Brian McLaren is something of an unofficial spokesman for the "emergent conversation." When a newspaper or magazine wants to do a piece about the movement, Brian is their go-to guy. He's written several popular books (of which, I've enjoyed one), he is articulate, and he helped name the movement, so it makes perfect sense that people would look to him for answers. But, sometimes, it seems like these articles make the emergent conversation seem more like a cult of personality, rather than a grass roots movement consisting of many thousands of voices.
Today, the Washington Post published this article, entitled Evangalical Author Puts Progressive Spin On Traditional Faith, about Brian McLaren. It described Cedar Ridge Community Church, the congregation McLaren started, it quoted several "ordinary" people in such a way that they seem to idolize McLaren, and it fed the common misperceptions that many people have about everything emergent (young, pierced, touchy-feely, etc.).
I will admit that Murphy's article did a tolerable job of giving a bare bones summary of emergent, the following three paragraphs in the conclusion effectively ruined the article for me:
Regardless of what the rest of the article says, but these paragraphs reduce emergent to little more than a Church Makeover, and not even an Extreme Church Makover, just a few aesthetic changes to make people like it better. Fuel-efficient vehicles, no prominent religious symbols, and people with piercings and tattoos.
"The scent of summer grass hung in the steamy air on a recent Sunday morning as a parade of Toyota and Honda SUVs turned off Route 198 into the bucolic compound of Cedar Ridge. The onetime farm's brick silo stood in front of the new church -- built to look like a barn, complete with loft door. No religious symbols adorned the exterior.
"Volunteers stood at the door greeting young families, elderly couples, singles and teenagers with studded ears. In the lobby, coffee and bagels were available. "Make yourself a nametag," invited a sign next to pens and labels.
"The sanctuary is a huge open space with folding chairs circling a platform that serves as a pulpit. Behind that is an altar covered in purple cloth with a two-foot-high wooden cross. Behind that is a stage with two electric guitars, a keyboard, drums and tambourines. Two large video screens display words to contemporary hymns. The liturgy, which includes Communion, is casual but reverent."
Forget about the important issues of theology and praxis being discussed and debated by people such as Cheryl Lawrie, Sarah Dylan Breuer, Jason Clark, Scot McKnight, Doug Pagitt, Maggi Dawn, Pete Rollins, David and Makeesha Fisher (all of whom can be found in my "Emergent" blogroll), and so many others. Forget about the powerful forms of alternative worship being developed and the valiant attempts being made at truly living out the message of Christ by tens of thousands of people around the world who are questioning "the way it's always been done." To the media, nothing is more important than a figurehead and aesthetics.
If you have an interest in learning about emergent, not just what it looks like but what it is, check out some of the blogs in my aforementioned blogroll or hop over to the Emergent Village website or, for that matter, Google "emergent church" and you'll get ten times as much accurate information as anyone in the media will ever provide.
UPDATE: Apparently, from what I've read so far, I'm the only one who has anything negative to say about this piece, though, I guess if it gets people thinking, it's not all bad...