My man Steve Bush over at Harbinger has been talking about finding family resemblances as a way to further enrich the Emergent discussion. I am down wit dat. Lord knows I have been immensely enriched by engaging various Christian traditions (peace church traditions, liberation theologies, post-liberal, and post-evangelical types) for the past couple of years. Traditions and ways of doing Church that are normally outside the orbit of the Christian world I inhabit.
My niche or dwelling place has been prophetic Black Christianity as exemplified by people like Cornel West, James Cone, Gayraud Wilmore, J. Deotis Roberts, and many others (I apologize for not mentioning the sistas…we have those too.). I have been quite reluctant to join in on this Emergent discussion. But it seems as though I was bound to run into this. After reading a Stanley Hauerwas, a John H. Yoder, or a James McClendon you become aware that the quest for the Body of Christ to be formed into a just people is shared broadly within the broad matrix of American Christianity. You just have to look for it. And after reading some of these theologians and pastors you begin to ask questions like: are there people out there trying to do church in a post-modern (and in my case a post-Civil Rights/post(neo)-colonial world)? Then I stumbled upon Brian McLaren’s book More Ready Than You Realize. It is a short little book painting evangelism in the post-modern world as a dance rather than a duel between abstract proposition. I found this encouraging. A pastor really trying to do this. Then I discovered that there were others all over the country and that this ‘conversation’ was getting more and more voices (and apparently by the recent negative response by particular conservative evangelical voices… getting louder). And upon reading more reflective and thoughtful people engaging this Emergent Conversation I found white boys reading James Cone (godfather of Black Liberation Theology), revisiting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., reading Liberation theology (Gustavo Guitterez?). My man Zossima over at Forgetting Ourselves has a tribute to Bishop to the Poor, Oscar Romero. I found this to be quite encouraging. And I wasn’t just delighted about seeing white evangelical Christians reading stuff I have been reading and reflecting on, but that we share a similar passion and concern that the Church be on missio dei (something I learned from David Bosch and Bishop Leslie Newbigin) to embody the love, mercy, and justice of God in our generation.
Not only does prophetic Black Christianity share these concerns with the heart of Emergent Churches it also shares similar challenges. These challenges are to be expected if these traditions and voices both share cultural/social space in the heart of North American society.
Shared-challenge #1: American-styled Individualism
I come from a tradition that is rapidly becoming prey to a particular form of individualism that is slowly eroding theological convictions surrounding social justice. A hold over from the age of the Enlightenment, American Individualism has infiltrated Black churches by creating reductionist accounts of the gospel. The gospel simply becomes fire insurance, a personal belief system, and a Anthony Robbins-styled success seminar. I know this is a oversimplification of the situation, but this is getting quite serious. Something is wrong when Martin Luther’s emphasis on ‘justification by faith’ becomes a five-step program for personal success. What I see in Emergent is a return to community language. Not community for its own sake but the missional understanding that the community of Jesus is to be a sign, foretaste, and instrument for Christ’s kingdom. This fits perfectly with the historical legacy of prophetic Black Christianity. The Emergent emphasis of the community of Christ being an ancient-future eschatological community that reflects, in the present, God’s intent for human flourishing deeply resembles prophetic Black churches that sought to reclaim black humanity in the midst of social/racial oppression. The prophetic black church tradition provides an object lesson of an unique brand of American Christianity that sought to embody this eschatological tension between the present age and the age to come. This eschatological understanding I see at the root of Emergent theology. Especially as it continues to conversate with liberation theology, post-liberal/evangelical theology. Especially the theology of past Christian leaders like Bishop Newbigin.
Bishop Newbigin, from what I understand, seems to exercise alot of influence on Emergent thinkers as they attempt to discern the role of the Church in a post-modern/post(neo)-colonial context. What has come about is the place of an particular eschatological view of the coming kingdom of Christ. This particular witness goes against the pervasive power of American-styled individualism. I believe the conversation between Emergent and prophetic Black Christianity can give witness against this pervasive force in our culture that is a deep cause for the social fragmentation that we see in African-american communities. This conversation can also be a witness FOR something as well. A witness that points to the eschatological community or kingdom of Christ that encompasses every nation-state, ethnic group, family, and neighborhood. A kingdom that witnesses to the inner life of the Trinitarian God.
Enought rambling. I will add more later.