“Postmodernity is all our doubts supersized, but it also is all the raw sinews of faith stretched out like a taut drum. At first glance the prospect appears both repugnant and frightening. Yet such recoil can become the true matrix moment.”
Carl Raschke, The Next Reformation (2004) 1
“From the side of the emerging church movement, traditional evangelicalism appears to be hard-edged and inflexible because it constantly thinks in truth-categories and does not perceive the legitimate place of experience….From the perspective of the traditional Christian, the emergent Christian may appear to be so committed to new experiences and subjective evaluations that the truth can be easily left behind.”
D.A. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church (2005) 2
“The experience of dialogue – the I-Thou relation with the uncontrolled other – may result in dizziness, vertigo, or shudder that unhinges us from our moorings or yanks us from our anchors….This loss of our footing…compel[s] us to acknowledge that the very meaning of being [post]modern may be the lack of meaning, that our quest for such meaning may be the very meaning itself – without ever arriving at any fixed meaning. In short, the hermeneutical circle in which we find ourselves, as historical beings in search of meaning for ourselves, is virtuous, not vicious, because we never transcend or complete the circle.”
Cornel West, “To Be Human, Modern and American” (1999) 3
“Like literature, history has the capacity to expand our vision of human lives and cultures. History also demonstrates the limitations of one’s own culture, its values, assumptions, and beliefs. To familiarize the alien and to alienate the familiar is one of the basic purposes of education.”
Albert J. Raboteau, “Praying the ABCs: Reflections on Faith in History” (1995) 4
The preceding comments serve as epigraphs for my reflections on the Emerging church.5 Carl Raschke makes a compelling case for the congruence of postmodern faith and evangelical conviction, while D.A. Carson suggests that one must choose either the “truth” or the emerging church. Juxtaposed, these brief observations, as I understand the movement and its critics, captures the essence of those who, to modify Miroslav Volf, embrace the emerging movement and those who exclude it. Cornel West’s comments, though written in the context of African American historical reflection, display the liminal possibilities that come with being “ancient-future,” while Albert Raboteau’s thoughts on faith and history, written with African American religious history in mind, capture the educational promise of new lines of inquiry. Collectively, the postures of Raschke, Carson, West, and Raboteau, as reflected above, display some of the "moods” associated with the emerging movement. Now, a few brief comments about the literature.
In recent months, journalists, theologians, social commentators, pastors, and talk-show hosts have explained, described, and assessed a growing number of Christians who identify with what is known as the “Emergent” church (sometimes called the “Emerging” church). Some of these accounts come from outsiders, those not formally affiliated with an Emergent or Emerging church/movement, though this is not uniformly the case.
For example, both Christian Century and Christianity Today featured stories about Emergent churches in November 2004 issues. In February 2005 the White Horse Inn, a theological radio talk-show hosted by theologian Michael Horton, devoted two programs to the Emergent church, and Modern Reformation, a bi-monthly theological journal of which Horton is editor, devoted its July/August 2005 issue to the Emerging Church. The magazine Banner of Truth featured two articles on the Emerging church in its on-line February 2005 issue. Further still, Chuck Smith and others wrote about the Emerging church in the March/April 2005 issue of Worship Leader. In May 2005 theologian D.A. Carson published the first book-length critique of the Emergent church titled Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications. Around the same time sociologist Gerardo Marti published A Mosaic of Believers: Diversity and Innovation in a Multiethnic Church, the first sociological analysis of a multi-ethnic Emergent community in Los Angeles. In June 2005 Southern Baptist Seminary President Albert Mohler published two articles on the Emerging church at the on-line Christian news clearinghouse The Christian Post, and the television talk show Religion & Ethics Newsweekly devoted two episodes to the Emerging church in July 2005. In December 2005, Fuller Seminary theologians Ryan Bolger and Eddie Gibbs will publish an important study titled Emerging Churches: Creating Community in Postmodern Cultures. Finally, the International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church will devote an entire issue to the Emerging church and a number of recent theses, dissertations, and scholarly reflection offer academic analyses of the Emergent and Emerging strain(s) of Christianity.6
These articles, essays, and books (not to mention the large and ever-expanding electronic conversations) reflect a growing interest in the Emergent/Emerging church, indicate that the movement is part of a number of important conversations, and suggest that this expression of Christianity demands further attention.
My next post will offer comments on the major themes of the Emergent church.
1Carl Raschke, The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 174.
2D.A. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 218.
3Cornel West, “Introduction: To Be Human, Modern and American,” in The Cornel West Reader (New York: Basic Books, 1999), xviii.
4Albert J. Raboteau, A Fire in the Bones: Reflections on African-American Religious History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995), 8-9.
5Following Scot McKnight, here it is helpful to make a distinction between the “Emergent” and the “Emerging” church. Many of those who are part of the “Emergent” church live and work within the United States and have had some affiliation with evangelicalism. The “Emerging” movement is mainly centered in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, and is less defined by experience with North American versions of evangelicalism. This distinction does not mean that the "movement" is divided, but serves hopefully to clarify the usage of these terms. The literature uses both “Emergent” and “Emerging,” and only some writers note this distinction.
6See Andy Crouch, “The Emergent Mystique,” Christianity Today 48/11 (November 2004): 36-41 and in the same issue a discussion between Emergent pastor and leader Brian McLaren and Wheaton College President Duane Liftin titled “Emergent Evangelism” (pp. 41-42); Scott Bader-Saye, “A New Kind of Church?: The Emergent Matrix,” Christian Century ( November 30, 2004): 20-27; Geoff Thomas, “The Emerging Church,” Banner of Truth (February 8, 2005), David Carmichael, “The ‘Emerging Church’ Further Considered,” Banner of Truth (February 18, 2005),