I am thinking about developing some Havurah (small group, home fellowship) materials for use in Messianic Judaism. In doing my homework, I’m reading a variety of things. I’m reading some things that have spun off from Synagogue 3000 (http://www.synagogue3000.org/), such as Ron Wolfson’s The Spirituality of Welcoming. I’m also reading some Christian thinkers, including some from emerging and emergent Christianity.
I happened across a gem today: The New Christians by Tony Jones. He is a doctoral fellow at Princeton Theological Seminary and the national coordinator of The Emergent Village (http://www.emergentvillage.org/).
Before I get too far into this explanation, let me say that I tend to be what many people would call conservative in theology. I believe the message of the Bible. It is divine and true as far as I am concerned. But just mentioning that I am enjoying a book by Tony Jones could cause some people to label me as a liberal. That’s one of the great insights from Jones’s book: conservative and liberal are labels that are too simplistic. Reality is more complex and often absorbs parts of many perspectives commonly viewed as antithetical.
Anyway, what follows is a little description of Jones’s book and a small thought about its relation to MJ . . .
Emerging and emergent Christian groups are not easy to define. In many ways, you may say they are those who checked out of denominationalism and boundary-setting and checked into communities that are generous in including others and oriented toward active faith. Jones’s simple definition is “new forms of Christian faith arising out of the old.” In fact, emergent/emerging groups often blend the ancient and the contemporary seamlessly.
Scot McKnight’s definition of emerging/emergent Christianity is a good one: “Emerging churches are missional communities emerging in postmodern culture and consisting of followers of Jesus seeking to be faithful to the orthodox Christian faith in their own place and time.”
Jones begins his book with a story about meeting a sophisticated looking New York editor on an airplane on one occasion where he upgraded to first class. He was intimidated by her, imagined she would be “a liberated, enlightened member of the East Coast elite,” and, thus, godless. Then, halfway through the flight, she took out rosary beads and proceeded to pray with her eyes closed for a long time. Jones says, “I would have been less surprised if she tried to blow up her shoe.”
That story is a lot of what emergent Christianity is about. It is eclectic. It is spiritual. It does not fit into old molds of liberal-conservative.
Jones turns conventional wisdom on its ear with his first major point: America is becoming more religious, not less. It’s just that the new religious looks different and people assume it’s irreligious.
He discusses the hordes who have checked out of the mainline Protestant churches (liberal) and the evangelical Protestant churches (conservative) and are tired of the arguing about boundaries. To quote emergent theologian Brian McLaren, emergents think “Jesus is the savior, not Christianity.”
Emerging/emergent Christians want substance and not obsession with self-definition. They want God and not an institution.
Recently I made a friend who is an emerging pastor in the Atlanta area (he might even be reading this). I have observed that many emerging churches draw their ancient connections from some varied places like the fourth century church or Catholic or Episcopal liturgy.
People want the ancient and the new blended.
I made the journey years ago from the spontaneuous-prophetic prayer style of evangelical Christianity to the liturgical richness of Jewish prayer. I understand how liturgy transforms prayer and adds new dimensions (most evangelicals will struggle with this an anti-liturgical thought has been pounded into them from the pulpit for too long).
The point I want to make is simple: Messianic Judaism, potentially, has the elements of worship that emergents are discovering anew: multi-sensory worship, rich liturgy, and connectedness with the venerable while remaining open to new forms. The journey emergents are making in worship styles are something that we MJ’s have already delved into. And theologically we’ve also trodden where emergents are going. Because the very nature of leaving evangelical assumptions to chart new territory with an Israel-centered and Yeshua-centered theology causes us to question the white elephants in the theological room. There’s little room for unquestioned assumptions when you’re defying anti-Semitic trends in a 2,000 year old tradition.
Emergent and Messianic Judaism have some affinities. New things are rising out of the old.
Just as Synagogue 3000 is learning from Emergent Christianity, so should we. And Emergent Christianity should learn from us.
Old is the new “new.”