Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Why the Leaders and Theology of the Emerging Church Are So Attractive to Younger Evangelicals

It was bound to happen. The emerging movement is softer and gentler in tone, more nurturing, at least in the eyes of our culture, than traditional evangelical churches, its more inviting, more inclusive, and has far less of a disciplinary tone to it. This isn't a movement that is some sort of reformation caused by reading the Bible more thoroughly. Indeed, one might say that certain passages are read more thoroughly where others that would give, perhaps, a harsher and more exclusive tone to the movement are dismissed or rejected or simply unknown.

So what is it that is so attractive about its leaders and theology? You might think the leaders themselves because of their theology; but it has become very clear over the years that the theology of the leaders is irrelevant to the movement. It's the tone, and any theology that supports the tone, that is attractive. This isn't a movement under submission to commands and proclamations, but a discussion. You know, like you'd have with your mom.

And that's precisely why it's so attractive, because it's feminine, motherly. There is no father to be found. Indeed, fathers aren't welcome.

Over the course of the past century, various societal elements have worked hard to destroy the father within all of our institutions. First, the feminine is lifted up to equal his status. He cannot rule the household, for that is an ancient caveman course of thought to us. He cannot discipline his children, for that is too harsh and may emotionally damage the child. He must share leadership with his wife. On TV, he is the idiot. The woman is the smart, sensible one. He is just a bundle of emotion and immaturity. She is mature and level headed. The true leader, according to television sitcoms, is the woman. If a man actually asserts his role, he quickly cowers for daring to forget his place. If one asserts his role without cowering, he is seen as an authoritarian pig, who is a stuffy, close-minded blockhead, who doesn't understand the times.

Our culture does not like the father. The father is more harsh in tone. He instructs with commands and proclamations. He disciplines. He's intimidating.

However, our culture loves the mother. The ideal mother is never harsh, always accepting, always nurturing so as to not judge or be judgmental. She is inviting. She bakes you cookies. She is not as concerned about robust theological thinking unless its a concern about the caveman father who is locked away in his traditions and need for control therein.

Couple all of this with the fact that long hours, a 60% divorce rate, abandonment, and men having babies outside the marriage commitment and you have a new society of children that does not see the importance of the father as a leader in the home anymore. Hence, it doesn't see the father as important in the church anymore either. And the elder is meant to be a father to the church because he represents God as Father.

Those who would lead with a more feminine tone, therefore, will gain an audience here, but that tone must be maintained. Hence, there can be little to no traits of the father left in one's various forms of media through which he conveys the message. There can be little to no traces of fatherhood in one's message either.

Hence, what the younger evangelicals are attracted to are men who are more motherly, because they are attracted to the fatherless home, even if there are technically "fathers" within it. They just want their fathers to be more like their mothers.

This whole thing struck me while I was watching Rob Bell. I'm not meaning to make some sort of ridiculously superficial critique of appearance here, but most of the Emergent leaders who got this thing rolling are either very effeminate looking in their mannerisms and/or in their tone (and of course all in their theology). In fact, when I originally saw Bell for the first time, the volume on one of his Nooma videos was turned down, and I literally thought he was a lesbian. When it was turned up, I still had to listen a bit to figure out that he was a male. Now, again, I'm not trying to bash him, only to point out that his mannerisms, looks, tone of voice (and theology) is much more effeminate, and this may explain why he is such an attractive leader to the younger generation that has grown up without much, or any, respect for fathers actually being fathers/men.

The same can be said for many of the other Emergent leaders, if not in their tone, in their theology and ethics. And this may also explain why there is such a trend in the younger generation wanting young leaders as well, as younger leaders are brothers, not fathers. They are buddies, and are, therefore, less threatening.

I could say similar things to the movements theology. We don't like leaders who are fathers, because we don't think they reflect God as well. Why? Because we don't like God as Father either. Therefore, in emerging circles, God is much more gentle, non-judgmental, doesn't care as much about certainty of truth in his people, etc. than the God of the Bible who is clearly also harsh, judges even everlastingly, and sends people to hell forever who do not love the truth so as to believe it. We love God as mother, but not God as Father. We want God to bake us cookies, but not to command us to believe whether we get it or not, or discipline or punish us for not obeying.

God doesn't punish that harshly because a mother would never punish harshly; but a father would. God doesn't reject and exclude people who are viewed as threatening to the well-being of the family from joining the family because a mother is very inviting and hopeful; but a father sees a threat, and as protector of the household, will remove the threatening element. God is not a harsh warrior because the mother isn't, the father is. God does not draw boundary lines because the mother doesn't, the father does.

But the father is dying out in our society, and so the idea that God is Father is also dying out. Oh sure, we'll retain the title, but the role will be gone, and with it all of the aspects of God that distinguish Him from the false image our culture has crafted to place in His stead.

But it isn't only the Emergents, but what we look for in leadership in general today. Less men receive jobs when competing with women who are viewed as leaders. Less men receive scholarships because a woman who pursues academics is worth twice as much. If men want to compete, they need to become more like the woman, more effeminate, not more masculine. Likewise, even within other sectors of evangelicalism, the more less threatening a man is, the more he takes upon mannerisms that are effeminate, tones that are more motherly, theology that is less rigid, shies away from church discipline over most matters, the more he will be acceptable to the larger audience. To the extent that he is a father, that is where the conflict will come in. That is where he may lose his job as a pastor or not get it in the first place.

There is a reason why Joel Olsteen thrives, and it isn't because he has a profound message. It's because his message and its delivery are just what the audience ordered. They don't want fathers anymore. They want mothers in fatherly clothing.

So the movement is attractive because it is a movement that fits the zeitgeist. It's why we care more about tone than the content of what one is saying. It's why we don't like "those churches" that seem more harsh, critical, authoritarian, etc. We don't like them because we don't like fathers, and those churches are often run by fathers. As anyone will tell you, of course, fatherless families destroy children and mold them into golems rather than healthy, functioning adults. The church is no different. Without the father, chaos in thought and deed runs rampant, and as the description found in the Apocalypse describes the whorish church, it becomes "a prison of every evil spirit and unclean bird."

The father doesn't speak like the leaders in the emerging movement, because he doesn't have the god that the emerging movement has. His God is the One in the Bible who displays both masculine and feminine aspects, both father and mother, with the fatherly role leading the motherly one. He nurtures those who are His children when they repent, but commands obedience, speaks harshly to them and disciplines them in order to get them to that place of refuge and nurture. Without getting God as Father we never get Him as mother. That is the message of the Bible, and that is the message lost in our quest for a motherly leadership and a motherly theology. It was bound to happen.


  1. Now this really hits the nail on the head. The emerging/ent church isn't a big deal in the UK, but amongst many charismatic churches 'the Father heart of God' is the big theme at the moment. But the caring, accepting side of God as Father is what is meant rather than the One who disciplines: as a charismatic myself, I think the mutuality of the two needs to be emphasised far more than it currently is.

  2. That's interesting, Ben. We have that here too. There is a lot of language of the Father used, but it's clear that His Fatherhood is being reconstructed in the image of motherhood.
    I was reading a stat confirmed by none other than Tony Jones that said that emergings are largely made up of whites (it was near something like 97 or 98% if I can remember correctly). I'm wondering if that is just North American whites. I found that interesting because other ethnic cultures, including church cultures, haven't "effeminized" God as we have yet. For some reason, they were able to guard their churches from that (perhaps, because, as is the case in the Black community, the churches are on guard and highly critical of "fatherlessness"). It again goes to show that this isn't about a biblical reformation, but a bunch of white kids who have largely been conquered by their specific culture that has preconditioned them to believe what they do.