Thursday, June 16, 2005

Emergent leaders respond to criticism

Kent pointed me to this site which has a fairly lengthy letter from a series of leaders in the emergent church movement responding to criticisms of their work. Much of it is well intentioned and nicely articulated. One of the ten points is that people should respond to their writings after actually having read them – always a good idea. (I’m especially sensitive to that given the at times unfair critique of the letter that some of my Calvin College colleagues placed in the Grand Rapids Press regarding the visit of President Bush.)

I certainly don’t think my little blog entry regarding Dan Kimball’s book (and his subseqent response) counts as one of the major criticisms that he has faced – and, frankly, I was unaware that there was so much criticism out there. But, since I’ve already engaged him in conversation about it, I’ll make one additional comment about the letter.

The fifth point reads as follows:

Fifth, because most of us write as local church practitioners rather than professional scholars, and because the professional scholars who criticize our work may find it hard to be convinced by people outside their guild, we feel it wisest at this juncture to ask those in the academy to respond to their peers about our work. We hope to generate fruitful conversations at several levels, including both the academic and ecclesial realms. If few in the academy come to our defense in the coming years, then we will have more reason to believe we are mistaken in our thinking and that our critics are correct in their unchallenged analyses.

Why should those of us in the academy only respond to those in the academy and not to the people writing these books? It seems to me that this point says that we won’t listen anyway so we shouldn’t engage in conversation with the church professionals. I find this request puzzling at least and a bit troubling. Is it that academicians expect a different type of discussion and are playing by different rules than these writers? Are we reading “popular” writings and criticizing them because they’re not academic writings?

Still, much of the letter is well written and interesting. After recently attending a somewhat standard contemporary worship service (in what I think is the Willow Creek / Saddleback format) I’m thrilled that people are looking to the more traditional church to get back some of what has been tossed aside and if that is the outcome of the emergent conversation then we will be blessed by it.

EDIT: Bethany's comment made me re-read the paragraph that I quoted and I agree with her. The paragraph is a call for academic supporters to respond to academic critics rather than a call for academics to quit bugging them. This makes sense now.

1 comment:

bethany said...

I read that paragraph as a call to arms for sympathetic academics, rather than a chastisement for critical ones. I think they are asking that those more qualified in the academic sphere use their expertise to respond to some of the issues raised by other academics. Of course, if academic work doesn't translate into the practical to the extent that these conversations can't be fluid with each other, that is cause for concern on its own.