Too Late for Emergent?

Too Late for Emergent? March 27, 2012

Bill Walker has a very thoughtful post that is only partly about my new book on the atonement. More importantly, he has some excellent reflections on the theology — or lack thereof — of the emergent movement:

Over the past five years or so there seems to have been a climax and subsequent decline in optimism and enthusiasm surrounding the Emergent Church conversation.  Of course those on the conservative evangelical side have always dismissed the movement as heterodox and a return to theological liberalism, but even some of the more sympathetic critics that often describe themselves as “missional” have expressed concern about a lack of theological leadership.  There’s been no shortage of deconstruction and even ecclesial innovation amid this group, but the common question remains: what is it exactly that so-called emergents believe?

Be sure to read the rest: Bill Walker | Blog.

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  • Frank

    Is this a surprise? The problem with always wanting a “conversation” is that nothing is ever decided on.

    It’s all been hot air, signifying very little and yet there are still those hanging on to this dead, dead horse.

    • JoeyS

      Oh, so you didn’t read the article? Is this a surprise?

      • Frank

        Meanwhile thousands of churches and hundreds of thousands of Christians are actively bringing about the Kingdom of God while you all are in a “conversation” signifying very little and accomplishing next to nothing.

        But hey be proud of that if it makes you feel better.

    • My experience actually is that people in my life want to avoid conversations apparently out of fear that they may be called on to make a decision. But whereas propositions have definitive truth values, narratives only have settings. Well, also sequelae.

  • Larry Barber

    The thing that I’ve found that most emergents have in common isn’t theological so much as philosophical. They believe in what you (Tony) called “epistemic humility”. This, of course, clashes terribly with modernist assumptions about what a religion should be and makes any kind of theological dogmatism to be terribly contradictory. Those who keep on waiting on the “conversation” to end, presumably in the issuance of some sort of statement of faith, completely miss the point. The conservation is not about coming up with answers, it is about learning what the “other” thinks without trying to force him (or colonize him) into a given way of thinking. If anything is about changing the way you think, not about the other guy. All of the thousands of Christian denominations think they have “the” answer, maybe there isn’t a “the answer”. Those who think emergent is dead because of a failure to come up with some sort of statement of faith are completely missing the point, and also demonstrate their own cluelessness about what is going on.

    • ME

      United Methodists, “Open Hearts, Open Minds”, that’s some humility, right?

  • Larry, if I could high five you for that comment, I would. If people participate in “the conversation” with the expectation of some sort of finalized statement, they’re going to be disappointed, and probably exhausted. As you’ve said, it misses the point.

    • I encourage you to read Bill’s post. He’s certainly not criticizing emergent for just being a conversation (as many have). His thoughts are much more nuanced and important (I think).

  • I think that what people might have called the “emerging conversation” a few years ago is still alive and well – its just that people who are a part of it don’t think of it in those terms any longer. Its going on in most denominations of which I’m aware. Bill Walker is part of it, whether he calls it that or not.

    It was a good to have a name for it at the time, because there was a sort of social awakening going on – people discovering that others are starting to ask the same questions and experience the same theological discomfort that they were. Now, these kinds of discussions are more open and going on everywhere. Again, a new church is emerging, even as the label itself is in seeming decline.

    Bill also puts his finger on something else that I think is important – things that were heretofore known only in the academy are starting to be popularized by people like McLaren and – in your new book – you as well, Tony. Problem is, theologies tend to mutate a little when they are translated into street terms – so, as I’m fond of saying, McLaren’s biggest critics end up being the evangelical clergy and the liberal academy.

  • Phil Miller

    I think in one sense the thing that Emergent did was make it OK for a whole generation of people to talk about theology again, or at least a whole generation of people who grew up in particular traditions. In many evangelical churches, I’ve kind of seen a phenomenon where theology was kind of relegated to the sphere of something amateur astronomy or something. It’s OK if you want to tinker with it on your own time or even take a few classes on it, but it really didn’t mean anything to the life of the church.

    All the theology we needed could be summed up on a billboard, really. And, actually, spending too much time reading about theology was probably dangerous. So I think that even if the only thing Emergent did was make it OK for people who came out of these tradition to start investigating theology in a serious way, it was successful in some way.