Emergent

Its great when a weblog post on software design helps me understand religious movements. Even though I had peripheral knowledge of Emergence, I hadn’t made the connection between it and the “Emerging Church” movement, but coming across the term in an article that asks us to consider that formal methods of software design just don’t cut it. Back in my senior year of college I did a course on Chaos Theory.  I didn’t get as much out of it as I should have, but the one thing that stood out to me was how the Mandelbrot Set came from such a simple equation.  Who could predict that Z = Z2 + C could produce such complex, unending beauty? Often, when I read about the emerging church, I think “You guys are trying to do what the Orthodox have already accomplished” and now I know why. “In philosophy, systems theory and the sciences, emergence refers to the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions” (to quote Wikipedia).  This is why the formal specification of software is so hard.  Formal systems have a nice tidy set of rules and, from those, try to build complex systems.  But simple rules, applied in just a slightly different way lead to dramatically different results.  The simple rules deceive us into thinking that we have a controllable output, that we have something predictable. My experience in the Protestant church came to a head when I couldn’t reconcile all the positive statements about God (“God never breaks his promises”, “God’s justice must be satisfied”).  That, and all the little “facts” about God seemed like so much hubris. Orthodoxy’s negative theology was really attractive.  Instead of making definitive statements about who God is, we only say what we know God is not. I’m guessing the Emerging Church people see the same thing.  They see rationalists creating a bunch of rules for God and say “Hey, the church is Emergent!  All those little facts and figures help build a big Emergent Church!” So now I understand.  The emergent church isn’t “emerging” in the sense that it is “coming out”.  The Emergent Church is just saying “All those little simple little things you know about God and the Church don’t mean that they’re simple.”

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