Authenticity: A Community of Truth
"I would rather be with someone who is real than someone who is good."
--attributed to Philip Yancey
Postmoderns value authenticity. Our memory of the last century is strewn with artifacts of inauthenticity -- Teflon facades, Max Headroomesque televangelists, million-dollar smiles. Most emergent folk have what Hemingway once called a "built-in crap detector". Heroes have become scarce. We'd all just settle for someone without an agenda. Chuch Smith, Jr. writes "....information has become cheap and not altogether reliable. People who are true are now regarded more highly than people who are knowlegeable. We can hire knowledgeable people, but we love true people."
Amidst this landscape, confessional, emergent Christians realize we must earn a right to be heard in this post-modern world. We earn the right through authenticity. As power and plausibility structures crumble, as the myth of the "expert" erodes, access and permissions are guarded. The search is on for authenticity. We should welcome the scrutiny. If we knew what was good for us.
More than a decade ago, Keith Miller wrote in The Taste of New Wine:
"Our modern church is filled with many people who look pure, sound pure, and are inwardly sick of themselves, their weaknesses, their frustration and the lack of reality around them in the church. Our non-Christian friends either feel, `That bunch of nice untroubled people would never understand my problems'; or the more perceptive pagans, who know us socially or professionally, feel that we Christians are either grossly protected and ignorant about the human situation, or are out-and-out hypocrites ... who will not confess the sins and weaknesses [they intuitively know] to be universal."
Pastor Cliff Knighten recently described congregations full of people whose outer and inner worlds are not in sync -- this lack of genuine authenticity is both "toxic to the Christian life" and a complete roadblock to reaching postmoderns. He said that we must remind ourselves -- "do we truly live out that which we claim to believe? If we talk about humility, are we humble? If we talk about forgiveness, do we forgive? If we talk about love, do we really love?"
This next set of Emergent Church Values simply repackages the key points made by Knighten:
1. We seek an approach to spiritual growth that values inward transformation over external appearances.
2. We value a spirituality seeks not to conform and nor limit our God-given humanity, creativity, or individuality. (We value diversity and difference over conformity and uniformity.)
3. We value heart-level honest dialogues over realationships marked by superficiality and hidden agendas.
4. We strive to be completely honest with God and appropriately transparent with others about our inmost thoughts, hopes, dreams, emotions, shortcomings, failings, transgressions, struggles.
6. We seek to welcome back mystery and paradox over easy explanations; we seek to live with with questions that have no easy answers.
Lesslie Newbigin has said that the local congregation is the hermeneutic -- the interpretation -- of the gospel:
The primary reality of which we have to take account in seeking for a Christian impact on public life is the Christian congregation. The only hermeneutic of the gospel is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it...This community will have, I think, the following six characteristics:
It will be a community of praise.
It will be a community of truth.
It will be a community that does not live for itself.
It will be a community... sustained in the exercise of the priesthood in the world.
It will be a community of mutual responsibility.
It will be a community of hope.
I'll leave you with Brian McLaren's warning: "I tend to notice that when people use the words “authenticity” and “community” a lot, both tend to leave the premises. It’s easy to use authenticity and community as new marketing tools to win customers to our product; as soon as that happens, we violate authenticity and community."