My statement of Emergent

“Emergent” IS…

**Disclaimer #1 – this is my take on what it means for me to be emergent. By no means do I, Nate Bettger, fit into everything that is emergent and by no means does emergent fit into everything that is Nate Bettger (for example Celtic Christianity… which actually some would say was the first emergent group of Christians). Because I approach my faith the way I do, though, I fit into emergent and identify with the folks that are part of this network of relationships.

**Disclaimer #2 – by no means is this meant to be a definitive statement. It is not meant to be picked apart, but rather meant to give a summary, which would then lead to conversation and a mutual effort to understand what it means to follow Jesus here in Bend, OR. Granted, many may pick this apart… perhaps like many do with scripture… and my original intent will be completely overlooked. Thankfully, unlike scripture, the author is still alive and very willing to talk, dialog, question, defend, drink coffee at any time. So I would recommend contacting him. http://www.natebettger.com/contact

There is another premise that would be helpful to understand before diving into what emergent is and is not. The idea of bounded sets, centered sets, and relational sets as ways that groups decide who is part of the group and how they will establish significance. I will used churches as the example

Bounded sets – Much more modern. Churches decide what it is exactly that they believe as a community, write it down, and if you want to be a member you must sign off on these things. Reminds me a bit of my Christian college. Pretty institutional. But then again, not very many people stuck to the stuff they signed off on. They just didn’t tell anyone that they disagreed. There are often rules for how you can act and what you should do. Doesn’t do much for community and makes for a lot of “ins” and “outs.”

Centered sets – This is where most churches are now. I interviewed at a church that told me that they major on the majors and minor on the minors. I was still too outside the box for them. Basically, a church will make their sets of agreed upon standards smaller and whoever seems to be able to agree with those things, even if they are way out on some others, can be “in.” The rest are still “out.” Essentially, it’s just a bounded set with a smaller set.

Relational sets – This is different than fuzzy sets (Follow this very helpful LINK[1] for another great description of sets). Relational sets don’t start with doctrines… they don’t start with rules or ways that everyone has to believe. Rather, there is the understanding of the reality that most of us believe what we believe and put the most value on the things that are similar to the people that we spend time with. Start talking with a group of people about all the ways that they are connected… “I know this person because he and I were here and were introduced this way…”, “Well, so and so married so and so, and she was at the same party and knew my sister from back in college”, etc. People get way more excited when they have common stories or overlaps in their life experience. Amidst all of this, the Spirit of God draws people together. We seem to be going in similar directions. So we go with it. We gather together and the many ways that God is working in our lives. We look for people who are going in similar directions. Who’s “in” and who’s “out” become a very different thing. Not institution… and not exclusive.(There is more to this, but better to sit with this for a while and talk in person about it)

What Emergent is NOT (from what I can see):

– Emergent is not a denomination. You might as well call the group of soccer moms that hang out together a denomination.

– There are no set rules or doctrines that anyone MUST adhere to

– It is not going to destroy Christianity and changing Christianity is not it’s mission

What Emergent is:

– Emergent is a network of friends.

– Emergents DO have doctrines and ways of living that they adhere to. Many are not as crazy or as far-out as most think. The idea is that differences in theology are OK!

– Emergents are just tuned in to the fact that Christianity is already changing. Culture is changing. Culture always has been changing. If the church is to be relevant, we must be able to speak to the culture.

– Emergents are devoted to following God in the way of Jesus. For me… Jesus saves! This may look different than others, but hasn’t it always been the case that it looks different for different people?

– Wikipedia. Open source. If these mean something to you than you’ll understand my view as an emergent about truth, teaching, and discernment. The more voices chiming in, the more stories involved, the more ears tuned in to the spirit, the better handle we have on hearing what God wants us to hear. The moment that we silence people we begin to overly control what might be good for us to hear. Let’s face it… David Koresh and the other cult leaders didn’t allow for dialog about what was right and what was not. There must be a trusting of the Holy Spirit to work in this.

– The Bible is not an idol. I believe in the Bible because I believe in God… because I believe in Jesus. It’s not the other way around. My faith in Jesus is not shattered if there is something that didn’t happen the way the writers of the Bible say it did.

o The bible is the story of God’s interaction with God’s people. It is our story. We are its story

o It was written by humans and does not exceed what humans knew about God, Jesus, creation, miracles, war, or rules for living.

o It answers the questions it was meant to answer. This is where many people error. They subject the Bible to questions it never intended to answer. It is not a scientific document. It is not a rule book for living. Knowing it is not the mark of a righteous person.

o The bible is a living voice for our community. It is meant to be read and applied as a community. Its authority comes from God but also through the communities that interact with it.

– I, as an Emergent, seek to live beyond the tradition Greek dualistic mindset. Mind, body, spirit… are much more connected than we may understand. This is something I don’t really fully grasp or live into yet.

– Relationships, relationships, relationships. Community is paramount. Our society is deeply flawed by the individualism that we have so deeply become enmeshed in. We read individualism into the bible, we put our individual needs above the community. We have lost the “village culture.”

o It is my desire to restore people’s hope in Christians and in turn, Jesus. Belonging before believing is much more the case these days. So the sooner people get welcomed into loving community where they can experience Jesus, the better. As I said before, Jesus saves… in this life and for eternity.

o I am more concerned about staying in relationship than most other things. Love happens in relationship and when it ends (which is usually not my decision) there is not any more ability to share the love of God. So there will always be tomorrow, there will always be another cup of coffee, another beer. There will always be another conversation to be had. We must not end at the slightest disagreement.

– Heresy and orthodoxy… Someone one said that “orthodoxy happens.” It has changed and is changing. It is not a constant. Many before us and many after us take on the challenge of wrestling with the faith and where we are going. I am doing this as well in the best way that I know how. We accuse many of heresy because we have not taken the time to understand, we have not loved, and we are afraid and threatened. It is our responsibility, apparently to defend Christianity, as if God’s spirit doesn’t have a part in it and the message of Jesus will be lost into oblivion.

When it is all said and done, there is an infinite amount that I do not know. I would be foolish to claim to know more than I do. At the same time, there is much that I am pretty sure of that is not written here. This is why we must carry on as community. “We all have a story to tell and a story that we live as well.” Our time is given to us in order to discover these stories of others and to walk together on the journey. Disagreement is a waste if we never lovingly talk about it.

I have not quoted scripture here… and I’m sure I could… but this is not a doctrinal statement and scripture must be part of our conversations… our stories. Much of what I have written here has come out of my own story, the story of others, the story that I and others have experienced in the bible. Many years of struggling, limping, fighting my early indoctrination, asking questions and needing to find the places that allow me to ask them, listening, and prayer have gone into learning and being convinced of what I am.

I am ok with calling myself an emergent because I know what an emergent is and is not. I welcome the label proudly because it is something that allows me freedom and companionship. I know that it does not box me in and require things of me that I do not want. I know that it allows for variety. And I know that there are things in me that are not emergent. This is ok too. Even in that, I am emergent. I am also not afraid or threatened by controversy, disagreement, change, or questions. I have made the decision to love and to accept… because Jesus does this. I will not get angry and I will graciously consider challenge. But I have nothing to fear.

This is a work in progress. I am open for conversation and open to challenge. But I request face to face. I request grace and sensitivity and can assure that grace and sensitivity will be given in return.

Nate Bettger


[1] http://www.robbymac.org/2005/07/aussies-and-centred-sets.html

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Spiritual Direction and reflections on Life, Trouble, and Heartbreak

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