A New Year always seems to bring reorganization, restructuring, out with the old and in with the new and it's a time to look back...and to look ahead. I was going through my Google Reader this morning, catching up and doing some updating. One post caught my eye, " Emerging Church Movement ( 1989-2009 )?" written by Andrew Jones aka TSK. I've followed Andrew's blog ever since I first started following the emerging church conversation some 14 years ago. Probably more than anyone, Andrew's experience is "global", he is a teacher, practitioner, thinker and has done it globally. So I would not doubt he has a fairly good read on the pulse of the emerging church movement. What I find disheartening is some see the emerging church movement on it's death bed, some of the close family are more than ready to pronounce death while there is still a heart beat, and brain wave activity.
Just maybe were not reading all the vital signs properly. Maybe we've fallen into the same trap as the modern church, using the the same instruments for measuring life and growth. If we are, then yes, death is immanent, and maybe there never was real life. Maybe from it's premature embryonic birth, real life was not realistic. Maybe it was just a short lived lab experiment in which it used up all the medium in it's culture dish, and now with nothing left to sustain it, it is withering away. One of the deep thinkers in the emerging conversation, who still continues to stretch it's theological boundaries, Pete Rollins said this a few years ago...
" While the term ' emerging church ' is increasingly being employed to describe a well defined and well- equipped religious movement, in actual fact it is currently little more than a fragile, embryonic and diverse conversation being held between individuals over the Internet and at various small gatherings. Not only does the elusive and tentative nature of this conversation initially make it difficult to describe what, if anything, unifies those involved; the sheer breadth of perspectives held by those within the dialog makes terms such as ' movement ', ' denomination ', and ' church ' seem somewhat inappropriate. "
"Our first attempt to understand this network will often leave us with a certain frustration, as its kinetic and dynamic nature seems to defy easy reduction to a single set of theological doctrines or ritualistic practices. what we are presented with instead is a diverse matrix of relationships that bridge a number of different communities. Even a cursory glance over this network will show that the participants are unified neither by a shared theological tradition, nor by an aspiration to one day develop one. The word ' emerging ' cannot, then, be understood as describing a type of becoming that is set to one day burst onto the religious scene as a single, unified, and distinct denominational perspective ( analogous to a caterpillar that is soon to break its cocoon, and arise as a butterfly ), or a becoming that can be carefully charted ( like the trajectory of a bullet )."
Really, I think we have to ask ourselves, " What was the expectation?" Did we expect churches were going to fly an " Emergent Banner?"
Peter Rollins musing on the emerging conversation might be a few years old, but, I think in all truth we still might find ourselves closer to there than somewhere else. And, I think that is still the reality why it is so hard to measure the pulse of the emerging church movement. We knew from the beginning it was beyond definition, but certainly looking across the emerging church movement there were common denominators. Professor Scot McKnight wrote this article three years ago for Christianity Today, " Five Streams of the Emerging Church." In the opening paragraphs he says this about the movement...
To prevent confusion, a distinction needs to be made between "emerging" and "Emergent." Emerging is the wider, informal, global, ecclesial (church-centered) focus of the movement, while Emergent is an official organization in the U.S. and the U.K. Emergent Village, the organization, is directed by Tony Jones, a Ph.D. student at Princeton Theological Seminary and a world traveler on behalf of all things both Emergent and emerging. Other names connected with Emergent Village include Doug Pagitt, Chris Seay, Tim Keel, Karen Ward, Ivy Beckwith, Brian McLaren, and Mark Oestreicher. Emergent U.K. is directed by Jason Clark. While Emergent is the intellectual and philosophical network of the emerging movement, it is a mistake to narrow all of emerging to the Emergent Village.
Emerging catches into one term the global reshaping of how to "do church" in postmodern culture. It has no central offices, and it is as varied as evangelicalism itself.
You can read the whole article ( here ).
But even with the common denominators, every church planted in it's locality and context, like ecosystems is developing differently. I think that is the beauty of the emerging movement is because it is crossing the whole geographic landscape of church denominations we are seeing incredible diversity. Maybe if from the outset we were looking for conformity the conversation it would have developed much differently, or likely would have shut down all together. And maybe the biggest mistake was this subtle shift from conversation/ movement...to church. One can't help think if that became the point of arrival, or if the goal was to be a church, apart of the BIG CHURCH.
Even since the Christianity Today article, both Emergent UK,and Emergent Village have all restructured. Emergent Village coordinating group disbanded in April of 2009 which also fueled the myth to some extent that the emerging movement was winding down. Was it the writing on the wall, the leadership throwing in the towel? I know both Brain McLaren and Tony Jones would tell nothing could be further from the truth. It was more to flatten out the leadership, invite more people in, and to expand the conversation.
As someone who is driven by challenges, I like to look at our current chapter in this global emerging church revolution in a different way. Now that we’ve gained a following, our challenge to be revolutionary is more important, and more difficult, than ever. Now we must figure out a way to push the envelope in the middle of something that’s become familiar, to try to redefine church when everyone assumes they know the answer already, to speak poignantly enough so as not to be confused with the pre-fab, boxed kit, marketed products now sitting on the 50% off table. We got the audience we wanted, complete with a readily listening ear. Now what will we tell them?
Now what next?” That’s where we are right now, and I personally believe we have plenty of work left to be done. We have institutional structures that still desperately need reform. (Just because the Archbishop likes us doesn’t mean we couldn’t say a few more words he needs to hear!) We have theology that is broken and tired and unhelpful that desperately needs to be re-visioned, rethought, reinvented. We have communities of faith (and pastors leading them) who still need examples of how to live sustainably and holistically. And I’m certain we each know plenty of people who are just trying to find a way forward in faith, still trying to ask the simplest, most important question of all (and I’d suggest it’s the question we all must ask ourselves, over and over again): How do I follow Jesus faithfully in this world in which I live?
When I think of all the questions facing us as we enter the second decade of the 21st century, I get both giddy and dizzy at all the new ground we’ll get to cover- and that we’ll need to cover. And I know, as we start to ask those questions and come up with our first round of answers, there will still be people joining this conversation who have yet to hear the word “missional” and others who could really use some help in re-envisioning their church gathering to reflect a change from hierarchy to web. Somebody’s going to need friends to discuss how great the idea of perichoresis is and how brilliantly Moltmann applies it to our ecclesial shared life (and that person should call me!). Someone is going to read one of these Emergent books for the first time while browsing through Barnes and Noble and need a cohort of people to walk with through each of the questions it raises. Someone is going to need a friend and fellow companion to walk this road. And the beautiful, Spirit-drenched truth is that we have friends to recommend, and churches and communities of faith where we can send them, and books we can give them, and a map of cohorts we can offer up. And as sexy as it was fifteen years ago, we didn’t have any of that on our side. If our goal in this movement is to help people follow Jesus better in our current world, we’ve created entire networks of friendships and artifacts that can be of great comfort and help. We’ve become that married couple who has the weight of all those beautiful memories on its side, even if it’s added a few extra pounds.
I still continue to see us somewhere here, while the term ' emerging church ' is increasingly being employed to describe a well defined and well- equipped religious movement, in actual fact it is currently little more than a fragile, embryonic and diverse conversation...leading to experimentation and practice. If we look at it in the same way as we look at emerging natural science in ecosystems it is a slow evolutionary process. Maybe, we were thinking more in terms of revolution, that by now we would have seen something more tangible. But like new growth in an old forest, this started deep beneath the forest floor...in the dirt, and the dark. Conditions, seasons, environment all dictate the rate of growth. Sometimes the growth is not always visible, sometimes roots, sometimes shoots. But the movement continues to grow, there is something happening on the forest floor.
We live in a profound place of uncertainty. Deep, deep questions about life are floating to the surface of the sea of humanity. We are at three way intersection of religion, and science...and something beyond. Our religious theological language is tired, worn out. No one is asking the questions to which we have answers for. And, science is no longer the ace in our back pocket to save us in the game of life. We live in an emerging world, of multiculturalism, pluralism, world religions, not widely spread and segregated around the world, but in your own neighborhood.
At this cross road of religion and science and looking to something beyond we need to look a redemption in a radical new dimension. We need to immerse ourselves into the truth of the gospels, not reading from the point of an answer...but to deeper questions that move us forward. The myth of certainty is over. Brilliant questions will always move us.
We need to get past personal salvation, about it just being God and us. That salvation is about God and creation, in which we are just a strand woven into the fabric of that profound relationship. The radical idea of a universal redemption, that the cross is about restoring the righteousness of all creation.
Like I say, we are at a profound place of uncertainty. But, I look ahead with excitement, and hope, and I think the emergent movement will continue to grow, and help the church to navigate that road beyond.
Some people I continue to see helping us in the conversations are Brian Swimme, Philip Clayton, Nic Paton, NT Wright, Spencer Burke, John Franke, Miroslav Volf, Jurgen Moltmann , John Caputo , Jim Henderson and yes, still, Brian McLaren.
So emerging movement ( 2010? and beyond ) yes, I think so. Put your ear to the ground and listen, maybe scratch the surface and cultivate something.