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Are Presbyterians Emerging?

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Earlier this week, Bruce Reyes-Chow was elected moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA). This is great news, for various reasons. First of all, Bruce is a great guy and I count him as a friend (even a real friend, not just a Facebook friend!). There’s been a lot made (at least in Presby circles) that Bruce was unique among the four candidates for several reasons: he was the only non-white, the only one not to wear a tie, and the youngest.
And, the word “emergent” has been thrown around a lot, too.
Bruce is, indeed, emergent. He pastors a church that he planted in the Mission Bay neighborhood of San Francisco, a church that he planted. He’s a part of the Emergent Village cohort there, and he affiliates with Presbymergent. I had the pleasure of speaking at an emergent event with him at his church last year.
Bruce offers great promise to the PC(USA) in his two-year term – and, let it be said, the PC(SUA) has been about the most interested in emergent ideas of any denomination. Bruce will push the organization in a missional direction, he’ll open doors for younger people, and he’s just got a great, warm, and inviting personality. On our West Coast leg of the Roadshow, younger Presbyterians repeatedly told us how excited they are about Bruce’s election. Bruce is to the PC(USA) what Tiger Woods was to golf and Barack Obama is to politics.
But here’s my big caveat: the PC(USA) is a huge, hegemonic, and possibly intractable bureaucracy. Bureaucracies are really excellent at only one thing: self-sustenance. They mitigate against significant change and they chew up and spit out entrepreneurs. Bruce may be able to provoke a two percent change, or even a five percent change, in his two year term, but will that be enough? And who will succeed him? Will the next moderator continue Bruce’s agenda?
All this, of course, remains to be seen. Regardless, I’m looking forward with great anticipation to see what Bruce can accomplish.

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posted June 27, 2008 at 1:57 pm

yeah, um, the pcusa isn’t REALLY presby. you should clarify that in your title. “are pcusa people emerging” would be better. you won’t find any pca or opc presbys on your side. most of them are too busy standing firm in the faith and in their love for Christ, not for popularity.

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Bruce Reyes-Chow

posted June 28, 2008 at 11:08 am

Yeah, it sure will be interesting. I think that I will be more about engaging folks in new ways so that the actually number of people who are interested in being part of being church in a new way are part of the bigger pool of people. I think there is great possibility for change if people simply show up when the doors are opened. There is a great movement of hope in the PC(USA), not lets see if we can get it moving in a similar direction and converge with the many faithful who are already doing some good – if not “modern” in style – within the system.

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Tyler (

posted June 28, 2008 at 6:26 pm

I don’t get the first comment. How is the pcusa not presbyterian?
Anyway, totally agree Tony. I’m really excited to see how Bruce can lead some positive change within a postmodern culture.

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Rodger Sellers

posted June 28, 2008 at 10:47 pm

Tyler: It should be obvious. You’re reading an anon. poster telling the world how those of us in the PC(USA) are NOT REALLY Presbyterians because we are not really “standing firm in the faith and in our love for Christ.” Read that as someone in the EPC or PCA or still in the PC(USA) but wishing they weren’t simply taking a potshot. Ya know, we’re not “really Presbyterian because we’re “selling out” to all this emergent nonsense. Which is exactly why this conversation is needed.
To Anon. Come on man (or woman): At least have an honest conversation whether you agree or not. This kind of stuff doesn’t help anything.
Rodger Sellers (Charlotte, NC – not sure I can get more obvious than that.) Let’s at least be out in the open.

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Jake Meador

posted June 29, 2008 at 2:43 pm

Eh, don’t count out all the PCA guys too quickly. I can’t speak for all of us, but I’m a happy member at a PCA church and am also extremely sympathetic to the ideas of Emergent Village. In fact, it was Brian McLaren’s New Kind of Christian trilogy that restored my faith in Christianity a few years ago. I come from a fundamentalist background and had kinda given up on Christianity during my senior year of high-school. Reading McLaren’s book made me realize one could be a Christian without sacrificing your mind and your conscience on an altar to the Fundamentals of the Faith.
Of course, being in the PCA, I have my share of theological quibbles, but overall I really appreciate what EV is trying to do. The thing with Reformed folks, be they Baptist, Presbyterian, or non-demoninational, you gotta ask what kind of reformed are we talking about? Like the part of the PCA I tend to swim with is very influenced by the Dutch Reformed tradition. We still hold to the doctrines of grace, male eldership, and other more conservative distinctives, but when it comes to relationships with the culture and other Christians we’re missional in the same sense as most of the emergent Christians. The strands that tend to be more conservative generally come from more of a Puritan Reformed faith, which though strong in many areas, tends to be quite weak in terms of relating to the culture.
Basically, think Tim Keller and you have a good sense of where we’re coming from. We appreciate our more conservative brothers, but we have significant disagreements with them on interactions between the church and culture. We also have concerns with where some of you guys are going theologically (just being honest here, hope that’s alright :) ), but we’re happy to call you brothers and pray that God would bless your ministry.
~Jake Meador
ps Listen to Steve Brown’s interview with Tony Jones on Steve Brown Etc. That’ll give you a great sense of where my friends and I in the PCA are coming from.

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Tom Livengood

posted June 30, 2008 at 10:35 am

I like the connection you make to Bruce’s election and Tiger Woods and Obama. As a PCUSA pastor of a new emergent church plant his election actually made me say “oh shucks, I actually like being PCUSA”. That’s a lot for me to say for a denomination that I have a real true love/hate relationship with :)

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Kathy Smith

posted June 30, 2008 at 11:47 am

I’m in the love/hate camp with the pcusa as well. I’m a recalcitrant presbyter, unemployed pastor, and I’m not alone.
Tony you are right in saying: the PC(USA) is a huge, hegemonic, and possibly intractable bureaucracy. Bureaucracies are really excellent at only one thing: self-sustenance. They mitigate against significant change and they chew up and spit out entrepreneurs.
Unfortunately this happens at EVERY LEVEL from local church to national organization, usually with commitment to “good Reformed theology” but lets be honest “good Reformed theology” seems to change definition depending on to whom we are speaking and what their own commitments entail. I am cautiously optimistic about Bruce’s election. I am also really uncomfortable with the knowledge that the pcusa tends to be warmly tolerant of certain kinds of ministries (read: entrepreneurial, ethnic, new development, redevelopment, mission outreach, etc.) but MANY folks within the structure think their early roguish ways will ultimately come under the umbrella of pcusa structure and process. That’s not the way I understand emergent intiatives and so I tend to see doom and gloom ahead for these efforts.
I hope I’m wrong!

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Rodger Sellers

posted June 30, 2008 at 7:59 pm

Think I need to add this comment: Where exactly did the first comment some of us were answering go to? I do hope, if it was deleted, that that happened by the author?

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Rodger Sellers

posted June 30, 2008 at 8:23 pm

Re: my previous… Oh, I get it now… There’s that lovely little button, “Show all comments.” Guess more than just me missed it! (And we thought we had this blog-world all figure out! :))

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Jan Edmiston

posted July 1, 2008 at 8:21 am

Tony – glad you covered this. I have great hopes (but sometimes feel like a spit out entrepreneur.)

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Brian Merritt

posted July 3, 2008 at 6:57 am

I would like to correct a factual error in your “reporting” of our General Assembly. Bruce was not the only “Non white” person running for moderator. Bill Teng (of Chinese descent) ran from National Capital Presbytery. You may want to correct this. When someone with as much power and authority as you makes this type of error in reporting facts it can color your many readers perceptions. I know that it was an error of ignorance, but an error non-the-less. Thanks.

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posted July 3, 2008 at 3:35 pm

I do not have a love/hate relationship with the PC(USA). They are my family I am inextricably linked to them because it has been the PC(USA) institutions (churches, camps, colleges, seminaries…) that have nurtured my faith and call. Helping me to discern that I have been called to ministry and at this time that is youth ministry.
I too count Bruce as one of my (facebook) friends and am extremely psyched about him being elected moderator.
Tony, a couple of things about the article…Bruce was not the only non-white candidate, Bill Teng is also of Asian heritage. Also, Bruce should not be about “an agenda” unless of course that “agenda” is helping to moderate the conversation that the church is having seeking to follow the will of God for Presbyterians, Christians, and the world.
I am ecstatic about the church’s choice of Bruce as moderator I only hope that God will use him to help the church be open to new ways of following Jesus Christ.

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Maryjane Finne

posted July 9, 2008 at 5:16 pm

As moderator, Bruce will have visibility among congregations, and can provide an example and encouragement for alternate but faithful ways of “doing church” in this millenium. At the national level, there is an unwieldy but recently much shrunken bureaucracy, but we are not a top down denomination, so that bureaucracy only has real power in areas like pensions or mission abroad. At the Presbytery level, I suppose that could try to stop “emergent” changes in a congregation, but I cannot imagine it happening. In my Presbytery (Elizabeth, NJ) meetings often feature speakers with experience in new ways to be faithful or reach out. We know we have to change or die. Change in Presbyterian denominations come from links between congregations. When we see someone doing something effective, we copy it. That is how Workshop Rotation Sunday Schools spread throughout the country. Only later, the Sunday School publishers added curricula designed to be used with the Rotational model.

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carol howard merritt

posted July 15, 2008 at 8:57 am

Other than being friends with Bruce, I don’t have much to do with the General Assembly and I flee from bureaucracy in general.
I do my work on the local level. I appreciate the structure of the PCUSA, because it is a place where women can flourish, and the network can give some TLC to pastors and congregations in difficult situations. And, our church receives a lot of support from the denominational community when we feed the homeless, build clinics in Ethiopia, work with prostitutes, etc.
Whether the Presbys can be “emerging”… who knows. I’m always confused by who’s in and who’s out of the movement from one moment to the next….
I do know that Bruce is just one of many, many interesting leaders who are doing innovative and effective ministry in a postmodern generation. I know that denominationalism isn’t for everyone, but I don’t discount the amazing things that are clearly happening in our little corner of Christianity.
Also, when the emergent movement excludes those who are ministering within denominations, then they cut off much of their female leadership. And, I’m afraid they will lose some relevancy.

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