From Emergent Church to Emergent God

From Emergent Church to Emergent God March 1, 2015

RIDE-a-NEW-WAVE-BUTTONIntroduction [by Teresa B Pasquale on behalf of the Emerging Voices Curation Team–with Holly Roach & Robyn Henderson-Espinoza]

February 1st we launched the month, and in some ways the year of 2015, with a sort of mission statement for the Emerging Voices blog, and beyond that, the Emerging spirituality and the [cosmic] wave we are currently riding in Emerging Voices. We see “emerging” and “emergence” as an action verb, always bending forward into transformation and evolution, rather than just a static place in faith and time. Also, in February’s first post, we delved into a discussion about the present and future emergence in, and of, faith–as we see it sprawled out in front of us, warts and all. To read that post click HERE

We open the month of March with an evocative and incisive piece of writing, penned by Mark Longhurst, who continues the dialogue, as well as the undoing and doing of this “New Wave,” or next generation, of divine emergence we see before us.  His piece asks us to look even deeper into the language, idea, and movement of “emerging” as the cosmic action that it is–rather than a static and singular location, people group, or social identity with some kind of finite beginning and ending.

Thank you to Mark who starts off March strong–and with no little effort as he constructed this post [perhaps aptly] during the week before and after the birth of his first child. A big congrats to Mark and big thanks to all who continue to discern, unwind, and transform what is emerging in faith this Lenten season–where the metaphor of death and rebirth looms over this period in ever-emerging faith, and most definitively around this particular emerging dialogue. Like a new wave , let the emerging voices of hope continue to rise, like the rhythm of the ocean’s tide, always moving into the depths and then back onto shore, crafting the ecosystem [of faith] in concert with the cosmos in every single breath.

From Emergent Church to Emergent God

“Emergent” is much more than a church or a movement or an author or a theological label or an epithet. “Emergent” is the perpetual unfolding of the divine itself.

Emergent Village was a national organization that, for just over ten years, catalyzed an electric conversation in American Christian religious life about…well, everything: mission, theology, institutions, Jesus, justice, postmodernity, and much more. Christianity Today did a cover story; so did the mainline flagship magazine The Christian Century. Brian Mclaren’s A New Kind of Christian articulated questions that many had kept closeted to themselves; reactionary ripostes, heresy charges, and eventual proclamations of the movement’s death ensued. But a few years after the media frenzy, we’d do well to pause, take a few deep breaths and gain some perspective. “Emergent Village” itself was never very important in the cosmic scheme of things. On its better days, Emergent found galvanizing purpose not by drinking beer while discussing theology (a past time of which I am a hearty fan), or engaging in dialogical sermons while sitting on couches, but by riding the wave of God’s perpetual emergence.

“Emerging churches” were, for the most part, churches associated in varying degrees of tension within evangelicalism. For myself, as a former evangelical, and for many others, the “Emergent conversation” was inspiring and life-changing. The organization’s website once stated: “We believe in God, beauty, future, and hope—but you won’t find a traditional statement of faith here.” As a young seminarian, then attending a charismatic evangelical church, I spent anxious late nights questioning evangelicalisms’ orthodoxies. In spite of my conservative psyche’s “loyal Christian soldier” voice (see Richard Rohr audio teaching here) telling me to follow orders and swallow my wayward wondering, I re-interpreted all my former faith tradition’s hot button topics such as pluralism, biblical inerrancy, war, and homosexuality.

And when I stumbled upon Emergent Village, I thought, “this is a conversation in which I belong.I only floated peripherally around the postmodern Christian “Emergent Village” (although I did shake Jacques Derrida’s hand at a Villanova Conference on Postmodernism). Yet, the conversation that Emergent-the-organization sparked pointed far beyond itself to a tidal wave of transformation taking place within American Christianity. Emergent was a way of naming the radical evolution of church that was, and is, blossoming in our moment.

Yet for a new wave of emergence to thrive and ground itself, emergence needs to go, theologically, from the evolution of church all the way down into the very evolution of God. It is not enough to stay on the ecclesiological (theology-of-the-church) level—the spiritual revolution of our times spirals us into a new-old understanding of the doctrine of God.

If “emergent” only delineates an exciting and innovative social movement, it easily becomes prey to psychological projection—or, in the biblical imagination—idolatry. An “emergent church” invites all-too-human “Emergent Christians” to become overly enamored with “the next big thing,” eager to rub shoulders with or even become “the next big Christian celebrity.” Or, conversely, an “emergent church” is easy to dismiss as a cult, failed project that didn’t live up to the hype, or the brainchild of a few white men.

If God is emerging, however, our experiments in emerging church find lasting meaning insofar as they reveal the unfolding heartbeat of the divine.

The Trinity should be emerging Christians’ doctrine of choice. The (emergent) dynamism of God most reveals itself in Christian tradition through the mysterious doctrine of three distinct yet united divine persons. The best theologians have always described the identity of God as somehow constituted in relationship. Eighth century writer John Damascene used the Greek word perichoresis to teach that Father, Son, and Spirit are mutually interrelated in expressive love towards the other. The Greek root of perichoresis means to rotate or go round. The identity of God, the word suggests, is like a circle, a whirling movement of love that always goes beyond itself and outwards towards the world. And there’s the key to emergence: divine relationship is not for its own sake, spinning in a self-enclosed clique; it exists for the sake of the “other,” for the sake of love. Theologians like the Franciscan Bonaventure saw creation, the universe itself, as having been brought forth from the flowing love-in-relationship of the Trinity. The expressive love cascading from Source, Word, and Spirit, he thought, generated creation itself.

Love gives birth to new being. Love cannot help but emerge.

Emergent Village once described itself as a “growing, generative friendship.” And, at least from my peripheral perch-it genuinely was that. Yet-as is the case for most human projects—ecclesial or otherwise—eventually shadow dynamics were exposed. (I use “shadow” in the Jungian sense, referring to unconscious aspects of the ego). Personalities clashed; the promises of generative friendship proved not to be as inclusive as some had hoped; dirty laundry was aired; the ancient scapegoating mechanism took a postmodern turn; Emergent was, all of a sudden, not the salvation of the American church that some had prophesied it would be.

The inherent limitations in any “emerging church” movement do not need to result in ceded ground to gatekeepers of evangelical orthodoxy, divided camps, cynical withdrawal, or broken friendships. Rather, we find the true meaning of growing, generative friendship in the prior growing, generative friendship of God—the Trinity. And the circle-dance of God never tires of generous, whole-making love, even when our churches and movements do. Bonhoeffer once wrote: “the church is the church only when it exists for others, not dominating, but helping and serving.” By this definition, sadly, much of what passes in history and tradition as “church”—from Constantine’s imperial religion right on down to ours—does not even merit being called church at all!

The emerging church that exists for others participates in the emerging God that exists for others. Otherwise it is not the church-it is something else: a fad, vanity project, misguided attempt at cultural relevancy. Richard of St. Victor in the 12th century taught that the Trinity is like a growing, generative friendship, but the defining characteristic of such friendship, he wrote, is that it is never only about one person; it always transcends the self in love for the other. For friendships and conversations and movements and villages to be meaningful in God’s ever-New Emerging Wave, they will have to pattern themselves in the Trinitarian spirit of expressive love towards the “other,” particularly those who have been marginalized and excluded.

Grounding our lives in the emergent God reminds us, humbly, that God is the next big thing, not the movement! An emergent God demands that, as Brian Mclaren put it, everything must change, including our lives, the church, and the world. But this ground-truthing also acknowledges that everything—the expanding universe and God’s very being itself—is already changing. We discover our meaning and belonging, not ultimately through a like-minded cohort or titillating trend, but through our bodies and souls riding the wave of God’s emergence.

Mark Longhurst









From Teresa & the Curation Team: ALSO, you can ride this New Wave with us and post, share and spread A NEW WAVE BUTTON below. Mark, himself, helped this idea to manifest by coining the idea, via tweet and then this post, of riding this cosmic, mystic wave–of which we may all be a part of, all join in, but that the “we” of it are never the beginning and the end. God’s becoming in every age, in every movement, in every iteration of church, happens. We are living, as simple finite beings, amid this particular wave. Share this wave-oriented idea with others and share the button below. Then, if you wish, join in the conversation.










Stay Tuned Tomorrow for our 2nd Posting from contemplative-actioner & Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr! If you missed his first blog post on February 2nd, you can read it HERE now!

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