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One blogger’s basic guide to the emerging church discussion

I'm pretty much a newcomer when it comes to the “emerging church movement,” but one thing I’ve noticed is that it seems to be rather confusing to folks. More than once, after people find out I’m interested in the subject I’ve been asked questions like: What the heck is it? And just what is it these emerging people believe? And in those questions and conversations (and, I’ve noticed, often in articles or blog posts) I’ve also run across a couple of common misunderstanding about the emerging movement—in particular, that it has a set theology or doctrine—as well as the tendency to lump all emerging folks into one pot when it is actually full of a wide variety of opinions and directions (which probably adds to people's confusion).

So, as I’ve spent time explaining and discussing the movement with others, a kind of basic spiel has developed. Now, I’m pretty there’s a plethora of folks who could do this better than me. I’ve only been following the emerging movement for a little over a year, so I still consider myself a newbie in the arena. But let me put this out there and invite others to correct where I’m wrong. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my basic take on this thing called the emerging church movement:

In the basic and broadest sense, it’s still a conversation. I find the label of “movement” somewhat misleading when it comes to the whole emerging thing because it is more of a “conversation.” What do I mean by that? It’s a bunch of folks from a bunch of different backgrounds (“big-wigs” in the world of theology to bloggers like me) asking and discussing how we should “do church” today because, frankly, there’s more than a few folks who think that there’s far too many of us who aren’t doing that very well at all. The conversation ranges from some who think in terms of what needs to change to draw folks into existing churches to those who are rethinking the whole way of doing church to those who are discussing how we can live by early church principles today. While there are some central issues and ideas that seem to characterize the conversation (see one person’s summary here), there is no central theology or set of doctrines associated with the conversation—in fact, the folks doing the discussing come with a wide variety of those.

So, you can’t lump all those folks in the conversation into one pot. You’ve got Protestants and Catholics, those who advocate conservative theology and those who espouse liberal theology, and there’s Anglicans, Episcopalians, Anabaptists, Baptists, Methodists—practically every denomination and branch of theology you can think of. Indeed, there are groups of like-minded folks starting to group together within the conversation—and some get more publicity and have louder voices than others. But, at least at this point, it’s still a conversation with a wide variety of folks at the table.

Personally, I take a high view of Scripture, so there are some things being said in that conversation (and some theology being brought to the table) that I don’t agree with. There are also more than a few things that I think are distractions (at best) and harmful (at worst) when it comes to getting down to how we can better live-together as followers of Jesus or “called out ones” and express the Kingdom of God in local and global settings (ie, the “church”). But I’m glad the conversations out there because I think it’s one worth having.

It’s all part of a larger conversation. In my (very) humble opinion, the emerging conversation isn’t all that new. I find it to be one form or portion of a larger conversation that’s been going on for quite some time—maybe since the Reformation, perhaps even since Pentacost. But, I’ll narrow it down to the last 30 years or so, over which folks like Francis Schaeffer, Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Donald Kraybill, Dan Stone—the list is really quite long and varied, but these are some of my favorites—have been contemplating and writing about what it means to follow Jesus, be a disciple, live together in the Kingdom, and express that living-together in a local and global settings. Some tend to include these folks (and others who’ve been conversing for decades) into the emerging movement, and indeed, their voices echo in many of those in that conversation. But I tend to think of the emerging conversation as another joining this larger conversation (albeit, it does tend to currently garner much of the attention).

So, that’s my basic run down on the emerging movement. Now, for a far better explanation see Scot McKnight’s article in Christianity Today.


andrew said…
fair enough -a great first shot at it!!!
Carmen Andres said…
and that, folks, was the Tall Skinny Kiwi himself, heh. thanks for stopping by.