Friday, January 1, 2010

The demise of the Emergent Church?

I posted this as a comment on Tony Jones' blog, but realized it was long enough to be its own blog post, so I'm reposting it here. Tony Jones and Andrew Jones (aka Tall Skinny Kiwi or TSK--also no relation) were having a blog conversation about the "demise of the Emergent Church" that started with TSK's post to which Tony responded.

When I read TSK’s post the other day, my sense was that he wasn’t talking about something “dying” but more like a major shift–and it seems like that is something that you (Tony) seem to be recognizing as well. The question seems to be “How will whatever this new thing that has emerged emerge in another generation of leaders/communities?” I think this is a key one if the Emergent/Emerging Church is to be more than many critics claim it to be: a “style” based moment that appeals to hipster 20 somethings. And to be fair, many churches have (as Joshua Price so aptly commented above) have taken the style and pasted it on top of the same old substance–hardly an example of “emergence”. But other’s have taken the substance and incarnated that in ways that seem a far cry from the hipster model–and yet share so much in common.

I wonder of the “death of the emergent church” and its so-called coopting (where that means something other than a style cut-and-paste) has more to do with the big shift Phyliss Tickle talks about in “The Great Emergence”. The reason the frontliners are seeing the movement as “dead” is because in many ways it has actually worked. The Great Emergence has begun, and those who have blazed the trail have opened up the whole wilderness for the rest of us to follow. But the trouble is, we’re not going to do it the same way as the originators–the radical badasses who confronted opposition at every turn. Perhaps someone more versed in feminist theory than I am could draw comparisons between the generational “waves” of the feminist movement as it shifted from the suffragettes to the bra-burners to the power-suits to the choosing-to-be-stay-at-home-moms. Movements evolve (emerge?) and to have deep societal impact by nature have to morph over time. Even when they go in directions the trailblazers never intended. But, we must remember, the Church (emergent or otherwise) is not ours, but God’s–and we are only players in God’s great drama. Who knows what it is that God intends this whole experiment to turn into? (and, really, only God gets to say “its over”)

This is why I’ve come to like the term Alan Hirsch uses in The Forgotten Ways: “Emerging Missional”. I’m seeing in both the mainline and evangelical circles I’m in, a refocus on mission that I believe has been sparked in a huge way by the Emerging/Emergent movement, much in the same way that the charismatic/holiness movement of the early 20th Century brought the Holy Spirit back into the forefront of American Christianity across denominations or how Vatican II opened up liturgical renewal way beyond the Roman Catholic Church. But in all of these examples what this looks like in actual incarnated forms in communities is so amazingly different its hard to see how they are all connected–but I believe they are.

2 comments:

  1. Nicely stated...you might also note that the speed of the transformation might also be happening much faster due to tools like the internet, blogs like this, and social media. These tools tear down traditional barriers to change that have hampered such transformations in the past. The mainline churches are seemingly adopting the stuff that they can, letting other niches grow for those that they can't, and the church as a whole seems to be healthier as a whole.

    I for one don't think that the Great Emergence will be as long, drawn out, or as bloody, as the Reformation...mainly because we've been able to have much of the debate around many of the critical issues in about 20 years that might have taken hundreds without the technology we have available...who knows how quickly we will be able to incorporate new ideas in the future? We might not even think of it as a transformation, merely as the way we do worship.

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