Last night my mom called for what I thought was going to be one of those regular, “How’s life in the big city” conversations that we’ve both grown so fond of, and for a minute there it seemed that is where we were heading.  Her line of questioning was pretty standard:

“How’s Steph? How’s work? What are you writing? When are you coming home next?” All quite normal, and then this, “Are you a part of the Emerging Church?” I nearly spit out the beer I was quietly drinking in an old habit of hiding the fact that I would dare drink a beer whilst talking to her on the phone.

“Emerging Church? Now that’s a name I haven’t heard in a long, long time,” I say doing my best impression of Sir Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: A New Hope.

The thing is, a few years ago I was all about the emerging church.  As a principle I’m generally for all things emerging and the idea that we could do church in a whole new way, in a way that, frankly and controversially, seemed in many aspects more biblical than the kind of churches I grew up in was actually quite appealing.

For every young progressive out there hitching his wagon to the emerging church movement, however, there were literally dozens of detractors. Most famous among these, I think, was D.A. Carson who, in his book Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, was all kinds of critical of the movement as a whole and particularly its most famous spokesperson, Brian McLaren.

One thing that both proponents and detractors of the Emerging Church had in common though, was that they both found the movement nearly impossible to define.  Yes, it seemed to be a reaction to the way church is conducted around the world, but just what that reaction would look like, how it would manifest itself in Sunday-to-Sunday practice, was as amorphous as the kinds of churches that tried it out.

But all of that was years ago, so when my mom asked me if I was a part of the Emerging Church there were only two possible explanations: either I had time traveled back to 2004 (which, as far as time travel goes would be pretty lame), or the Emerging Church is still emerging somewhere on the planet.

I decided to run a few precursory searches and what I found was a little bit of what I expected and a little more of what I did not.  First off, the old websites I used to check up on for news about the EC from around the globe are still online and still being updated. These are sites like www.emergentvillage.com and www.emergingchurch.info.  

Recently in new articles, emergingchurch.info raised “The Problem of Hell” and the enduring question of the movement, “Has the Church lost her way?” At Emergent Village they are comparing churches to record labels and newspapers (all on their way out? Yikes!) and then they go on to ask readers to “Help Describe the ‘Emergent Village’.”

Actually, the fact that the Emergent Village is looking for help defining itself is right in line with what the rest of my research found. All these years later the Emerging Church is still searching for a definition. Even the blog of my alma mater, Gordon College, is finally getting around to trying to describe the Emerging Church.

So Mom, am I part of the Emerging Church? I don’t know. It’s hard to be a part of something that you didn’t even know still existed. My sense, and what I thought was the more widely accepted perspective, was that the compulsion to obsessively define a movement that really wasn’t more than a perennial reimagining of how to do church in a rapidly changing world is the very thing that made it go away. The church should always be emerging, from one manifestation to the next, as long as we’re emerging toward a more Biblical model.

Give us the view from where you are. Is the Emerging Church alive and well? A fad from the early 21st century? The worst thing that has happened to the church since whatever you thought was the worst thing before this? Or has it just gone underground? Let us know.

 
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Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

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0 Responses to Where’s the Emerging Church Now?

  1. Zach says:

    I think the answer is that the Emerging/Emergent/Bored Church cycled itself out as another offshoot of Christians not being content with the gospel and its defining work. People are finally realizing that the Brian Mclarens, Shane Clairbornes, and Don Millers arent saying anything that guys like Spurgeon, Luther, and Augustine haven’t already said, yet they held fast to the orthodox teaching of scripture. The Church needs to be questioned and challenged, but ont with the smug mystical arrogance that emergent leaders tried to pass of as a “movement.”

  2. Fitzsmon says:

    Thanks son! (Lay off the beer!)

  3. Matt Ralph says:

    So you’re saying Brian McLaren, Shane Claiborne and Don Miller haven’t held fast to the orthodox teaching of scripture?

  4. Zach says:

    That’s exactly what I’m saying. Between Brian coming up with new secret Jesus messages, Shane thinking he has to piss off traditional Christianity, and Don apologizing to college students for a Church he may or may not even represent on a given day, there is this smug arrogance that they seem to know something every other Christian doesn’t. That will only get you so far before it tapers off. Ask most television preachers or John Shelby Spong. The emergent church was for college kids who wanted to rebel or adults who felt like the church did them wrong(and sometimes actually did) but were too prideful to actually invest in making the church better.

  5. iNate says:

    I am the kind of person that loses interests in movements that stay in the “self-definition” stage for more than a few years (months). I need something concrete to either buy into or chafe against.

    I think McLaren and Miller were asking good questions and were challenging the church to rethink its definition. However, the answers they offered did not make complete sense. As I read their books and blogs, I always thought that the ideas needed one more edit or update to make enough sense to work. And an idea has to work before it can be argued or accepted.

  6. Kirk says:

    They way I see it, emergents asked questions but didn’t get the answers they were hoping for. It seemed that their entire goal was to reconcile Christianity with culture. They would say “how does X (virgin birth, total depravity, miracles, hell, etc) fit in with Y (science, progressivism, pop-tolerance, etc).” Undoubtedly, they found in most cases the things were irreconcilable, meaning: one or the other had to be untrue. Then comes the question, which belief do you drop? Since there was no objective definition of truth (evidenced by the fact that they were asking the metaphysical questions in the first place), the movement was fractious. Some people said, “well, I’ll hold to the X beliefs” while others though “I’m dropping X in favor of Y.” The cornucopia of beliefs that resulted were more than different, they were irreconcilable. The questions were answered, but there was no unity in the post-analysis and the movement degenerated.

    Blue like Jazz and the like are still out there and people still read them, but the firm organization of Christians into an emergent camp is history, I think. The logical conclusion of the emergent church is tiny subsets of Christianesque belief, not a unified body.

  7. Bobcat says:

    It’s interesting to me how Donald Miller get’s thrown into the “emerging” conversation. Maybe it’s just the influence of a NY Times best-seller but it seems that Rob Bell would be a better example. Miller claims no allegiance to the Emerging Movement (check out this recent blog post: http://tinyurl.com/nlh6wv)

  8. Cobus says:

    I don’t know the American scene. But Kirk, the X and Y you’re talking about were discussed long before emerging, you can check out 50’s mainline critical theology for that.

    Maybe some of us just checked out Luther, Augustine and Spurgeon, and thought: “OK, somethings still missing”.

    We read McLaren, Claiborne and Miller (yes, not emerging, but we read him anyhow), and thought: “OK, somethings still missing”.

    Problem was that the first group was canonized by the church (maybe not officially, but in the way they were treated), so we couldn’t really converse with them, so we just read them. The second group however, invited us to have a conversation, they said it’s OK if we read their stuff and think somethings missing, so we talked.

    Some went away because they couldn’t find a definition, and I guess that’s fine, because they found one somewhere else. But for some of us… well, we just stick around where there is no definition, because that’s where we feel comfortable to talk about God…

  9. Caleb says:

    I would have to agree that the church should always be on the move; the move to be more biblical. I think the church is far from real. I think christianity in america should not be called christianity. And I dont think people even understand what church is, its purpose, or how it should be ran. Nor does the american church even understand what it truly means to be a Christ follower. I think the only thing that should be emerging is our passion to chase after Christ. Phillipians 3. I will agree that doing church in a different way does not make it emergent. lol, thats kind of crazy. But living a radical life, which is actually normal, is emergent. I dont see that the church is very biblical. However I would disagree with your statements about Don miller and shane.

  10. Rachael says:

    I think we don’t like the name “Emergent.” I go to a jeans-wearing, keeping up with the culture, beer tolerant, community of Christ followers that meets in a night club and has an art gallery in their meeting space. We are probably more liturgical than most of the Baptist churches you’ve been to. We deliver a Gospel message and serve Communion every week. We support Love 146, and serve the community’s homeless and its unwed mothers.
    We recycle. I’m sorry if these things are offensive.

    We recently had to move to 2 services and are planting another church soon to avoid having 3 services. We are part of the Acts 29 network that has more accountability than any other religious organization I’ve ever heard of. So does Mars Hill in Seattle—you may have heard of Mark Driscoll (Radical Reformission). They emerged a long time ago. We began meeting in 2004. I am pretty sure we’re alive and well.

    We describe ourselves with the words Life, Place, and Meaning.

  11. Jay Urban says:

    I think that Rachael is on to something here. While the “Emergent Church” as such may not retain its high ranking on the agenda of Evangelicals (think about what has changed between now and 2005/2006) it doesn’t mean that the movement has fallen off the earth. The churches that embraced the principles of this movement continue to grow. Many other churches, which may not embrace the theology of the movement have certainly begun to incorporate the style and openness that the movement contains (Mars Hill is one of the churches that has embraced the style, if not the substance of the movement). This would include the laid back atmosphere, open door policy, and inclusion of liturgy/tradition while not accepting (as Cobus rightly pointed out) the critical theology tradition of Tillich and others that McLaren co-opts.

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