Emergent is dead. Long live Emergent.
Like me, you may occasionally hear comments like this: “The emerging church is dead, and it had no long-lasting impact.” It’s similar to people telling you that no one is doing postmodern philosophy at universities anymore.
Both are patently false. Things have changed, to be sure. Philosophical and ecclesial fashions change, and others take a run at making headlines. But the excitement building around this week’s Subverting the Norm conference just goes to show that both postmodern philosophy and emergent church still have traction.
Two recently released books show more than anything else that the emerging church movement has an ongoing legacy in today’s church:
Mike Stavlund pastors a church called Common Table in Washington, D.C. He also teaches on the subject at Wesley Seminary. He’s been a part of the ECM for a decade.
His book, A Force of Will: The Reshaping of Faith in a Year of Grief, is not about the emerging church, per se. It’s about dealing with grief after the death of his son. It’s about faith and doubt. It is unswerving in its commitment to truth — that is, to the true contradictions of a loving God amidst unthinkable grief.
And it is beautifully written, which is a hallmark of Mike’s.
In what way is his book “emergent”? Well, you’d have to ask him, I suppose. But if I were to venture a guess, it’s this: among clergy and Christian leaders, the emergent movement has pressed for honesty above all things. No efforts to couch theological contradictions in genteel language in order to protect God from embarrassment. And I’m guessing that pastoring amidst such honesty at least encouraged Mike to publicly ask the questions that he was asking in his soul after his son’s death.
Troy Bronsink recently moved to Cincinnati after many years of church planting and communal living in Atlanta. He’s been around emergent as long as I can remember. His book, Drawn In: A Creative Process for Artists, Activists, and Jesus Followers is very different than Mike’s, but I will venture to say that it bubbles up from the same wellspring.
For years, Troy has reflected on what it means to lead worship in a more holistic and thoroughgoing way than most Christians experience it. Personally, I can barely sit through any worship experience that has a dude with a flannel shirt and a faux hawk, earnestly whispering into the mic about how totally awesome Jesus is.
Troy’s reflections on worship and art immediately force us to a much deeper place than the earnest whisper of a “worship leader” ever can. We’ve got to wrestle with many of the same issues — even inconsistencies in God — that Mike wrestles with in his book. In the end, this book is especially good for teams in churches, trying to tap into the true creativity that God engenders in each of us.
These are just a couple of the many books already published by voices which have been cultivated in the ECM. And mark my words, there are many more books (and songs and poems and photos and painting) yet to come, from the same wellspring.