MARCH 22, 2004
Martin E. Marty
"This is not your usual kind of venue, is it?" "Are you going to write it up?"
Questions about "it" by some participants move me to report on the Emergent Convention and National Pastors Convention in San Diego, sponsored by Youth Specialties and Zondervan Press. I "did" one seminar and two days of all-day one-on-one sessions with pastors, wherein (I blush) I was advertised as a "sage," a.k.a. old person. Most of the two thousand participants were youngish and of the evangelical stripe, but with a goodly cast of mainstream Protestants.
No, it was not my usual venue, though company I shared on the program tended to include friends who bridge evangelical-and-Protestant camps, or who help both overlap and interact: Will Willimon, Kathleen Harris, Tony Campolo, Craig Barnes, Earl Palmer, Gordon Macdonald, Phyllis Tickle, Jim Wallis, and Stan Grenz for samples. (There'll be a repeat occasion in Nashville, May 18-22 www.emergentconvention.com or www.nationalpastorsconvention.com.) Impressions:
First, energy marks all that this company does. They work with youth and are often themselves young. That participants had six or seven options to attend at any moment was not the big deal: the rather frenetic character of music, performance, and activity on the main stage surrounding serious speakers was almost benumbing. Most full-auditorium events were loud and flashy.
Second, if this is evangelicalism in action, it is surely protean and sprawling. Sixty years ago when the late Carl Henry & Company were fashioning modern (then called neo-) evangelicalism, I picture that they pictured something staid, expressive of softened fundamentalism on stiffer-backed Reformed systematic theological lines. No longer. Past images are easily forgotten.
Next, while many speakers criticized post-modernism in its secular forms, the overall scene here was of post-modernity in church action. Few voices spoke up for, pointed to, or reminded folks that the Christian Church has a tradition, and that many things happened between the birth of the church and March 10, 2004. Some participants trashed the hymnody, worship forms, liturgies, theological formulations, and historical moments of the intervening twenty centuries. More simply ignored them as unusable to the "post-modern" mentality. Eclecticism, collages, montages, pastiches, and present-only themes dominated most proceedings and advertised items.
Fourth, "emergent" and "emergence" were key terms: while many on the program were cultural critics, much of what went on there showed total ease with popular culture, and was expectant about what will issue from it Christianity.
Fifth, not a few in my one-on-one sessions and in the halls did voice worries about "commercialism," "commodification," "success"-paradigms, the dominance of "the market model," entertainment, and at-homeness in affluence. Absent from this evangelicalism is world-denial. Which is not to say that there is no call to discipleship. I was impressed by the dedication and devotion.
Finally, a thoughtful colleague who, with me, marveled at the energy and diversity
and faith wondered: this is all so tuned to the cultural moment, will much of
it be on the trash heap "like the movements of four and eight years ago?"