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What is the best analogy to “church”? In Kester Brewin’s newly-republished book, Signs of Emergence: A Vision for the Church that is Organic/Networked/Decentralized/Bottom-up/Communal/Flexible {Always Evolving} (Baker, 2007), the analogy of an organism that emerges is preferred. In this book — with a cute title — we have a theory of emergence that lies behind the way many are using the word “emerging” in the emerging movement today.
Three quotations might put the whole book in view. What do you think of these comments?
1. “To blame the demise of the church on personal holiness is a dangerous and wrong position. I believe that rather than focusing on changing our individual lives, we need to change our corporate practice. New wine is currently being wasted by ruptured wineskins” (21).
2. “If the people who built the railroads in the United States were actually interesting in transporting people, they would now own the airlines” (21).
The first quotation explains the real problem at the systemic level; the second explains the current problem on being stuck in an old system where we are simply trying to revive it rather than realize that we’ve moved on.
3. “… rather than trying to import culture into church and make it ‘cool,’ we need instead to become ‘wombs of the divine’ and completely rebirth the church into a host culture” (92).
Here are some central theses at work in this book:
1. Overall, he contends we need to get to a “Conjunctive Church” as outlined in James Fowler’s stages of faith where we learn to hold truth as something that is expressed in a number of ways. [He uses Fowler too much for me — and because he does the brief discussion of Fowler is not enough.]
2. We need to wait as emergence happens; we need to let God give birth in us to a new vision and new emergence of God’s work in our world; we need to let emergence grow from the bottom up. [I kept saying to myself: “Give me something concrete, brother.”]
3. Emergent systems are open, adaptable, learning systems, have distributed knowledge, and are noted by servant leadership.
4. Finally, he seeks to see the church emerge in cities, where “gift” is central rather than a consumer culture (“I got something out of the service”), and where “dirt” is present — that is, the boundary between the clean and unclean is no longer observed.
Well, if you want a good grip on what “emergence” means in the wider emerging movement, this is the book. It explains why the word “emergent” is the central word. I wish more critics were aware of how important this word is to the movement. There is something going on, at the grassroots level; it is not known what it is entirely and where it will lead — but something is emerging. That idea is important to the movement for many.
This book was published in England a few years back with the title The Complex Christ.
I have some issues with the book:
1. I’d like a rationale of why Brewin thinks we need to change — or at least I’d like to see that rationale expounded more completely.
2. For some odd reason there is little attention to the “emerging” church called the Early Church and how it emerged out of the kingdom movement of Jesus. So why not some attention to Acts 1-15? Or to how someone like Paul or Peter pastored “emerging” churches?
3. I’d like to see some attention to the Pauline church with its radical emphasis on spiritual gifts and body life and evident lack of some hierarchy, esp as seen in 1 Cor 12-14.

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