I listened to the second installment of Brian McLaren's sermon series on "What is the emerging church?" on the way into the office today. This installment focused on some pretty comfortable Lutheran ground:
- Scripture is meant to be read as an integrated story of God's action in history to create, redeem and sanctify his people. While some Christian traditions -- and the cultural Christianity all Lutherans are exposed to -- highlight particular threads such as sin, justice, poverty, etc., the Bible is a narrative that integrates different themes, threads and experiences to tell the story of what God is up to in the world, and to invite us to participate.
- God is bringing the kingdom into being throughout history; we're called to either ignore God's work, oppose it, or accept Jesus' invitation to join with God in loving and healing the world. (Seeking that God's will be done in us so that we can care for our neighbors, as Luther said.)
- The emerging movement is "evangelical," not in the political sense but in that it seeks to engage people outside the movement into participating in God's kingdom, in "Making Christ Known...Now!"
It's pretty clear that Lutheran listeners are eavesdropping on a conversation within the evangelical/fundamentalist church, which McLaren critiques because he is part of it. Most Lutherans should hear this and say, "Well, of course!" -- although we do have our people who read Scripture the way lawyers scour the annotated code, looking for precedent to prove their case, and others who focus on "eternal fire insurance" rather than mission. And we might be guilty of other sins, like seeking the preservation of centuries old congregations or locking ritual in a comfortable, unimpassioned sameness, that are less common in those traditions. It would be easy to just stop at "See! We have that!" without looking for the analogs to the missteps that McLaren talks about in our own house.
Certainly these underpinnings of the emerging church movement resonate with Lutheran tradition. Yet this theological resonance hasn't -- yet -- translated into great increases in the kingdom of God; in fact, we're in decline, especially among emerging generations.
What is the disconnect? In part we're slapped with the brush of the cultural "Christianity" that infects our politics and is presented in the media -- the only way many unchurched and de-churched people hear about religion -- as the only alternative to a secular view of the world. Many people may just not know enough about Lutherans to know there's an alternative. And there's a sense in which we may, disaster relief aside, be guilty of not applying our rich theological insights to the issues facing real people close to the bone of real life (and communicating that to them) and being shy about bringing about the kingdom and inviting people to join us and God in that work.
What if we could, while stumbling forward as the saints and sinners that we are, help people to see God's kingdom breaking into their "walking-around life" (Eugene Peterson's phrase) and live radical grace amid the 21st century rat race? That would be Lutheran ... and emergent.