Top Ten Myths about Emerging Church

Short list (for posterity’s sake) of Tony Jones‘ list of Top Ten Myths about the Emerging Church, delivered at Emergence Now at Columbia Theological Seminary January 27, 2010, and reported real time via Bruce Reyes-Chow (who is there as well) through Twitter with @breyeschow.

#1 “Emergence is just about theological debates and publishing contracts.”

#2 “Emergence only appeals to younger people.”

#3 “Emergence is a reformation of evangelicalism.”

#4 “Emergence does not believe in authority.”

#5 “Emergence is confined to the American church and white guys.”

#6 “Emergence doesn’t appreciate church history.”

#7 “Emergence has a spokesperson.”

#8 “Emergence is a new way to ‘do church’.”

#8.5 “Pomomusings is the official blog of the emergent church.”

#9 “Emergence is anti-denominational”

#10 “Emergence is trying to put the conventional church out of business.”

UPDATE 1/27 : Tony posted the slides from yesterday’s talk here.

McLuhan, Media, and Ministers

As part of the Transforming Theology Project over at Claremont, Tripp Fuller and Phillip Clayton are teaching a class called “Theology After Google.”  Given the content of the course, Tripp has been interacting with the Twitterverse and Blogosphere as part of the course content and prep.  He recently suggested that I throw a little somethin somethin together around the topic of the medium and message for modern ministers.  This video is that.

“The medium is the message” is probably the most oft-quoted line from Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan.  I bumped into McLuhan’s work years ago in my studies in communications theory and was utterly bowled over by his insight, wit, and bizarre eccentricity.  Heck, the title of this blog is even because of him.  Anywho, the issue (one of them anyway) with McLuhan is that he never wrote “the book” on anything. He never got all of his ideas into one place and came down definitively on anything, instead favoring short questions and comments that he called “probes.”  The fact that he did this intentionally makes it no less frustrating for same.  He said it was because The Print Age and linear, visual-rational, thinking was closing to be replaced with The Electronic Age’s emphasis on connective thought.  Consequently, his writing, even though published in the 50’s and 60’s  reads more like what would happen if you published the results of a 12 hour web-surfing spree, rather than a finely honed theoretically work.  That point of all this is to say that not as many academics have given him the credit I think he deserves because he wasn’t playing by the rules.  This (of course) I love.

Here I’m trying to re-articulate his probes “the medium is the message,” and of “retribalization” in the context of theology, specifically theology after Google.

I may or may not come back here and add to the text of this post, but I think I fairly well said what I needed to in the video, so please let me know if things are unclear, or if you would like a further articulation of something I said.  I am more than willing to clarify if I can.  Happy viewing, and please comment below.

Related Readings

Great read about how Google might be changing the way we think, “I Google, Therefore I Know.”

An interesting essay which has a long section about McLuhan’s retribalization is here.

An interpretation of  “the medium is the message” from a more “pure McLuhan” standpoint is here.

An article connecting McLuhan and hermeneutics is here.

Less related, but also of note:

An article dealing with McLuhan and revisionist theology is here.

Ethics, Eschatology, and Avatar

I recently saw the film “Avatar,” prompted by lots of press and the opportunity to spend time with my family, who also wanted to see it.  Long story short?  Pretty good movie if I’m just thinking about it as a movie.  Fairly concerning if I think about it with my theologian hat on.  Why? Two reasons.

1) It enforces a belief in the myth of redemptive violence while ostensibly trying to the cause of environmental protection.

In discussing the film, director James Cameron has commented that

I’m not trying to make people feel guilty… I just want them to internalize a sense of respect and a sense of taking responsibility for the stewardship of the earth.. and I think this film can do that by creating an emotional reaction.

What worries me is that Cameron’s “taking responsibility” amounts to killing the people who don’t have a sense of respect.  Now I know that it is a fictional fantasy, and that I might be taking it all too seriously, but it just seems as if it unnecessarily weaves support of the myth of redemptive violence into notions of stewardship. [An article by Walter Wink about the myth of redemptive violence is here.]  Given the internal logic of the film, were the protagonists justified?  Sure.  Does such justification exist in our own story?  I think not.

2) It suggests an eschatology of hope that entails the physical intercession of some Divine force that allows the “good guys” to continue just as before, just without the “bad guys” around any more to bug them.

As a Member of the Religious Society of Friends, I’m more of a proponent of what we call a “realized eschatology,” what more evangelical/emergenty folk seem to refer to as some form of Kingdom Theology.  I don’t think everyone is obligated to believe this, however it seems to be worth noting as it contributes to my concern for some hope of a future wherein the direct intercession of the Divine defeats all my enemies for me, and I am left to my paradise in peace.

Cameron’s Avatar portrays the god of the protagonists as some magical force which can intercede on behalf Her people, and whose direct intercession is necessary to continue.

I do not think that there is a direct correlation between such cinematic suggestions and individual theological thought, however I do believe that our perceptions of the Divine are influenced by the media we consume.  Thus, while I doubt anyone walked away thinking verbatim that “I can’t wait till God returns and destroys all the [INSERT HATED GROUP] and I get to live exactly as I was before I met them,” I do think that the amazing appeal of this film plays on our fanciful hopes that, in fact, just such a thing will happen.

I’m not opposed to magical thinking in films, but when the film is an explicit attempt to sway the hearts and minds of folks in this world for the sake of engaged change, I find the reliance on magical thinking to be yet another impediment to finding ways forward that are not coercive or fanciful.

I am reminded of a passage in Theodore Jennings’ The Liturgy of Liberation,

If violence is the symptom of despair then the sporadic and systematic violence that charecterizes our world betrays an epidemic of dispair. We despair of justice, we despair of reason, we despair of the other person and so we destroy the other person, and we prepare to be destroyed by the other person ourselves.  In short, we despair.  We are without hope for ourselves, for the other, for our world.

If it is only through some belief that our enemies will be swept away by the wrath of a God-figure that we manage to find some measure of hope, then perhaps despair has indeed won out.  I, for one, though, still tend to think there is yet another way forward.