the emerging church question

I’m often asked the question: what is the emerging church? I’ll go on record now, and confess that I’ve struggled with coming up with an answer, hemming and hawing about how it’s amorphous, it’s a conversation, it’s hard to explain, it’s not really anything yet. I’m still antiquated and use the old label “postmodern” circa 1990’s, as a reference point to one of the main cultural shifts that triggered the conversation. After reading the opening words in the introduction to Brian McLaren’s latest book, The Last Word and the Word After That, perhaps it’s b/c the question is the problem. “What is the emerging church” is asking for an answer that’s a definition. The conversation as I understand it is still mostly R&D (research and development), still exploring, still asking questions, and not dispensing answers. To borrow Brian’s analogy, it’s not a very good question – it’s like asking a vegetarian whether s/he likes beef, pork, or venison.

Or, to the question, I could borrow a phrase that’s making its rounds: [it’s about] following God in the way of Jesus, to quoteth Will Samson.

Aaron (thevoiz) Flores is studying the emerging church academically, as is Anna Aven. Like Aaron said in this vlog entry, I have had similar feelings about the Emergent network of friendships, and how I feel out of it, mostly b/c I don’t have time to keep up with it, most of the ones at the core of it are church planters and pastors, and I’m not in that business any more. Some people at the core of the conversation have been talking together since at least 1998, so for newcomers into a friendship, naturally it’s going to take more time and effort to get “in” on it.

And I’m a coupla months behind on keeping up with the blogosphere. I’ve got over 600 feeds in my Bloglines reader, but can’t keep up and don’t want to remove my leads for intel’.

[update 4/15/05] Published in April 2005’s Worship Leader magazine, here’s how 5 thought leaders of the emerging church would answer the Question, “What is emergent?”:

Brian: I think the best way to describe emergent is to say it?s a conversation that often leads to friendship and that may someday become a movement. The conversation is about Christian life, faith, theology, ministry, worship, and mission in these strange times …times of transition from a familiar and defined modern world to an unfamiliar and often fuzzy new world. People use a lot of post- words to describe this new world?post-colonial, post-Enlightenment, post-secular, post-liberal, post-conservative and (perhaps most confusing of all) post-modern.

Tony: Emergent is a fairly loose gathering of pastors, artists, missionaries, church planters, songwriters, bloggers and others who are engaged in a quiet revolution within the church. Disaffected with the reified structures and theologies of both the Protestant ?Left? and ?Right,? a dozen of us began meeting together in the late 1990s, and as our work has become more public, many more have joined in. Currently, we are forging friendships with church leaders around the world, all of who are on a similar quest of rediscovering the Gospel in their contexts.

Karen: Emergent is willingly taking the red pill, going down the rabbit hole and enjoying the ride. It is Dorothy not in Kansas anymore yet finding her way home. It is Superman braving kryptonite to embrace Krypton. It is sight seeking wider vision, relationships seeking expanded embrace and spirituality seeking holistic practice. It is a ?road of destination? where Christ followers formerly of divergent pasts, are meeting up in the missional present and moving together towards God?s future.

Dan: Emergent is an informal network of those who are rethinking church in an increasingly post-Christian culture. There is a pretty diverse variety of both theological beliefs and practices among those in this conversation?so you can?t just label something ?emergent? or ?emerging church? since it is so fluid and in process and is NOT a model of ministry. I can say what ?emergent? isn?t. In particular, it is not just about changing how we worship by adding candles, contemplative songs and art. For many of us, that very well may be part of emerging worship or even how we initially got involved in the whole conversation, but the worship expression itself is only a reflection of our ecclesiology and theology. If we only change the style of worship, without thinking theologically about the Church and Gospel as a whole, we are only dealing with surface wrapping and not what I would consider ?emerging? or ?emergent.? However, for many the worship style is a starting point of rethinking things, but it must go beyond that.

Andrew: Emergent is a name that a lot of us are using, at the moment, to describe the Church?s response to the current emerging culture, and the peculiar aggregation of believers being called up out of this culture to follow Jesus back into it. At the recent ?Global Roundtable for Emerging Church? held in UK (Aug 2004) emerging church leaders from almost a dozen countries agreed that we should keep the name for the time being. The emerging church definition has been reinforced by its use in recent books, highlighted by current criticism and established on the Internet through a well thought out definition on Wikipedia, and its acknowledgement by bloggers and new media communicators. Books will come and go, but new media content is consolidating a global database that will inform us for many years to come. And I am guessing that we are stuck with the word ?Emergent? for at least another 5 years.

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  1. Sivin says:

    Hi there .. I get the same question all the time … and I usually land up with a “pause” and say .. hmmm well … and rambling some incoherent (or trying to be coherent) thoughts 🙂

    For us here in Malaysia, it’s very important for a start to try our best to get the church planters and pastors in conversation … in a more reflective more rather than just projects (which we’re good at)

    For what is tentatively known as an emergent malaysia conversation …I find we’re having a good mix of “lay leaders” as well as “pastors” (more non-pastors actually) so, it’s looks postive …

    Some of us are aware of the “pomo” lingo … other like myself would like to explore the “post-colonial” aspect (to widen the discussion and be more contextual) but so far, it’s just a bunch of people willing to listen to each other, share and see where we can go from here. 🙂