May 9, 2008
The Emerging Synagogue?
Apparently Christians aren’t the only ones feeling the urge to emerge.
While following a relatively uninteresting trail of research recently (which I won't retrace here), I happened upon Synagogue 3000 (S3K). This consortium of rabbis and other Jewish leaders is committed to offering "challenging and promising alternatives to traditional synagogue structures." They call themselves "Jewish Emergents," and their understanding of their mission is, in some ways, very similar to that of the Christian Emergent movement.
They are concerned, for example, with communicating authentic faith in a postmodern idiom, which has compelled them to move worship beyond the synagogue. So, they are meeting in homes, bars, and coffee houses, among other places. They are resurrecting some ancient practices, such as worshiping in Hebrew, while ignoring others. And they are reconsidering the qualifications for participation and leadership.
There are also significant differences between Jewish Emergents and Christian Emergents, of course. Along with Synagogue 3000, Jewish Emergents seem more concerned with updating the style and format of Jewish observation and worship than with questioning or reformulating orthodox Jewish theology. Also, while the Jewish Emergents are eager to reconcile younger non-practicing Jews to the faith, they are not concerned with proselytizing.
These differences (and others) highlight the single greatest difference between the groups (not counting the difference in religion): the Jewish Emergent movement is an institutional effort, not an anti-institutional rebellion. In that way, it may be more akin to the Anglican-sponsored emergent movement in the United Kingdom.
Not only are there superficial similarities between Christian and Jewish Emergents, the two groups are formally in conversation (as formally as emergents do anything). Synagogue 3000 invited Emergent spokesmen Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Dwight Friesen, and Dieter Zander to attend their 2006 meeting as advisors. You can watch a brief video of that meeting below.
The presence of "Emergents" in two major world religions, and the cooperation of the two groups together, elicits a few questions in my mind:
1. For the critics of the Emergent movement: does the development of the Jewish Emergent movement indicate that the Christian Emergents are on to something? That is, does an analogous response from adherents of another religion validate the emergent impulse? If the emergent movement is not a strictly religious phenomenon, but is a cultural one with religious implications, what can traditional churches do to keep up with the times?
2. For proponents of the Emergent movement: what is implied by the fact that Emergent conversation leaders seem more willing to work cooperatively with "emergent" adherents of other religions than traditionalist or "Reformed" Christians? Is the emergent label of greater concern to them than the Christian one?
3. If Jewish Emergents can operate within the institution, why can't Christian Emergents? Can institutional churches and emergent ones benefit from a collegial relationship with one another?
Watch the video. Visit the websites. Tell us what you think.