With all the renewed conversation about the emerging church that is blanketing the web once again, I thought that I would enter the “conversation” in a somewhat atypical way.
Some are proclaiming the death of the emerging church saying, “The emerging church is dead—at least in nomenclature, if not in spirit.” Others such as Scot McKnight, Andrew Jones, and Dan Kimball are calling this a nominal death, believing the name itself is no longer descriptive of the original intent of the group, but that the principles expressed will move on. Scot’s post had the spirit of a “call to arms” of the emerging ethos. Others, such as Brian McLaren and Tony Jones may to be holding on to its designation with some hesitant resolve (if you you will allow me to combine those two words).
For those of you ready to sing a courtesy dirge, for those who are preparing their “I-told-you-so” sermon for this Sunday, for those who are breaking out the campaign, hold on. Put the cork back in. I don’t think this type of celebration is yet in order. In fact, I think that this is simply setting up for the second coming of emerging.
To me, this is a good thing that has been in the works for the last few years. It is a natural result of any attempts to reform. The movement is correcting itself. As a result, we see emergers distancing themselves from one another. It is interesting to see the way they are distancing themselves. There are no rope burns on either side. Really, it is just a matter of starting a walk together, holding the hands of many shared concerns. But while this walk initially allowed some close associations, the ever so slight angle of the direction has proven that they were never really headed the same way to begin with. Its a matter of geometry.
How about a chart to describe this! (Start from the bottom).
(Click to Enlarge)
Notice that here the idea of emerging—sociologically, ecclesiologically, epistemologically, theologically, and politically—had yet to define itself. This period represents a group of Evangelicals (or former Evangelicals) who were generally dissatisfied with the direction of Evangelicalism as a movement, believing that is has become a self-contained subculture, losing its values and mission, prostituting its purpose to politics and corporate America. The younger emerging movement joined hands here, made connections, wrote books together, and started blogs, all playing the same background melody.
At this point, the movement proceeds forward, and begins to pronounce the message gaining a significant following. Reaction by traditional Evangelicals causes the ethos of emerging to put song to the melody. It is here that distinctions between emergers begins to surface. It was not sabotage, manipulation, or deceit in the ranks, but just a natural self-defining that revealed that those hands being held began to lose their grip. Here is where the distinction between “emerging” and “Emergent” began to arise.
Now we have a situation where the former alliances have turned awkward. Hands can no longer be held as it becomes clear that the melody alone was not enough to keep the band together. The spit occurs and those who hold to more traditional theology attempt to disassociate from their more radical friends. As part of this change, many drop the name “emerging” and politely leave it to those who are progressively moving outside of historic Christianity.
2008-2010 (Prophetically Stated)
Former associations are forgotten. Traditional Evangelicals begin to embrace what they believed to be a prodigal son and begin to listen to their concerns. Why? Because they are no longer called “emergers” and they are no longer associated with Brian McLaren. With this sacrificial lamb gone, Evangelicals are now ready for the second coming of emerging, recognizing that it is and, for some, was always meant to be a revitalization of the best of Evangelicalism. The more radical progressives continue to distance themselves from traditional Christianity.
As we can see (if I am correct), the general disdain for the way things are (the primary ethos of all things emerging) does not create life-long bedfellows. All movements, reforms, and vitalizations meet militant antagonism at their inception. It is during this time that they further define and reinvent themselves. This is the way it has always been with every attempt to reform.
Have we seen the end of emerging? Not by a long shot. The name may be gone, but the ethos, for good and ill, has and will continue to serve the church during this time of reformation. Let us pray that we all continue with great wisdom, having a voice and an ear.