, we really are not that different after all. What's of utmost importance is that Christ's name is ultimately exalted, and that we display unity as His church on earth.

Hey, isn't that (unity) in line with our church theme this year? ;)

Sivin Kit said...

you were kind enough to link me ... so Technocrati let me know. Thanks,

BTW, in relation to what is said about similarities and connections. years ago I sent Brian Mclaren an email (when he was just some obscure pastor who wrote Findign Faith and Reinventing the church) and asked him (in my Rick Warren informed paradigm) "How do you preach or speak on Sunday morning? Focused on Seekers or Believers?" His reply is classic ... and remains with me since, "I speak to humans."

Aren't we all? :-)

The Hedonese said...

We live in exciting times, where borders seem to make less sense.

My pilgrimage was pentecostal-fundamentalist-Reformed-'coming soon'...

Each milestone still leaves a precious mark in my life, there's much to cherish in pentecostal zeal, fundy courage and evangelical 'engagement' with culture...

The 'Constants of the gospel' need to be brought to bear on the changing culture, as sivin put it

jv. said...

wow...a wasn't expecting this thread to garner attention from 2 bloggers whom I actually follow as a quiet reader. Welcome to my little space on the world wide web (Sivin and Hedonese!) =)

But frankly, I'm no blog heavyweight. Neither am I an expert on theology or philosophy. My posts are generally simple, and merely speak on what's been going on in my life at that point in time.

Hope you won't be disappointed ;)

Ah...the "constants of the gospel". Thanks for bringing that up, Hedonese (Dave Chang I believe...and I do KNOW your alter-ego's name too..haha!). I totally agree.