Roger Olson Compares the Emergent Church with the Jesus Movement

I’ve heard it for years: “The emerging church is nothing more than the Jesus Movement warmed over.” Well, I don’t really think so, but who am I to say? Roger Olson is, as he states, one of the few persons who is qualified to really speak to the parallels, making this a must-read:

It’s dangerous to generalize about either the JPM or the ECM. Neither had/has a headquarters or unifying organization. Both were/are grassroots movements that seemed to spring up spontaneously and then snowball first into apparently relatively cohesive movements and then fall apart over deep differences of philosophy, theology and practice. Both had/have strong, public personalities that provide a certain degree of identity to their movements, but neither had/has any single personality looked up to by everyone associated with them. Both were/are very diverse but unified by a common, minimal ethos that set/sets them apart from the “mainstream” of American Christianity—evangelical or mainline.

Read the rest at Emerging Churches and the Jesus People Movement Compared (you’ll have to overlook Roger’s poor formatting)

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  • I’ve been very resistant to this comparison in the past, because it’s felt dismissive and overly generalizing. I’d argue, but things are different, times have changed, this movement is something else, etc. But I think Diana Butler Bass makes a pretty good argument in her new book “Christianity After Religion” that the emergence we’re seeing in Christianity now may have actually gotten its start in the 1960s, which ties in the Jesus People movement into the whole thing in a way that makes sense. What do you think of Bass’s “another great awakening” ideas, Tony?

  • star silver

    Is there any way to obtain Tony Jones’ *A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin* without having to sell my soul to Amazon’s Kindle?

    The book looks worth paying $20 or even $35 for, but it doesn’t look worth the personal damnation of purchasing a Kindle or violating my PC with a Kindle PC app just to access one book, no matter how good.

    If the cost of a print version or PDF version is as high as $50, let me know, and maybe by some miracle I can afford that. Anything but selling my soul to Amazon’s Kindle!

  • DRT

    I want to register my voice that this makes for a great academic conversation but it misses the primary point when it comes down to actual people. The fact is, there are different people involved and that is important all on its own.

    As a 50 year old I remember the Jesus movement and knew quite a few of the people involved in it. I was in a Catholic school and all the young nuns were into it. For those of you who do not understand nuns, imaging a Catholic school girl in her uniform all grown up, but still in uniform, and very excited about going to see a band. They were just plain giddy about Jesus. That is what they acted like and I could not comprehend it at that age.

    [Aside – I remember, very vividly, dancing with my fellow students and the nuns to Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock during class. We did this many times and it was GREAT fun]

    The point I want to make is that movements like the Jesus movement and the Emerging movement are important to the actual people involved and probably, or at least should, be duplicated in every generation. Every generation needs to embrace Jesus and put their stamp on Christianity. That is vital.

    I think we should not try and compare the two. We need to celebrate a generation coming to grips with exploration of the most amazing and fascinating thing every, Jesus!

  • I’ve actually written a research paper on this same question that I’m hoping to present at the AHA next January and that will definitely form a major part of my dissertation eventually.

    Basically I agree with Roger that there are some similarities and many differences (though I don’t entirely agree with him on what those similarities and differences are, since I don’t think he quite grasps the nature of the emerging movement.) I also argue, however, that there is a clear genealogical connection between the two movements, even if not a clear ideological one. The emergent movement has grown out of the conditions of late-20th century evangelicalism that were themselves pioneered by the Jesus Movement.

    And yes, I agree with Diana that most of what is “emerging” right now got its start in the 1960s and 70s. That is a major part of my dissertation thesis actually.

  • Why start with JPM? The Emerging Church are really just a bunch of Quakers.

    Indeed, why start with the Quakers? Let’s go to any generation before or since and we’ll find renewal movements that exist outside establishment ecclesial circles.

    The emerging church is new inasmuch as it is contextually oriented within a particular kind of society–the postChristian industrialized west. It’s not new in most of its priorities or methods. It’s special power is mostly in that it arose alongside the communications revolution, allowing for it to grow in conversational influence beyond specific locations or conferences. It’s also new in that it coincides with a massive breakdown in ecclesial authority (likely related to that communications revolution).