What Is Emergent's Charism to the Church?

What Is Emergent's Charism to the Church? April 27, 2010

Yesterday, I posted about the Lifecycle(s) of Emergence(s), on the same day that two important items were posted online:

  1. The full roster of speakers at TransFORM East (which looks absolutely amazing and makes me wish I could attend), and
  2. The announcement that Gareth Higgins has been appointed the director of the Wild Goose Festival, slated for June, 2011 (which I will be attending).

Let those serve as Exhibits T & U in the emergent-is-not-dead trial.

That being said, let’s start a meme in advance of these two events about what the emergent/-ing church has to offer the broader church.  Specifically, I wonder what you think is emergent’s charism?

I’ll weigh in this week, but I wonder what I’m missing, so I’d like to hear from some of you first.  If you’re so moved to write an entire post rather than just a comment, please leave a link in the comment section here.

And thanks!

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  • tom c.

    I don’t know how to think about what emergent’s charism might be to the broader church, but I can reflect on my own experience…

    I have a somewhat complicated relationship to this diffuse movement of Emergent Christianity. My gut feeling is that EC, or I should say the EC I have encountered, is something of a dissenting Evangelical movement. Since I am, or have been, a disillusioned mainline Protestant, I’m all for investigating new paths for what it means to be Christian, but I have felt left out of the conversation of EC.

    Still, I enjoy listening in on the conversation (as it were). It reminds me that whatever salvation is, it ought not to be celebrated or otherwise acknowledged through cliched liturgy or theology. I think I knew this, academically speaking, before encountering EC, but through an EC community I visited for a while, I gained some insight into what fresh, living Christianity might look like. This was a gift. Even if ultimately that community wasn’t for me, I have a renewed faith that there are other disillusioned but spiritually thirsty Christians out there.

    This is just a small story, but I suspect an answer to Tony’s prompting question may be found in a good many other small stories.

  • For me, the contribution of the emergent movement to the body of Christ is its constant reminder to take the prophetic call issued already 500 years ago during the Reformation to a “ecclesia semper reformanda” seriously, in terms of getting back to authenticity in our faith, asking afresh what the Spirit of God is saying to the church, applying the principle of the priesthood of all believers in a community where all voices are heard and taken seriously, and where our passion is a renewed love for Christ and a practical commitment towards the people He loves, taking seriously the change he wants to bring here and now, and responding more efficiently to the challenges of the contemporary context we live in.

    This is a probably not a contribution unique to Emergence but if nothing else, that particular voice has been a good and necessary “thorn in the flesh” in the side of traditionalism, institutionalism, and particularly judgmentalism and exclusivist attitudes within the church.

  • nathan

    on one hand I see the contribution of Emergent as re-invigorating missiology and calling the Church to really think about how to diffuse the message of Jesus into the culture.

    I also think it has been a voice for the so-called “Protestant Principle” and unflinchingly assessed and named where different Christian communities have absolutized what is actually temporal/relative/contingent to the harm of the message of Jesus.

    That’s just for starters off the top of my head.

  • nathan

    Another thing…

    The call to a robust, holistic Christology that demands that the person of Jesus be central to Christian identity and not merely some particular divine means to a particular soteriological end.

  • Jo Jo

    The charism of the Emergent Church is as follows:

    Yapping about social justice but never really getting involved.

    Example; where was the Emergent Church when it came to adoption and Africa the past ten years? Now that that window of opportunity is nearly closed it was Bible Belt Baptists that led the charge and the EC is left with the task of defending itself against the label of being “too white”.

    In other words, it could talk a fairly good game, but in the end there were neither creeds nor deeds. Not when it came to orphans, anyway. And that is a huge statement.

  • Patrick Oden

    I think Josh puts it great.

    Truth be told, there’s a few different expressions of EC trying to get pushed out there. McClaren seems to want a neo-progressive version, sort of a rebrewed Liberal Christianity. And there’s certainly an aspect of that.

    But, that alienates a fairly large contingent of others who seek to take up the more openly led, creatively developed, community oriented ecclesiology that is indeed expressed throughout history, so is in need of a contemporary expression that learns from the past and pushes a more holistic understanding of the faith forward.

    Jo Jo, you should read the new JR Woodward edited book ViralHope. There’s all kinds of other stories, not advertised or publicized because that’s not the goal. We can all pick pet issues that aren’t being addressed by various church groups. I know for an absolute fact that there is immense involvement in social justice issues, albeit primarily on a local level. The question emerging churches ask is not what are ‘they’ doing, but what am “I” doing.

  • nathan

    Jo Jo,

    That’s honestly one of the most ignorant things I’ve ever read as a criticism of the EC.

    Wanna try again?

    At the end of the day, there are people who have been blessed and received benefit from the issues that the EC has foregrounded.

    As a person whose calling and faith were saved by the friendships found in the conversation, I can say that I don’t think anyone owes you, or any other critic, an apology for our not living up to standards or goals we never claimed to live by or were seeking to achieve.

    Your critique exemplifies the grandest sort of missing the point that is, frankly, surpassed only by certain watch-blogs and the authors of “Why we’re not Emergent”.

  • Jason

    My experience with emergent forms of Christian expression and communities of the same led me to a greater disparity of faith than the stale non-denominational situation I had found myself in. Lots of cool new words, ideas, programs and even some cool graphics. But not a lot of good theology, and sometimes even seemed compromising. I think there are many positives to the conversation, but my experience as thoughtful as it was, turned to do more harm with my relationship to Jesus than good. And that is what we are all about right, Jesus? Months of prayer beads, labyrinths, ancient forms of prayer, etc (none of which are bad in the least) I was left stranded farther away from my saviour than when I started. I talk to a lot of emergents, atleast that is how they identify themselves and I have been to many conferences with great anticipation. I find that many of my conversations are fairly shallow when it comes to theology/doctrine (i hope we all agree it is foundational to know what we believe and why) and in many cases the simple ideas of salvation through Jesus, heaven, and hell were met with some cryptic word vomit that I couldn’t possibly decipher. This has been my experience. In the end, I took my Bible, got some friends, and hit my knees hard. Fasted, prayed, fasted, prayed and more of the same. Loved the Lord with as much as I could muster and prayed the Holy Spirit would do the rest. I soon found no time for “the conversation” as I was too busy living a life with Jesus. You might think from reading this I have a bad opinion of emergent. I don’t at all, in fact I very much like it and respect it–this is just my experience and we all know that labeling something from one experience is ignorant at best. I do worry that it will lead people into doing cool things and becoming something different for the sake of these things alone and those people will never truly come to know Christ in the sacrificial, giving my whole life to Him kind of way. And honestly that is my opinion. I only share it because I have found emergent circles to be very open to dialog from all sides and when done with love and not hate, at least respect, there has never been an issue. But I do hope. I hope for all those seeking the narrow road that leads to life.

    Please excuse the rambling, punctuation nightmare of the above paragraph!

  • Jo Jo


    “That’s honestly one of the most ignorant things I’ve ever read as a criticism of the EC.

    Wanna try again?”

    No. Because you failed to back up your assertion that the EC has championed any kind of social cause beyond mere conversation.

    Further, I am sorry to say I don’t speak as a “watchdog” or “restless reformed” but rather…as one who was often characterized as Emergen, even though I didn’t do so to myself, probably because I was at the fringe of the movement and sought to live those things out.

    “Generous Orthodoxy” was a seminal moment in my faith. Okay?

    Therefore, I stand by what I said in regards to adoption and the like. Unless you’d care to enlighten me, of course.

    I write these things as one who drifted down more than one of the “five streams” of Emergent, only to get off once I could see where it was heading…off the cliff of Gospel Truth and Living and into the abyss of theory, theology, and yes, endless chatter.

    What was it that James said about being doers of the Word and not hearers only? Or John said about loving not just in word but in deed and truth?

    I am healing up from the hurt the EC has left me so I’ll be okay. Thanks.

  • Just found this today (describes it much better than my own comment earlier):


    What is the gift of emergent to the church? A walk in the wood between worlds!

  • nathan


    Did emergent ever say that it was organizing to be an adoption network, or an auxillary of the IJM, or (you fill in the blank)?


    Emergent served as a site for many other things, but to say that a network of relationships made up largely of practitioners is the site of some kind of monumental failure of action doesn’t properly account for the reality that those practitioners were and are leading discrete communities and/or serving in those faith communities that are working on justice issues…

    Your critique has no merit because it doesn’t properly account for the purpose and function of “the village”, nor does it account for where most of us have always been, frankly, busting our asses.

    More importantly,

    I’m sorry that you’ve been hurt. Seriously.

    I don’t know how or why you’ve been hurt, but despite our sharp disagreement on this particular point, it makes me sad that you have been wounded.

  • Jason

    I would second Nathan in the fact that many people come to Emergent as if they were looking for a new church, and this conversation quickly replaces their home church. Even if they still attend their home church, their efforts and involvement are in expressions of the emergent conversation. You will be let down greatly if you try and make emergent your church. This is not to be confused with communities of faith that function from an emergent point of view. As Nathan said, this is where the living out of things takes place.

    I have experienced many healthy “emergent” communities of faith that were producing good fruit as a church. And I have also experienced too many communities that think emergent is low lights, no ties, tatoo tattoos s, and the end of stuffy reformed theology. What they trade in for in many ways is a sort of mysticism that has a difficult time proclaiming truth without any caveats. (But…) But once again, you can’t label the whole thing bad, especially if it truly represents a conversation among friends in hopes to spur one another on in the way of Jesus. And like any other attempt to do this, some pick up their cross and follow and others go off and form their own misguided opinions and attempts to live it out.

    Jo Jo, I would second Nathan that even though you may disagree on this point. It should not keep him from feeling sorry for you that you have been hurt by “emergent.” Even though we all fall on opposites sides of many conversations, we still are one body. Emergent does not separate from the body of Christ as long as they are true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, perhaps they are just a left foot and others are more comfortable being an eye.

  • Jason

    As far as emergent’s charism to the church. I think one of the many (I believe their are many, even if my experience happened to be a bad one) is open dialog. The asking of questions and getting people to think and explore their faith–perhaps in different ways that they are used too. Because of this I have witnessed people leave an apathetic “Christian” life for one that attempts to live in the way of Jesus to the world around them; engaged and present. This is one of the charism (gifts of grace) that emergent brings the church. Even considering my experience, I was forced to ask questions and explore and eventually I ended up at a healthy point. Without emergent perhaps I wouldn’t have had an avenue in which to safely explore my faith outside of conventional thought.

    Any other ideas of what gifts emergent has given the church, or how perhaps how those involved in the emergent community have served the church through the power of the Holy Spirit?

  • nathan

    Another charism of Emergent,

    holding forth the value of listening and remaining in relationship even when we disagree.

    We won’t “disown” each other, even when we disagree.

    This fundamentally “Relational” dynamic is, IMO, the source of much criticism.

    Are we perfect at it? NO.
    Has there still been breakdown? Of course. We’re human

    But i see a community that even “fails forward” and owns it when it comes up short.

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