Selective Emergence?

ChaosTheory.jpgThis post is from Michael Kruse, and contains one of the more insightful set of observations I’ve seen about the selective appeal to emergence theory. 

Here are Michael’s questions for us: So first off, is my assessment fair? If so, why don’t we find many emerging-economy libertarian types among the emerging church fold? Why do we find so many libertarian-friendly folks in conservative churches?

My first exposure to the idea of “emerging church” came twelve years ago. My friend Steve told me he was part of core group that wanted to plant a church in my neighborhood. He wanted to know if there was a place where they could meet. I suggested they might use the vacant third floor of the Presbyterian Church I was attending at the time. To make a long story short, that church plant became Jacob’s Well led by Tim Keel, an early player with the Emergent Village.
In those early years, I had many conversations with Tim and the Wellians. I’ve had many conversations with others since. A recurring theme was skepticism of institutional command-and-control type structures. God tends to bring things into being out of chaos … it appears as spontaneous emergence.   I remember conversations about books like James Gleick’s “Chaos: The Amazing Science of the Unpredictable.” There were talks about evolution as a metaphor what God is doing in human communities.

“Emergence is a developing branch of science that recognizes that in general the whole is smarter than the sum of the individual parts. Emergence theory says that coherent patterns exist and arise from interactions among simple objects when there is a comingling of bottom-up and top-down processes. In simple terms, this theory states that life emerges in unique ways when an environment is created that allows for bottom-up and top-down interactions; out these interactions simple order arises without any kind of master plan. These <em>coherent patterns</em> are signs of life that can be recognized in dynamic process that allows for all the players in a system to be engaged in creative process.
Emergent Village, the organization, is a postmodern network of people, churches, and organizations seeking to respond creatively in an emerging context with little organization or master plan. …” (203)
As I was in conversations, over and over again I heard in my mind the Austrian School economist-philosopher Friedrich Hayek, a darling of libertarians. Hayek exposed the inherent limitation of human knowledge about mass human behavior and our inability to centrally plan and control human systems. Yet, when we establish a basic set of abstract rules and boundaries and turn people loose in markets of free exchange (i.e., free trade), a spontaneous order. Since emergence has captivated postmodern Christians, I thought, we will naturally see a preponderance of emergent Christians sharing Hayek’s view of the economic order. Right? Wrong.
There clearly are many varieties of emerging church communities but I have found very few people who identify themselves as emerging church and who embrace Hayek’s observations. In fact, I find a preponderance of people who identify as political progressives or liberals … especially those who are “emerging” and in Mainline denominations. I think it is also true of those who have tended to resonate with the Brian McLaren and Emergent Village manifestations of the emerging church (though I usually get push back on this observation.) In these contexts, “free trade” is a swear word. We need “fair trade,” where markets are being planned and managed to more just outcomes. Entire sectors of the economy like health care or education should be directly or indirectly run by a centralized authority. The idea of the “invisible hand” so popular in libertarian circles is met with scorn. These folks who usually have little problem embracing biological evolution and the emerging nature of the church are frequently hostile to the idea of a spontaneously emerging economic order.
Meanwhile, as Scot has noted in an earlier post, there is a trend in some theologically conservative churches to embrace a libertarian economic model as the biblical view. Yet it is frequently these same folks who speak of a divinely ordered society. Men and women each have their carefully prescribed roles. Families are to function in certain ways. Pastors and churches operate according to structures perceived to be handed down in Scripture. Biological evolution runs contrary to a sovereign God creating and ordering the universe … each thing created and sorted according to its kind. Everything is unfolding to God’s sovereign plan. The idea that the church could evolve via some type of emergence is denounced.
Yet when it comes to economics, emergence is wholeheartedly embraced. The ability of market exchange to disrupt communities, institutions, and traditions … as they so often do … seems inconsequential. It is anything but the carefully ordered and sovereign guided world of conservative Christian theology.
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  • I think that there is a danger in associating emergence theory in the church to economic policy. I think what you point out more clearly supports the idea that, in fact, the whole point of emergence in the church is that the church should not be run like government or economic institutions. These institutions are not inherently bad for some emergents, but they operate on an entirely different set of standards than the ways in which the church ought to be run, in their opinions. Governments and economic institutions are (to use clichéd descriptions) “top-down” by their very nature. Even democratic governments, which are run “by the people,” force the people to choose those who will sit at the top. I suppose that one could make an argument that churches do the same thing, or that the government shouldn’t be this way, but I think that most emergents are suggesting that they don’t believe the church should be that way. They are offering to make changes about what they know, about the local congregations of which they are a part, and about their faith.
    And in truth, this whole thing is about fairness, both ecclesiastically and economically. In churches, all people should have equal access to the work of theology and the life of the church. The problem that McLaren and others seem to have with free market enterprise is that is not always fair and does not always provide equal opportunities for all people. There are systems of greed that oppress certain individuals. So, whether it be in the church or in the economy, I think that emergents tend to want to stick up for those who are left out.
    On the conservative side, I think Hauerwas’s critique of the privatization of faith fits. Free market enterprise is individualistic, focusing on how one can get ahead or make the most money. Similarly, I think that a lot (note: I am not saying “all” by any means) of conservative expressions of Christian faith echo a similar individualistic, consumer-culture mentality. How can I be the best Christian? How can I grow the most in MY walk with God? On the other hand, I think emergents tend to ask, How can WE be faithful to what it is to be the church?
    All that to say, I’m not sure that comparing a “conservative” economy that uses similar language to a more “liberal” form of Christianity is fair. I don’t think that most emergents would resonate with such polar categories but would rather focus on the situational details.

  • Scot McKnight

    Matthew, that’s a fair and important observation, but there is one major idea that pushes back: there has been a routine appeal to emergence theory, in itself, to justify or to explain emergent church developments. To the degree that theory is evoked, to the same degree it needs to be applied fairly and seen for what it is. Emergence theory, in and of itself, is not about fairness. So, the fairness appeal, or the appeal to the marginalized, actually undercuts the appeal to emergence theory.
    At least as I understand it ….

  • Nitika

    There are but a few of us who are ideologically consistent. jk.
    I look to the cynicism of gen-X, a bunch of us found “hope”, a few of us are still cynical.

  • DRT

    I think it is possible that large swaths of people in our world operate on paranoid projections of their inner selves. So the the people who chose to be conservative in church and dictate thoughts and actions are paranoid that the governement is doing the same thing they desire to do so they resist government control.
    Those that are open and sharing in their chosen religious life tend to project an open and sharing view of others, including government. Therefore they want to give the benefit of the doubt and have it work the same way they work.
    Makes sense to me.

  • Scot –
    I understand what you’re saying, and it makes a lot of sense to me. I tend to agree with Nitika in that we are not always consistent, and I might question exactly how crucial it is for emergents to apply emergent theory consistently if such appropriations and caveats are understood. I might say the same thing about many emergents and the use of postmodern thought; exactly how postmodern is emergent thought, really?

  • Matthew #1
    My point isn’t that we should or shouldn’t take and emergent view of economics. My reasoning goes like this:
    Emergence theory, coming from science, is held up as an organizing principle for our existence. In the 1990s, some questioned the hierarchical top-down command-and-control nature of the church and saw emergence as the metaphor for how God works … bringing spontaneous order out of chaos. Yet writing in the 1940’s Hayek, was making almost the identical case, that people freely exchanging with each other would create spontaneous order. Yet Hayek is mostly ignored in the Emergent conversation or when he is mentioned it is usually antagonistically.
    Again, my question is not about whether Hayek is right, but rather why do Emergent Christians see emergence as an appropriate metaphor for abandoning the hierarchical institutional church but not for the economy and the government?

  • Appealing to emergence theory in science as a working metaphor for social constructions is doomed to failure. Why? Because of the ability of human beings to make choices, either good or evil. History has taught us (in a very bloody way) that when “the people” are freed from totalitarian ‘command and control,’ those very people are led to the most despicable command and control known in human history. A divine monarchy is the only hope…when all people seek this reality: “Your kingdom come, your WILL be done *on earth* as it is in heaven.”

  • #7
    I think many conservative Christians would agree, John. So why the embrace of libertarianism we are seeing among conservative Christians?

  • Matthew Dowling

    Michael #8
    I think the renewed interest in Hayek and the Libertarian paradigm is linked to the nation’s financial crisis – as many people are looking for other models to understand the world economically. I think this is coupled with a renewed appreciation for the fact that Libertarianism doesn’t necessarily equal anarchy (a common misunderstanding).
    We also might want to make a quick comment about Emergence Theory. Some identify two types of emergence – strong and weak. Weak emergence describes those properties arising in a system as a result of interactions at an elemental level. Fractal patters are a good example.
    Strong emergence is described as the phenomenon when system’s possess qualities that cannot be directly linked to elemental interactions – in other words, it’s difficult to explain an emergent properties cause. Though it doesn’t directly answer the question you asked, perhaps thinking of emergence theory in the context of the church being strong emergence will help account for perceived aberrant behavior.

  • Why must there be any political, economic position? This is one of the fears I have for the emergent movement. It seems to be slowly looking to politics to help bring the change it so desperately craves . I agree with the changes, but see politics–whether economic or social–as the wrong way to go. My community would agree with much of what you are saying, Mr. Kruse, but the economics of it would be foreign. We would consider ways we could make change outside of the political systems of the day. Following Christ can work outside of politics. We can shed the labels of “conservative”, “Liberal”, “progressive”. . . We can be open to the labels of “Christ follower”, “lover of good”, “bringer of justice”, and the like. It is not the odd juxtapositioning that is the problem, I believe, but the need to label these things at all.

  • Mike

    For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; (2 Timothy 4:3)

  • Matthew #9
    I agree that libertarianism isn’t anarchy. I also thinks it’s true that most Emergent Christians aren’t talking complete institutional anarchy either. I think your idea of weak emergence has merit.
    I think the Hayek popularity really developed by the 1980s with the Reagan Revolution. Part of that revolution was the linking of conservative Christianity with libertarian leaning economics. I wonder if the idea of emergence informed some of the theological reflection on ecclesiology with emerging Christians but the emerging church also came as reaction against Evangelcialism. One the dominant features of Evangelicalism has been a conservative to libertarian bent on economics. Thus, maybe a somewhat less reflective reaction against the political/economic views of Evangelicals.

  • Michael N. #10
    I hear an Anabaptistesque theme in your comment. And I agree that we can explore new ways of community at the level of face-to-face community. But when we talk about commercial society we are talking about he we link the economic interactions of millions of the people. That does require an economic model.

  • Samuel S. Grummons

    When you ask “why” here (Why do conservative Christians tend to be libertarian? Why do emergents tend to be liberal?), there are two kinds of answers you could be looking for. One, you want to understand it sociologically- why does this demographic (say, conservative Christians) tend to associate with this other demographic (libertarians)? I think this will admit of a historical answer. It will make reference to the social justice gospel controversy and evangelicals fleeing from it. The Cold War will figure prominently. We see religious conservatives still fearful of socialism for this reason.
    However, you might be asking a philosophical/theological question: what is it about the ideas that explain the covergence? Why do people often hold both despite the inconsistency you point out? I have an answer, at least on the conservative side. Core to both is a radical individualism. For libertarians the only things that are properly just or unjust are individuals. Hayek argued that social justice is a mirage; his main reasoning is that it personifies society. Society is not the kind of thing that can be just or unjust because it is not an agent; it is just the spontaneous order of free agents. The individual is key to libertarians. The same goes for conservative evangelicals. What is important is a person’s personal relationship to Christ; the sins that are most often emphasized are personal sins-lust, anger, pride, etc… Both are reductionistic in this regards.

  • >So why the embrace of libertarianism we are seeing among conservative Christians?
    Psychological barrage of “self interest” propaganda.
    See the Century of the Self (google “google video century of the self”) series.
    Consider the thousands of messages bombarded at you daily, the inescapable implicit overarching reverberations of a consumerist predilection.
    It’s all about you.

  • Darryl

    I am part of a small group meeting in a section 8 housing development. I guess we could be called emerging–our view of authority and our approach to “church” is very different from other churches around us. I’ve read quite a bit of the emerging and emergent literature.
    That being said: I’m politically conservative leaning libertarian especially in areas of economics. I don’t believe government (especially a secular government) should do our giving and acts of compassion for us. I believe that the free market system works.
    Having said that I don’t believe any particular economic theory or government today is “God’s pick”. God will continue to do his work through any and every means available to him.

  • Darryl

    Note: a free market system is not necessarily the same thing as a materialistic consumerist mindset. The USA had free market economy most all of its history. The consumerist/materialistic craze did not fully grab hold of society until perhaps the 50s.
    Materialism may have more to do with urbanization/suburbanization and the decline of rural population.

  • Samuel #14
    I was intending to raise both issues.
    I would argue the libertarianism isn’t the only individualism driven perspective. IMO, a strong element in much of liberalism is an underlying idea that I’m entitled to a home, food, clothes, shelter, and income regardless of my personal behavior. Society is obligated to underwrite my individuality.
    So I would say that an emerging church perspective that incorporates very liberal economic views could be just as individualistic as the conservative church person he embraces libertarianism.

  • Darryl #17
    >Note: a free market system is not necessarily the same thing as a materialistic consumerist mindset. The USA had free market economy most all of its history. The consumerist/materialistic craze did not fully grab hold of society until perhaps the 50s.
    The country didn’t have a great middle class until post WWII either.
    And regarding history of “free market” in America, I believe it’s a bit more nuanced than that… …don’t wish to go OT but it’s certainly not simplistic as the bumper sticker slogan thinking would state.

  • I think I would also add that not every libertarian or liberal is motivated by radical individualism. With economics, there is a knowledge question. To to the degree you believe that a cadre of human beings can collect sufficient information and make informed choices about economic decisions for the society you would likely be a liberal but if you are skeptical you might lean more to the libertarian end. Neither of theses takes is driven by individualism but by perceived pragmatic limitations of humanity.

  • T

    I forget who initially made the similar observation regarding political conservatives and liberals: conservatives believe that adult individuals can and should be trusted to make whatever economic choices they want (no need for min. wage, limited market regulation, etc.), but cannot be trusted with other, so-called ‘moral’ choices(like gay marriage, prostitution, drugs, etc.); where liberals argue the opposite. Certainly emerging folk are going to be part of that inconsistency that is our political heritage and culture.
    But also, I don’t know many emerging types who would point to the scientific theory as the primary justification and guide for what they are doing. For the vast bulk, that is a useful analogy as far as it goes, but the primary grounds for their emerging direction is rooted in what they perceive God to be doing (and what the church therefore should be doing), usually according to the biblical narrative, and on themes and movements therein that have been neglected. Consistency or inconsistency (or selectivity) concerning the biblical narrative is probably more relevant than concerning the scientific theory.
    Lastly, many emerging types are stepping outside of traditional church structures and designing ecclessial structures somewhat from scratch (a new/very old set of “base” rules), usually grounded in concerns of health, mission and justice, and reaching out from there for allies who play along these new base rules. Many of those try to do a similar thing (as a matter of consistency) by forsaking old economic partners and seeking new ones who want to play by a different set of rules (based on health, mission and justice) in business dealings as well, whether fair trade employers or local organic farms, etc. At the same time there are many emerging types who stay within the religious denoms and keep buying from Wal-mart, but do so with the intent of trying to get the denom and Wal-mart (and the fed. gov’t, etc.) to change their respective base rules, so that a more life-giving society can emerge on a grander scale and not just in little pockets as with their church planting fellows. So there is some consistency in both kinds, but of a different type. The biblical concerns of, for example, health, mission and justice tend to be more in the driver’s seat than the scientific theory of emergence.

  • Charles Harris

    I think Samuel is on to something to explain the inconsistency which Nikita notes we all share. And that is, historical context. But, I think the context is longer and broader than the 20th century cold war and fundamentalist/modernist controversy.
    As I read the descriptions of the so-called emerging movement, consistency seems to be concept of those of the traditional church (viz. modern) mindset, with the emerging post-moderns, not so much.
    Moderns, ordinarily, are concerned with consistency vs. inconsistency. Identifying inconsistency is a product of ratiocination. Correcting inconsistency is a project of pursuing coherence and resolving cognitive dissonance.
    Thus, I see…
    Traditional Protestants (to the extent that they experience it) resolve their cognitive dissonance theologically.
    A strong sense of human constitutional spiritual depravity leads them to affirm order in human communities: family (parental authority), church (defined polity; church discipline), civil layers of government (law and order –the sword).
    The economy, unlike these^, is not viewed as an entity with structure, or which can be structured. But rather, is an *effect* of natural (divine) law. Just as Newton didn’t invent gravity, so Adam Smith didn’t invent the invisible hand.
    So, moderns who view it this way, I think, would no more want to regulate the invisible hand any more than they would want to regulate gravity. Regulating the invisible hand causes distortions, something like teaching a cat to swim. You’ll either get injured, or drown the cat
    Theologically/culturally, the Puritan work ethic of associating participating in industry with enjoying the fruits of industry, following an Old Testament example and code –in accidental historical covergence with Smith’s enlightenment theory, in the American experiment– yielded ever-increasing productivity, thus seeming to imply validity to the invisible hand as natural law.

  • MattR

    I don’t think emergence theory necessarily leads to libertarian views of economics.
    First, the theory as I understand it, involves not only ‘bottom up’ but also ‘top down’ at the same time, and all the unpredictable interactions in between… that the whole of a system is greater than the sum, yet the tiniest interaction in that system can lead to chain reactions causing a reformation.
    Second, the current version of libertarian politics, in my view and the view of many others I talk to in the emerging/missional conversation, is not really ‘libertarian’ at all… The current health care debate is a great example. We don’t really have a ‘free market’ system. Instead we have closer to an oligarchy with a few large corporations making the rules and serving those who need it most in a poor and inefficient way.
    Ironically, libertarian/strict lase fare economics and politics, as it’s been practiced in the US, is great mostly for the people near the top of the system… emergence would allow for a more ‘bottom up’ approach.
    So those who say ‘we need no government only free market in health care’ are really, in my opinion, just supporting something that sounds good in theory, but on a bigger picture level has had unintended consequences… maybe that’s an emergence theory analysis?!
    Two, for some of us, what we learned about the science of emergence and applied to church life told us: the system and structure should fit the people… not trying to fit the people into a pre-set system. I know it sounds contradictory to some passionate libertarians… but for me, a system that leaves people ‘on their own’ who might need a hand up, is not the most humane system… it’s trying to make a theory work at the expense of serving people on the margins.

  • bNelson

    Darryl @16. “I don’t believe any particular economic theory or government today is “God’s pick”. God will continue to do his work through any and every means available to him.”
    Related thoughts –
    1) Jesus gives us the full picture of how “government” and “economics” are supposed to work, regardless of the model in force. Self-interest is balanced with and submitted willingly to God and other-interest. All are empowered by the “triple in-dwelling” (LeAnne Payne): Father in Him; He in all of us through His Spirit; and all of us, individually and corporately, as one in, of and with Him.
    2) It seems to me that the free market model works better than mandated models. It functions reasonably justly based on self interest as long as individual selves value true justice and mercy, which value and respect others and the community at large. When one or several “selves” come into a stronger advantage than others and, as in Babel, band together to collectively garner more for their individual selves, things fall apart. As a side note, consumerism was a purposeful campaign embarked on in the 1950s as a way to “grow the economy” (i.e. wealth, which is supposed to be good for all.
    3) As I understand Exodus and Leviticus, you see essentially a form of government in which all humnans were free to relate directly, both individually and communally, to God. A priesthood was set up to facilitate the logistics of the nation and its members relating to their true monarch. God promised if they would live submitted individually and communally to Him, He would protect them. He called “judges” to facilitate the protection and keeping of the Israelites among other nations.
    The “Economic model” in the Pentateuch worked alongside the way of life that culture was familiar with–clan-based, nomadic/agrarian, and in some ways feudal. Leviticus mandated roughly 1/3 in taxes to support the priestly facilitator class and logistics for administering the communal and individual rituals for relating to God, with the remaining 2/3 left for individuals to provide for the rest of their lives. Care for the disadvantaged was required. Apart from specific instructions to leave some of the harvest for the poor, to forgive debts every 7 years and to free/set up slaves every 50, little definition was given for exactly how this was to be done. Giving to the Lord was free will but assumed (“when you bring your “free will” thank offering…”); historical precedent set the guideline at 10% of total income as a symbol of one’s entire livelihood.
    When Israel asked for a “King”, (“like other nations”…ostensibly to “protect” them, probably to allow them to jockey for position among other nations), God was disappointed. His prophet Samuel warned Israel that when they began to rely on kings, the economic toll of it would be in addition to what they already paid.

  • #22 Charles
    In this post, I’m not making the case that they should be consistent. I’m only pointing out that emergence science is seen as a metaphor for human interaction. It applies in the church but not in the economy. Why? Especially in light of the fact the Hayek saying the same thing about the economy fifty years before “emerging church.”
    Also, Smith used the metaphor of the “invisible hand” only once in the wealth of nations. He was referring to how merchants decide whether they should invest their capital at home or abroad. Most were risk averse so they kept it at home. Thus, seeking their own interests they unwittingly contributed to a growing economy … as though by an invisible hand. It was a once off metaphor.
    The idea that Smith believed in a completely unregulated market guided by the invisible hand is a mythology that has developed since WWII. Historically, neither Britain or the U.S. were governed by a mindset that would be comparable with libertarian invisible hand.

  • MattR #23
    “First, the theory as I understand it, involves not only ‘bottom up’ but also ‘top down’ at the same time, and all the unpredictable interactions in between… that the whole of a system is greater than the sum, yet the tiniest interaction in that system can lead to chain reactions causing a reformation.”
    Bingo. I think the case can be that this true for all human systems including the church.

  • Charles Harris

    Michael re # 25
    Nevertheless, even if only for a moment, or in particular situation, don’t you think that some libertarians are saying Smith “caught a glimpse” of something bigger?

  • Your Name

    Scott, Michael–I need to “listen” better to your questions, . I find Michael’s insights fascinating, and I find the comments on historical developments and thought processes really helpful.
    Maybe some of what’s going on is that believers in the “emergent church” movement are more willing to trust that God is working in themselves and the individuals they know best, but not in others, so governmental and economic strictures are needed to keep those “others” in check, or to “make” those others support the right “health, vision and mission” agenda?
    By contrast, once “traditional evangelicals” are “in the fold,” they tend to focus on their personal adequacy/inadequacy in “living up” to God’s expectations according to their own consciences. Given the historic birth of evangelicalism out of forces spawned in opposition to religious oppression, they are uncomfortable with any models that empower structures outside their immediate circle to hinder the individual efforts they make to participate in “health, vision and mission”.

  • bNelson

    sorry, that last “your name” was me 🙂

  • Peggy

    …and, by the way, (Charles #22):
    Cats don’t need to be taught — they already know how to swim. The problem is that they mostly don’t particularly like to swim…and anyone fool enough to try to get a cat to do something they like, well….
    I had a Maine Coon once who loved the water, so there are some who do like swimming.
    Which, I think, does have some merit in this discussion, eh?
    It is in the trying to get people to do what they really don’t want to do where we have problems — in every realm. And so we see our God taking the longer and more difficult and definitely less traveled road of transforming our attitudes.
    And I think this is some of what is happening is some corners of emerging….

  • Peggy

    “try to get a cat to do something they like, well….”
    was supposed to be:
    “try to get a cat to do something they DON’T like, well….”

  • Darryl

    I’m really enjoying all of the comments/discussion. Just for a point of clarification. I am more libertarian economically and socially. I would have had no problem voting for a presidential candidate that was economically libertarian but socially liberal.
    I believe people do not need to be overtly controlled (except in the case of preventing theft, murder, rape, etc.) by government or a church. As a Christ follower I voluntarily submit my will to Jesus and invite others to do so. If they choose not to do so I refuse to attack or act askance. My role is to love them to Jesus–not condemn them to Jesus (sounds contradictory I know but isn’t that what so many do?)!
    There is an element of free will we should encourage–whether you approach this collectively or individually.

  • There’s a very narrow view of the concept of emergence as an economic phenomenon in this article. Decentralized, individual actors give rise to complex behavior, including institutions other than the “free market.” Most libertarian ideas amount to an attempt to flatten interactions, to remove the emergent complexity of social interactions–to artificially prevent the normal evolution of social norms, morals, rules, traditions, relationships of reciprocity, and other emergent forms of order. Institutional economics is the place to look for emergence theory. Libertarian economics only has a very shallow (but nonetheless important) concept of emergence. Check out classic writers like Herb Simon, Robert Axelrod, Elinor Ostrom, or economists at the Santa Fe Institute like Brian Arthur, for richer views on emergence in economic and social systems.
    As such, I think emergence as a concept fits the emerging crowd better than the libertarian crowd.

  • bNelson

    Peggy…funny, I was thinking the same thing about cats….

  • Barb

    discussions on this topic make me think of something I know I read in “Mere Christianity”. so now I’ve located it: Book 3, Chapter 3 “social Morality”. Lewis claims that a “fully Christian society” would be on one hand “Socialist” and on the other “Obedient”–but thirdly “cheerful–full of singing and rejoicing–regarding worry or anxiety as wrong.”
    someone above nailed it for me when then said all of our modern picking and choosing is based on our need for individualism. Neither of Lewis’ two hands allow for putting the indivual first.–as long as our focus is guarding our self interest we won’t find the “cheer.”

  • dopderbeck

    Great post! I don’t think there’s necessarily a fundamental inconsistency here. I think it has to do with the relationship between emergence and barriers to access.
    I think the question is one of access, not one of whether “emergence theory” works. Emergence of free culture implies equality of access. The Internet and other forms of social media can reduce barriers to access to culture. Communitarian church structures can reducing barriers to access to theological culture. Therefore, in these areas, emergent-type people advocate for the reduction of traditional barriers to access (e.g., moribund, authoritarian institutional church structures).
    The poor do not have equal access to “markets” because they lack the economic (capital), educational, health, and other class resources to participate fully. Emergence theory doesn’t always work in economics, particularly in the form of Hayekian trickle-down emergence, because the poor historically have been excluded from participation. Therefore, in this area, emergent-type people advocate for the reduction of traditional barriers to access through collective action and restorative justice.
    OTOH, we could be cynical and say that the young, white, middle-class kids who have fueled the emerging church movement haven’t yet had to work for a living and therefore are more willing to redistribute their parents’ income….

  • dopderbeck

    Rusty (#33) — great, great reference to Eleanore Ostrom. Absolutely right. Add that to my comments about “access.”

  • Charles Harris

    Peggy, sorry the analogy was more distracting than helpful. The point was to highlight the unintended consequences of engineers of the macro economy.

  • MattR #23
    “First, the theory as I understand it, involves not only ‘bottom up’ but also ‘top down’ at the same time, and all the unpredictable interactions in between… that the whole of a system is greater than the sum, yet the tiniest interaction in that system can lead to chain reactions causing a reformation.”
    Bingo. I think the case can be that this true for all human systems including the church.

  • Peggy

    Charles…no worries, brother ;^)

  • MattR

    Rusty (#33),
    Exactly… well said!
    Michael (#39),
    Rusty explained it better than I did… the libertarian view generally doesn’t fit with the concept of emergence.

  • I’ll be boarding a plane in awhile in Indy but I wanted to get the following metaphor out there.
    Theologian economist Paul Heyne talks about two roles in the Bible that we meld into the concept of stewardship.
    1. eptiropos – an administrator or guardian of resources put in someone’s care by another
    2. oikonomos – household manager … someone who gives oversight to the operations of the household on behalf of the paterfamilias (head of household.)
    As Paul Heyne points out in Are we called to be stewards of Creation?, each of us are epitropoi to whom God has entrusted resources. Each of us is to be the oikonomos of the household God has entrusted to us. But nowhere does Scripture envision the earth as a household over whom an oikonomos … either as an individual or in the form of some select group … has been placed.
    Most of us would agree that anarchy is not an option. So how do we “manage” our economy? Heyne uses as traffic metaphor.
    “We can clarify the difference through the example of traffic. Air traffic controllers can reasonably be said to manage the movement of commercial airline traffic: they impose upon all the pilots flying commercial places a central plan that dictates precisely for each one the time of take-off, the speed and path of ascent, the route to be followed, and the time, speed, and path of descent and landing. But no one manages the flow of vehicular traffic on the streets of a modern city in this way. Drivers choose their own times of departure, routes to follow, speed of travel, maneuvers along the way, and final destination, reporting their plans to no one and continually revising these plans as they see fit. Drivers are not completely free to do anything they please, of course. They are constrained by the decisions of other drivers in the vicinity. There are also “rules of the game,” some of them very specific but others quite vague, that limit the choices drivers may make. Within these rules, however, and sometimes a bit outside them, drivers pursuing their own interests with very little concern for the interests of others (largely because of extremely limited knowledge of those interests) coordinate their interactions and arrive safely and expeditiously at their destinations.
    No one manages this process in the sense of controlling outcomes. Traffic engineers can influence the process by changing the timing of traffic lights, altering speed limits, or adjusting parking regulations, and over time they can increase their influence through street construction or closure. But they can neither predict not control the specific results. The most they can aim for is a smooth and rapid flow. An air traffic controller is an oikonomos. There is no oikonomos in the world of urban traffic, neither on the streets, nor in the control centers of traffic engineers, and anyone who aspired to become an oikonomos of urban traffic would have failed to understand the complexity of the problem.
    What is obviously true in the case of urban traffic because of its complexity is far more true, but, unfortunately, far less obvious in the case of a modem interdependent economy. …”
    So yes there is a cultural mandate to manage society in the sense of an urban transportation network. We create the environment where Gods various epitropoi can safely and productively employ the resources entrusted to them. We are all certainly epitropoi but no one of us or some elite group of us is the oikonomos in the sense of an air traffic controller.
    I like this metaphor because it captures both the ideas of a need for boundaries and yet it illustrates a spontaneous order in traffic that emerges from individuals each pursing their legitimate interests. As I have understood RJS in the evolution discussions, I think this fits with the idea that the randomness in evolution is not boundless randomness. There are boundaries to what can emerge.
    Anyway, I curious about how you might respond to this metaphor.

  • Meant to include a link above:
    Are we called to be stewards of Creation?

  • tscott

    I was introduced to classical liberal economics(Bohm-Bawerk,von Mises,Hayek) and reformed theology at Grove City College 50 years ago. Trust me when I tell you that there both/together are true religion.
    Emerging is trying to come to terms with what they see as systems that have ceased working within the culture where they exist. Free enterprise was better with individuals and small businesses, than corporations, European unions, UN’s, third world countries, miltary complexes, not to mention communist or Koran states. “Tulip” theology is more like a horoscope than a world wide web. Both of their emphasis on economic and spiritual “individualism” helped to dissolve communal symbols and supports.

  • dopderbeck

    Michael (#42) said: But nowhere does Scripture envision the earth as a household over whom an oikonomos … either as an individual or in the form of some select group … has been placed.
    I respond: Again, I think this is just wrong. The adam of Gen. 1 is mankind corporately. The mandate to fill the earth and subdue it is a corporate one, which implies collective action.

  • #45 dopderbeck
    The oikonomos was the surrogate master of the household, directing the activities of the household. I’d suggest it was something along the lines of air-traffic controller, directing people what to produce or not to produce. I don’t believe that Scripture envisions an oikonomos (individual or elite group) directing the production and functioning of the rest of God’s servants. I think scripture does anticipate that humanity will develop ways of working cooperatively together. That is not an oikonomos in my book. We are are responsible for the earth, not responsible to an oikonomos who is responsible for the earth.

  • Larry

    Michael, I think you are making too much of this. Most of the emergent leaders aren’t that interested in economics and politics and so don’t think or write much about it (McClaren being an exception). Most of the influential emergent types are theologians and church planters (you mentioned Tim Keel) and mainly think and write about theology, ecclesiology and missiology.
    Lay emergent types tend to be young (alas, I don’t fit the stereotype), and to the extent that they are liberal are mainly reacting against the knee-jerk Republicanism of the churches that they grew up in. Like most young people, they also don’t think a lot about politics and economics, and tend to assume that there are only two choices in politics, red faction and blue faction. A lot of them don’t have any memories of Republican administration beyond Bush the Dumber, and since they don’t want to have anything to do with his war-mongering, torturing, sorry self, they just vote Democratic.
    When you engage emergents in conversation, you find that most of them tend to be distrustful of any large institutions, private or public, and prefer to do things without engaging such institutions, if possible. They actually tend more to the Wilhelm Ropke school of economics, though, of course, they don’t think in those terms. They also tend to resonate rather strongly with Roman Catholic social teaching (which has it’s own affinities toward Ropke).
    In short, if emergents are “liberal”, it is a rather shallow liberalism, most don’t think politics all that important.

  • Ann

    It seems to me that the living church is allowing the Holy Spirit to “emerge” in the diversity of its members, and allowing the Holy Spirit to “order” the members of the Body. Emergent churches recognize that institutions may, do and have become instruments in the hands of those people within their inner circles. Thus, embracing the many members of the Body is the new RE-creation of 1 Cor. 12. The emergence needs to happen repeatedly throughout human history, because every resulting organization can become distorted by, stultified and petrified in sin. The continual (re)emergence exemplifies the theological “proleptic” focus of the kingdom of God.
    The so-called free market, on the other hand, doesn’t really exist because diversity and scarcity benefit the more powerful and better positioned. When sinfulness is added to that diversity & scarcity of resources within individuals, communities, and geographically-distributed areas, the market is no longer “free” but rather controlled by the few in their own favor. The financial and resource markets exemplify the predominance of worldly power; they exist within the kingdom of this world.
    Why do conservative churches have numerically more proponents of libertarian economic & political principles? It is my guess (or suspicion), that conservative churches tend to be populated by people who have more vested interest and wealth in the current economic & political ordering. Their present position is to their own advantage in relation to the majority of the population, at least in their subjective estimation. Emergent churches, on the other hand, frequently have the deliberate and intentional goal of reaching out to those who are disenfranchised, disempowered, and economically & opportunity-deprived.

  • Rick

    Good post and questions.
    However, it is interesting to see, based on various comments here, that Emergent churches have only pure motives. Meanwhile, conservative motives (somehow people are able to read conservative minds and thus judge their motives) are based on “paranoia”, “self-interest”, and controlling “wealth”.
    I would also be remiss if I did not point out the valuable assessment that brought helpful terms such as “Bush the Dumber” and his “sorry self”.
    So much for keeping this discussion at a high level of discourse.

  • Ann

    Rick, why would you consider that anyone prominent in political parties doesn’t have vested interests in a particular outcomes within the worldly kingdom? It seems as if your conservative political bias may be overlapping with an understanding of whom the Holy Spirit “calls out” of the world to be. As Paul stated, “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Cor. 1)
    Libertarian economic principles inherently benefit the stronger because of the very diversity that is within creation and creatures; libertarian principles under the world’s reign will penalize the weaker. (Hello, Alan Greenspan!) Believers are chastised by the prophets, by Jesus, by Paul and by James for favoring the wealthy and being partial toward those with higher status.
    We have to deal with that reality within our churches, and preach the truth.

  • Rick

    Ann #50-
    I rest my case.

  • Ann

    Rick, you didn’t make a case. You stated an opinion that people here perceive emergents’ motives as pure and conservatives’ motives as not so. I don’t see any substantiation for that opinion in your words. Will you offer factual basis for this opinion?
    I stated that people in better worldly positions, with more power of some type (note that I made no political distinctions, please) favor liberty rather than constraint. On the other hand, those who do not benefit from the powerful people’s “free” choices – which, by nature, tend toward self-interest (from the Biblical perspective) – favor regulation that would give them opportunities to better their own positions.
    Is the church not to be governed by another One ordering the Body? Does the church expect the kingdom of the world to order itself well, in any sphere?

  • Rick

    Ann #51-
    I was not accusing all here of that slant, just some.
    From #15- “So why the embrace of libertarianism we are seeing among conservative Christians? Psychological barrage of “self interest” propaganda.”
    Maybe, just maybe, some actually see economic libertarianism as the best option for all, not just themselves.
    And for the record, I would not fall into that pure libertarianism category. I just think we need to be careful about judging motives.

  • I’ve been traveling much of the late afternoon and early evening so I haven’t been able to jump in much at the end.
    Some great reflections. With all this said, I still think it is fascinating that very few emergent folks spiral of into libertarianism despite having emergence as a metaphor and, at least at the surface popular level, libertarianism would be the most natural place that someone with an emergence metaphor would gravitate. I would anticipate that the economic challenge would be to deal with libertarian views. Instead, I found the challenge is in blindness to centralized control.

  • Larry #47
    I watched the events and read the blogs of emergent Christians in 2008. I wouldn’t call the enthusiastic support of Obama and Democratic causes an indifference to politics.

  • Larry

    I watched the events and read the blogs of emergent Christians in 2008. I wouldn’t call the enthusiastic support of Obama and Democratic causes an indifference to politics.
    You won’t find nearly that kind of enthusiasm any more, there never was very much, just a few very loud people. I suspect most of the support for Obama came about because he appeared so much different than Bush (the super genius). After 8 years of unprovoked and unjustified warfare, justification of torture, abandonment of the rule of law and official paranoia, Obama did generate some enthusiasm, I’ll admit, but it was a naive enthusiasm. Now after more than a year of Obama, we are still fighting wars, the so-called PATRIOT act was renewed (along with its throwing of the Bill of Rights on the trash heap), and the government is as paranoid and secretive as ever. You don’t see many Obama stickers in the Jacob’s Well parking lot anymore. If anything the disillusionment with Obama might be breeding just the suspicion of government that you are looking for.

  • Travis Greene

    I’m late to this party as well, but I do think that, despite some good points, Michael is slightly overstating the importance of emergence theory for the emerging church. Without getting into tedious descriptions of emerging vs emergent and so forth, I’ll just say the emerging church is not by any means monolithic. For myself, I have only a passing familiarity with emergence theory; my favoring of decentralized, consensus-based mutualism in terms of church polity over and against something more hierarchical comes much more from my reading of Scripture than from any contemporary social theory.
    As for the prevalence of somewhat lefty politics, well, it’s a pendulum swing in a lot of ways. Give it time.

  • STJ

    Ann (#48) wrote:
    “Why do conservative churches have numerically more proponents of libertarian economic & political principles? It is my guess (or suspicion), that conservative churches tend to be populated by people who have more vested interest and wealth in the current economic & political ordering. Their present position is to their own advantage in relation to the majority of the population, at least in their subjective estimation. Emergent churches, on the other hand, frequently have the deliberate and intentional goal of reaching out to those who are disenfranchised, disempowered, and economically & opportunity-deprived.”
    I think that hits the nail on the head. Social location predicts this conservative theology / free market economics configuration almost unfailingly. It is almost never encountered among the poor, nor among the rich Warren Buffet types who tend to be liberal theologically and economically. It’s mostly middle class people who want to convince themselves that the measure of affluence they have achieved, is due mostly to their own efforts and who want to limit their sense of obligation to the less fortunate.
    And there is nothing surprising or ironic about it, about believing in a God who rules with order, while also believing in economic “freedom.” The myth, you see, is that if you play the game by God’s rules, you will likely succeed, so then in your heart of hearts you can take credit for it, and thus also be able to blame the less successful for not conforming to God’s order well enough, which is what justifies most of these people’s reduction of biblical covenantal commitment to the poor to occasional trifling acts of charity. The belief in economic “freedom” is no less self-serving and blind. The truth is that markets constrain people’s freedom as much as any government policy, it is only the middle class in times of upward mobility (or in times of lamenting the loss thereof) who buy into this illusory notion that unfettered markets imply “freedom”–the economically disadvantaged who have no real chance of upward mobility, as well as folks who are too rich to need to worry about their future upward mobility, see through the myth instinctively.
    Plenty plenty more than “liberal” and “libertarian” schools of economic thought need to be put on the table in a forum like this. Recently I’ve been reading Economic Justice and Democracy: From Competition to Cooperation, by Robin Hahnel, an advocate of “participatory economy,” and who has a good discussion of the “freedom” issue. FWIW, I think something like Hahnel’s vision may be far more compatible with the leanings favored by people in the social location of most of the early Jesus followers, persons at the margins of Greco-Roman society who banded together in a more communal manner for mutual aid and survival. Reta Halteman Finger, in her book Of Widows and Meals, argues that these communities of “fictive kinship” practiced daily communal meals and sharing of possessions for far longer in church history and far more effectively than socially higher European Bible scholars of the past few centuries have been willing to admit. She argues that they were simply applying the same practices that had prevailed in networks of blood relations to their new “family” in Jesus.
    “Church,” as I think Jesus and the early Christians envisioned it, is the gathering of the set apart ones, that is, the marginalized and excluded who find the power of God in one another to help one another survive and lovingly resist the oppression of a society built on corruption and greed. Emergent church folk today seem to be on a journey toward that sort of understanding, and I hope it will lead more and more to a commitment to practical simple lifestyle and living in community and covenantal solidarity with the poorest of the poor, locally and globally; modern-day Pharisees, on the other hand, love their air conditioning so much they would literally see Bangladesh under water before opening their minds, with respect to theology, economics, science, etc., to the possibility that they need to make very significant changes to their lifestyle. The Jesus they preach bears little resemblance to the Jesus who walked this earth, IMO.