Thoughts : Progressive Christianity (Theology) : Emergent and Emerging Christianity

Since coming back to Singapore, I’ve been attending a Pentecostal church near my place every now and then. I’ve yet to settle down in a Church and I’m not sure when I will, if ever. I guess if I were living in some other places (like some cities in the US), I would be able find a Church that I would probably enjoy attending. Currently (and since 2002), the “tradition” I would most identify with is probably Emergent. And currently, there are no such churches like that in Singapore.

What are the features of Emergent that attract me? I would say two in particular. Firstly, Emergent Christianity is a less dogmatic form of Christianity. Epistemologically, Emergent Christians are either postmodernists or tend towards being postmodernists. But I have to be careful when using the word “postmodernism”. People define “postmodernism” differently. A common definition is that postmodernists deny absolute truth and are relativists. If some Emergent Christians consider themselves postmodern, then this is not the definition they would agree with. I don’t think anybody can call themselves a Christian if they deny the existence of absolute truth or if they are totally relativistic in their thinking. To be a Christian, one must trust in Jesus and believe that the meta-narrative of the gospel is true. Scot McKnight has some wise words to people who want to understand Emergent Christianity:

Please do not assume that everyone, everyone, everyone in emerging circles is postmodernist in epistemology, or assume that all postmodernists deny truth completely, or assume that postmodernists deny all metanarratives, or assume that metanarratives include the gospel, or just keep saying that emerging folk deny absolute truth.

So whether holding to a postmodern epistemology or tending towards one, Emergent Christians do not deny the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rather, we’re cautious about the trustworthiness of the many other meta-narratives and narratives dogmatically argued by many evangelicals and fundamentalists. Indeed, Emergent Christians like myself are sick of constant fighting among evangelicals who think they are always right about their interpretation of the Bible. We understand the world is more complex and understanding the Bible is also not as easy as most evangelicals make it out to be. We do not believe we have “arrived” or “know it all” but that we have so much more to learn. We may take a stand on this or that doctrine, but never in a dogmatic way and never without being open to change our position if needed.

Secondly, Emergent Christianity offers a more holistic view of a Christian’s mission. We don’t just believe in preaching the gospel but living it out. We are especially concerned about social justice and helping the poor, suffering and marginalized because we believe in attending not just to a person’s spiritual needs, but also to their physical and emotional needs. Such a belief resonates extremely well with my passion for international development and concern that Christians do more to help the poor, suffering and marginalized.

As one can see, Emergent Christianity is really seeking to go beyond the Conservative Christianity vs. Liberal Christianity divide. It accepts the absolute truthfulness of the gospel (Conservative Christianity) and yet recognizes that social issues and helping the poor are important too (often associated with Liberal Christianity).

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