Monday, July 17, 2006

What is an Emergent Neo-Puritan

Ever since I put this blog up, I've had as my "About Me", the following text:
"Father, husband, pastor, cultural exegete. A part of the Southern diaspora, an emergent neo-puritan, and a witty epicurean."

No-one has ever asked what any of it meant. I've had a few folks make aside comments like "I'm not sure what all that is" -- but no-one has ever actually asked.

Until now.

David McCrory gets the honors for asking the question -- specifically wondering what an emergent neo-puritan is.

So, here's me explanation of the whole thing (more than what David asked, but I'm in a mood to explain myself). The Father, husband, pastor, and cultural exegete are pretty self explanatory.

"A part of the Southern diaspora...." As a southerner (born and raised in Columbia, SC), I've come to find that the American Southeast has a distinctive and complex culture -- often ridiculed by much of the rest of the world. Where the rest of the nation sees NASCAR and country music as the South's great contribution, I see something much more. It is a way of life that celebrates family heritage going back for generations (my grandfather's first question upon meeting someone was "Who are your people?" - meaning who's your family). It celebrates nature and earthiness and the outdoors. There's a slowness and a gentility that even today persists. In the south, even the most well to do men are a little bit good-ol-boy when they put on their cammies and go hunting. There's a richness to southern quisine, southern literature, and southern music that I would not trade. There's a slower pace gives me room to breathe. I could wax rhapsodic for a long time -- but the point is that it is my home and the cadences of my thought were tuned in that culture. As we live in a more connected world than ever before, I find southerners dispersed all through the country and indeed the world -- still identifiable more or less. Hence, the Southern Diaspora.

"Emergent neo-puritan" -- this is a bit of a wisecrack on my part. Let me preface this by saying that I have many friends who are in churches that could be classified as "emergent" -- these churches are filled with good faithful and solid disciples who genuinely seek Christ.

But let me be quite frank -- I'm pretty sick of the term emergent. I've read so many articles that speak with breathless anticipation of the Emergent revolution. I find it amusing to think that there are leadership articles trying to help churches become more emergent -- as if it were a matter of engineering. Step 1: introduce electrified music Step 2: Get a prayer labarynth Step 3: grow a goatee or get a tattoo.

And then there are the legions of posers -- the "cooler than thou" Christians who have found churches where they can have good coffee, talk about semi-interesting books (I'm sorry, but I just can't call Blue Like Jazz interesting -- I've tried reading it three times and Miller's style just grates on my nerves). These folks gravitate to what I might call "corporate emergent" -- the megachurch clones that engage in a neverending quest to be relevant, but in so doing, strip the church of everything that makes it a distinctive refuge."

I speak now as a disciple, not as a pastor. I don't really want my church to be "relevant" -- I want my church to be deep and mature and grown up. I want my church to be a place that reflects a deep grounding in the Rock of Israel, the Strong Tower to whom I can run -- Jesus Christ, the righteous one. I long for a church that has old people and babies -- not just a bunch of twenty and thirty somethings looking to relate to one another. I want to go to a place where worship isn't just "cool", it's special and heartfelt and spirit-filled. I hope for a church of characters who walk lovingly as disciples of Jesus Christ, striving to take every thought captive and have every arena of their lives express the truth of the gospel.

That's the kind of life the Puritans encouraged at their best. Yes, there's a wide range of thought in the Puritan movement -- yes there were lamentable errors. But they got a lot of things right. I want to emerge by going backward -- back to the passion for a whole life Christianity. Hence, emergent neo-puritan.

Now I realize that this is exactly what is happening in some emergent churches -- but those are the churches that don't make a big deal about being "emergent". I take this as a general rule of thumb -- when a church works on selling their new focus ("were going to be emergent" "We're going to be missional" "were going to be purpose driven"), they usually get sidetracked from focusing on Christ to focusing on technique. The churches that are doing it well are not making a big deal about it because their focus is upon Christ and growing disciples and being subject to scripture.

Finally, "witty epicurian" -- that's an inside joke for my brother, and maybe David Thomas. Nothing more to it than that.

Hope this helps, David, and others of you who were just plain curious.

Soli Deo Gloria