Friday, January 23, 2009

How the Emergent/Emerging Conversation Saved My Faith

This is just a journey that I have been going through theologically. I don't know about you but the journey it seems, is like walking a tight rope. There have been turning events that have reconstructed my theological stance and the evolving process is pretty much a narrow road. Just enough light to see the path on where my feet keeps walking.

My 'conversion' was spawned by the charismatic movement. And during those years, the journey of following Jesus was harnessed by reading charismatic authors, people like Benny Hinn, Cindy Jacobs, C. Peter Wagner, Dutch Sheets are just some of the names that come to mind. I guess this come with my background here in (Borneo, Malaysia) being part of a native tribe who were reached by Australian missionaries and had a turning point in their Christian faith being swept by what we know here as the revival in the 70s. This spawned the growth of Christianity among my tribe and what would be a turning point of growth in Borneo. So, the charismatic wave influenced Christianity in these parts among most of the tribal people.

My brush with the charismatic wave introduced me to the importance of the presence of God. At times these were tangible (just my personal experience). But that soon changed when I went to bible school and was introduced with reformed evangelical theology. My charismatic convictions were being questioned when I started reading John MacArthur's book 'Charismatic Chaos' which I found disturbing. There were some things that I agreed with but some were just plain baseless. That when I settled in my mind to be leaning towards being (i)reformed theologically and (ii) moderately charismatic. I'm not sure if the combination works but these were the two plausible paths which blended in me.

In my second year in bible college (basically somewhere in the middle), the reformed stance of my theological leanings were fully dominating my ideology and theology. So during this phase I literally became critical of those who did not conform to this theological understanding of the Christian faith. You could say that up to this point I became a proud son of fundamentalism.

How deep these roots maybe in me that time were to be tested on the in December of 2005. An accident that claimed the lives of three of our youth members, one of which died in my arms spawned numerous questions for me about faith. It was at this point that whatever theological position I held were 'abandoned'. But in all that whatever belief or ounce of faith I had to start with simply believing in God in the light of Jesus who came and died and rose again as a hope of something new.

The third year of bible college were filled with questions that soon progressed towards disillusionment with institutionalized church. I had no problem in believing in God and Jesus but what really bothered me was how we practiced church. Faith and institution form of church simply didn't blend well to me.

I also had difficulty with how we as Christians were to practice our faith. The thinking that said there was a secular world and sacred world ideology simply baffled me. Christian life seemed limited to the scope of church and anything with the christian label. This really trouble me to the core. Was faith in God and Jesus supposed to be like this? Simply a sort of disengagement? My faith was there but with all these questions hovering in the back on my head
Christianity seemed a dire form of religion, not a way of life or relationship with God as I was taught, but clearly not in its portrayal.

What saved my faith then?

A magazine called Christianity Today which had an article called 'The Emergent Mystique'. It was my first introduction with what is understood as the Emerging/Emergent conversation. Although the article was neither promoting or discrediting the 'movement' it served as my introduction to something new out there that were saying things that aroused my interest. Following that article we had a course called 'Spiritual Theology' which used Eugene Peterson's book "Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places" which explained the reality of living a faith based life; not in a dualistic form of understanding (which was actually the brain child of gnosticism) but living life holistically (there are no spheres-secular/sacred-all is viewed sacred and to be lived for God).

These were the catalysts that started a possibility for a 'new' christian faith (understanding);the Emergent and Emerging movement (although most would call it conversation). I would personally say that this conversation/movement saved my faith and is continuing my conversation leaning towards a faith that makes sense in a changing world. There is a list of books that I saw helpful on this blog site by a blogger friend of mine that is worth checking out. I would like to add Dan Kimball's "Emerging Church" that introduces us to new possibilities of understanding church which has been helpful for me in envisioning the possibility of creating a community living in our post-christian culture now.

Do you have a similar journey? Are you familiar with the whole emergent/emerging movement? Your thoughts?


13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have to confess I'm not really a fan of the emergent church, so from a critique point of view I would recommend "Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church" by Don Carson and "Why We're Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be" by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck.

Tremonti said...

Hey anonymous,

Valid comments. Thanks for the recommendations. When I use emerging/emergent I generalized the term here. There are actually differences with both of these term actually as addressed by Scot McKnight here: http://blog.beliefnet.com/jesuscreed/2008/09/emerging-and-emergent-our-new.html#more

you can see another article by McKnight here:
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/february/11.35.html

I find that Scot is more balanced in his views about emergent. I have not read through Don Carson's book but I will do so pretty soon. I have heard about the second book but I have to splash the cash for that copy as in my part of Malaysia (East that is), the bookstores doesn't carry this title.

Can you explain why you are not a fan of emergent? I'm just curious. Would be helpful to hear from your perspective to further the conversation.

Mason said...

Tremonti,
Thank you for sharing this testimony so openly. Much of it really resonates with me as well, especially this quote,
“The thinking that said there was a secular world and sacred world ideology simply baffled me. Christian life seemed limited to the scope of church and anything with the Christian label.”

I was not raised in my faith in a charismatic setting, but rather in conservative Evangelicalism. Unfortunately though this tradition also shares a tendency toward a preoccupation with the sacred/secular divide and personal piety to the exclusion of social justice and a more holistic view of God’s saving plan in the world.
Over time though, through life events, my college years, and much of what I’ve read, I have come to a place where, like you, I think my faith must be relevant to much more.
As such I share a lot of your solidarity with the emerging church, who asks a lot of tough and necessary question about how our faith affects the way we live in this world.

I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say I’m emergent personally, but I’m interested and sympathetic. I think though that it is possible to speak to the issues emergent is concerned with without actually identifying completely with the conversation. A great example I think is my personal favorite author N.T. Wright, who in my opinion does not fit either traditional modernism or postmodernism and emergent.

Tremonti said...

Mason,
Thanks for your comments. I thing I am more closer to the emerging church in terms of theology. The emergent stream of thinking still has good questions but I would echo you:

"I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say I’m emergent personally, but I’m interested and sympathetic."

But what I really like about the Emerging and Emergent conversation is the capacity to ask difficult questions. I like this openness, which to some degree is not prevalent in my culture. We would get 'fried' if we asked difficult questions.

It is true that N. T Wright "does not fit either traditional modernism or postmodernism and emergent". He is one of my favorite theologians too and I find myself resonating with his stuff.

The Emergent and Emerging conversation/movement to me has been a spring board for a fresh christian experience.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Tremonti,
I live in GR area not far from Mars Hill Bible Church- Rob Bell. My story has similarities to yours. From Mennonite to Baptist/Reformed to Vineyard, and now to the Evangelical Covenant Church denomination. But really impacted by a number of traditions, so that I'm not (but surely very few are) purely of one tradition of the faith.

I think "emergents" are asking some good questions. I kind of see the whole thing more fuzzy now, than I once did. I mean I think I find "emerging" stuff in a good number of places. Though I guess this term really refers primarily to evangelicals trying to break out into a richer, more authentic faith. And being open in ways that some of the forebears were not. I mean to rethinking the meaning of what we confess in our faith.

Interesting post.

Anonymous said...

Tremonti,

I go to Bible College myself and we were once visited by a gentleman from the emerging/emergent church. I can see the positive elements of some emerging ideas, and think that provided everything stays Biblical, it can be a good thing. However some of what this man was saying suggested the postmodern idea that everything has an element of truth that can lead to salvation, including Islam, Hinduism etc.. That was obviously just one example, but it's for this reason that i remain careful about the whole issue. Scot McKnight is someone I'm aware of who seems to be taking the "kosher" parts of emerging thought and making them into something good, which I think is a good thing. I admit I have some more research to do on this, but I'm grateful for you posting this, and I'm glad it brought you back in a relationship with God. That's the ideal :)

Tremonti said...

Ted,
In my context you will rarely find people progressing in "purely of one tradition of the faith" in a sense of awareness. I say this because over here people don't really have any sort of strong theological stand. Asians (in my context) tend to believe more rather then reason. So there are influenced by a number of traditions but are not aware or don't really ascribe strongly to a tradition. I guess we don't go through the whole process of labeling traditions here. There are only a few that is-Catholic, and Non-catholic. Just my observation of my context.

As for the emerging and emergent issue what you said "rethinking the meaning of what we confess in our faith." would be a good term in understanding the questions that they are asking.

Anonymous,

I would agree on this issue here that you address "However some of what this man was saying suggested the postmodern idea that everything has an element of truth that can lead to salvation, including Islam, Hinduism etc"...I would say this is a slippery slope to follow. I don't follow on all their positions but I'm just in for seeking for a more authentic way of living for Jesus. And I like the way you put your explanation on McKnight "taking the "kosher" parts of emerging thought and making them into something good". A catchy way of putting it!

Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes, rethinking the meaning of the confession of faith. Not doubting of abandoning it, as a rule. Most of them would not consider that. But just working through the meaning of orthodox Christian faith.

Interesting on Asians. I think this is just another example of how Asians' faith over there could benefit us, while our faith could benefit them. I'm sure there are strengths on both sides which would help the other/ each other.

Anonymous said...

Tremonti,

thank you for that :) and also thank you for your comments there. it's cleared up for me what your thinking on the issue is and has encouraged me to go do some more reading! Thanks.

Kurt said...

Jon,

I will try to come back in the next couple of days as i gather my thoughts and have some time to actually put something significant down....

Kurt said...

Jon, this will not be new to you; but maybe to some of our other blogging friends...

My Story:

I have grown up in an evangelical environment. I went to youth groups and attended a Christian high school. Although I did not grow up in a traditional or hyper-fundamentalist setting, seeds of fundamentalism have been popularized amongst most in evangelicalism. I grew up learning that it was 'Christian' to believe in a literal 7 day creation or at least some kind of gap theory. For the most part, plain sense of the text was assumed as the best reading of the Bible. There were rights and wrongs; black and white; and conservative and liberal... nothing fit outside of such categories. When I was 16 I was called to full time ministry at a summer camp. Since then, God has opened doors that have led me into ministry opportunities and bible education. In college, I was highly involved in a church and was given an internship. At this time, I was turned on to the emerging church conversation my mentor who is now one of my best friends, was given pointed to some emerging writers and he opened me up to what they were saying. The odd thing was that it didnn't really start to change our overall understanding of theology until a couple of years into the intership. Not only so, but after listening to some interesting lectures by Ron Martoia, he turned me on to NT Wright. It was through listening to the lectures of Wright that i began my philosophical/Theologcial shift.
Simultaneous to this, i continued reading McLaren, Bell, Martoia, McKnight, McManus, Len Sweet, Dan Kimball, and others. What I found is that Wright's teachings on the kingdom and the renewal of all things were coming out in these emerging church type books. Also, for the last 7 years i have had the oppertunity to go to the National Youth Workers Convention (Youth Specialties) and they have given me opertunities to hear many of these leaders speak in seminars and the main sessions. The Youth Specialties conferences have made a profound impact on my perspective. Finally, as i have continued to study over the last 2.5 years, (this is how long i have been at the church I currently serve as youth pastor at), I have noticed a lot of structural things that have bothered me about the 'contemporary evangelical church.' I have noticed how theology and politics (a big problem in American Evangelicalism) can affect how we implement the gospel in regards to the poor and the environment. Guys like Shane Claiborne and the book Colosians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (Walsh and Keesamaat) have been a huge help in the area of understanding my faith in the American context. Seminary has also been very influential in my journey. I would say that my views started with theology, but have found a home with the emerging church. I am a guy who is driven by my theology...

The Hedonese said...

Hey Tremonti, Our spiritual journey is almost 100% identical! I'm from Ipoh and came to know Christ in a charismatic-arminian-parachurch background but my crisis of faith came in form 6 with death of a friend's mother...

But I ran away to KL, worked at Evangel and found a lifeline in the gospel of grace (aka reformed theology). Flirted a bit with the fundamentalist churches but couldn't fit in...

But thankfully I also found models like Francis Schaeffer who exemplify engagement with the world/culture, incarnational/conversational evangelism and also 'reformed + charismatic' spirituality...

so i'm excited to hear of the 'emerging' conversation and appreciate lots of what they crticise though not all the cures proposed... and I lean more towards the spectrum of Tim Keller, Marc Driscoll, CJ Mahaney (reformed charismatic) and Dan Kimball bcos in my experience with some folks in Msia, the essentials of the faith tend to be downplayed significantly and that's my main concern really ;)

Tremonti said...

Hey Hedonese,

you're right, we do have almost similar spiritual journey, i should say that the similarities are freaky in a good way that is! haha.

I'd say of the authors you mentioned I am more inclined towards Tim Keller (remarkably reformed yet generous yet generous at the same time) and Dan Kimball. For Mark Driscoll, I resonate alot with his theology but at the same time he seems too extreme. I would echo you on Francis Schaeffer though I haven't really read him. There was a book though "he is there and he is not silent" which at the time i bought it I didnt understand the book! haha. I think if i take a shot at it now I would be able to grasp what he is saying there hahahah.

And for me too "the essentials of the faith tend to be downplayed significantly and that's my main concern really"!

Hopeful Theo

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I'm a student of Theology (currently and will always be one). I'm a student of culture and a student of music as well. I guess you could say life is a never ending journey of learning. Because of that we never stop being students. Just a little something about this blog: Deconstructing The Monkey is all about being a safe space for emerging conversations