Why I Love Cheerwine: A Story (Part Four)
What Good is Good?

Bounded Freedom and the Emerging Church

Playpen When our children were young, we began using the playpen as a safe environment for their play and exploration -- even though we knew that some people disapprove of them, regarding them as inhibitors of play, as confining, stifling the natural imagination and exploration children must engage in to grow in healthy ways.  What we discovered, though, was just the opposite.  Short periods of time in the playpen, with only two or three toys and a book led to a great contentment.  Oh sure, there were occasional difficulties, whining because they can see out and want to be with Mom, but once they figure out that that's not happening, they settled down and began to imagine the possibilities for the blocks or other toys they have with them.  As they grew older, we gradually moved them to a playpen-like time on their bed, and then in their room, first with a gate, then with no gate.  What we discovered (and this is not unique to us), is that the very sense of boundary led to greater freedom and contentment, a richer imagination and play. 

I've commented before that the best investment I ever made in a toy was one of the least expensive, that is, those large multi-colored cardboard blocks that look like bricks.  Those blocks were utilized by my son to build airplanes, trains, buildings, and more that I can't remember.  (Come to think of it, I kind of miss those blocks.)  What I'm saying is that he was freer to become who he could be, who he was meant to be, when his freedom was bounded.

I'm no authority on the "emerging church" movement, but from what I've read of it, I am concerned that they are less free -- indeed, will wind up very unfree -- because the freedom they profess and embrace is unbounded by any creed, by any common, articulated basis of belief. Indeed, there is no one willing to say "this is what we must believe; beyond this we will not go."  Tony Jones, Emergent's National Coordinator, says that "Emergent is an amorphous collection of friends who've decided to live life together, regardless of our ecclesial affiliations, regardless of our theological commitments.  We want to follow Christ in a community with one another." ("Missing the Point," by Peter J. Walker with Tyler Clark, in Relevant, July/August 2006). Well, hold on.  Who is Christ?  The Christ in me?  Jesus Christ?  The "historical Christ?"  And if you say regardless of theological commitments, what exactly do you have to talk about?  How do you determine what is true or good or beautiful? 

The moment you begin to say anything about who you are you make a statement about what you believe.  The danger here, of course, is that there is an implicit, unarticulated creed at work.  No, I misspoke:  the reality is that there is a creed at work because that's the kind of creatures we are.  We are creedal beings.  Without being explicit about what it is, there is no one to hold you to account, and, like the child who is given free run of the home, you become enslaved to the passion of the moment -- maybe some political cause, maybe an elitist attitude, maybe a beguiling heresy.  There is no one to say "past here, you cannot go."

I'm all for freedom of conscience, co-belligerency, imagination, and creativity.  But before anyone should get involved with the "emerging church," they better find out what kind of a church it is.  Watch what they do.  It's the best key to what they believe.  And read the Nicene Creed.  Beyond that we must not go.