The gifts of Emergent

April 30, 2010

church / emergent / emerging church

Recently, Tony Jones asked his blog readers to note “Emergent’s charism” to the broader church. He posted his own thoughts later. I was late posting my own thoughts, and when I tried to write them as a comment they were too long.

So, in light of Tony’s posts, some of the comments, and also the beautiful thing that is happening this weekend at the TransFORM East Coast Gathering (which you can follow on Twitter) I want to reflect upon what I think Emergent has offered, is offering, and will offer to the church.

For the purposes of this post, I’m not strictly referring to Emergent Village, though I’m using the word Emergent as Tony did in his posts. I’m referring to networks and movements like Emergent Village, TransFORM, The Underground Railroad and broader counterculture movements, the new monastics, the Jesus Freaks, 24-7 Prayer, the lovely new Anabaptists that are influencing so many of us, and various other networks and groups around the world that I’d love to meet, just to name a few.

I think there are deep gifts that these movements have offered, are offering, and will offer to the church and world. A deep sense of mission, learned to a large extent from folks who lived and developed their theology outside the Western world (Newbigin and Bosch, among others), is a (the most?) significant one in my mind as it seems to be in Tony’s, and though it bugs me to no end that missional and other similar words have become buzzwords for churches that don’t know the thought behind them and thus continue with what they were already doing while relabeling it, the emerging church as a whole has resisted doing that.

In my experience, the emerging church has deeply and authentically sought to learn what missional living and missional church look like. Once it has learned that a missional life is an incarnational life, it has sought to learn how these things relate to the world, and specifically to cultures and subcultures in which it finds itself.

It has tried to create indigenous ways of experiencing and communicating with God and with those cultures in a deep desire to live lives after the heart of Jesus, and allowed these things to shape its communities from the ground up (in worship, spiritual practices, leadership, location, and any number of other factors). It has tried to integrate activism on local, national, and global scales (I passionately disagree with those who say that we, as a whole, haven’t done any justice work beyond talk, as many of us have joined movements that already existed1, were started independently of us2, or that folks in this movement started themselves3) without being colonialist about it, and that is a deeply significant thing.

Certainly it hasn’t done any of these things perfectly, and no similar thing ever will. But it truly has tried to holistically live what it has learned about mission in its spirituality, in its ecclesiology, and in its desire for justice; and I really think this has shaped the overall trajectory of the movement like none of the other factors. Different folks come to different understandings of where that desire to be incarnational should lead, and I don’t agree with all of those understandings and expect that not everyone would agree with my understandings, but I trust that people do come from that place and that desire.

I’ll continue to follow the TransFORM conference as it continues this weekend and I wish I could have been there; I’ve already seen so many thoughts pass across Twitter that demonstrate this gift of mission and incarnation that Emergent offers to the church, and it’s a beautiful thing. Much love to all of you who are there, and I hope to be at the next gathering like this one.

  1. Such as Sojourners, Christian Peacemakers, the Christian Community Development Association, and many other beautiful things related to disease, war, slavery, poverty, and politics. []
  2. Like Invisible Children, Not For Sale, Falling Whistles, charity: water, for just a few. []
  3. Advent Conspiracy and One Day’s Wages are beautiful examples; though there are countless small and local things that have broad, under-the-radar reach into deep issues of justice. []