For more than three years I have participated, actively, enthusiastically, and at times with consternation, in the emerging movement conversation. A recent Out of Ur post not only suggested that the word “emerging” was dead but also the emerging church was dying. Tommyrot!, I say.
Terms do not a movement make; terms do not a movement end. How many times do we have to fight this battle over the terms? I have for some time been saying that most of us are tired of describing what emerging is. That conversation has been had and it is over and there is nothing new to say. Except we have to keep saying this….
Emerging is bigger than “emergent,” the latter referring in the USA almost exclusively to Emergent Village. The word “emerging” refers to the worldwide, grass-roots level yearning for deeper connections to the church, to expansive ways of becoming missional and evangelistic, and to broader embracings of those in the universal Church. The emerging movement is alive and well, whether you want to call it “emerging” or not.
Which gives me an opportunity to say something else about this word “emerging.” I ask you to bear with me for a point from history.
In the 1920s and 1930s many American evangelicals fought the rise of liberal, critical thought and rallied around the term “fundamentalism.” That term referred to a steadfast commitment to some basics that could not be surrendered. At the time, fundamentalism was a decent and useful word. In time, though, the term was worn out by the abusive use of that term by its critics. So, Carl Henry stood up in the 50s and 60s and said something had to be done and out of his famous book (Uneasy Conscience) arose a new movement: “evangelicalism.” Fundamentalists at the time called it “neo-evangelicalism” and that was no compliment. But the movement survived the early attempts to smear it.
Evangelicalism lasted. Until the 80s and 90s and now the term works the way “fundamentalist” worked: the term today can hardly be used without having to explain yourself. (The best book on this history is by George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture.)
So, many of us were attracted to the prospects of “emerging” as a way of getting beyond the turn back to fundamentalism we are seeing today and a way of finding more unity in the church and a way to gather together for missional and evangelistic purposes as we seek to follow Jesus in a changing, emerging, postmodern world. For many of us, “emerging” was the best of evangelicalism with the prospect of much more.
Then the critics began to chip away at the words “emerging” and “emergent.” Some took the time to read the stuff and listen to the leaders and to participate enough in the grass roots level discussions enough to say insightful, appreciative as well as critical things. Others thought some in emergent were straying from what they perceived to be core evangelical doctrines and began nothing less than a smear campaign. Some of their criticisms were accurate and helpful, even if it did not seem to us that they wanted to engage us but only to prove some of us wrong.
Full circle: like “fundamentalism” and “evangelicalism,” the words “emerging” and “emergent” have become a liability; it has become a term that needs ten minutes of explanation before it can be used. Many are just confused about the meaning of the term. Then two fellas wrote a book that dramatized it all, contending that they were not emerging when by all accounts they should be. Well, I said to myself, this just proves that the term no longer makes sense.
So, for the last year and a half I have spent far too much time explaining the terms “emerging” and “emergent” and I’m tired of it. I don’t need either one to describe what is going on anyway.
Furthermore, as I pointed out in my CT article long ago, there are five streams in Lake Emerging. I floated into Lake Emerging on the missional/praxis stream and on the postmodern linguistic stream, and still do. The streams are still there; they are still flowing; they are filled with plenty of folks paddling their canoes. But many of us are tired of saying we are floating together into Lake Emerging and instead will just say we are in Lake …. whatever. Most of us don’t give one rip if we are called “emerging” or “emergent.” Not one rip. I know I don’t.
About a year or so ago Dan Kimball and I had a few conversations. Both of us are evangelicals, card-carrying sorts. We are both bothered by some of what is going on in evangelicalism — like the turn toward neo-fundamentalism and the lack of a holistic gospel that can speak to some in the postmodern generation — and bothered by some things going on among the emergent crowd — like not enough on evangelism and not enough on the church shape of God’s work in this world. (I did a long series on this blog to show that “kingdom” cannot be disconnected from “church” without doing violence to both.) In particular, we are both evangelistic and we are not convinced that the emerging/emergent conversation is doing enough of it. (You will have to read Dan Kimball’s soon-to-be-published piece in Leadership Journal that challenges whether the “missional” movement is doing evangelism.)
Our concern is that being missional leads to evangelism. We want to participate in this big emerging movement in ways that focus on evangelism, in ways that reach out to postmoderns, and in ways that focus on local churches. So, we are forming some partnerships with other leaders who want to support one another in this missional-and-evangelism direction.
I can speak for myself here: Tony Jones is my friend; we speak almost weekly on the phone. I pray for him and for EV. This move I’m making toward a new network isn’t about personality or fractured relationships. This moving to a new network is about what we think God has called us to do and about aligning with other like-minded people. So Dan and I (with others) are involved, at the grass roots level, in forming a new alliance, a new group, whatever you want to call it. We will be talking about that more in the weeks and months ahead. We are not a sister/brother network of EV; we are forming an evangelistic alliance. It is good for folks to work together in common pursuits; that is what we want to do.
What about theology? Yes, we differ from EV in this regard. We are committed to the Lausanne Covenant, where you will find a global emphasis on sin and salvation and the ultimacy of evangelism as the vanguard of the mission of God in this world.
But we don’t think the worldwide emerging movement is dead; it is alive and well. We are happy to be part of it — as missional-evangelistic evangelicals who want to reach and speak and write for a postmodern generation as well as to the evangelical church at large.