My conversation last week with a pastor of a mega-church, with my contention that a caricature was being used and his and others’ justifiable question, “Well, then, what is it?” leads me to a few posts this week that will attempt to sketch the movement in three categories: praxis, protest, and postmodernity. I am speaking for no one else and not for the Emergent Village or Emergent US or Emergent UK. This is my take on the movement.
There are three principal terms used here and each is preferred by one or another: the emerging church, the emerging movement, and the emerging conversation. I prefer “movement.” There is no real “church” as a separate entity, and I do think that “conversation” is at the heart of what is going on, but because I think there are so many involved (Barna’s claims are that there are 2o million such, but I’m not sure he is talking just about those in the emerging movement) that I think it is best to call it a “movement.” Of the three terms, the most accurate is conversation [for that is indisputable], then movement, and only third is “church” appropriate. Some call it the “emerging movement church.” Seems fair to me.
Definition: Start with Wikipedia
In spite of the number of times we ask others to consult the dictionary, the easiest place to begin is read carefully the Wikipedia definition and explanation:
The emerging church or emergent church is a diffuse movement which arose as a “conversation” (in emerging church terminology) in the late 20th century in Western Europe, North America, and the South Pacific. The emerging church is concerned with the deconstruction and reconstruction of Protestant Christianity in a postmodern cultural context.
It goes on:
During recent centuries, Western Christianity was influenced significantly by Modernism in the sense that it sought to take the individual narratives of the Bible and from them extract a set of underlying truths or meta-narratives. Using methods borrowed from scientific reductionism it was hoped that a grand truth and worldview would be attained. In practice, the modernist approach led to additional schism within the Church.
Postmodern church expressions, in turn, encouraged followers to deconstruct each element of their faith experience, and reassemble the pieces in light of his or her own unique journey through this deconstruction process.
One definition of the Emerging Church is that it is the collective term for the individuals who are emerging from this process of deconstruction and reconstruction of Christianity, or those who have joined groups being led by such individuals.
In an alternative perspective, the Emerging Church may be seen as both a reaction to, and a continuation of the Saddleback/Willow Creek movement which achieved such great success in the 1990s using a “seeker-friendly” approach. The “seeker-friendly” approach practiced a ‘come-to-church’ evangelism while the emergent church thesis is ‘come-to-Jesus.’ Every follower a missionary for Christ. Both models are marked by a willingness to retool the church experience as necessary to meet the goal of evangelism, but the resulting church experience can be quite different. The Saddleback/Willow Creek movement sought to forego the “irrelevant trappings” of the traditional church, such as stained glass and candles. The emerging church movement, however, tends to value these same symbols as sacred expressions of faith and creativity. The Saddleback movement is comfortable applying the tools of modern American marketing (focus groups, advertising, polling, etc.), to deliver a highly polished product to a typically baby boomer target demographic. The emerging church movement recognizes that their own target audience has been bombarded and over-saturated with advertising their entire lives and thus places a higher value on authentic personal interactions and the power of the timeless truths themselves.
This definition reflects a broad spectrum (so far as I understand) of the emerging movement.
I could leave it here, but I want to point once again to Emergent Village’s “Order” as a clear place to understand the movement. There are here four features of the movement that need to be seen as unifying:
1. Commitment to God in the Way of Jesus
2. Commitment to the Church in all its forms
3. Commitment to God’s World
4. Commitment to One Another
Each of these is fleshed out and actions inherent to their meaning are explained.
Praxis: A Central Concern
It is this last dimension, action, that concerns me in my comments today about the Emerging Movement. The EM is deeply concerned with the “character” of the Church for there are far too many of those who call themselves Christian and who go to church weekly (or more often) who are not following God in the way of Jesus and who see “doing church” as “going to a service on Sunday morning.”
The Emerging Movement is a summons or an invitation for the Church to live like followers of Jesus in everything they say, do, and think. The Emerging Movement seeks to model that in its emphasis on relationships as the core of the work of God in the world today.
One of the reasons so many are frustrated with the Emerging Movement’s definition is found here: it is a movement concerned with praxis and not simply theology. If the older fashion was to define others by their theology, the Emerging Movement wants to be defined by its behavior. This is a dramatic challenge to the Church.
I see three emphases in the Praxis element of the Emerging Movement:
First, the Emerging Movement calls people to goodness. Not in the sense of just being nice or being politically correct or being inoffensive, but reflecting the goodness of God in this world for the good of others and the good of the world. There is a commitment to do what is right (or to try to do what is right), to loving others as the Jesus Creed calls us to do, to exhibit moral goodness in all the relationships of life. This goodness is exhibited most especially in relation with the community of faith and its relationship to society. Goodness and community are connected. Goodness and being missional are connected: you can’t be good and be holed up on your own. Goodness compels relationships with others for their good.
Second, the Emerging Movement calls people to graciousness. Grace in the sense of knowing that each of us, in one way or another, is a sinful, cracked Eikon (my term from Embracing Grace), and in knowing ourselves in such a way that we can comprehend others as made as God’s Eikons who are also in need of grace. So, God’s grace embraces us so we can embrace others for their good and for the good of the world. There is much talk among the emerging folk about “authenticity” and sometimes one gets the impression that the Emerging Movement has a corner on authenticity: such a claim, if it is made, is inconsistent with its central affirmation that no one is completely authentic and no movement is completely authentic. But, striving for such transcends, so we believe, what is often on display in many churches in the world. Because grace animates the movement, there is less of a border between the “church” and the “world” and more of a fluid recognition of a common humanity where each person is in need of God’s restoring grace and it is the task of the local community to be that grace.
Third, the Emerging Movement operates with a summons to glorify God by being a manifestation of the way of Jesus in this world. Sometimes we all lose sight of this, but my sense of the Emerging Movement is that, though it may tire of old, hackneyed language that is tossed about by Christians in order to say the right thing at the right time, this summons to glorify God by living out the way of Jesus in this world for the good of others and the world is the Church’s only and deepest opportunity in this postmodern age: to be the grace of God for others and the world, to be the blessing of God to others and the world, not just to say it — but to be it.
Tomorrow: I will look at the Emerging Movement as a Protest.