Saturday, June 26, 2004

Emerging Church: Self Fulfilling Prophesy or Not

Futurology is a study of current trends in technology or society and how those trends will play out. Writer's like Alvin Toffler in Future Shock and Power Shift take an academic look at the possibilities of the what is the logical conclusions to certain trend that can be observed. The trend is usually predicted to continue when it comes to technology and social change. Some futurologists would predict that technology like the bar code and scanner system in grocery stores will expand to be included in you future kitchen so that the grocery list can be automated. You could keep an accurate inventory of your refrigerator and cupboard contents in a object-oriented database which would tie into you budget software, create a grocery list, perhaps order the groceries for pick or delivery and finally create a health index report based on the diet you have eaten the past week, month or year. Or talking about a social trend, the success of Internet dating services has inspired attempt to build other social networks on the Internet. And of course we are talking in this case about the success of the social trend of meeting people on-line, not the technology which creates the social opportunity. When the trend involves the environment or natural resources the analysis is usually pessimistic. There are usually equations which show the current or the predicted exponential rate of consumption and the known amount of that particular resource which yields the date that the resource will be depleted. The obvious example of this our modern dependence on fossil fuels. In general, predictions about technology and social trends tend to be optimistic while predictions about the environment tend to be pessimistic. The most notable exception to this is the Y2K problem which created an artificial resource problem, the lack of a large enough date field. While the equation to describe the similar limits to social trends and technological advancement would be more complex and perhaps defy quantization, these limits are often overlooked. The reason for optimism is not so much the facts and equations but motivation of the speaker to put forth a new idea. In sense the speaker can speak positively so that his prediction is a self fulfilling prophecy. There are at least three types of self fulfilling prophecy, the ancient Greeks thought of self fulfilling prophecy as a prophecy spoken which caused people to react to the prophecy in order to defeat the prophecy. The classic example is the story of Oedipus who is sent away to be killed because of a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. The his parent's, Laius and Jocasta, effort to avoid this great evil are the very actions which set the stage for the event prophesied. The servant can not bear to kill the child and gives him to a shepherd. The child is eventual adopted by Polybus. When Oedipus hears another prophecy that he would kill his father he leaves the town so as to avoid the evil of killing Polybus and ends up meeting his biological father, Laius, on the road and kills him. This type of self fulfilling prophecy is capricious and ironic; the product of fate. There is a type of self fulfilling prophecy in the scripture where a prophet makes a prediction and the people of God respond to that prophecy. For instance, when Abram was promised the land, it caused generations after him to keep their focus on their possession of that land. The prophecy kept the people of God looking to the divine promise and its fulfillment. The third type of prophecy is the more modern type. A business leader or a social activist can talk about a vision and the shifting of paradigms. They declare that a trend is going to happen and people respond, if they see validity in the claim by adopting the trend. Sometimes people understand their vision and that they are shaping the market place of ideas by their declarations, at other times the person is unaware of the process they are spawning. The Emerging Church was one of the themes of this year's National Pastors Convention in San Diego, CA. While the ideas of the Emerging Church are as varied as the players, the basic premise is that the post-modern church is re-inventing itself into a new form. The movement declares that its communication style, church structure and theology are quite different from the modern church of the 20th century. My postings will not examine whether those who are declaring a new age of the church are self-aware in an attempt at self-fulfilling prophecy. However, I will not assume that movement will necessarily continue in growth simply because it has been declared. There are limiting factors to which are likely undiscovered about the movement and of course equations by social scientist who study religion are premature at this point. On the other hand, a forum as large as the National Pastors Convention is really too big to allow the church to be dismissive of the trend even if the declaration that a new form of the church is emerging smacks of a type of certainty that is usually avoided by the movement as a whole. Certain criticisms of modernity have merit, and where the modern church adopted unbiblical positions from the philosophy of modernism, we are to repent of the error. The Emerging Church emphasizes being authentic, organic and genuine, which are all fine qualities, but these all speak about a theology of revelation and sometimes as applied by the movement are in contradiction to that of scripture. I will share in future posts, pun intended, some of my thoughts on such.

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