by Jim Belcher

by Jim Belcher

Over the past decade a serious rift has occurred within western Protestantism. Traditional (I prefer the term “established”) Christianity and the Emergent movement have squared off with each other in what looks like a battle to the death.  Both sides have been guilty of prejudice, selfish indulgence, and just downright arrogance, claiming to be the only true way to be the “church.”

Whereas I’ve been a long-standing critic of most of modern day, Protestantism I find it hard not to take the same critical stance toward the Emergent folks as they take toward the traditionalists. Both groups are in a reactive mode toward the other rather than looking for common ground.  The traditional folks are holding fast to the old adage “That’s not the way we’ve always done it.” And the emergent group is little more than a reaction against their dislike of modern day Christianity.  I find both to be lacking.

What I find almost amusing is the claim by many and most recently, Phyllis Tickle, that by 2050 the Emergent form of Christianity will be the dominate form. I find that not only arrogant but also an unfounded, totally non-documentable claim.  At the moment the Emergent movement is but a very small sampling of Christianity whose churches show very little ability to attract large numbers of people.

So I am grateful to Jim Belcher because his book searches for a third way forward that takes the both of both traditions (yes the Emergents are now a tradition) and forges a third form of Christianity. Belcher seems to have had a foot in both camps for some time giving him a refreshing perspective for the future of Christianity.  The book is well thought out and well written. Belcher dispels some of the common misconceptions of and about both camps as well as clears up one of the key elements- Emergents understand postmodernism differently from most traditionalists. Whereas postmodernism means relativism to traditionalist it means a discontinuity with the tenets of the Enlightenment and the emergence of a totally new worldview. Of course I would be quick to say that one of the slippery sloops of this new world view is the belief that truth can only be know in community and at its best truth is beauty.  So if you take Emergent views to their conclusions, if a tree fell in the forest and no one was around it really didn’t fall and it certainly didn’t make any noise.

Still, the book offers one of the best platforms for conversation between traditionalist and emergents. For that we all should be grateful.  The Kingdom is too important for us to try to divide it up. There is room for many views of Christianity as long as Jesus is Lord and Savior in all those views.  And to their credit Jesus Christ is more prominent in the Emergent movement than he is in most of mainline Christianity.  So I’m torn from day to day. Which way to turn?  I think I’ll just try to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, more concerned with where those steps lead me than what I’m thinking along the way. Hmmmm. Sounds to Emergent for my taste, but then…..