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. . . .If you want to read more on the emerging movement, TSK gives his list of the top five books to read.
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.
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.All for now. Blessings.
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.
(Image: by Woman of Scorn at flickr; some rights reserved)