More thoughts on the Emerging Churches Movement

More thoughts on the Emerging Churches Movement August 7, 2011

First, is it even really a movement?  If so, it’s a very amorphous one!

Second, I strongly recommend that people wanting to discuss the ECM (or conversation or network or whatever you want to call the phenomenon) read this: Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger (Baker, 2005).  It’s the best book I know of on the ECM; it’s written on the basis of exhaustive research including extended interviews with leading emergent/emerging church leaders.

Today I will be on Doug Pagitt’s radio program out of Minneapolis.  I’m not sure what we will talk about, but I’m glad to be interviewed–especially if I can sneak in a word or two about my forthcoming book Against Calvinism! 🙂  Of course, most of you know Pagitt is a leader looked up to by many in the ECM.  I have been privileged to get to know him over the past several years.  We don’t see eye-to-eye on some things, but I appreciate his search for authenticity in contemporary Christianity and church life.

As Gibbs and Bolger make abundantly clear, the ECM is not monolithic; it is a movement made up of very different congregations with a few exemplary things in common.  I would say one of those is a determination to be authentic with Christianity and church life and to discard all that is merely traditional (“traditionalism”) and institutional (focus on survival for its own sake).

Gibbs and Bolger offer several brief, “nutshell” definition-descriptions of emerging churches.  Here is one: “emerging churches are missional communities arising from within postmodern culture and consisting of followers of Jesus who are seeking to be faithful in their place and time.” (p. 28)  Remember that no single definition-description is going to fit all emerging churches equally or in the same way.  And there are certainly non-ECM congregations that would fit that description.

The first congregation I remember reading about that was described as “emerging” or “emergent” was Minneapolis’ Spirit Garage.  (Google it!)  Spirit Garage began in the mid-1990s as a mission to Uptown by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.  There’s proof that SOME emerging churches are definitely rooted in the so-called “mainline” of American religion.  (However, I think there’s something anomalous about anyone involved in the ECM calling anything “mainline” because if being postmodern means anything it means rejecting the very idea of “mainline” anything.  “Mainline” is never a merely descriptive label; it always carries the connotation that what is so described is normative.)

Another early emergent church I encountered was House of Mercy which began at First Baptist Church of St. Paul (where I was a member for some years)–an American Baptist congregation.  House of Mercy eventually left that church and denomination and has since associated itself more (if anything) with the Presbyterian tradition community.  Like Spirit Garage, House of Mercy began in the mid-1990s and gained a lot of attention because of its willingness to experiment and embrace non-traditional forms of Christian life and worship.  It attracted many young (and not so young) Christians interested in the arts.

Then, of course, emergent churches exploded across the American and British landscape.  (I’m not implying that those two emerging churches were somehow the “originals” of which everything else is copy; I’m just saying I first became aware of the ECM through them.)

Many of my students have gone on to pastor or co-pastor or somehow lead emerging churches around the country.  I have spoken in a number of those and at retreats and gatherings of emerging church leaders and church planters.

One things is painfully obvious to anyone who knows much about the ECM: It is very difficult to generalize about these congregations.  As soon as you say anything about the movement as a whole you’ll encounter someone or something that doesn’t fit the description.  However, as Gibbs and Bolger helpfully point out, certain common features or family resemblances TEND to be true of MOST of these congregations and ministries.

Again, I strongly recommend that people interested in understanding what these common features and family resemblances are read Emerging Churches by Gibbs and Bolger.  (Yes, I know there are other books on this phenomenon, but I have found this one most helpful for now.)

I think there is a general fear among some observers that the ECM will fail to make the kind of impact it could have IF its leading spokespersons simply ally it too closely with already existing Christian movements whether conservative evangelical or so-called “mainline liberal” (or establishment progressive Christianity).  One of the promises of the ECM is to develop a form of Christianity and church life that is constantly and forever adaptable which implies frequent, ongoing internal examination and openness to especially internal critique.

One of the failures of traditional forms of Christianity is being closed to criticism and calls for change.  Conservative evangelicalism tends to be convinced it is already wholly right (or was at some point in the past).  It at least appears impervious to even internal constructive criticism of its traditions.  So-called mainline, progressive, liberal Christianity tends also to be convinced it is or has been wholly right–at least about its basic methods and approaches that have to do with adapting to modernity.

If the ECM offers anything new it has to be AT LEAST forging a third alternative (not necessarily a “via media”) to these “right” and “left” wings of contemporary Christianity.

Some emerging churches and leaders work out of a generally evangelical background.  Some work out of a generally so-called “mainline” background.  Hopefully, however, none of them will succumb to the temptation to align themselves too closely with the established hierarchies and traditions of these movements.  Hopefully they will keep a critical “distance,” as it were, and refuse even financial support from anyone who requires them to toe a party line.  Hopefully they will resist the subtle temptation even unconsciously to adopt the habits of either the “left” or the “right” of contemporary church life and thought.

I am of the opinion that SOME emerging churches and their leaders HAVE ALREADY succumbed to the temptation to develop a veneer of being different (avant garde, radical, etc.) while adopting the ways of conservative evangelicalism beneath the surface.  SOME others have succumbed to the same temptation with regard to so-called mainline, progressive, liberal Protestantism.  What I mean is, these emerging congregations (I’m not going to name them here–if the shoe fits, wear it or put it on someone you know!) LOOK very non-conformist but are actually very conformist in their beliefs and practices beneath the surface.  In other words, just wearing a certain kind of glasses and using PowerPoint during sermons and mouthing naughty words occasionally DOES NOT make you emergent!  Neither does adopting Celtic spirituality (whatever that is, exactly!) or worshiping in a dark space with scores of candles and a dozen TV monitors.  Being truly emergent MUST mean something more than these surface features put on top of either conservative or progressive foundations.  These CAN be present, of course, but what makes a congregation or mission or organization truly “emergent” MUST be below the surface at the deep level of commitment.

I would argue that one such commitment MUST be self-criticism and willingness frequently to change combined with rejection of hierarchical models of leadership or absolutizing of tradition or being new and different for their own sakes.  Another commitment MUST be rejection of modernity as the foundation or norm for belief and life and mission and service.  Both conservatives and progressives have (often unwittingly and even against their own intentions) adopted modernity as the cultural norm even for Christianity and church life.  What will that mean?  It must mean an openness to new things the Spirit of God wants to do among his people that do not fit the modern box.  It must mean a refusal of control, manipulation and orderliness.  It must mean a refusal to reduce Christianity to either doctrine or ethics and a determination to discover it as transformative spirituality that is not privatized or individualized.  It must mean attempts to discover the meaning of true community without confining structures, rules and protocols that put these before persons and relationships.

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  • Having recently read your posts on folk religion, I get a strange, deja vou feeling when I read your description of the “emerging churches.” Both are very hard to describe, and there is little on which to take a mental grip.

    Take for example this comment you make: “these emerging congregations … LOOK very non-conformist but are actually very conformist in their beliefs and practices beneath the surface.” That reminds me of the hippies or “flower children” who haunted the streets of Austin in the 1960s. They rejected all norms and all authority and dressed in various outlandish ways. The funny thing was that they were all conforming to the same non-conformist ideal. They were wearing a uniform. Heaven help you if you contradicted their belief in drugs, free sex, and the worthlessness of other ways of life.

    Even the name “emerging churches” implies a journey with no fixed destination. That is an un-biblical idea at heart. There is a God guiding history toward a conclusion of his choosing. His saving actions show purpose, not aimless wandering.

    Self-criticism and willingness to change are good things, up to a point. “Rejection of hierarchical models” might be okay in limited doses, but the church has a head, Jesus. And God is proclaimed to be the King of the ages, not a promoter of boundless egalitarianism.

    Again, I fail to see the value of this movement; perhaps it is just my own blindness. What accomplishments does it claim or do you claim for it? If it disappeared tomorrow, what would the specific loss be? I wait to hear of such firm ground in this land of theological mists.


    • rogereolson

      My description of “these emerging churches” (that you quote) was ONLY about those that are based on either conservative evangelical or liberal foundations with nothing else to offer other than experimentation in worship. I don’t think most emerging churches are guilty of that, but it’s hard to know because no one speaks for them all. One value of the movement I see is it is holding a lot of young people in church; without these emerging congregations they would not go to church at all because they are convinced, rightly or wrongly, that traditional churches lack authenticity (i.e., they do things just because that’s the way they’ve always done them or it’s traditional or whatever).

    • Dana Ames

      Perhaps someone familiar with the emerging/”Fresh Expressions” scene in England will care to comment on the value of it there, as they have been seriously involved for longer than US Christians have.

      From my observations, the value of the emerging church scene in this country has been the opening of space to ask questions that had previously been unspoken, or, when verbalized, squelched, ridiculed, or deemed at least borderline heretical. At least early on, people encountering these questions and ideas found themselves saying, “I’m not the only one who thinks that!” and sometimes, “I’m not crazy!”

      Even people who simply adopt superficial changes to their worship program are proceeding from a perceived need for change, even if it’s only to attract more people. For those who are more serious, it’s a time of re-evaluating, not merely to accommodate secularized culture or be “relevant”, but to be sure what’s been handed down in terms of doctrine and especially practice is actually worthy of embracing. If that “tradition” is not seen to be worthy, people are thinking about why – have we understood Jesus and scripture correctly? If not, what’s a better way of understanding? If so, how do we integrate it and live it out so that it is meaningful and has real significance in our lives now?

      It’s not surprising to me that the “leaders” arose when they were in their mid- to late 30s. Aware people start to re-evaluate their existential presuppositions around that time. And these Gen-X-ers seem to be more likely to actually do something, to change things at least for themselves, once they get a sense of direction. The first and most important thing to be done, if change is desired, is to create “space” where people can put their heads together and talk about things in a respectful (if sometimes heated) atmosphere.

      Unease and fluidity on a cultural level has been with us since post WW II; it was kind of simmering under the surface, but it didn’t really burst out until the late ’50s/early ’60s. It hit the church (about ten years behind everyone else) during the “Jesus Movement”. I think emerging church stuff is likewise in the wake of certain cultural awarenesses of a few years prior. I think it has overall been a good thing. Some people have wandered, questioned and come full circle to where they started, but with an expanded sensibility. Others have migrated up the liturgical ladder, going to Wittenberg, Canterbury, Rome or Constantinople, most for theological reasons even if they were initially drawn to the “smells and bells”. Others have suffered blows to their faith for various reasons, a significant number have left churches, and some have left Christianity.

      Is all of this good or bad? I think overall it’s good, because I think people are at least attempting to be honest. I think that’s very important to God. It’s very different from what has come before; the people drawn to God during the Jesus Movement and who have stayed loyal to Christ have pretty much been absorbed by “traditional” churches, and maybe these folks will be too, eventually, but it feels different. That could be a focus, a magnification of the sense of unease and change in our larger society. History will have to judge the bigger picture, and we’re not far enough out yet for the view.


  • Scott Gay

    Waited to comment so I wouldn’t be first, but can wait no longer.
    Dr. Olson’s has four “it must mean” at the conclusion of this post. Today I would like to focus on the first, ie a focus on the new things the Spirit of God wants to do among his people that do not fit in the modern box.
    The left and the right sense this shift. Dr. Harvey Cox in “The Future of Faith” claims we have already started an age of the Spirit. In “Jesus, Paul, and the Gospels” JDG Dunn’s last chapter is about the Church( and the emphasis is about unity with diversity). Cox supports his position by noticing a world-wide shift toward Pentecostalism. Wikipedia emphasizes 3 aspects to this movement- salvation, baptism in the Spirit and spiritual gifts. Dunn states Paul’s ecclesiology as trinitarian- Father(calling), Son(in Christ), and Spirit(the Spirit is at work to produce koinonia as fellowship and charisma as giftedness).
    Why is it the we, left or right, have to place the emphasis of the Spirit as giftedness? It is obvious that God, even in the infancy of the Church, used the gifts sparingly. It was for a greater purpose than this that they were all filled with the Spirit. Isn’t it for their fruits? And even these, that are so needed in this world of ours. I would like Dr. Olson to provide a history of our Church from the aspect of emphasis on the fruits of the Spirit.

    • rogereolson

      That’s a sizable challenge! What do you mean by “our Church?” Whose church? I’m a Baptist. In our ecclesiology (which I happen to think is the right one) there is no “our Church” except the local congregation of believers. Some Baptists (I include myself) will talk about a “universal church” of all true believers in and followers of Jesus Christ. But it would be quite impossible to provide its history in the way you call for. To those of us in the free, believers church tradition, “church history” is either the history of OUR congregation OR the histories of various Christian individuals and groups. There is no “the Church” as such.

  • Tony Springer

    Thanks for these and previous thoughts on the ECM, but would you define the term “movement” and a movement’s characteristics?

    • rogereolson

      It’s hard to define, but I know it when I see it! 🙂 I’d begin by saying a movement is a loose affiliation of diverse people with a common interest, purpose and vision for some kind of change.

      • Tony Springer

        Thanks for the response and also your 8/11 longer explanation. We may have a better definition of the opposite of a movement: dead. 🙂

  • Dan H,

    “Both conservatives and progressives have (often unwittingly and even against their own intentions) adopted modernity as the cultural norm even for Christianity and church life.”

    I’m not exactly certain here how this can be avoided. I’m not sure you can have any sort of Protestantism at all without the cultural norms of modernity. We have now, like it or not, what Peter Berger calls a ‘heretical imperative’. Self criticism and a willingness to frequently change are both fundamental parts of what modernity itself is. It’s the destruction of religious structures of plausibility that make these things possible.

    • rogereolson

      I suggest your read Stephen Toulmin’s excellent critique of modernity in Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity. Modernity was and is (in its dying gasps) much more than critique; it is an inflation of a certain kind of reasoning (foundationalism) with the hidden agenda to prop up and keep in place a social structure. Protestantism existed before modernity. And there have been and are Protestants virtually untouched by modernity (although remaining untouched by it for very long is almost impossible without becoming Amish!).

      • Dan H,

        Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll have to look into this. My training is as a historian and my focus was on early modern Spain and I think we are working from vastly difference definitions of ‘modernity’. It’s a highly contested term across disciplines. I’m not sure labeling it foundationalism is much better (I think it’s fare to say both Plato and Aristotle are implicated here and by extension much of the theology of the ancient and medieval church). Would positivism better describe this ‘inflation of a certain kind of reason’?

        • rogereolson

          I think of positivism (e.g., A. J. Ayer and Antony Flew) as an extreme form of foundationalism but perhaps its logical conclusion.

  • Gary Bebop

    To cite Joel Carpenter: “If it can’t be defined, perhaps it has no permanence.”

    But I want to know if it proclaims the revelation of God incarnate in Jesus Christ?

  • Personally, I hesitate to call these sorts of “coffee & candles” conservative evangelical churches “emergent” at all, though it’s not my place to judge. I think many of them were at one time part of the emergent conversation, but once so many of us decided to move on to deeper theological and philosophical waters, the ones who just wanted to do “hip” and “relevant” worship for Gen Xers (and now Millenials) slowly drifted away from the conversation. Now most are more like Mark Driscoll, who still sometimes gets erroneously categorized as “emergent”, but has openly repudiated the movement and all of us who aren’t as militantly Neo-Reformed and misogynistic as he is. Others who perhaps aren’t as extreme as Driscoll, still aren’t really emergent so much as merely Seeker Church 2.0.

    Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong, in my book, with doing experimental, culturally-contextual worship. But if it doesn’t penetrate any deeper than that, it’s not really emerging very far. And if people are merely seeing that and assuming that’s all there is to the emerging church, then they need to be informed that the bulk of the movement moved on from that particular aspect of the conversation a decade or more ago.

    • rogereolson

      It seems to me this always happens. As soon as a movement gains some “success” (notoriety, fame, attention) all kinds of people flock to it who have no real intention of engaging in its deeper impulses; they simply glom on to it and attempt to bask in its glow. This was true, for example, of the Jesus People movement of the early 1970s. Lots of people imitated Keith Green and Larry Norman, for example, but many of them were far from the radical vision those guys held out for a renewed Christianity. (I’m not endorsing Green or Norman or their messages here; I’m simply illustrating how these things tend to go.) So the task is to explicate as clearly and forcefully as possible the true, inner, deeper impulses of the ECM. Is there some at least minimal “essence” of it–in terms of some common core commitments? What are they? I’m not sure even the authentic ECM leaders/spokespersons agree on that–beyond a deep dissatisfaction with traditional church life in Britain and America and a search for authenticity in a new form of church life.

      • Is there some at least minimal “essence” of it–in terms of some common core commitments? What are they?

        That’s a big part of what I’ll be working on for my dissertation at Baylor. I did write a little bit of a response to that question on my blog a few years ago in this post (and even earlier in this one). Here is the relevant bit:

        What is it that makes one “emergent”, and what’s the point anyway? What’s our message, what are we hoping to accomplish? I’ve given some thought to this (and, again, I hope to write a follow-up post outlining this in more detail), and I think it is possible to identify a few unifying aspects of the emerging movement that nonetheless don’t limit or exclude the diversity among us. In good evangelical fashion I’ve boiled them down to three, semi-alliterated points:

        1. Kingdom: by this I mean a commitment to working on behalf of Christ and his Kingdom in this world (in all the various forms this can take). This would include terms like “missional” and “social justice”, as well as “evangelism”. Bottom line, is that I think all emergent folks are united by a passion to work for the good of the world on behalf of God. I think this can be a driving purpose of our efforts without unnecessarily narrowing or limiting the emerging movement in a way that excludes any who want to be a part of it.

        2. Convergence: rather than being sectarian, or claiming (as most other reform movements have done in the past) that we alone finally have figured out the right way to be Christians and do church, the emerging conversation is described by what many have called a deep ecclesiology – a commitment to honor and serve and learn from the church in all her forms. As Doug Pagitt put it once, we don’t want to define ourselves by what we’re are not. Rather, we want to define ourselves by what we’re kinda like – Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Anabaptist, Anglican, Pentecostal, Reformed, Evangelical, Liberal, whatever. While we have critiques of all of these, we also embrace all of these as well. We’re not an opposition movement, we’re an inclusion and renewal movement.

        3. Conversation: by this I mean the relational aspect of this movement – we are bound together, despite (and really, in celebration of) any differences, by a simple commitment to be in relationship with one another. The emerging church is a safe place, a place to ask the questions, to explore theology, try new practices, and pursue God in both new and ancient ways without fear of condemnation or exclusion. The only requirement is that you have to likewise be willing to extend this safety and respect to others yourself. That doesn’t mean we minimize or cover over our differences, quite the contrary, we celebrate and learn from them. All it means is that no matter our differences, love wins.

        BTW, these sorts of emphases certainly haven’t been kept secret by emergent folks over the years. For instance, Emergent Village has had similar “Values & Practices” posted at their website for over half a decade now. So when folks say they’re not sure what the emerging movement is all about or whether we have any core commitments, a part of me wonders whether they’ve really been paying any attention at all.

        • rogereolson

          Okay, but what about the fact that numerous individual congregations call themselves “emerging” or “emergent” and have little or nothing to do with Emergent Village? Or am I just mistaken about that? It seems that way to me. Does Emergent Village speak for the entire movement and all its parts? Or is EV one influential organization seeking to provide some direction to an otherwise quite amorphous movement? As for your three unifying points… Over the years (I’ve lived a long time) I’ve run into many churches that would subscribe to those and even highlight them as crucial to their identity–even in the ways you describe them. I’m thinking back, for example, to two particular congregations I knew well (long ago–in the 1980s). One was University Baptist Church of Minneapolis. The other was Covenant Baptist Church of Houston. As I recall, both congregations promoted those three ideals even if they stated them somewhat differently. Both congregations advertised themselves as “liberal churches.” I won’t speak for Brandon; his question(s) might be different, though I think we are inquiring along similar lines. My question is: IF these three principles or ideals are THE hallmarks of the ECM, how does it differ from older, liberal (I don’t use that term pejoratively in this case), mainline churches that proudly promoted themselves (and some still do) as Kingdom-centered, inclusive, diverse, eclectic and conversational? All that was required for membership (MEMBERSHIP!) in one of those churches (and perhaps both) was agreement to “go on a spiritual journey” together with the people of the congregation. I know some folks who call themselves emergent or emerging who agree with those principles but want to fill them out with more specificity and add other things to them and who are very uncomfortable with sheer inclusiveness. So my question remains, just for me if not anyone else: What do ALL the emergent/emerging churches and their leaders have in common? Is it perhaps the case that there are really TWO ECMs that are diverging from each other–one closer in ethos to the liberal, so-called mainline churches and the other closer in ethos to evangelicalism?

          • I’m sure you know as well as I do that Emergent Village is but one segment of the broader emergent movement. I was not, however, offering EV as the definitive voice, but simply as one example of a significant group of emergents who have in fact attempted to put some definition to the movement. Again, to say that it is merely “amorphous,” and thus, by implication, lacking in substance or significance, seems to be a cop out for those who can’t be bothered to look at what we have in fact been saying about what defines us.

            Regarding the churches you mentioned that displayed my three characteristics back in the 80’s – that doesn’t surprise me at all. It’s entirely possible, even likely, that they were simply “emerging” back before that terminology existed. I mean, it’s not like self-identified “emergents” have ever claimed to have the corner on the broader trend of emergence in the church. I encounter churches and individuals all the time who just are emergent, even though they would never know to call themselves that. Such churches, even the mainline ones, are not merely “liberal” in the classical sense of the word, but are, as with evangelical emergents, more postmodern. (Indeed, as I’m sure you know, Constructive theologians working within the mainline tradition – not to mention post-liberals like Hauerwas as well as the Radical Orthodoxy folks – have been interacting with postmodern ideas for quite some time now, and thus should not be dismissed as merely “modernist liberals.” Philip Clayton at Claremont is probably one of the best current examples of this Constructive Theology that I know of.) Perhaps those two Baptist churches called themselves “liberal” simply because they didn’t have any better language for their emergent/postmodern tendencies at the time.

            So if some mainline churches mirror the kind of values that emergents also lift up, I don’t think that means emergents are “merely liberal,” so much as it simply points to the fact that emergence Christianity is a broader phenomenon than just those who self-identify as emergent. At the same time, just because we share some of these same values with older mainline churches, that doesn’t necessarily mean we are the same in every respect. For instane, when I ask my mainline friends what they see the emerging church bringing to their own context that is new and different,they often point to the way emergents put some real passion and action behind what mainliners often only pay lip service to. (That, in my opinion, stems from the “Kingdom” part of my three characteristics – a passion to actively advance the Kingdom of God in the world, not just fund committees and pass denominational resolutions about it as mainliners are often wont to do.) It is our prioritization of mission, and thus the relativization of all other forms, polities, liturgies, etc. in service of that mission, that they find most helpful in addressing the stagnation many of their churches face. (Which also relates to my second point about “Convergence” – emergents are much more willing than the average mainliner to mix and match practices and methods and ideas from many different traditions instead of insisting that particular denominational distinctives must reign supreme).

            My mainline friends also point to the fact that while emergents often affirm similar values and theologies as “liberal” Christians, many of emergents (especially us post-evangelical types) are arriving at them from very different starting points. For instance, many of us emergents are embracing theologies of liberation and social justice, or revised understandings of Hell, or gender and/or sexual orientation inclusivity, or more flexible and contextualized biblical hermenuetics, not through the old modernist (I like to say Spongian) approach of simply throwing out the Bible or historic Christian doctrines whenever they don’t appear to fit with Enlightenment rationalism. Instead, we have arrived at these convictions by returning to the Bible and to the historic doctrines of the church, and understanding them in a fresh way. N.T. Wright and the New Perspective, for instance, has been particularly revolutionary for many of us who believe that the Bible actually does point one to a more inclusive, grace-filled, and justice-oriented faith. Perhaps one could call it a kind of “evangelical liberalism” – a “liberalism” that is based on the Bible. Most emergents (or at least post-evangelical ones like myself) are simply not as concerned with all those rationalist, anti-supernaturalist critiques of Christianity that so motivates more modernist liberal folks like Borg or Crossan or whomever.(See, for instance, my review of Marcus Borg’s recent foray into McLaren-style theological fiction.)

            As for your final question about whether there are two emerging church movements, I’d say there are at least that many, and probably many more. There are likely as many emerging churches as there are contexts that they are emerging from. Nevertheless, I do think the three characteristics I identified are more or less common to emergents from both evangelical and mainline backgrounds. However, I’d also add that fewer and fewer folks who still wish to self-identify as evangelicals are also willing to self-identify as emergents. This is not to say that they are not still emergent in their own way, but simply that they hesitate to be identified with the broader movement, mostly because they think some others of us have gone “too far” in our theological opinions. Thus some formerly emergent evangelicals like Mark Driscoll are now openly hostile to the movement, while other more moderate and progressive evangelicals (guys like Scot McKnight, Dan Kimball, Erwin McManus, Andrew Jones, etc.) have simply quietly slipped away and started doing their own stuff under a new label (like the Origins Project). These folks are still “emergent” in that original “change the methods but not the message” sort of way that was big back in the late 90’s, but no longer want to be explicitly associated with the term. I still consider this latter group to be emergent however, inasmuch as they still mostly reflect the three characteristics I listed above, and, more importantly, since they are still friends with and in conversation with the rest of us. It’s the ethos and the relationships that matter, not the label. However, at the same time, one should understand that this whole trend of disassociation means there are fewer and fewer self-identified evangelical emergents out there all the time. Those of us still interested in calling ourselves emergent generally tend to be either mainline emergents, or else post-evangelical emergents like myself who no longer care whether we will be accepted within the broader evangelical world (and there are a LOT of us in that latter group – more and more everyday in my experience.)

            Hope that helps clarify.

          • rogereolson

            By “amorphous” I simply meant lacking clear definition. To some extent every movement is amorphous–some more than others. I certainly didn’t mean lacking significance.

          • Good to know. Thanks for clarifying. The ECM is certainly diverse, and perhaps lacking a singular definition. That, however, doesn’t mean we lack anydefinition. The lack of clarity, I think, perhaps stems from the diversity of what is going on, not from the failure of emergents to state some of their values and convictions clearly.

  • Thomas S. Gay III

    The second “must mean” in Dr. Olson’s more thoughts on ECM is “a refusal of control, manipulation, and orderliness”.
    To be succinct, especially younger men are attracted to reformed theology for these very reasons. The Charismatic movement that evolved in the late 20th century espoused these “must means”, but one could give cases where it was not true to its goals. These “must means” will bring out opponents who at least think anarchy in the back of their minds.

  • [Dana Ames says: Perhaps someone familiar with the emerging/”Fresh Expressions” scene in England will care to comment on the value of it there . . .]

    Hi Dana. Good point. There are now thousands of “Fresh Expressions” in the UK, using the fresh expressions terminology which used to be “emerging church”. Many of these are supported by the Methodist and Anglican churches and there are many others that are not connected to FE but are still emerging churches. The UK scene changes the picture slightly so its good to have it in the mix for the sake of a balanced perspective.

    BUt i would add that the UK scene does not always precede the USA. I witnessed and participated in many emerging church experiments in the 1980’s in USA, Europe and Australia, many of which (in particular the monastic communities) are still running today.

  • Scott Gay

    Roger Olsen’s third “must mean” on thoughts about emerging is ” a refusal to reduce Christianity to doctrine or ethics, and a determination to discover it as transformative and not privatized or individualized.”

    I admit to prefer an ethical rather than evangelical description. I wish I knew which stream this places me. To try to be brief, sharing the gospel doesn’t seem as contagious to me as a life lived in relationship with the Holy Spirit and the subsequent fruits.