“We need to interpret interpretations more than we need to interpret things.”
—Montaigne (as quoted by Jacques Derrida)
I dropped my critical theory class last semester, but before I left all of my new found knowledge behind me, I was able to apply this one thing that I learned in a useful way: Deconstruction. Deconstruction is a school of literary criticism that puts emphasis on finding the shortcomings of a text. Deconstructionists look for plot holes, mistakes in language—anything that doesn’t make sense or that renders the text imperfect. Any successful deconstructionist reading will end with the conclusion that the text is inherently imperfect, and therefore meaningless. This arrival at meaninglessness is called “aporia.”
Recently, I have come upon a group of young bloggers, mostly college and seminary age, who use their blogs to muse on everything current in Christianity. Many of them belong to a movement called the Emergent church. It would take more space than I have here to expound on what exactly the Emergent church is, but I will give you a brief overview based on what I have read and learned.
According to EmergentVillage.com, Emergent is “a growing generative friendship among missional Christian leaders seeking to love our world in the spirit of Jesus Christ.” Basically, it is an attempt to reinterpret the church from a youthful, 21st-century perspective. It is no secret that many young people have become disillusioned with the church. Many of them see problems with the ritualistic side of Christianity and have found a conflict between the Jesus found in Scripture, and the message of Jesus that the church preaches. They find themselves in a culture that the church has largely rejected and have begun asking themselves to what extent they should participate in this culture. They reject the idea that religion and politics go hand in hand and that Christians should restrict their learning to things that go on in Christian circles.
Emergent ideology puts emphasis on living in the world, but seeing it through Christian eyes and trying to understand it from a Christian perspective, not rejecting it because it is not Christian. Brian McLaren, a popular Emergent writer, says, “Jesus invites us to remember our identity and mission—to join Him in entering the world to celebrate all that’s good and to seek to transform all that’s not. That means that whenever we hear a good song or see a good scene in a movie, when we enjoy good art or good cooking, or when we find ourselves in good architecture, or read a good paragraph in literature, we celebrate the goodness, enjoy it, savor it, thank God for it.”
In this respect, I agree with the Emergent ideology. I also see good points in their opinions of the church. My view of the church has always been that it should be a home, a fellowship, a support group of believers, but really only a starting point for our personal walk. If we accept Christ, but the only knowledge of Him we get is through the eyes of other people, then how will we ever be able to truly experience Him in our lives? It’s the difference between someone telling you how good a book is and giving you the whole plot and story, and you actually reading the book for yourself. You will always find things that the other person left out in their version. You will always find things that are important to you that might not have had such an impact on the other person.
This line of thought has brought on a good deal of criticism from Evangelical Christians, who generally preach that Christians are to keep a healthy distance between themselves and the outside world to avoid being contaminated (if this is an unfair generalization, remember that it is simply that—a generalization). And this brings us to the problem: Emergent is basically a deconstructionist church. At this point, they seem to be doing little more than pointing out what they do not like about Evangelical ideology. They are finding the gaps in logic between the sermons and the Scriptures, discovering the pointlessness of various church customs, rejecting rules that are made by the church and not necessarily by God. They are still in the early stages of forming their own ideology, and so I pose the question: Is it dangerous to espouse an ideology that is not fully formed?
This is not a criticism of Emergent; there are parts of it that I agree with, and parts that I do not. This is a criticism of criticism. Many young Christians, myself included, are piling up criticism after criticism of the church: It is stale, it is unable to relate to culture, it is unenlightened about worship. I am not going to pretend that I haven’t been a critic of these things, but I am beginning to see the danger in constant criticism. A constantly critical attitude serves to do no greater good, but only to destroy what we have to work with. It leaves us in a cold state of aporia, with nothing but opinions and desires to guide us.
It is important to ask questions, to criticize if you feel it is necessary, to reject if you feel that something is wrong, but always, always seek an answer in return. For everything you reject, embrace something else, otherwise you will be left with nothing. When you hear a message, study its scriptural reference for yourself. When you are struggling with a style of worship, find one that works for you. When you do not feel that the church is doing enough to reach out to people, find ways to do it for yourself. Jesus criticized the religious leaders of His day, but in turn went out and did what He claimed others should do. He had a clear vision and was not lazy or angry about it, but pursued it fully. We should do the same.