God Is Not Emergent

God Is Not Emergent June 2, 2010

I had the unhappy experience of listening to yet another online conversation yesterday in which two erstwhile and, I would have assumed, friends of emergent went to great lengths to distance themselves from emergent, taking pains to say that they are not affiliated with “the capital ‘E’ emergent brand.”  Meanwhile, on the Huffington Post, Phil Shepherd says,

In the years of unpacking my faith journey, I found that I was not alone in this conversation. In fact, that there were others all around the world who were going through the same type of deconstruction that I was! The emergent conversation (not labeled with this title until some years later) was a life raft for many of us.

Well, whatever emergent Christianity is — dead or alive, a marketing brand or a conversation — God is not it.

Emergent is, and has been, the banner under which some of us have gathered as we’ve searched for a new way to go about living faithfully.  It’s a way that involves intellectual challenge, the pursuit of ancient spiritual disciplines, the formation of new faith communities, the revitalization of conventional churches, and, most significantly, friendships.

But each of these characteristics is obviously human.  The emergent way of Christianity is just as humanly constructed, finite, and open to deconstruction as any other way of faith.  And this is the very thing that God is not.  God is not deconstructible.  God shows no favoritism to emergents.

N.B., This post is part of a series exploring apophatic statements about God.

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  • Jay

    I used to think when I was young, that the name Jesus held some supernatural power. Sometimes I like other Christians would repeat the name of Jesus over and over like it was some kind of mantra. Even when we believe the written records of the historical Jesus that lived, died and was resurrected and we have had some kind of spiritual experience with this name, it still leaves a lot of questions. Jesus> YHWH saves > I am who I am saves. ??? I don’t agree with all the things Tony Jones proposes, but I sure like to listen in on the conversion. To bad so many politics are also in the way of our honesty.

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  • Kenton

    But He is emergING. 🙂

  • I often think that when emergents reject emergence, they are rejecting something that wasn’t truly emergent in the first place… which results in a clarifying of terms. e.g. rejecting emergence as the next new fad… is a very good thing. ugh.

    Couldn’t agree with you more Tony. We (humanity) just happened to try top-down thinking first – and when we hit the end of what that kind of thinking could do – when we hit the limits of its usefulness in perceiving the world, we started noticing botton-up thinking. We are still at the beginning of understanding what bottom-up thinking will do for us – but there will be a limit to its usefulness too as some point, and then – the next kind of thinking will be born, and another reformation will happen. (How deep does the rabbit hole go?)

    But in terms of God (and his favor on our way of perceiving reality), this Einstein quote comes to mind: “God does not care about our mathematical difficulties. He integrates empirically.”


  • Tony, if God is not deconstructable, then why do you and many of your friends who defend your ideas try to desconstruct God? That was a very confusing statement to me. It seems that with the scriptures and with the nature and charater of God you deconstruct God quite frequently. You are by means not the worst of these (worst meaning most blantant in their deconstruction) Tony, but the emergent conversation is a wash with “new thinking” in which the words of God and the charater of Jesus is deconstructed quite frequently.

  • Tony – I’m with you – Emerging/Emergent thinking can become an end in itself (though you and others have been very helpful to me in my own theology) this was a timely reminder that all our words about/concepts of God are inadequate. I was preaching on the Trinity this past Sunday and found great solace in the Athanasian Creed. That creed which hardly ever sees the light of day makes it clear that everything we say about God is insufficient and incapable of capturing God’s essence. It speaks of ‘the Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible’ – It seems to me a remarkably humble document which comes from an age when so much blood was shed over theology. We can still learn from the past.

  • Wait, are they trying to harp on the conversation that you and I had a year ago. Come on, that conversation about emergent being dead is a dead conversation. It’s like trying to revive a cadaver.

    On the flip side, I get it. Admittedly I got a lot of blog hits and it revived my fan base. Let’s let them play with their necrophilia for a little bit, we have all been there. Or at least I have.

  • Thanks Tony,

    While God is indeconstructible, our thoughts about God are deconstructible. Emerging Church has been a life boat for me, saving my faith through introducing uncertainty of faith. Yes, uncertainty hurts, but it also provides amazing comfort, a sense that one is accounting for a larger reality.

    I read somewhere recently “God who is not unknown” is not worth worshiping. Thanks for this series.

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  • So true. Again, good food for thought.

  • Liz

    Tony – Like Phil Shepherd and Samir Selmanovic said … the emergent conversation/church/movement (whatever you want to call it) has been like a life boat for my faith … but more than that I could never distance myself because when I think of the emergent conversation I don’t think of a label or an organization – I think of friends who accepted me, allowed me to ask questions, to disagree, to doubt, even not believe at times while they still loved me and believed in me and treated me like I was valuable…. how can anyone distance themselves from that??

  • Hey Tony,

    I think you’re talking about God Complex Radio, where we interview Nadia Bolz-Weber. I felt badly about my reflection on the interview, especially toward the end. I felt like my critiques were a too pointed toward Nadia, which was not my intent. I apologized to Nadia, and I invited her on the show again, so she can respond to me.

    As far as using the “emergent brand” term… I guess maybe I don’t understand. I typically use that when describing the ways in which Emergent Village has branded themselves (i.e., with publishing contracts with Baker, Abingdon, and Jossey).

    From the outside… it seems that there is a definite brand, which is used by corporations, and seems that there is a certain relationship that EV has with publishers that promotes Emergent as a brand. Am I wrong about that?

    Of course, there is more going on than the contractual relationships with a couple of companies! And that’s why I resonate with the movement, and said so pretty clearly in our conversation.

    Thanks for listening to the podcast.

  • tony, if i had a dollar every-time i heard some trying to make God into something – great points, and who knows i just may join and become a friend of Emergent (capital E 🙂 )

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