Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Hesitantly learning

As someone who has become interested in the emergent conversation over the past year, but so far only as a listener, I must express my main gripe with many of the things I have read and heard.

Leonard Sweet refers in Postmodern Pilgrims to the television commercial popular a few years ago in which a man at the opera is talking, rather loudly, on his cell phone. A frustrated diva finally hurls her spear at the man, hitting the phone and knocking it out of his hands. He then begins texting the words: "Opera Just Got Interesting." Sweet asks, "What does it take for church to 'get interesting' to postmoderns?"

Indeed, that's a main question which this conversation seeks to address. And while I am enriched by many of the style changes and provoked by the theological dialogue overall, I can't help but feel that we're stopping just short of where God wants us to go.

House churches, small groups, social projects, prayer meetings, and many other aspects of the emerging church have been lifted, not from church tradition, but straight from Scripture in the book of Acts. Yet what made all those things interesting is unmistakable -- the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus proclaims it in chapter 1, verse 8 and it is the focal point of the next 27 chapters. More than anything else, the Holy Spirit is what gets people interested in the message.

Somehow in the whole emergent conversation, I don't hear many people talking about being intent on allowing the Holy Spirit to work in and through believers. In chapter 4, after being threatened by the ruling powers, the disciples regroup and come together to do the only thing they know that works: pray. In their surprisingly short prayer, they ask God to "stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus."

Their prayers are heard and answered, as the author notes that "after they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly." Miracles, especially through healing and deliverance, abound in the story of the early church. But where are they now?

Scott Bader-Saye, while analyzing the emergent matrix, asks, "What will become of this movement at the end of the day when the fog machines and video projectors are packed away?" Candles are cool, and stained glass slides are lovely, but where's the power of the Holy Spirit? Are people being delivered from oppressive spirits and being healed of all kinds of cancer?

If we can't legitimately offer what Jesus and his disciples offered, then whatever is emerging is far less than what Jesus intended.

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