What Missiology can’t teach the Emerging Church

or, dissolving the emerging church missions board!!



What is the Emerging Church? What are they up too? How do they conceive of what they are doing? Well, for many, they view themselves as missionaries (or missional communities) to the emerging post-modern culture of the West. But I disagree. (if you are short time, skip to the “culture” section, it’s my harshest critique and most important).

Here’s a familiar story (a true story many times over I’m sure): An overseas missionary comes home to find that his church has started a postmodern worship service. The pastor of this service, feeling somewhat confident in what he’s doing, but a bit insecure next to this seasoned missionary ask, “So, what do you think about our servise? Pretty different, right?” The missionary answers, “Yes it is different. But you are doing just what I’m doing out in the jungles of Papa New Guinea, adapting to culture.” This type of reasoning, which I’ve heard from several leaders of the emerging church, I totally disagree with. The tools of modern, or even postmodern, missiology don’t apply directly, w/o modification, to the Western situation.

Here’s why…

why we shouldn’t use “missionary” or “incarnate” in the West using the three “c”s- “capitalism”, “colonialism”, and “culture”.

Capitalism– global, market driven capitalism is the best missions agency in the world if we understand missions as adapting to culture and translating a message. Actually, capitalism understands that its not even about the message, but rather about desire (forming desire). If the Church understood that missions is about forming right desires they might actually start doing missions again!!! But too often the emerging church relies on sociological approaches which is no different from what advertisers do. I could go on…

Colonialism and Constantinianism– It is interesting that when we look at the modern missionary movement (i.e. the West evangelizing the Rest), we hear two stories of what happened; one from the missionaries, another from the converts. When we listen to the converts/natives we see that it is a matter of receiving (not giving) the gospel from God, of being faithful (instead of relevant) and a matter of our identity. From everything that I have read from the marginal theologies (african, hispanic american, latin american) the concern is not missions, but rather faithfulness. So might not missions, and the missionary perspective, have only arrived within a Constantinianism which not longer exists. In a post-Christian culture, rather than pre-Christian and therefore missionary, the issues is just as much faithfulness as it is missions. More could be said…

Culture– (this has two parts, and is a combination of the first two). First off, we don’t live in a real culture but a faked one. Capitalism has ready-made cultural products, plastic artifacts made yesterday. Culture is virtually manufactured without substance. We no real Western real culture anymore to which we could be missionaly oriented toward. We are only engaging with a simulacrum. Secondly, if we are going to talk about “culture” and “identity” we also have to ask whether it is a minority or the majority culture? and is it given or chosen? More those in the minority their identity is given to them (it’s called racism). Others projected expectations, intention, and abilities onto these minorities which they then have to deal with. It is not chosen, but given. But for many in the emerging Church (who happen to be white) being missional means reaching out and reinforcing the identities of those they encounter (ravers, hipsters, skaters, hippies, punks, etc.). The problem with this is most of these people are also white and they have chosen these personas, instead of having them given violently to them as in the minority/racial case. So we are trying to be missionally oriented toward a group of people who have chosen their identities, arranging church so that it might appeal to them (but of course they don’t talk that we), and we think that through this we will create disciples. But that will never happen because we are reinforcing every thing we should be criticizing: market capitalism which perpetually fragments people from each other through niche marketing which the emerging church is mirroring instead of promoting unity through the discarding of fivolous identities. again, i could go on, especially on this point…

But i’ll quit and see what happens.

so, in summary

1) we should disband the emerging church missions board, stop talking about postmoderns as if they were real people who identified themselves as postmodern, b/c there aren’t any.

2) we should stopping saying that we are being “incarnational” b/c the church is already the incarnation of Christ as his Body. The question is are we being faithful?