What are Emerging’s advantages?

What are Emerging’s advantages? March 3, 2008

(Say the Jesus Creed morning and evening during Lent.)
Greetings Scot,
I was one of your students at Trinity Evang Div School… Although my leanings are not emerging/emergent, I want to be fair, honest, and even-handed as I share on the emerging/emergent movement. My questions are these:
1) Could you (or your blog responders) share what you all consider to be the strengths of the emerging/emergent movement?

2) What would you want me to share with other pastors about this movement?
Thanks for any consideration you might give to this.

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  • Cam

    Not too sure about being the first, nonetheless, I’ll jump straight in:
    Emergent’s strengths:
    1. epistemological humility – a willingness to reconsider ‘how do you know?’ after the collapse of foundationalism;
    2. ecclesiological adaptability – a vision of the postmodern west as a culture (or rather fragmented collection of tribal sub-cultures) in which the church is increasingly ineffective;
    3. eschatological immediacy – faithful living in the inaugurated kingdom subverts the status quo, and addresses the ethical, economic and ecological crises of our time and place.
    Not sure if this does justice to the depth and breadth of the movement, but these are the central issues I see being addressed.
    What ‘non-emergents’ should know:
    1. there’s no need to be threatened, and not everyone needs to become emergent.
    2. emergent is essentially a renewal movement. It doesn’t pretend to be the church, but certainly offers considerable resources to the church.
    For what it’s worth…

  • evan

    Cam’s comments are a great summary of what is good about the ec. I would add:
    #1–The EC is in no way monolithic. I know this is obvious to those inside the conversation, but many outside aren’t aware of this.
    #2–There are definitely more theologically radical strands of thought floating around, but see point #1. If someone says “I’m emerging” that doesn’t necessarily put them in that camp.
    #3–Since you are talking to pastors, I would say these two points come together to say, “Talk to those around you who are emerging before coming to any conclusions because you never know what you are going to get!”

  • Diane

    I would echo Cam’s thoughts. I see the emerging church’s strengths as:
    DOING: A huge emphasis on walking the walk as well as talking the talk, helping others, reaching out into the community, meeting people where they are.
    ENERGY (this goes back to Cam’s comment about renewal.)
    JESUS PASSION: A focus on Jesus rather than theology. Getting to the heart of the faith rather than caught up in details. Loving Jesus with a passion that makes it possible to push aside conventions
    SELF-AWARENESS:I personally have not seen a movement so concerned taking care not to be alienating or overbearing towards outsiders. Compassionate relationship seen as expressing Jesus’ truth more fully than cold facts.
    ADAPTABILITY: not being straight-jacketed by “how we’ve always done things.” A willingness to learn.
    HUMILITY: A willingness to acknowledge the errors of the Christian Church.

  • Since this response is directed to from someone who attended Trinity, I would say that one of the strengths of the emerging movement is that they respect and embrace other Christians who don’t hold to inerrancy. Of course, the second I say that, I recognize there are about six different versions of inerrancy out there. But, nonetheless, I think that’s a strength for Christ’s church at large–given the “battles” and bickering in the previous generations.

  • One of the reasons the emerging and emergent church has grown is because it offers a critique of conservative, traditional churches that is very valid. This has offered an attractive haven for those who feel disillusioned or misfit within the traditional evangelical American churches.
    The danger here is that emerging pastors often err on the side of hostility and angry rhetoric instead of gracious disagreement. I would love to have emerging church pastors hear that message.

  • Scot,
    I am so excited about the movement.
    I have just bought four books about it.
    I have bought Brian McLaren’s new book “Everything Must Change”.
    Dan Kimballs book, “The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations.”
    Brian McLaren & Tony Campolo’s book: “Adventures in Missing The Point”.
    “The Church In Emerging Culture: Five Perspective” Edited by Leonard Sweet.
    I really have loved Dan Kimball’s book because it is so practical and tells you where this generation in Spiritually.
    I think Pastors think nothing has changed that we can do church the way we have always done it. We can have “Seeker Friendly Services” like we have always done and we don’t need change.
    I think alot of Pastor’s see the Emerging Church as just a fad.
    I see the emerging church as a real missional opportunity. I am excited about. I am changing the way I completely do ministry. I believe other ministers and Pastors don’t want to because they have been taught a certain way, they are comfortable, and they just want to continue “playing church.”
    I love what Dan Kimball says in his book. He says, “While many of us have been preparing sermons and keeping busy with the internal affairs of our churches, something alarming has been happening on the outside. What once was a Christian nation with Judeo-Christian worldview is quickly becoming a post-Christian nation, unchurch, unreached nation. New generations are arising all around us without any Christian influence. So we must rethink virtually everything we are doing in our ministries.”
    Dan’s books is a sounding call to true, vintage change that will affect this generation for Jesus Christ. We as ministers and pastors have to be open and willing to implument the change necessary to be missional.
    I think it is an exciting time.
    Thank you Scot for addressing this topic. I hope that College Professors will understand and see this as something more than just a fad and start teaching it to their future pastors.

  • One thing I’ve noticed as a strength is that spiritual transformation is easier when you’re in an environment that is safe. It seems to me that emergers do a good job of creating space and time where people feel accepted vs. the fundementalist mind control that many of us grew up in.
    Our problem however is that if we (emergers) don’t have a boundary of orthodoxy it doesn’t help all that much to have acceptance.

  • Many of the strengths of the emerging church movement have been mentioned previously. Here are my two simplistic thoughts:
    1. The emerging church recognizes that the culture in North America has changed. There are a lot of debates about postmodernity, but there is no question that NA is post-Christian. Emerging’s major strength is that they recognize a change in culture and want to respond to it. As McLaren says in The Church on the Other Side, “If you have a new world, you need a new church. You have a new world.”
    2. Another strength is that most in emerging view the church as the answer. Although the form of church may be very different, the church is still central in the plans of God.
    Now the 2nd question, what would you tell a pastor, is very important. Here are my thoughts:
    1. Tell pastors that the emerging church movement is very diverse. This is highlighted well in Scot’s previous posts “Mapping

  • Sorry…I hit submit before I was finished. Let me try “what to tell a pastor” again:
    1. Tell pastors that the emerging church movement is very diverse. This is highlighted well in Scot’s previous posts “Mapping the Church Today.”
    2. Encourage pastors to seriously consider the theology being promoted in the emerging church. To do this, some may want to back up and read missional church literature (Van Gelder, Bosch, Newbigin) for a real theology of mission.
    3. Warn pastors not to “cut and paste” emerging church practices into their local church. The emerging church is very against the modern tendency to “cut and paste” church models. Unfortunately, many emerging church books promote the same mentality. I love Kimball’s stuff, but to write a book with worship diagrams (including how rooms should be arranged), series outlines, etc., etc., is tempting the church to “cut and paste.”
    4. Warn pastors against what Eugene Peterson calls “ecclesiastical pornography” in Under the Unpredictable Plant. That is, pastors read books about cutting edge and successful churches that are doing amazing things and they get tempted to leave their own church. Peterson promotes long-term pastorates that are willing to help people change, even if it takes years. Again, publishing books with so many success stories does create a temptation for “ecclesiastical pornography.” In fact, I think one of the best things pastors can do is read emerging church books alongside Peterson’s series on being a pastor. They sometimes go in different directions, but are so helpful together.

  • Pastors and the Church as a whole must get our of their comfort zone. We must realize and understand that God has not called us to comfort but to take up our crosses and to make disciples.

  • T

    Completely agree with several of the above comments.
    Some more “strengths” (and there are plenty of weaknesses, too, hopefully discussed here soon too?)–
    Emergers frequently care primarily (if not exclusively) about what results from our various theologies and church practices, particularly what kind of people are typically produced by such things. There’s a strong current of “Wisdom is shown to be right by her offspring”. If the people formed by our message and practice don’t live out Jesus’ teachings, we conclude we’ve missed or skewed something theologically and/or methodologically. (We tend to view strong intra-faith divisions as evidence of this, for example.) We tend to take formational results as the main test of our orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
    Emergers tend to think God’s offer and plan through Christ is more about spreading a “good infection” of Jesus on earth for its functional and practical and ultimate good, than it is about getting people into heaven when they die. Radical and tangible horizontal reconciliation is a necessary part of vertical reconciliation. We think of the world as a ‘God-claimed, God-invaded place’ rather than a God-forsaken one. I guess what one thinks God offers the world through Christ will determine whether one thinks this a “strength” or not! Emergers tend to think the offer is discipleship to Jesus, worked out in community, for everyone’s good, in this life and the next.
    Since we think we all have bias (even the most gifted), we prefer communal decision making and leadership to more efficient models of oligarchy, though we care more here too about results than form.
    I hope that helps.

  • go to amazon and buy The New Christians by Tony Jones, in the first 4 chapters he answers your questions, quite in-depth.

  • thanks all, this is helpful. I have been kind of out of touch with the church world for a few years since I left my last pastorate. As the father of 4 young adults and two son-in-laws, I have been busy trying to help them become comitted followers of Jesus and to learn to “be” and “Do” the church rather than just “go” to church.
    I found along the way that much of my thinking has changed. I intensively re-read the gospels and “deconstructed” my understanding of the person and work of Jesus…and studied and submitted my heart to his imperative teachings and then passed them along to my kids generation.
    When I finally started hearing about the emerging church and read a few books, I was surprised to find that I had “emerged” into a new understanding of the gospel through the leading of the Holy Spirit in tension with practical app. in the world among young people. I found most of what the emerging church people were saying to be congruent with my own journey… but I had arrived there on my own.
    It always encourages me when I see people following the H.S. on converging trails … headed in the same or similar direction. Pope John XXIII, like St. Paul, had great confidence in the ability of the Holy Spirit to lead his people.

  • Another good book on the topic, specifically on the “Emergent” stream of the movement, is An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, edited by Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones, but contains chapters by a bunch of emergent leaders. One that I think speaks to this question really well (though not directly) is Tim Condor’s chapter “The Existing Church/Emerging Church Matrix.”
    Hope this helps. Thanks!

  • well, one advantage is they are not typically fundamentalist in mindset.

  • Jeff

    Thanks to each of you who have answered. Thanks also to Dr. Scot M. for allowing my question to appear on his blog. When teaching on this topic, I will share the insights that you all (and hopefully others to yet write) have offered.
    God’s grace to each of you,

  • what is the difference between the ’emerging’ movement and the ‘missional’ movement? Are they overlapping? Are they saying the same things? As far as missional, I am thinking of people like Alan Hirsch and Neil Cole, as well as some of the simple church people.

  • Steve

    Thanks for the thoughts. I’m an Army Chaplain considering emergent isues, and what appears to be qn appeal to pomo generations, particularly since >60% of my context will always be 17-29. I understand that an emphasis on genrations is passe, but my situation requires a look at ministry to a younger target. I just came from Seattle and Acts 29 Conference and the New Conspirators Conference. Both sides of that EC theological spectrum had a twentysomething feel to it. Have any of you seen books or research that show or deny a preference of twentysomethings toward emergent?

  • I’m no expert, but I see the missional church movement as providing the theological foundation of the emerging church movement. When you get into emerging literature (take for example, Kimball’s The Emerging Church and Gibbs and Bolger’s Emerging Churches), and you see the dependence upon missional theologians (Newbigin, Bosch, Donovan, Guder, etc).
    The missional church basically promotes the theology that God is a missional God and the church is a missionary people (John 20:21: As the Father sent me, so I’m sending you). However, because we live in a post-Christian world, we must move “from sending to being sent” (to use Guder’s words). Emerging church has taken this theology and applied a lot of practice to it.

  • This is just a little side comment…
    Steve in #18,
    I wish you had a blog 🙂 I would love to hear more about what it was like to experience both the Acts 29 conference and the New Conspiritors conference – they were held just miles apart, but seem worlds away from each other in so many ways.

  • I have posted extensively and tried to look at some of these comments on my blog. Check them out if you’d like.

  • Diane

    I would agree with Taylor’s comment that the emerging church (often) provides a safe environment, especially for people who do not fit in with a cookie-cutter Christianity.
    As for books on emerging, while I think that it’s good to read, many people don’t have time for books (I say this as a person who does read, but the reality I’ve noticed is that I’m more of an exception.) I think it’s vital that we be able to explain emerging without telling people they need to read books and books to understand it, especially as you can’t, imo, really get it from a book. I think emerging can scare and misinform people if all you do is read books without actually experiencing the reality of it. If people really want to understand emerging, they need to read the Bible, imho, and go to emerging churches.

  • Thoughts on the Emerging Movement – Part 1 « Community of the Risen

    […] 3, 2008 · No Comments Over at Jesus Creed, there is an important conversation going on about the emerging church. In theconversation, they are attempting to explain the strengths of the emerging movement to those outside the circle. I want to synthesize the first few responses here to explain some of my critiques of the emerging church (although I am very sympathetic to such a movement). […]

  • Cam

    Steve (#18), perhaps you could contact me cameronjwest[-]gmail[-]com? I’m a chaplaincy candidate with the Australian Army, and would love to compare notes.

  • Steve

    All, Thanks for the nice welcome to the site. Cam, I’d love to talk about Australian military chaplaincy and will email you, in fact, I’d like to be the first “exchange” chaplain with Australia ☺!
    Jennifer, you are absolutely right, the two conferences were miles away yet worlds apart. I attended all of Acts 29 and was only able to pop into very first of New Conspirators, and intend to order the rest by CD if they make it available. Although theologically I’m close to A29, I found the warmth and love of community of New Conspirators contagious.
    A hypothesis that started to grow while in Seattle was this: Is the emergent church approaching a phase of intense classic liberal vs. conservative fighting? I repeatedly saw the dichotomy between a heavy doctrine and communicate Gospel through truth emphasis in the “conservative” A29 and heavy methodology and communicate Gospel through love emphasis in the “liberal” new conspirators. Unfortunately, it became caustic and personal at points. This seems to be like what I understand the theology doctrine v. methods fights of the early 20th century to have been like.
    Part of my concern comes from my experience as a chaplain endorsed by a Fundamentalist denomination. While I mostly favor that organization’s doctrinal position, they also have a pugilistic DNA that sees a new potential opponent around every corner. That turns me off. That DNA was formed in exceedingly hard fights for the fundamentals of orthodoxy in the early 20th century, and is still apparent today. I was starting to sense that same fighting DNA, while at A29. Of course that easily could be my imagination at my first encounter with an A29 conference.

  • The initial posts did a great job of summarizing. I would also want to include a missional outlook or worldview. I personally don’t see the missional writings and work to be a movement (sociologically). It is not organized enough to be an actual movement. However, I would qualify the emerging church as a movement (another example would be Promise Keepers). we have had this debate for decades in our faith tradition because we have taken a self-designation of a “Reformation Movement” but we have ceased being a movement decades ago and should be called a denomination as we do have (sociological markers) a self-perpetuating organization and unifying, doctrinal positions (although admittedly this is still very loose) that serve as self-identifiers. The emergent movement although it has several common descriptors does not have a uniform code of belief (i.e. “We believe…”) and everyone says, “Amen!” 🙂
    In Christ,
    Mark Eb.

  • thanks Mark… can you tell me a little more about what constitutes the difference between a movement and a denomination? From the sociology point of view?
    by-the-way, you are not Mark Ebersole are you? an old friend of mine from Ohio days?

  • I think another trait of the emergent movement that is viewed as a strength by some and perhaps a glaring weakness by others is *the rejection of violence* (war) as a way to wage world transformation. There seems to be a Jesus-based pacifism among emergents. Am I correct in this observation?

  • that is my impression as well, although more fundamentally, there seems to be a rethinking of almost all of evangelicalisms moral polemics and political polarizations.
    It seems to me, from my limited reading (I have not had the opportunity to attend any emerging events) that the spokespersons of the emerging movement are trying to move away from an adversarial relationship with the secular world and engage in constructive dialogue. Fundamentalism was clearly a reaction to modernism. One might say that Evangelicals modified their reaction and became more accomadating to modernism but now are reacting to the whole ocmplex of “post- isms”. The Emerging church, as I understand it, is attempting to avoid a reactionary response to post-modernism and to dialogue with secular post-modernists. Nevertheless, there is a danger of the Emerging people reacting to the Evangelical church.
    Although they may occasionally go overboard, I find the emerging tendency to engage post-moderns in conversation to be very refreshing … if I am wrong on any of this, please feel free to correct me.

  • MattR

    Many good thoughts already, but here’s my 2cents…
    1. Advantages…
    Missional- not just in ecclesiology (as some have mentioned), but also in theology. In other words, if you are seriously trying to embody God’s mission in the world, you will also begin to ask serious questions about your theology… Things come to the surface (even long held beliefs thought to be ‘absolute’) as you begin to notice how previous cultural engagements have shaped our theology.
    Gospel shaped- There has been a strong re-focus in emerging circles on Jesus and the Gospel narratives… trying to understand and live the Gospel not just through our theological formulas, but going to the Man himself.(see for example even some of the conversation on this site!)
    Re-forming- Because of the first two, emerging communities are trying to be church in a different way… This takes many shapes, as people try to incarnate the Gospel in differnt contexts. However, what most of us have in common is a stronger emphasis on the ‘center’ of community (spiritual practices/disciplines, radical gospel living/loving God & neighbor), and less on the ‘boundaries’ (doctrinal purity/agreement, evangelical sub-culture, political party).
    2. I would tell pastors…
    Don’t be afraid- This movement DOES have historical roots.. and they aren’t neccesiarly classically ‘liberal.’ One can see ties to reform and missions movements throughout church history (even before the reformation). Some even see this as just moving forward with what seemed to eventualy stall in the Jesus Movement of the 70s. (except with more theological engagement)
    You cannot ignore cultural shift- Beyond whether one agrees with all of the outcomes or not, listen to this as a prophetic conversation… the church has been on ‘cruise control’ for a few years, it’s time to wake up and realize we are not in control of culture anymore (if we ever really were). And much of how ‘traditional’ Christianity lives faith, does church, reads the Bible, etc. has been formed by a world that is transitioning. This presents challenges and amazing opportunity. And I believe that what some of us emerging types are doing may well BE what church is in a few years (5? 10? 20? Only time will tell). And on an even more fundamental level, the call of the Gospel is the call to live incarnationaly.
    Emerging is not a monolithic movement- There is not a consensus in theology or practice… like the name says, things right now are ’emerging.’ So anyone that broadbrushes it, will likely miss the point.

  • I agree that one cannot ignore cultural shifts (as opposed to culture fads) and I also agree that the in many respects the emerging church is picking up where the Jesus movement left off.

  • Jose,
    My education is mainly theological. The markers that I mentioned came from Church of God history/theology course in seminary. One class we had a sociology professor share about faith tradition’s self-designation (which uses sociological terms – ie movement). So he shared that from sociological perspective we resemble a denomination. The main markers were an organization that exists to perpetuate itself (institution) and an established doctrinal position. An organization that exists to perpetuate itself (whether that is it’s primary or secondary function) is a marker of a movement and a denomination. However, only the denomination creates a distinct doctrinal position that identify it as separate from other like religious groups.
    Emergent has definitely become a movement as I get periodic requests for financial support as well as the encouragement to support the movement through participation. Emerging churches in the larger sense don’t seem to me to be a movement as much as a trend (probably a transitional trend which is what I see the phenomenom that we call postmodernity). The Promise Keepers and Women of Faith were used as examples in the class of current movements (their doctrinal position is not intended to show how they are unique but to show how they fit into Christian orthodoxy).
    On a different note, I found Gibbs and Bolger’s book, “Emerging Churches,” to be a helpful distinguisher of what makes up an emerging church based on fairly extensive (although not comprehensive) research.
    In Christ,
    Mark Eb.

  • Diane

    I’ve noticed too the Jesus-based (not reason-based) rejection of violence as an important strand in emerging (though certainly not universal). Again, this is not a “new” idea but hearkens back to the pre-Enlightenment peace churches: the Quaker, Church of the Brethren, etc. and to the earliest Christian Church. Some have pointed out that “just war” theory emanates from the Islamic tradition. The problem is to tease the Jesus-based peace testimony from the secular/liberal “war doesn’t make sense” initiative.

  • MattR

    I too agree that emergers are often lean towards non-violence. I would connect this with the emphasis on returning to a Kingdom view of Gospel.

  • thanks Mark.
    Would it also be fair to say that in the emerging movement there is a primary emphasis on the kingdom of God, and the teachings of Jesus, particularly the sermon on the mount, and possibly less emphasis on the church, especially from the Pauline perspective?

  • Cam

    I’m not normally one to make repeated comments, but have enjoyed the interaction in this thread. I’ve been known for tangential comments before (sorry Scot), and hope not to hijack this post, but would like to raise two related issues.
    On the variety and strengths (and weaknesses) of emergence:
    I see the variety/varieties of emergence(s) as both inherent to the movement, and a strength. I see it simply as an outworking of what I called ‘ecclesiological adaptability’ where there is a renewed effort at intentional cultural contextualisation, or, the cliched (but still my preferred) term ‘incarnational’. Hence, a number of descriptions are rooted in a North American context — addressing the liberalist-fundamentalist episode, and the seeker-sensitive/mega-church movement — and not directly relevant for other contexts, such as my own in Australia.
    An interesting treatment of this variety, even just in North America, is found in Robert Webber’s Listening to the beliefs of Emerging Churches. The editing book demonstrates Webber’s characteristic insight and charity (something other authors writing about emergence could learn from), though beliefs, per se, are not the defining characteristic of the movement as a whole, or most of its sub-branches.
    On politics and pacifism in emergence:
    I see this as a particularly strong concern in the US because of that context’s preoccupation with the question of church-state relations. Hence, John’s comment (#28) recognising the variety of positions. I’d be surprised if the variety of positions on politics and peace within emergence didn’t reflect the variety of positions within Christianity, but equally that they are argued in a way that reflects the significance of this issue with the culture. I would love for someone — Scot? — to dedicate a full post to this issue.
    Thanks for the discussion.

  • Dianne P

    Finally finishing up NT Wright’s book, *Surprised by Hope*, and this part (p. 238) struck me as descriptive of emerging…
    “Jesus calls his followers to a new mode of knowing. I have written elsewhere about what I call an epistemology of love. We have traditionally thought of knowing in terms of subject and object and have struggled to attain objectivity by detaching our subjectivity. It can’t be done, and one of the achievements of postmodernity is to demonstrate that.”

  • My apologies for the following blog clog. I kept it as short as possible for a theologically savvy audience, considering that emergence is like Old Entish: “It takes a loong time to say anything in oooold … Entish. And we never say anything … unless it is worth taking a looong … time to say.”
    As a student of cultural systems and change, I come at emergence from a different angle. For me, the strength is not about a certain set of revised theological beliefs or practices, because I may or may not agree on this or that variation on the theme of emergence. It’s about something far deeper that may be the underlying commonality among the many expressions within the movement. I see the overall strength of emergence being the way its people think: *Those who are “emerging” grapple to use systems approaches for processing information, experiences, and relationships, and for acting in organically consistent ways with their conclusions.*
    From this core processing come the movement’s values, theology/philosophy, strategies, structures, methodological models, and lifestyle practices. Many of these aspects go quite counter to the standard faith and practice, but that’s understandable, given that their core ways of processing represent a radical break with those of the past. Their processing is integrative instead of analytic, systems instead of systematic, presence instead of pragmatic.
    So, if we are to understand this movement, offer constructive critiques at any level from processing to practices, and see where gaps in our own perspectives require some “spiritual spackle” that emerging people can provide — then we must create our own sidebar curriculum to learn about systems-related ways of processing. This will include technical topics like: paradigms, paradox, complex systems, organic concepts, parallax, decentralization, integration, discontinuity, fractal processes, cultural contextualization (it isn’t just a missional concept!), consilience, etc. — and how they mesh or conflict with appropriate hermeneutics for interpreting Scripture.
    I realize that for most of us, that probably does not sound like fun. But the reason for doing it anyway is that “emergence” is not just some little church-based movement. This shift to systems thinking is a major global phenomenon. Emerging/Emergent are some of our pioneers in this shift, even when we don’t like the land they are exploring or the findings they send back home. So, if we don’t grapple ourselves with this shift and its implications, we’ve basically decided to ignore the present and future context in which our churches find themselves. In that case, we shouldn’t be surprised if we end up dissolving into a passively irrelevant past, instead of emerging into a providentially preferable future …

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  • Michael

    There doesn’t seem to be anything redeeming about the emerging movement. Sigh.