Perspective on Emergent

June 5, 2009

emergent / emerging church

To give a small introduction to this, for a decade Emergent Village has been an organization seeking to follow God in the way of Jesus. It has endured various leadership transitions, criticisms, structural changes, and so on. It has usually been equated with the broader emerging church movement (when spoken of in the United States), though it is only a part.

Last year, Phyllis Tickle wrote The Great Emergence, which speaks of the emerging church movement as an historical change movement similar to the Reformation. It has gotten a good deal of recognition in mainline denominations.

In recent days, there has been a good deal of talk about whether or not Emergent has failed. Since it has been around for a decade, many people have taken stock of their involvement in it, and how they see its potential being or not being fulfilled. I want to list the posts I’ve seen, and then give my own thoughts. As I see further posts, I’ll update.

First, I’ve had at least some interaction with most of these people, and hope to continue to do so. I think they are all wonderful people doing wonderful things. Also, I think we can all agree that many of the issues raised are valid.

But I want to come out in hope of a broader perspective on the emerging church – before and beyond Emergent Village.

Andrew Jones has been extremely helpful for me in this. I first became acquainted with his life in 2001 through The Underground Railroad. I learned of him, and others, who lived their lives among the hippies, punks, goths, metalheads, anarchists, artists, and nomadic youth of late modernity/early postmodernity, and totally redefined church, worship, and ministry in their contexts.

They redefined ecclesiology and missiology, and I am one who agrees with Andrew that they are one of the major streams that flowed into what is now known as the emerging church. So was the alt.worship movement that included people like Jonny Baker, who redefined the same things in a slightly bigger context.

And as the streams flowed together, the emerging movement came to redefine them all in a much bigger context. People who would never feel comfortable worshiping in a Goth club started talking about postmodern worship. The cultural changes that began on the edges (as they always have – this is human nature) moved toward the center. As they did, they continued to develop. They moved from ecclesiology and missiology into other areas of theology – realizing that one’s view of church comes from one’s view of other things.

And here we are today. The early pioneers of the emerging church movement – the early bloggers, early visionaries, and so on – are, in some ways, in a similar position to the pioneers of the underground and alt.worship movements. Others have come along and expanded what’s happening. The changes are moving from the edges of culture toward the center. It is easy to resist this. Many within the underground church did resist this. Many have not moved into the broader emerging conversation, for the same reasons that some within Emergent do not want to see that conversation move as well.

But this is how culture works. We cannot have a revolution of the way church functions in a decade, or three decades, if we look more broadly at the emerging church. It is essential that we learn a sustainable perspective on change, in order to find out how Emergent Village specifically, and the broader emerging church in general, can affect change on the church at large.

One day, the emerging church as we know it now will not be where God is asking us to be. It will have left the fringes behind entirely, as every change movement in church history has done before it. At that time, God will raise up a new fringe, and those of us who are around for it will need to have the flexibility to move into that one. But that day has not yet come. There are still thousands of people who need to hear that church and theology do not have to be done the way they were done during the 500 years of modernity. There are still thousands of people who need redemptive community – in all its messiness – and will be shaped by it.