Back Ground : Brandon Morgan attended the Wild Goose Festival and came away with some concerns/critiques that were posted at Roger Olson’s website and responded to by Tony Jones with some great new suggestions .

Tripp and I had some fun recording a Theology Nerd Throw-down (TNT) last week where we discussed Tony’s suggestions for replacing Emergent-Liberal-Progressive as unhelpful and antiquated terms that are unclear and carry too much baggage.

But none of that responded to Brandon’s actual concerns and questions. I appreciate and respect Brandon’s position and involvement  – SO since we are on the same team – I wanted to honor his questions with an honest attempt to dialogue about it.

Question 1: Why haven’t Emergent folks joined the mainline denominations?

Response: The simple answer is – because they are doing two different things. People emerge out of something-somewhere. Those backgrounds are varied and diverse, but primarily they emerge into a more open, less institutional, more casual, less hierarchical expression. It doesn’t have to be a full fledged movement (sorry Dr. Olson) for there to be both an appeal and an organizational framework. It is providing a communal and spiritual environment that nurtures and facilitates a less defined- more adaptable entity (expression) in the post-colonial, post-christendom ecosystem.

To me, the better question is “Why WOULD emergent folks join mainline denominations?”   They are going two different directions. I mean, except for some behaviors and convictions (ordaining women, justice work, etc.) the mainline is a historical-institutional behemoth that one would only want to take on if there was a significant impetuous. Otherwise the decentralized- organic-contextual capacity of emergence spirituality and practice are much more attractive than the albs & stoles, acolytes and adjudicatories, the liturgy and lectionary of the Mainline.

Why would an emergent type volunteer to take on all of that plus the Bishoprics and Books of common practice?

I want to ask you: what are you picturing when you say something like this?    [it is an honest question since I do not know you and do not know what you are picturing when you say ‘mainline’ and what exactly it is that you think would appeal to an emergent type?]

I think the reason that your post has gotten the response that it has and your questions have not been answered is that you must be picturing something when you ask the question that seem outlandish to those of us who are not in your head. Have you had a different experience of the mainline that we have? What aspect of mainline did you think WOULD appeal to emergent types?

Question 2: Why have the negatives of evangelicalism been so easy to describe and virulently rebuke, while the negatives of the mainline denominations have barely shown up in Emergent concerns?

Response: I think this comes down to two quick thoughts:

  1. most emergents have either emerged from an evangelical background or against an evangelical background. It is the reality of our era. TV preachers, mega churches, Christian bookstore chains and the Religious Right have made it so.
  2. The mainline has it’s endowed seminaries and publishing houses to document it’s slow decline. It is neither the primary drive nor the main attraction for most theologically charged conversations.

Question 3:  Another way to ask this question would be: Why hasn’t the Emergent critique of evangelicalism’s involvement with the American nation-state and it’s tendency toward creating theologically exclusive boundaries not found root in a critique of mainline denominations, whose political interests also conflate the church with nation-state interests?

Response: I hate to oversimplify it, but it seems really clear. If mainliners are theologically over-aware (maybe even hyper-aware in some cases) then their involvement in the political system may tend toward liberation, justice, and equality. Whereas those movements who are newly energized toward “Theo” heavy themes may tend toward conserving romantic ideals of past formulations without consideration (or awareness) or their capacity and tendency toward institutional hegemony.

So those are my genuine, non-cheeky, responses to your honest questions. I would love to hear your and other people’s thoughts in order to dialogue about this.