One of the more interesting features of the Emerging movement (I’m not keen on calling this a “church” until we see some world-wide church structures that encompass the whole) is how it intersects with a fascinating aspect of conversion theory.
Conversion theory has concluded that people convert to the Christian faith as a result of an advocate. An advocate is anyone or anything that somehow communicates the gospel to a person at a sufficient depth to lead that person to convert. I’ve known some who have converted as a result of seeing a cross while most folks convert with an advocate who is a human being — like mom and dad, or brother and sister, best friend, pastor, youth worker, roommate, etc..
Here are some features of advocates: they must correlate with the world of the non-Christian; and their “strategy” involves one or more of the following five elements: (1) a cognitive appeal, (2) an affective appeal, (3) a pragmatic appeal, (4) a charismatic appeal, and (5) a power appeal. You might think of how your “advocate” appealed to you to believe.
Now it gets interesting: in most conversions there is an encapsulation phase, which means the person who is thinking of becoming a Christian is “sealed” away (1) physically, (2) socially, and/or (3) ideologically.
I know there is a lot of categorization here, but please bear with me because when we are done it should make sense.
Here’s where the emerging movement has got something figured out. For a conversion to take place, in most cases there will be (1) new relationships, (2) a new ritual, (3) a new rhetoric, and (4) a new role for the convert in the Church.
It can be said, without generating all that much debate, that in the vast majority of non-Christian conversions in the Evangelical movement, apart from those occuring within families of Christians, the focus is what can be called a modernistic cognitive appeal through the use of a new rhetoric. That is, classical apologetics is the most normal form of evangelism. Simplified: “you should believe and here are the reasons why.” Now it goes without saying that one who converts for these reasons becomes an educational type of Christians where truth is understood propositionally and can be proven, more or less, by appeal to reason. There is a metanarrative here and it is called Science. The major form of encapsulation will be ideological. (This may be over-simplified, but let’s begin there.) [I happen to think there is a lot more relational dimension to this, but it is not talked about enough and that is why I am simplifying.]
The Emerging movement contends that the preferred way is through a postmodernist affective/coherentist appeal through the offering of new relationships. That is, community performance of the gospel and the offering of a story that can “make better sense” of life. The major form of encapsulation is social. The cognitive dimension is more coherentist than it is scientific/inductive, etc..
Thus, to put this together: the Emerging movement sees the advocate to be a community living out the gospel and offering relationships, while what it is reacting to had too much of an advocate that was reason and logic and offering a more cognitive map to this world. I hear many of them say this, perhaps not in these terms, but still close: for the Emerging movement truth is relational while for the former it is propositional. Conversion theory helps explain some of what is going on here.