The Emerge-ish Church


As usual, I've said most of the things I think are important above in the video, but the basic gist is this:

This is a post for two separate sets of people. The first is the world of the general internet community and the second is a group of students in the Thurman/King School and Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School for Christian Leadership. It has come about because I'm teaching a one-time evening seminar to this group on the topic of "The Emerging/Emergent" church and was asked to address the issue for folks that were interested in but didn't have any personal ties. Ok, so now onto the point(s).

If you are NOT in that class, the favor I'd ask is that if you've got another perspective and/or resource that you want to pass along to those students, please post it in the comments and I'll make sure folks get to see it. I'd love for this post to become a living document, so please post away:  personal narrative, resource to read, or otherwise. I'd love to have as many voices as possible on this doc.

If you ARE in that class, please watch the video above and then look at some of these links below and the comments section. Try to read and/or watch at least two from the "Insider Perspectives" section and at least one from each other section. It would be great if you checked them all out, but getting to at least one each should give us grist for the mill. If you have any questions please be in touch and I'll see you in April!


Insider Perspectives

Outsider(ish) Perspectives
Shane Clawson: Sojouner Blog Post "On the Sloppiness of Naming"

More Critical Perspectives
On The Difference between Emergent/Emerging
Miscellaneous Things I Mentioned in the Video

7 Responses

  1. Hey friend! First I sure miss ya! 😉  And for sure appreciate what you have done here.  I think over all you give a very balanced perspective.  One that I don't see a lot when people are trying to explain the emergent stuff.  For myself I come from a different place than those who identify "emergent."  Different in that my exposure to the conversation was soley at theOOZE.  I went there around '99, maybe earlier.  At the time there were no really great authors such as McLaren or Tickle (or other names now associated with the conversation).  Most authors that were ever spoken were Stanley Grenz and some others.  The name "emergent church" wasn't even around.  So for me it was a conversation that worked around postmodern thought, questioning our background, and in a lot of ways tearing down any assumptions to then build something back up, a new faith in a way.  So for me I never understood why the label had to come into being.  I was big on bucking against it and still do.  TheOOZE at the time was the place to come to talk to others who were feeling this change.  Many of us had not read any others, but had come to theOOZE by just searching, some had read Spencer Burke's book and another book that covered theOOZE.  The overall theme however was that many of us felt a social climate change in attitudes towards the church.  So we played with that idea.  What should be our response to it?  How do we live within it?  For a lot of us it was a way to detox out of IC (institutional church) and recover from our various ministry positions that we felt were lies and/or realizing we were missing the point of church.  I think linking to theooze would be a great place for your students to check out.  I feel it was one of the transformational places for the conversation, but also a place for those of us who did not want to build a new building, but wanted to embrace a spiritual fluidity.   That is my first thoughts.  I thought I would put a blog link here that I did a while back.  It kind of talks about this a bit. 🙂

  2. My personal view of the "emergent church" involves a profound personal analysis of what is truly important and what is not. An honest assessment of why church is necessary and what is a church. Is Christian unity necessary or not? What are the institutional, dogmatic and interpretive roadblocks for getting to where you feel you need to be? As a protestant, is maintaining a anti-catholic stance crucial? As a catholic, is maintaining an anti-protestant stance crucial?. I personally found the reading of the "More Critical Perspectives" especially the "strong biblical perspective" very depressing, and after reading it I found the goal of Christian Unity, which is an important consideration for me, to be further away then before. If doctrinal purity is important, paramount even, then there is consequently no need for an emergent church – we should just head for the most right-wing end of our respective demoninations – which is what I presume the author is advocating. I'd be happy to learn your thoughts.

  3. To me, the "emerging/ent" church symbolizes the willingness of the church to engage with both the reality of the world around them and the postmodern theorizing going on in many departments in universities around the world. It means that the church is not trying to fit the world, or people, into some doctrine but is trying to figure out a way(s) of living out the gospel in the world. It's trying to reconfigure its relationship to orthodoxy, scripture, and liturgy.
    It's a primarily white person movement. Also primarily post-evangelical dude movement. It's like a bunch of evangelical guys woke up one day and started reading the hermeneutics of women, people of color, and the queer community, then started reading Foucault and Lacan and maybe Zizek, and then joined forces with all the people who had been involved in leftist movements for the last 30 years that were still left in the church in the US. In Britain I think it's a bit different.
    Okay, so I'm being a bit cynical here. What I'm hoping for, and what drew me to the "emerge" movement in the first place, was that maybe this wasn't going to be the same shit different day that evangelicals have tried to do since the 60s of appearing to be countercultural while really being profoundly ultra-conservative underneath. Every one of those movements was less liberal than my neighborhood parish mainline church full of old people. No, I'm looking for something ready to be brave, ready to question, ready to undermine, but also ready to build a world that isn't predicated on maintaining existing structures of power, privilege, and violence.
    My heterodox economist atheist professors were more willing to hear about radical ideas and hopes for Christianity than any church I've ever been in has. Something has got to change.

  4. Don’t know if I have anything significant to add Callid, other than for me it’s always interesting to touch on why the name “emergent/emergence” was given to the movement, i.e. the origin of the term. For instance in evolutionary science the term means: “an unpredictable rearrangement of the already existing entities.” A plant that is said to be “emergent” is a plant which grows in water but which pierces the surface so that it is partially in air. And of course, perhaps the most meaningful definition, “Emergence In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. Emergence is central to the theories of integrative levels and of complex systems” (wiki).

    I think the willingness and ability to recognize the complexity and vast diversity  of voices–not just in religion, but all areas of human knowledge– represented in this conversation is something that marks this movement well. You might say the Emergent/ing Chuch movement is a not an analysis but a synthesis, a joining of faith, art, science, literature, history and philosophy. At least, that’s what I like to think 🙂

  5. From the The Handbook of Denominations :


    Founded: 2001

    Participation: statistics not available

    Emergent Village is one of the most prominent examples of the emergent church (or emerging church) movement that gathered steam toward the end of the last century. Emergent Village is not a denomination. Rather is a network of Christians seeking to fin authentic expressions of the gospel in the twenty-first century. Theological writers such as Brian McLaran, Tony Jones, and Phyllis Tickle use the biological concept of “emergence” to describe the new type of Christian community that is being created out of older institutions. Emergent or emergence Christianity is one of the most creative responses to the challenges that all religious communities face in contemporary America.

    By the end of the twentieth century there was ample evidence that American society was entering a “post-denominational,” perhaps even a “post-Christian,” era. Many observers believe that Christian institutions are losing relevance outside their own structures. Instead of reacting negatively to this development, emergent churches embrace a future that is open-ended. They see the marginalization of Christian institutions as a way for Christians to reclaim Jesus’ vision of living as a servant people. According to emergence theory, Christian communities must be open to a radical transformation of individuals, churches, and society through the gospel. Drawing on “post-modern” philosophy and literary theory, emergence theologians and pastors seek to dismantle those church structures that impede faithful living.

    In general emergent churches reject modern bureaucracies and prefer to build cohorts and virtual communities rather than boards and agencies. Emergent Village, for example, relies heavily on internet networking (podcasts, blogs, etc.) to build relationships across theological and social divides. Rather than defending the crumbling ramparts of denominational identity, emergent churches encourage congregations to create their own eclectic collage from the rich resources of the Christian past. Sometimes called the Ancient-Future church, emergent churches blend various Christian traditions with modern music and visual presentations. Many participatnts work within current denominations to revitalize worship and service.

    The emergence movement has similarities to the Pietist* movement of the early Enlightenment in that the participants try to avoid doctrinal polemics that create schisms, noting that “Jesus did not have a statement of faith.” They advocate instead for a “generous Orthodox” that encourages conversation among different types of Christians. Instead of fearing post-modernity’s rejection of objectivity and absolutism, emergence Christianity seeks to rediscover the transformative power of Biblical and liturgical narrative.

    Several emergent communities have adopted “missional living,” which means that the focus of life together is active engagement in service rather than merely meeting for worship and prayer. Shaine Clairborne’s Potter Street Community in Philaldelphia is a famous example of this “new monasticism”. Much like the Mennonites* and Brethren,* emergence writers insist that the central teachings of Christianity are found in Jesus’ teaching and example. As such, they tend to be critics of market capitalism, and they actively promote peacemaking as a central mark of faithfulness to the Good News of Jesus. They do so, however, without separating themselves from technology or contemporary thought.

  6. Callid: Here, here! Well done, old chap. (I dunno why I've gone cockney.) Much agreed upon, from demographics of white dudes, to wide arrays of theologies and ecclesiologies. The label itself is misleading, and unfortunately fails to capture the inter-differences of this broad phenomenon.
    Frost and Hirsch wrote a piece called "The Shaping of Things to Come", which is a bit stark and dismissive of institutional churches. (Although this was their context in Australia, as well). But its a good read for doing church different, albeit with a nearly identical theology to their institutional sistern; more on that below. I would add that Gibbs/Bolger's book, Emerging Churches, lends a pretty thorough -research based- look at emerging faith communities. (I did my MA thesis with Ryan Bolger.) An outsider view with a great deal of insider quotes, perspectives, views, etc. Easy read, not academic, and they do a great job portraying the history of the faith movement/phenomenon, in a positive light. They're work gets some criticism because they focus largely or nearly completely on those who left the denominational structure. But I think that their research/work, and the way that they've been able to identify some things that are significant in ecclesiology/theology for both emerging/emergent communities overlaps fairly accurately. To add my 2 cents to the term confusion -although don't quote me: It use to be, if memory serves, that emerging churches tended to be the term for Institutional based communities, and emergent for those outside the tradition.  And, as the wiki page suggests, there also tends to be a conservative/liberal label attached to the theologies of the two, as difference. The terms were opposite in England, but I think the delineation has begun falling into disuse either way.
    Emerging churches were(/are?) actually more prevalent in Australia, NZ (FORGE Network, ala Alan Hirsch, Micheal Frost, etc.), and England in the late 90's/early 2000's when it began.  Nine O'clock Service (NOS) was one of the earliest and most popular, and influential communities in the early contextualization. It was essentially a club church with a mission to reach the young folk of England who could experience God within their subculture and context. It was church, experiential spirituality through media, the music, dance, etc. It eventually disentigrated due to leadership issues, but remained an inspiration for many folks who loved Jesus but wanted see and experience something w/out leaving their culture. Anyway, the Gibbs/Bolger text has the history, so I won't retell it here.
    The institutional form of emerging churches has found some great momentum in England with the Anglican Church. Bishop Graham Cray has overseen the effort, where the Anglicans have basically opened up ecclesiology to a number of different forms, manifestations, etc. The wiki link is here (, and the landing page for Fresh expressions here, although it seems to be down as I type this ( They have a .pdf that lays out the missiology of Anglicanism and Fresh Expressions; if page is still bad and you'd like it, feel free to contact me and I'll post/send it to Callid.
    There's some speculation as to why Brits/Kiwis/Aussies are so much more post-Christian than the Americans, and the one I've heard with the most voracity is the emergence of the mega church movement. Boomers who had a conservative theology that differed from the mainlines left in the 60's, as well as the Jesus people and the rise of counter-culturalism. They created the then culturally contextual faith communities with theologies that eventually became mega churches in ecclesiological expression. The irony of contexutual and missional, eh?
    There also tend to be a number of missional efforts out there, that could fall under these terms/communities. Neil Cole's "Organic Church" and ecclesiology is one example. It's very anti-institutional; Alan Hirsch is active in it. Mosaic Church in LA, led up by Erwin McManus, has at times been identified as emerging (as has Mars Hill-both Driscoll's and Bell's churches). However, they would not be considered such, because they are essentially mega churches or campus churches. ACTS 29 is another example; but they have found themselves in opposition with a good deal of what other emerging communities have lived out. New Monastics would probably find themselves in agreement with a great deal, but the distancing thing may prevent any real inclusion of labeling. Theology and incarnation tend to be a big demarcation in these instances, as well as size of the communities.
    I would offer, as a missional push, that often what has continued to find wanting in these dialogues is racial reconciliation, as well as the aforementioned male-ness of it. Further, the members of some of these communities are reading theologies in more broad, in trans-tradition or even cultural ways, but remain beholden to patriarchs and the rarely recognized matriarchs of what western theology has been founded on from Constantine to present. Dare I say, that the theology remains somewhat institutionalized, due to the celebration of the same institutionalized theologians (who also were often those in power)? I think I can say that because I'm not sure I've personally experienced, conversed, or read of many missional communities that incarnate a different theology in racial reconciliation, for instance, than their evangelical parents. The theologies tend to still be rooted in modern, systematic type theologians, when a present day, postmodern/postChristian -if you will- western and contextual theology should perhaps turn much further away from orthodoxy, which is merely western theology that has become a universalizing system of thought. Thus, it is also an ideology and weapon of suppression, exclusion, etc. A contextual, western theology, in a more emerging manner, will also be globally and cross culturally shaped which allows the voice of the other to shape its theology. Culture is not recognized enough, in my humble opinion, in contexualization.
    Wow, this went really long. I apologize for taking up so much space here, Callid. Feel free to edit or cut what may seem redundant or irrelevant to your needs, particularly that little rant at the end.

    Hey Callid, thanks for posting this. FYI – I’m not going to read other responses before posting my thoughts, though I did read Jules’ thoughts a week or so ago, right after the video posted. I apologize if these thoughts are redundant.
    I’ve often joked that emergent provides a “safe place to talk about dangerous theology.” That quip is a slight alteration of Bill Hybels old slogan that Willow Creek, and presumably mega churches like it, are a “safe place to hear a dangerous message.” By explaining the conversation in this way I intend to give a tip of the hat to the megachurch, which many of emergent’s earliest facilitators – Pagitt, Jones, Burke, etc. – were involved with at one time. I think that it is impossible to talk about the origins of emergent without discussing its origins within evangelicalism – i.e., note that the driving focus of McLaren’s work is, implicitly or explicitly, evangelism – and progressive movement of many of those facilitators and their conversation partners, including myself, away from traditional evangelicalism towards a more inclusive, communal view of the Christian faith.
    For my part, emergent has been a conversation that has encouraged my faith and has provided resources that I need to persevere in the way of Jesus. I am by no means a theologian, but simply a pastor and fellow sojourner who is willing to collaborate with others who are committed to acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God. Thanks to the Boston and NS Emergent Cohort as well as the emergent community online, I have built friendships with numerous people across denominational and theological lines who have given me the strength to deal with the dissonance that comes from concurrently living on the edges of my tradition (Christian Churches, Churches of Christ) and maintaining my commitment to persevere in the way of Jesus.
    Over the last two years there have been numerous eulogies for the emergent conversation and many others have publically disassociated from the conversation for one reason or another. I haven’t been too discouraged by these announcements or actions, since I think the conversation – which once took place largely outside the walls of our churches, denominations, and traditions – has now gone viral and is bubbling forth within the walls of these organizations.
    Thanks to the emergent conversation I now have a much more multifaceted understanding of the diversity and beauty of God’s Kingdom. I am far less afraid of my own doubt and cognitive dissonance and I have a much more diverse group of friends with whom to wrestle with theology, worship the transcendence of God, attend to the Spirit of God, and discover the innumerable, beautiful, unexpected ways we are called to embody Jesus in this day and age.
    I realize that my response is rambling, but I have children to chase & it’s the best I can do at the moment. Thanks for continuing the conversation.

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