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The Economics of the Emerging Church, by James KA Smith

via St. Phransus, I came across this article from THEOOZE on issues of class and the emerging church.

an excerpt:

...a couple of years ago, I read with some interest The Quarterlife Crisis by Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner, concerned with “the unique challenge of life in your twenties” (as the subtitle billed it). I hated the book: partly because of its rabid individualism, but more because of its obvious socio-economic location. Story after story went something like this: “After Ashley [sic!] graduated from Stanford, she just wasn’t sure what to do with her life, so she explored her options by finishing an MBA at Harvard. Now that’s come to a completion and she’s facing ‘the real world.’ Sure, it would be fine for her to become the vice-president of her father’s multi-million dollar corporation, but she’s looking for more than that. Now she’s beset with postmodern Angst.”

Yeah, life’s a bitch when you’re a Stanford grad with a Harvard MBA. What’s a poor girl to do?

Recently I’ve been bothered by a similar socio-economic suspicion regarding the “postmodern” or “emerging church.” Don’t get me wrong: I’m with the program and in deep sympathy with the vision that’s been sketched by folks like Brian McLaren and Robert Webber. But I have this nagging question: “What’s the median income of a ‘new kind of Christian?’”

The article raises good questions. Now if we could just come up with some good answers!


Yeah, life's a bitch when you're a Stanford grad with a Harvard MBA. What's a poor girl to do?

Why would Christians mock someone who has money and success but feels unfulfilled? Do we find it surprising that success doesn't bring happiness? Our Lord said, "Blessed are the poor." How do we conclude from this that the rich are "privileged?"

"What's the median income of a 'new kind of Christian?'"

What difference does it make? Are they somehow less authentic Christians because they're wealthy and well-educated? There's a joke, "What do you get for the man who has everything?" The answer is, "A tombstone that says, 'So what?'"

The nice thing about that epitaph is that it works for both rich and poor.
Jonathon said…
"What difference does it make? "

Sanct, it definitely does make a difference.

I would hope that Christians would not be in the business of mocking others. But first let's distinguish between the literary use of irony (such as "Yeah, lifes a bitch when...) and simply mocking.

But the bigger issue is "What's the median income of a 'new kind of Christian?'"

Yes, Jesus' mission in the world was universal- for all who will follow- rich and poor, young and old, women and men, etc... etc...


it's hard to deny that Jesus was constantly in ministry to those who were poor- socially and economically disadvantaged- those who were excluded because their vocation/disease/social status/gender made them unclean according to jewish "oral" tradition.

Yes Jesus called the affluent to follow him too. We know that many who followed Jesus financially supported the ministry. But the interesting thing to note is that once Jesus called ALL these people together- they were all equal- not spiritually, but socially and econmically.

As the new Christian movement began to take off we know that all the followers lived a common life- which means that they shared all their resources.

So what does this mean today? If we take the ideas seriously and think about it in our context today then I think we have to ask ourselves:
1. are we reaching out to the poor- not just in charity but are our church communities inviting them to be a part of our ministry and Christian life.

2. are our churches structures diverse- with all colors, genders, socio/economic background, etc.. so that ALL God's children are represented.

3. Maybe the reason why so many people are unfifilled is because our society is so fragmented. The person who has money and sucess is unfulfilled because they need a reason to live meaningfully. A person who lives in poverty needs emotional and financial support and the empowerment to get out of poverty. When the two get together- both find meaning and encouragement (Christ) within the "other".

that's how I look at it.

Yeah, it definitely makes a difference. And the Emerging Church if it is going to be a "missional" movement will have to come to terms- which I think it is.

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. You raise some good points about the benefits of having a diverse congregation, and about involving everybody at all levels.

"Poor little rich girl" sounds to me like pretty contemptuous mockery, as does "After Ashley [sic!] graduated from Stanford..." Imagine; "Ashley." What a name! But I sometimes come across as more harsh than I intend. Maybe the author, well-meaning if unoriginal, is just trying to epater les bourgeois.

The larger problem is this obsession with stuff; There seems to be this idea that if all the stuff in the world were just distributed optimally then everything would be jolly.

Materialism isn't the sub-optimal distribution of stuff, it's the obsessive focus on stuff. Let's not categorize people by how much stuff they have. We rightly decry it when people look down on the poor because of what they lack. It's as wrong to indulge some kind of reverse snobbery, like Monty Python's Four Yorkshiremen trying to out-do each other in tales of childhood privation.

Tom Harrison (forgot to sign my earlier comment)
James said…
This is an excellent article. Thanks for pointing it out.

As I read it, I began to wonder if perhaps the division between North American "progressive" Christians and African "traditionalist" Christians -- a conflict given ongoing illustration in the form of Archbishop Akinola's struggle with the ECUSA -- is about more than scriptural or sexual issues. It may very well be that the first division comes at a level far more basic than such highfalutin'. Unequal partners must first have their positions realigned before any real progress can proceed from there.

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