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The Emerging Church by Dan Kimball
More on Nomo Pomo: An interview with Kevin Miller
by Stephen Shields
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A couple of months ago, Kevin Miller, Executive Editor of Preaching Today.com and editor-at-large of Leadership Journal, offered the Emerging Church Community (and any other interested parties) Nomo Pomo – a Postmodern Rant.  Kevin’s piece precipitated quite a bit of discussion in the pomoChrisitian thoughtspace, with comments from Next-Wave publisher Charlie Wear, Andrew Jones (tall skinny kiwi), author Andrew Carega, some of the faithmappers, myself, and a number of others.  Author and Pastor Chris Seay responded in LeadershipJournal.Net with Is Pomo Nomo and Kevin followed all this up with a whole bunch of gracious emails and the delightfully entitled Pomos vs. Mods:  The Smackdown

In his first article, Kevin mentioned his intention to visit the 2003 Emergent Convention and, as a consequence, Chris Seay urged Kevin to buy him lunch.  I thought it might be interesting to touch base with Kevin after the Convention. 

Did the response to your "Nomo Pomo—a Postmodern Rant" surprise you?

To be honest, I didn’t write it for others; I wrote it as therapy for myself. I was reading a recent pomo-ministry book, and the accumulated overstatements, hype, and attacks on the modern evangelical church finally exasperated me. In a fit of pique, I ranted. Then I showed the rant to my friend, Marshall Shelley, editor of Leadership Journal, and asked, “Am I the only one who feels this way?” Marshall was just gutsy or foolish enough to publish it.  

The strength of the piece was that it captured my raw emotion; the weakness of the piece was that it captured my raw emotion. It was a Molotov cocktail. So I can’t be surprised that it started fires of anger and consternation.

How many columns or articles or blogs have you read in response?

I think I’ve read about 7 or 8 blogs, and 3 or 4 articles. The blogs tended to be more pointed, while the articles were calmer defenses or replies. 

Do you know how many emails or letters Leadership Journal received in response?

I personally read and replied to 81.

If you wrote it again today, would you change anything?

I already have changed some things. In a follow-up I tried to adopt a calmer tone and point out things I appreciate in the postmodern-ministry movement: 

Probably the biggest changes I would make would be two.

One, I would acknowledge just how diverse and loose the postmodern-ministry “movement” is. A movement implies coordinated effort in a single direction, which may not be the case. Some of the central figures I’ve talked to eschew the word “movement” and strongly prefer “conversation.” The fact is, there are so many definitions and definers of postmodern ministry that it’s virtually impossible to say anything about this conversation that applies to everyone in it. 

Two, I would acknowledge the gap between the philosophical foundations of postmodernism and the practice of its ministry proponents. The relativism of postmodern-ministry is a relative relativism; it’s relative about some things and absolute about others. So my early critiques of the philosophy missed where most people live, in an altered form of that philosophy.

I'd be interested in hearing your personal reaction when you read Chris Seay's response, “Is Pomo Nomo?: A postmodern pastor reaches out to the Mod Squad,” particularly when he offered, “Kevin, I'm offering to be your friend; I'll take your back if you're suddenly surrounded by a group of irate, goateed dissidents at the Emergent Convention who want to carry you off and give you a prison tattoo that says ‘I Love Jacques Derrida’ squarely on your modern tush."

I laughed.

Is there anyone in the Emerging Church Movement that you would consider a thought leader for yourself?  What books have you read in this space?

I feel like I stand with a foot in two worlds, the modern and postmodern, and so I like writers who are bilingual, such as Rick Richardson, author of Evangelism Outside the Box (InterVarsity). I also like authors who are humble, such as Brian McLaren, and those who are primarily generative, such as Dan Kimball. I’ve read from Stories of Emergence; The Emerging Church; A is for Abductive; The PostEvangelical; Adventures in Missing the Point; and John Alexander’s interesting anticipatory book, written a decade ago, The Secular Squeeze. I should probably mention articles by my friend Rodney Clapp, with whom I disagree at points, and regular book reviews in Books & Culture.

Postmodernism is protean, so I’ve learned less about it from fixed forms like books and much more about it from fluid forms—conversations, blogs, websites, and emails. Some of my favorite Webbers and bloggers are Andrew Jones (Tall Skinny Kiwi), Spencer Burke (The Ooze), Charlie Wear (Next-Wave), and Jim and Barb Henderson (Off-the-Map.org).

I still have a lot to learn.

Whose critique of postmodernism (not pomoX) have you found most compelling?

G. K. Chesterton’s St. Thomas Aquinas showed masterfully how Aquinas rescued the church by defending the reality of nature, perception, and common sense. To retreat from that victory is, quite literally, insane.

What critique of the Emergers have you found most compelling?

Maybe I just don’t know where to read, but I have not read compelling critiques of the emergent-ministry conversation. Most are over-reactions (“They’re undermining everything we stand for!”) or facile (“It’s a generational thing”) or not well-informed. I’m happy for someone else to offer a thoughtful critique that I think respect for emergent-ministry demands. If no one else does it, I may try. I’ve been working on an early collection of musings that may be published in Leadership Weekly this month. My mission is not to be a critic, but to raise questions that I hope will help everyone who cares about the emergent conversation.

Tell me about your experience at Chris Seay's session at the Emergent Conference?  Did you guys get to spend any time?  How was that?

Chris kindly invited me to join his general session. At the session, Chris pointed out that the Reformers smashed statues, painted over icons, and cut the eyes out of religious tapestries. With that historical example, what should (postmodern) reformers of the church break and not break? Then Chris asked various people, including me, to stand and answer that question in 2-3 minutes.

Some people said we should get rid of youth ministry; others that we should get rid of preaching; others that we should demand the Christian Booksellers Association stores carry books published by YS/Emergent, or else boycott those stores. It was heady, incendiary, revolutionary—and in my view, completely over the top.

What did I say? I merely urged the group, which has done such a wonderful job listening to the postmodern nonChristian, to try to listen as well to the modern Christian. 

I'd love to hear about your experience at the conference in general?  Was this your first pomoX conference?

The hallway conversations were great; the worship experience was mixed for me. For example, I didn’t find vespers more meaningful by watching the videos of Hitler’s shock troops. I already know we live in a dark world. Worship helps me remember we live in a greater, more lasting world of light.

My first conference was maybe 12 or 15 years ago, back when there was a group called Young Leaders Network forming at Leadership Network. I remember being in a discussion group in which Mark Driscoll and Chris Seay (I think) participated.

How did this movement first hit your radar screen?

At that conference, I realized that for some of our most gifted young leaders, there was no more business as usual.

How do you respond to Charlie Wear who in response to your article writes: "Maybe what we need is a little less discussion of leadership processes and how to transition your congregation, and more about how to tear the entire institution down to its foundations and start over. "

I didn’t advocate “discussion of leadership processes and how to transition your congregation,” so I’m not sure what Charlie was responding to. My guess is he’s using that phrase as a quick summary of how clueless modernist evangelical leaders can be; they don’t understand that a new world is coming or has come, and he thinks I’m one of those. If that’s what he’s saying, I actually believe that a more secularized world with a new worldview is already here, and that many existing models won’t connect with it. Where I probably disagree with Charlie is that I don’t think the modern evangelical church is as bad as most pomo folks say. They keep describing a church that is quite unlike any I’ve attended.

Did your experience at Emergent change your perspective?  How so?

It gave me great excitement over the evangelistic passion many people have; they truly want to reach people today and are willing to try many innovative approaches to do that.

It also gave me great concern that the roots of the “conversation” don’t go historically deep enough. For all the appropriation of medieval services, there’s not enough drawing from the wisdom of Christian tradition. We don’t have to reinvent everything, and by listening to the saints, we can avoid some of the highly questionable philosophical assumptions being put forth.

Who were the 1,2 or 3 most interesting people you met there and why?

I didn’t meet anyone who wasn’t interesting to me.

What do the Emergers have to teach the larger Evangelical Community?

1. “The world is changing.”

2. “Listen to people. Really.”

3. “You’re on the cutting edge of irrelevance to many.”

4. “Be a little more humble. Okay, be a lot more humble.”

Is there any baby that you are concerned is being thrown out with bathwater?

Evangelical conviction. In order to avoid the hubris that often comes from the evangelical church, many folks are now getting squishy on things they should not be squishy about, including the authority of Scripture, the uniqueness of Christ, and the value of the Bible’s sexual ethic. If we lose those, we lose the Gospel.

Stephen Shields is the founder of faithmaps.org and the moderator of the faithmappers' online discussion group.  Stephen is also a Marketing Manager with USA TODAY, formerly a bi-vocational pastor with Brian McLaren, and serves on the Adult Ministries Leadership Team of Grace Community Church, where he focuses on adult education, small groups and leadership development.  Stephen is also a frequent contributor to Next-Wave.  Stephen received a M.Div from Grace Theological Seminary and lives with his wife Bethany and three daughters - Michaela Siobhan, Skye Teresa, and Alia Noelle - in the Baltimore-Washington corridor. He can be contacted at sshields@faithmaps.org and blogs here.
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