Friday, August 20, 2010

Cool As God Made Us (up/rooted.west wrap-up)

When I was a kid, my mom told me, "If you want to be cool, just be the wonderful, unique person God made you to be." Well, alright, she never said that. But she should have. Somebody's mom probably said that. Anyhow, last night at up/rooted.west, I started the discussion by bringing in Brett McCracken's recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal called "The Perils of 'Wannabe Cool' Christianity," since this has been one of the many critiques lobbed at the emerging church--that emergents are just the coolest kids on the Christian playground. Look at those thick-frame glasses! Check out his super long goatee! Can you believe her dreadlocks! And they're all meeting in a bar! It's all so emerging!

While we weren't too enthused by McCracken's quick write-off of the emerging movement (he says it has "fizzled" for two oddly contradictory reasons: that it "was too 'let's rethink everything' radical'" and that its animating impulse was merely to "rehabilitate Christianity's image and make it 'cool.'"), who can take issue with his conclusion that for younger generations, "when it comes to church, we don't want cool as much as we want real?"

Actually, correct me if I'm wrong, but I have been under the impression that that was the impulse that got this emergent thing going in the first place. Not a quest for a hipper church, but a desire for a more honest and authentic one. As Tony Jones recounts the history of at least his stream of this thing (in chapter 2 of The New Christians), a host of young male rising-star pastors were assembled by the Leadership Network to figure out how to make Christianity hip for Generation X, but they ended up asking all these deeper questions about the nature of the the church and the essence of the gospel, and were rather critical of the American evangelical marketing machine.

That said, I would guess that for those emerging church leaders who were reared in the "golden era" of evangelical youth ministry, it's probably a struggle to jettison the preoccupation with staying on the edge, image-wise. It is always easier to get the people out of slavery than to get the slavery out the people, whatever the captivity in question may be. For my part, I'm Lutheran and I'm pretty sure the last time we had an issue with being too hip was circa 1530 in Germany. (Praise God for a great sense of humor if our rich theology and practice suddenly becomes retro-hip.)

We also finished our discussion series on Peter Rollins's The Orthodox Heretic last night with a couple pithy parables called "The Father's Approval" and "Overthrowing the Emperor." Having seen Peter Rollins in person, in a bar in Wrigleyville with many hip-looking people, it should be conceded that objectively speaking, his is cool. Good thing we emergents aren't keen on objectivity.

Next month, we are privileged to host special guest Sean Gladding, author of The Story of God, The Story of Us (IVP, 2010), in town for the Christian Community Development Association conference. Make note, it'll be on the second, not the third Thursday: September 9th at 8pm (gather at 7:30).

"Sean is a British Texan living in Kentucky whose thing is dramatizing the metanarrative of Scripture. His new book surveys the Bible in twelve chapters set in three different locales--for the Old Testament, a fireside gathering of a Jewish exile community in Babylon, where a rabbi reminds them of the promises of God while they fret over why God has abandoned them; for the Gospels and Epistles, an ekklesia in an urban commercial center, explaining this odd new celebratory sect to a merchant over a series of dinners; for the Revelation, that merchant's underground ekklesia, hidden for fear of persecution, explaining to two tentative followers of the Way why Christians stand in defiance of the Roman empire."

As you can see here at his IVP book page, Sean also has a bald head and a long goatee. Whether that is, for him, cool, only his Creator knows.

up/rooted.west co-leader