Reply to Kurt Willems on, “Is the church still emerging?”

Reply to Kurt Willems on, “Is the church still emerging?” October 5, 2012

After leaving the following comment on his blog, I wanted to follow up on this important question:

An Emergence authority like Phyllis Tickle would say definitively yes. It’s the topic of her latest book Emergence Christianity

On Patheos, Kurt Willems has recently brought up the issue about emerging churches here and here, which struck me as an emergent Christian. What does the adjective mean? My opinion is not authoritative, nor definitive, since this community has a multi-vocal nature. But it deserves attention in regard to the quandary Mr. Willems and others have when determining the nature of emergence.

I am a loner of sorts who wandered into emergence through the Southern California terrain dominated by such towering emergent-haters like Chuck Smith and John MacArthur. Their vitriol makes my faith even more emergent — and vibrant.

The challenge in describing emergence lies in its intention. Emergence as a descriptor is philosophical not institutional. Counting churches, cohorts or official members doesn’t work. The debate is a qualitative one.

How much has emergence shaped Christian thought? Consider the impact the following forces and you will be surprised to see how far reaching it is. I would be remiss to attribute them entirely to emergence, but it can be argued strongly that emergence is a social force behind each one.

1. A renewal of liturgical worship and artistic celebration

2. Social Justice

3. Bi-vocational pastors

4. Non-violent metaphysics

5. Global diversity in theological and ecclesial leadership

6. Gender inclusiveness

7. Alternate theories of atonement

8. the hell debate

9. the evolution debate

10. the nature of God debate

11. the nature of Scripture / questioning of inerrancy debate

Not to mention Brian McLaren’s place in the scope of the conversation. These areas of Christian experience have been firmly shaped by emergence.

In reply to Mr. Willems, I contend this qualitative dynamic doesn’t make emergence irrelevant or dying. The movement has permeated many communities — many of which would be appalled to know their attempts to be relevant or to reach Gen-Xers or Millenials are rooted in emergent thought.

Albeit an anecdotal note, I find it rather significant that as unlikely as it may sound a Southern Californian Baptist megachurch that I’ve attended over the past five years sporadically has a social justice program, a strong focus on outreach to low class communities, offers yoga classes and hosts an international church. All of which can be rooted in progressive, emergent and missional influences. Despite my philosophical issues with the ecclesial model I see hope in this conservative,  Evangelical community embracing, unbeknownst to most, an emergent paradigm of outreach and inter-religious understanding.

In sum, yes the church is still emerging and no you are not going to be able to use the sociological rubrics often used to categorize other Christian movements. It is a paradigm shift that has shaped the entire Christian world –Catholic, Mainline, Evangelical, Progressive, Pentecostal, and Non-Denominational.

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