In the past few years, there has been much talk about the “emerging church.” It’s become quite the talk among many leaders and circles in evangelicalism. While it has many outspoken proponents, it also has attracted some nay-sayers (and some pretty respected ones at that!) What is the emerging church, and what’s the big deal?
First of all, it’s a pretty much self-described label for a group of churches and leaders who are seeking to bring authenticity and passion, as well as a deep connectedness with the past back to the evangelical church. I say self-described, but you really have to be “in” with this group for the moniker to fit. I couldn’t just up and say, “Hey, my church is an emerging church” and suddenly get on the speaking circuit and get a cool article written about Journey Church in CT (Christianity Today).
Before you scratch your head in complete confusion, let me point you to a definition on Wikkipedia cited here. (It’s a great article, and a good first stop in getting a handle on what we’re talking about. Here’s the definition: “The emerging church or emergent church is a movement which arose as a conversation in the late 20th century in Western Europe, North America, and the South Pacific. The emerging church is concerned with the deconstruction and reconstruction of Protestant Christianity in a postmodern cultural context.”
Basically, that means that this group of leaders and churches are deeply concerned about perceived errors, apathy, and tradition-made-doctrine in the evangelical church. They call themselves a “movement” (but is a movement a movement just because you call it one?) and seek to bring a new reformation to the church through numerous spiritual emphases.
Before I go further, let me say that there are lot of points that the leaders in this circle make. I am impressed with the remarkable ministry of many of their churches and the love for the Lord that they demonstrate. However, I’m a little concerned by a few things:
? The tendency to create a closed circle of fellowship where there are some who are “in” and some who are “out.” It smacks of a country-club, elitist attitude in many ways.
? The tendency to put forth passion and relevance to culture above ancient truth. (They have a deep desire to connect the contemporary church with the ancient church, but it seems to be more so from a methodologial and philisophical approach than an objective-truth approach.)
Here are some great links to investigate some of what the emerging circle is saying about itself:
? Some good stories from different leaders and churches @ emergingchurch.info. They’re big on “stories” in that a good narrative communicates better to people in our culture these days than propositional truth. (But that doesn’t make the story carry more weight than the truth does it?)
? emergentvillage.com. This is one of the main sites. Here you can actually find out about emergent events. Presumably if you attend enough, and network enough, you too might become part of the emergent movement or “conversation.”
? CT article on emerging churches from November 2004 issue
? vintagefaith.com demonstrates their desire to connect the current church with the ancient one… the more I’ve read it, the more I keep sensing that whatever is written or said that is “cool” or “relevant” suddenly becomes NEW and GOOD.
As you see what they’re saying about themselves, I encourage you to balance that with what others are saying….
? Another good definition of emerging church – “a label that has been used to refer to a particular subset of Christians who are rethinking Christianity against the backdrop of Postmodernism. Emerging Church groups have typically contained some or all of the following elements:
– Highly creative approaches to worship and spiritual reflection. This can involve everything from the use of contemporary music and films through to liturgy or other more ancient customs. …
– A flexible approach to theology whereby individual differences in belief and morality are accepted within reason.
– A more holistic approach to the role of the church in society. This can mean anything from greater emphasis on fellowship in the structure of the group to a higher degree of emphasis on social action, community building or Christian outreach.
– A desire to reanalyse the Bible against the context into which it was written.” Sourced here.
? DA Carson, a great thinker and writer has critiqued the movement here.
TO SUM UP
If you’ve read this far, I’m impressed. One of the main reasons for this post tonight was simply because of the growing frustration I’ve sensed within myself over this “movement.” It seems very trendy, faddish, and “edgy,” and while there are some extremely valid points from its leaders, I do not think that identifying yourself as “an emergent church/leader” is a healthy way of creating needed change. It almost paints an us/them paradigm, which automatically puts people on the defensive.
Rather, I remember that the disciples of Jesus expressing their concern about “others” who were doing miracles in Jesus name. Jesus replied, “Do not forbid Him… for he who is not against us is on our side.” (Mark 9.40) I think both “sides” of this current conversation should take heed.
I wholeheartedly agree that the evangelical church in the States is in deep trouble. I too believe we’re embraced a dead orthodoxy rather than a vibrant love relationship with Jesus. I appreciate many of the emergent leaders’ emphasis on the Word of God as the source of truth, yet in practice they seem to elevate experience to the same level as revelation.
It’s not our way or your way. It’s HIS way. He is the Master; we are just the servants. In our effort to reach the most people possible and to revive the sleeping church, may we work together!
What is occurring in evangelical churches today is may be another turning of the wheel. Things that were on top are rolling underneath for a time. It’s the swinging pendulum. The height of the swing has been reached in othodoxy and propositional evangelism, and the needed corrective is taking place. But let’s be careful that we don’t simply move to the other side of the swing. Peter Drucker, a noted futurist from a business perspective said this in The Post Capitalist Society (1993): “Every few hundred years in Western history there occurs a sharp transformation…. Within a few short decades, society rearranges itself–it’s worldview; its basic values: its social and political structures; its arts; its key institutions. Fifty years later, there is a new world. And the people born then cannot even imagine the world in which their grandparents lived…. We are currently living through just such a transformation.”
And on a sidenote… if you can start a movement just by calling it one… then who wants to join the “Semi-Balding But Extremely Funny South Arkansas Jesus Lover” movement? It starts today!