In any version of Christianity, certain things bind the persons who affiliate with that variety together. For some, it is ethnic heritage, and for others, a certain confessional stance. Most emanate from a particular individual, or, in the case of Pentecostalism, a particular event.
The emergent movement has no such genesis, and no such confessional glue. Within emergent, you’ll find Southern Baptist preachers and lesbian Episcopal priests, Missouri Synod Lutherans and Quakers. For what binds emergents is not unlike what binds Pentecostals – it’s an ethos, a posture. In fact, I might describe it as a posture of openness to the movement of God’s Spirit in the world.
Thus, you could walk into a United Methodist Church with the an organist and choir and a minister in alb and stole, and stroll down the street to a Vineyard assembly with a rock band and a preacher wearing shorts, and each could self-identify as emergent. Why is that? What in God’s name do these churches have in common?
They are, as I said, open to God’s Spirit, moving and active in the world today. In the words of Tim Keel, late of Jacob’s Well Church in Kansas City, “My job as a pastor is to figure out where God is active in the world and then get my people there, to cooperate with God.”
It’s probably this idea of “cooperation with God” that makes the young, restless, neoCalvinists particularly uncomfortable, for to them that sounds like an undermining of God’s sovereignty, an implication that God is dependent on human beings – in fact, to hear those Calvinists, we humans might be a royal pain in God’s backside.
But contrary to that opinion, I think that emergents share a particular sensibility with Pentecostals: God gratefully and graciously uses us in Kingdom-building work. I think that we talk about it differently – you’re unlikely to hear too much overt Holy Spirit-talk from emergent; instead, it is usually God-talk, as in the aforementioned quote from Tim Keel. But I do believe that we mean the same thing.