Explaining Emerging (Part 3) – Authenticity

One of the most popular emerging buzz-words is authentic. Being authentic is an important goal for emerging churches and Christians alike. This is basically a reaction against two things: commercialised church and super-spiritual Christians. Emergents are tired of churches who are so eager to grow that their services turn into slick marketing campaigns and their rhetoric sounds increasingly like political spin. And they are tired of “keeping up appearances”, never admitting to doubts or personal battles with sin.

By contrast the authentic Christian is willing to reveal their own weaknesses, failings and doubts. The church is not led by a super-hero personality, but by an ordinary person being “real” about their own emotions and battles. The authentic church is not afraid to discuss the difficult issues – (e.g. why is prayer not always answered) – and seeks to be honest about the trials of the Christian life.

I stumbled across this blurb for a new book called “Blind Spots in the Bible” by Adrian Plass. I don’t know if he identifies with the emerging church or not, but I have emphasised a couple of phrases which typify the “authentic” approach:

“Adrian Plass approaches 40 ‘blind spots’ in the Bible with honest comment and quirky insights. … Although not offering easy answers, Adrian Plass opens up over 40 blind spots, asking searching questions and responding from his own vulnerable honesty.”

The implications for mission are significant. Rather than bringing non-Christian friends to church and hoping that they will be impressed by how “vibrant” or “powerful” it is, the authentic Christian hopes they will be impressed by the quality and depth of community forged by people who are willing to be true about who they really are. It is into this non-threatening environment that the seeker themselves feels able to join without feeling condemned for who they are. Sin can be confessed without fear of being rejected and excluded.

Of course, the emerging church does not have a monopoly on the word “authentic”. Many evangelicals have written about living an authentic Christian life, often emphasising the need for integrity. It is sad that many in the emerging church are former evangelicals who have become disillusioned with what they see as a lack of authenticity within evangelicalism. The New Testament authors themselves display a commendable measure of authenticity in the way they warn Christians of the real struggles and difficulties they will face. The glamourised and idealised picture of the Christian life presented by some best-selling modern authors is not one that finds its basis in the Bible.

So we can say that the desire to be authentic is one that evangelicals should be welcoming. Let us strive for more openness and honesty between us. Let us beware of trying to wow people with amazing church services, and make sure that underneath there is a real quality of community and relationships. Let us make sure our fine-sounding words are backed up with actions. And let us be more supportive of those who are willing to admit to their doubts and struggles, while at the same time not creating an environment where we make peace with sin.

5 thoughts on “Explaining Emerging (Part 3) – Authenticity

  1. Hi Mark,

    Again noble thoughts and truth we all should be mindful of.

    I’ve recently blogged on my experiences at Woodside and one of the themes that emerged was the growing ‘inauthenticity’ which I experienced (both within myself and others) because of our desire to pioneer in seeing the church grow.

    Things may be different at your church (I’ve never been there) but similar ‘tensions’ were also very apparent at Prayer & Fasting events. Authenticity is all about honesty and transparency and during my NFI time I had one too many a taste of ‘spin’ and ‘smoke-and-mirrors’.

    There’s an interesting thread on the Ship Of Fools (in the Purgatory forum) entitled ‘Post-evangelical 11 years on’, which is about Dave Tomlinson (who wrote the book of the same name) and his departure from Restorationism.

    One thing which surfaced during the SofF debate was that a lot of those who would identitfy with the label ‘post-evangelical/open-evangelical/emerging’ were actually (on closer inspection) defining themselves as ‘post-Restorationist’. It seemed that the particularly restorationist varient of evangelicalism during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s led more than a few into a Spiritual cul-de-sac.

    I’d be interested to know what you think but, from what I read, it appears that the critique of the emerging movement re: ‘authenticity’ (with which I have a lot of sympathy) may be a lot closer to home than we had hither to thought.

    Thanks for blogging on this issue.

  2. Jon, thanks for the kind words! I only recently found your site and have been enjoying reading it.

    Richard, thanks for the link to the Ship of Fools thread. Very interesting. And I do know exactly what you are talking about as I have had similar experiences. I think within newfrontiers at the moment there are some tensions heading in different directions. There are those wanting more “authenticity” but there are also those who see the spectacular spectacular healing extravaganza or similar to be the the holy grail of church life. That is not to say that I don’t believe that the miraculous and authenticity are incompatible. Its just sadly they are rarely found together.

  3. Just to pass on, I don’t think Plass would consider himself part of the emerging church; he just considers his ‘ministry’ to be, as he once put it, “to make a sort of public idiot of myself” by being honest in his writings and preaching.

  4. Pingback: Explaining Emerging (Summary) « wordandspirit

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