Kevin Corcoran is professor of philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI and editor/co-author of The Church in the Present Tense.
Well, it’s my turn. As the one who conceived this book, edited it and contributed to it, I want to take a moment to address some of David’s concerns and some concerns that have been vociferously voiced on other websites and blogs. I’ll also touch on some points made by Tony, in his brief review.
(Let me say just briefly myself, in defense of my friend Tony, and in answer to my friend Jason’s critique of Tony, that he (Tony) was right in the thick of a wedding and probably did not have the time required for a more lengthy and in-depth review of the content of the book.)
David raises a couple of related worries and I want to address each of them in turn. First, the biggest worry seems to be that the Emerging Church has produced precious little on-the-ground Jesus-activism. It has raised lots of good questions, fomented lots of good conversation and stirred the proverbial pot, but little else. David wants to see “communities of Christ birthed…where true justice can be planted and infest neighborhoods.” He wants to see “places of resistance called into being where individuals together can witness against the consumerist and pornographic excesses of American culture gone badly.” And the implication is that the Emerging Church has not succeeded in doing this. It’s done other things, but not this.
His second worry is like unto the first. The emerging church is nothing more than a “never-ending tolerant conversation.” That’s it. It has been nothing more than that for the last ten years and David wonders if it can ever be.
Well, I do not fashion myself a spokesperson for the emerging church. Even so I will say this. Activism—Jesus activism—is one of the salient features of emerging Christians. In my chapter, “Thy Will be Done (On Earth)
I suggest that “planting justice” and “witnessing against the consumerist excesses of American culture”—to borrow David’s language—is precisely the sorts of things emerging Christians are up to. Now, do they do this as part of a single, structural entity or community that is The Emerging Church? No. But that’s because there is no single, structural entity or community that is The Emerging Church. In fact, I think it’s best not to speak of the emerging church for precisely this reason, it gives the impression that there is such a thing. There’s not. There are individuals—lots of them—dispersed and integrated parts of lots of different communities who share a vision, a concern, a longing, a cultural sensibility, and together they form what some refer to as the emerging church.
It is like a student visiting Yale university and being taken on a tour where she is shown the library, the labs, the sports complex and classrooms and then asking the tour guide, disappointingly, “But where is the university?” The student is confused in thinking that “the university” picks out an entity, a thing. It doesn’t. In seeing the library, the classrooms and labs and the sports complex she has seen the university. Likewise, the emerging church doesn’t pick out an entity either. It picks out a bunch of individuals with a shared vision, a shared set of interests, concerns and cultural sensibilities and who are about the business of following Jesus in the here and now. If you’ve seen them, you’ve seen the emerging church.
Let me address myself briefly to the charge that the emerging church is a “never-ending tolerant conversation.” Recall how the Platonic Dialogue, The Euthyphro, ends. In this dialogue Socrates asks Euthyphro what piety is. Euthyphro provides an answer only to have Socrates show him that his answer is woefully inadequate. So Euthyphro provides another answer. Socrates proceeds to show him why THAT answer is also inadequate. Poor Euthyphro offers up a third answer. And to this answer Socrates responds with an even more important question than the original. That’s how the dialogue ends, with a question. Plato seems to be suggesting that philosophy is like that, a never ending conversation.
As a philosopher myself, I don’t find it at all disturbing or problematic if the emerging church is nothing more than a never-ending and tolerant conversation. For it is a conversation about matters of fundamental human concern with people who though drawn into conversation because of shared interests, concerns and sensibilities are even still people from radically different theological and ecclesial histories and backgrounds. If we can learn to talk to each other respectfully, then isn’t this just one more way we can show the world the stuff of God’s kingdom?
Let me turn now to a couple of things Tony says and asks. First, Tony asks at the end of his review, “Do [the authors of Church in the Present Tense] reject the pastiche aspect of ECM, or are they happy that their tradition gets a hearing.” I think it should be clear from what I just said above that I do not reject this feature at all, but rather enthusiastically embrace it. When Tony suggests that lots of people are disappointed with the emerging church, I am inclined to think that while true, it is only true because people are mistaken about what the emerging church is. If it is recognized that the emerging church is not an entity, not a single, structural community, but rather a hodge-podge of individuals united by a common vision and a set of shared interests, concerns and cultural sensibilities from an array of different traditions and communties, then when the emerging church fails to speak with one voice on some important matter, one won’t be disappointed. Because once it is recognized what the emerging church is one will not have such expectations.
Finally, I want to comment for what I hope is the last time on the fact that four white (and so far as I am aware, heterosexual) males are the contributing authors to this book. This has been probably the single most voiced criticism of the book. Here is what I have said elsewhere and elsewhen:
As the one who conceived the book, edited the book and chose the authors of the book, the responsibility for the utter lack of female voices falls squarely on my shoulders. To offer an explanation risks the appearance of making excuses. So let me just say that I'm sorry there are no female voices among the authors (or among the interviewees that are included in the accompanying dvd). It's a shame. Period. I own it and will do what I can in the future to make it right. I can only ask that people forgive me. The lack of female voices is lamentable. And, as I've said, I'm sorry. I will do my best to do better moving forward.
I really don’t know what else to say. Some however seem unable or ill-equipped to accept my apology. I will say this, however; I make no apology for being white, male and straight. My voice is no less worthy of contribution to the ongoing conversation for all of that than is anyone else’s.
Let me close by saying this. Church in the Present Tense is offered as a modest, provocative contribution to the on-going conversation that is the emerging church. From what I can gather, it is succeeding. Thank you, David, for your contribution to the discussion and to you, Tony, for your continued contribution. And thanks to Jason, Pete and Scot for their continued labor. Peace to all.