by C Michael PattonMay 4th, 2009 148 Comments
For those of you who want to criticize the tone of this post, please make sure you read my previous posts on the emerging church. One is listed at the bottom. Take this post in the spirit is was intended and lighten up.
Today, at 12:32pm, while most of you were having lunch, the Emerging Church was taken off of life support.
The Emerging Church was not around long enough to be declared alive, so the announcement of its death comes with an apathetic “ho-hum” for many of you. But it is true. Stop the “What is the Emerging Church?” seminars. Edit the “Beware of Brian McLaren Sermons.” And don’t even entertain starting an Emerging blog. As far as I can see, the Emerging Church is dead at 15.
It got some cries out, made some very good points, called for changed, and then died. Its leaders are disappearing or have disassociated themselves from the movement. Publishers won’t even entertain books with this title. Those, like myself, who were very well acquainted with the “movement” get nauseous when the topic is even brought up. In fact, I am nauseous now.
Did this even last as long as the “Jesus Freaks”?
Supposing I am right, let me conduct a funeral. Please, step up to the mic and tell of your association with the movement. No takers. Ok, let me. Better—I will give an autopsy. As a sympathizer of the “movement” I feel I am quite qualified to do so.
Why did the emerging church die?
1. Lack of Tact Theory: I remember learning in seminary that when one pastor replaces another, the new pastor must be very careful not to attempt change too quickly. One thing at a time. Work with wisdom. Slowly, slowly, slowly. Don’t come in and beat up the old way of doing things thinking that your passion and belief in the necessity of change with be shared by others. It won’t. In fact, your demand for change will solidify people in their own places. You will be politely asked to leave. The emerging church lacked tact. It never gained the ear of the home base. Movements such as this need to be changed from the inside out, not the outside in. That is unless you are willing to go all the way and break completely from the home base (e.g. the Reformation).
2. The Offense Theory. The coup did not work. The elephant in the room (the Emerging Church) was forced out. They assumed that Evangelicals would listen and exit the building with them. But what happened was not unlike a disrespectful teenager who thought that he suddenly had it all figured out through a series of unadulterated epiphanies. He tugged on the shirt of his parents letting them know how much more he knew than them and he was blown off because of arrogance. “Tsk, tsk” was the reply, “I remember when I thought I knew it all.” While the Emerging Church, as well as teenagers, do have some very good things to say and should be listened to, it is the (almost total) disregard of Evangelicalism’s values that caused them to lose their audience. Evangelicals were offended.
3. Misidentified Evangelicalism Theory. It certainly is the case that Evangelicalism needs to reform. In fact, one of the Evangelical principles is that we are always reforming (semper reformanda). In principle, Evangelicals are not scared of change. When this principle is denied, it is no longer Evangelicalism, but some form of Fundamentalism. Emergers failed to realize the shared DNA with Evangelicals and belittled them instead. They, most of whom were former Fundamentalists (not Evangelicals), mistakenly identified Evangelicals with Fundamentalists. Therefore, their cries of change, their proclamations of enlightenment, served only to belittle Evangelicals. Ironically, their judgmental spirit of Evangelicalism backfired and caused them to look more like Fundamentalists than than those whom they criticized. It was a Fundamentalism of a different kind, but the attitude was the same. Grace left the emerging building.
4. Heretical Tolerance Theory: Oh, and then there was that. The Emerging church refused to stand up for anything. As the old song goes, “You have to stand for something or you will fall for anything.” The Emerging Church fell. It ran out of fuel. It called on everyone to leave their base and fly with them. Many of us came along for the ride. The problem is they never did land anywhere. They just flew and flew. They wanted to wait five or ten years to decide who they were. In the meantime, the fuel ran out. They did land and it was (mostly) not on friendly ground. From there they definitively cried out against Evangelical orthodoxy kicking us in the most sensitive areas: Abortion, Atonement, Justification, Assurance – and then there was the attempted burial of our belief that homosexuality was a sin. Oh, did I mention the attacks on Hell and the Exclusivity of Christ? They quickly moved from an insightful teen who might have some good things to say to crowd of disconnected enemies on the attack.
Of course, as I said, there were many of us who flew these skies with them. Some even identified with the movement believing it has many insights. But soon, most began to parachute out. It was too late for the band-aid of the Emerging/Emergent distinction. One after the other, people jumped. When its most prolific insiders jumped (along with a few pilots), it was over. We landed and acted as if it never happened. “Emerger who? Never heard of him.” And we pull our hat down over our eyes and move on.
To be fair, there is a very real sense in which the ethos of the emerging church will never die. It was not really born in 1994. It will take a new form – a more orthodox form. But that is for another discussion.
(If you have no idea what the emerging church is and would like an overview, see here.)
- Am I Emerging?
- The Second Coming of Emergers
- What Happened to the Emerging Church?
- Theology Unplugged #65: An evaluation of Creeds, Unity, and the Emerging Church
- Emerging Commercials-A Must See