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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