Skip to main content

Taking some notes on the emerging movement

Recently, I ran across a couple of helpful and rather thoughtful ruminations on the emerging movement:

Hat tip to Andrew Jones (aka Tall Skinny Kiwi) for the heads up on this great piece by Scot McKnight. What is the Emerging Church? is the text from McKnight’s speech at an October contemporary issues conference at Wesminister Theological Center (TSK calls it “a superb speech - maybe the best I have heard from an American,” heh) which gives us a grasp on the emerging movement and what characterizes it. As always, McKnight is easy to read, comprehend, digest and carry away—the marks of a great teacher, imho. I highly recommend this peice if you want to know what this thing called “emerging” is all about—and even if you’ve got it down, it’s a good way to get a picture of where the conversation’s at right now. Some favorite tidbits:
The church is not sacramental but the alternative community through which God is working and in which God manifests the utter credibility of the gospel. . . .

So, let me begin with a simplification: the gospel is more than Jesus coming to die for my sins so I can get to heaven. . . .

The goal, so we in the emerging movement often say, of the Christian life is not to master the Bible but to be mastered by the Bible (via negativa, not false dichotomy). The goal is not information, but formation. . . .

But, I maintain that the emerging movement, especially when you grasp its world-wide dimensions, is not a theological confession nor an epistemological movement but an ecclesiological movement. It is about “how to do Church” in our age. Or, in the words of Gibbs-Bolger: how to practice the way of Jesus in postmodernity.
If you want to read more on the emerging movement, TSK gives his list of the top five books to read.

After you are done there, hop over to Wayne Jacobsen’s Lifestream blog. After reading Chasing Francis (which Brian McLaren comments “creates a unique and meaningful contribution to the emerging conversation about faith and life in this world”), Jacobsen gives both a nod to the movement for the questions its asking as well as a healthy warning to those in the movement who are focusing more on building new institutions than a fuller engagement with Jesus:
I’m often asked what I think of the emergent church movement and in answering I’ve reminded people that I’ve had very little firsthand touch with it. Thus my conclusions have come from reading some of its authors and what others have said so that my conclusions can’t be construed as definitive. But I have said that I think the movement is asking better questions than many traditional congregations and in many cases has a better message that focuses on relationships with each other and a more relevant engagement with the world.

On the downside, however, they seem to be compressing that into the same institutional structures that will eventually subvert their message. They are still caught up in building, leadership and services. Also, I’ve not found that the ever-present Christ is an important part of the conversation. It is more a movement driven by principles and ideology that find identity in the movement and its leaders, rather than finding a deeper intimacy with the Father, Son and Spirit. Certainly God is referenced a lot, but it doesn’t seem to me to be the language of a growing relationship with him, but an exploration of ideas and practices that might be more relevant.

This difference is not small. If our journey isn’t leading us to a fuller engagement with Jesus and a more complete identity in him alone, then we just end up with another man-made movement that results from our efforts rather than his working. I don’t know if that’s where the emergent conversation is going, but if this book is any indication, building institutions off a new set of priorities isn’t going to get it done.

Will we ever learn that Jesus didn’t start anything like that nor encouraged his disciples to do so? He said he would build his church and framed that reality in the language of family, not the structures of a corporation. In the end, if the still-present and still-active Jesus is not at the center of the conversation and the goal of that conversation, we’re still missing the best this kingdom has to offer.
All for now. Blessings.

(Image: by Woman of Scorn at flickr; some rights reserved)


susie said…
Carmie--Just read Scott's talk (instead of the Bible during my devotion time, ahem) and I am so pleased at much of what he says. But the thing I always feel missing, the black pit in the middle of the emerging church conversation, is God. What does God have to do with the emerging church? Where does the Spirit enter into all this? Is it important to emergers to listen for God? Do they believe the Spirit speaks to us through the Word or in our hearts? Do emergers seek His voice or even His forgiveness? The emerging church seems such a head trip, such a product of human thought. There is no talk of grace, or mention of how we cannot begin to practice love and social justice in a way that will matter without God helping, leading. How did this happen? How can this be a good thing?
Mark said…
Hi, I'm Mark "Foolish Sage" Traphagen. My blog is the host space for the Scot McKnight document you linked to (Scot had asked me to host it after the conference). Scot's was just one presentation of eight given at the conference, which we meant to be a forum between theologians from across the range of perspectives on the Emerging Church, from participatory to critical. I have posted my detailed notes of the main talks, along with pictures and other conference-related links and reflections, on my blog under this category. Also, audio of all the main talks may be purchased through Westminster Bookstore.

In response to Susie's comment above: Susie, I know personally many people who consider themselves in some way part of the emergent movement, and all of them are very concerned with the things you voiced above: God, faith, life in the Spirit, grace, etc. They very much see their praxis (what they do) as a result of their theology (what they believe) and not at all separate from it. They do believe that redemption and forgiveness of sin are not ancillary to social justice or cultural transromation, they are the very root of it. They aren't looking to supplant the message of grace and reconciliation in Christ; they are just concerned that if we limit that message to only concerns of personal, inward salvation, then we miss the bigger message of the Gospel: that God in Christ is about reconciling the world (i.e., all of creation) to himself, not just isolated individual "souls."

I would encourage you to read or listen to Dr. McKnight's other talk at our forum: "An Ecclesial Theory of Atonement." Don't be put off by the intimidating title. It's just about how what was won for us at the cross was indeed individual forgiveness of sin, but also so very much more. I think that talk serves as a fine example of how emerging leaders are indeed thinking through the categories you mentioned, even if they are coming to slightly different answers than the conservative Protestant church tradition has in its current comfort zone.

More importantly, I would encourage you to get to know some emerging folk. Visit an emerging church or two. Hang out after the service and talk with people about your concerns. Find an emergent cohort in your area and pay a visit. You might be surprised at what you see and hear, as I was when I did those things a little over a year ago.