Moving from the Emerging/Emergent church’s posture toward postmodernism, in this post (and several following) I want to explore themes in the Emergent movement: today the theme is history.
The Emerging movement is historically conscious in that there is a genuine interest in the history of Christianity and a desire to appropriate elements of the church’s past. This view of Christian history does not essentialize the past by harkening back to a mythical pristine chapter in church history, but seeks to appropriate elements of the church’s past drawn from many Christian traditions.
In Generous Orthodoxy (2004), for example, Emergent church pastor and leader Brian McLaren comments on the benefits of using ancient church creeds. In a chapter titled “Why I am catholic,” McLaren comments on the Nicene Creed and its potential to shape conversations about Christian unity and describes what he has learned and applied from [Roman] Catholic Christianity. About the phrase, “We believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church,” McLaren writes:
“We believe in one . . . church,” the creed says, and that’s no easy-to- swallow statement because we’re surrounded by denominations, divisions, arguments, grand polemics, and petty squabbles. That’s where the “we believe” part comes in: you can only know the unity of the church by believing it, not by seeing it. When you believe it you see through the surface dirt and cracks to the beauty and unity shining beneath. Generous orthodoxy presumes that the divisions, though tragic, are superficial compared to Christianity’s deep, though often unappreciated, unity. Perhaps the more we believe in and practice that unity, the easier it will be to grow beyond the disunity.1
Here McLaren attempts to address historic fractures within Protestantism and urges contemporary Christians to embrace the ancient message of unity in diversity found in the Nicene Creed.
In a similar vein, McLaren also describes what he finds most attractive about Roman Catholic Christianity and suggests that evangelical renewal might come from embracing some of the ancient elements of the Christian faith. McLaren embraces the sacramental aspects of Roman Catholicism that purport to see God’s handiwork in its multiform manifestations of the sacred; argues that liturgy can enhance the sometimes simplistic and thoughtless aspects of evangelical worship; highlights the practicality of respecting tradition; urges evangelicals to adopt a healthy posture of veneration for Mary; celebrates the incarnational focus of Catholic theology and life; and praises the spirit of forgiveness and healing in some Roman Catholic circles. Interestingly, McLaren situates his comments about tradition as a critique of the Protestant Reformation. “The Protestant Reformation separated two brothers,” McLaren observes, “Scripture and tradition. The older brother tells the story that leads up to and through Christ, and the younger brother remembers what has happened since. These brothers aren’t the same, but neither should they be enemies.”2 There is much for evangelicals to digest in McLaren’s chapter on catholicity and ecumenism, and these comments reflect the historically conscious nature of the Emerging/Emergent church and demonstrate the interest in and application of ancient elements of the Christian faith.3
1Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 222
2Ibid. 225-230, quote from 227.
3My comments on the historical consciousness of the Emerging/Emergent church are adopted from my “Embracing the Early Church: Reflections on Evangelicals, Patristics, Ecclesiology, and Ecumenism,” Reformation & Revival Journal 13/4 (Fall 2004): 13-43.