Saturday, October 29, 2005

BaldBlogging on the Emerging Church, Part 5

Moving from the Emerging/Emergent church’s posture toward postmodernism, in this post (and several following) I want to explore themes in the Emergent movement: today the theme is history.

The Emerging movement is historically conscious in that there is a genuine interest in the history of Christianity and a desire to appropriate elements of the church’s past. This view of Christian history does not essentialize the past by harkening back to a mythical pristine chapter in church history, but seeks to appropriate elements of the church’s past drawn from many Christian traditions.

In Generous Orthodoxy (2004), for example, Emergent church pastor and leader Brian McLaren comments on the benefits of using ancient church creeds. In a chapter titled “Why I am catholic,” McLaren comments on the Nicene Creed and its potential to shape conversations about Christian unity and describes what he has learned and applied from [Roman] Catholic Christianity. About the phrase, “We believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church,” McLaren writes:

“We believe in one . . . church,” the creed says, and that’s no easy-to- swallow statement because we’re surrounded by denominations, divisions, arguments, grand polemics, and petty squabbles. That’s where the “we believe” part comes in: you can only know the unity of the church by believing it, not by seeing it. When you believe it you see through the surface dirt and cracks to the beauty and unity shining beneath. Generous orthodoxy presumes that the divisions, though tragic, are superficial compared to Christianity’s deep, though often unappreciated, unity. Perhaps the more we believe in and practice that unity, the easier it will be to grow beyond the disunity.1

Here McLaren attempts to address historic fractures within Protestantism and urges contemporary Christians to embrace the ancient message of unity in diversity found in the Nicene Creed.

In a similar vein, McLaren also describes what he finds most attractive about Roman Catholic Christianity and suggests that evangelical renewal might come from embracing some of the ancient elements of the Christian faith. McLaren embraces the sacramental aspects of Roman Catholicism that purport to see God’s handiwork in its multiform manifestations of the sacred; argues that liturgy can enhance the sometimes simplistic and thoughtless aspects of evangelical worship; highlights the practicality of respecting tradition; urges evangelicals to adopt a healthy posture of veneration for Mary; celebrates the incarnational focus of Catholic theology and life; and praises the spirit of forgiveness and healing in some Roman Catholic circles. Interestingly, McLaren situates his comments about tradition as a critique of the Protestant Reformation. “The Protestant Reformation separated two brothers,” McLaren observes, “Scripture and tradition. The older brother tells the story that leads up to and through Christ, and the younger brother remembers what has happened since. These brothers aren’t the same, but neither should they be enemies.”2 There is much for evangelicals to digest in McLaren’s chapter on catholicity and ecumenism, and these comments reflect the historically conscious nature of the Emerging/Emergent church and demonstrate the interest in and application of ancient elements of the Christian faith.3

1Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 222

2Ibid. 225-230, quote from 227.

3My comments on the historical consciousness of the Emerging/Emergent church are adopted from my “Embracing the Early Church: Reflections on Evangelicals, Patristics, Ecclesiology, and Ecumenism,” Reformation & Revival Journal 13/4 (Fall 2004): 13-43.

Friday, October 21, 2005

BaldBlogging on the Emerging Church, Part 4

Leonard Sweet offers an extend discussion about engagement with postmodern culture in Postmodern Pilgrims: First Century Passion for the 21st Century (2000). Sweet advocates what he calls an “EPIC” approach to postmodern culture and argues that Christian leaders must create worship that is “[e]xperiential, [p]articipatory, [i]mage-driven, [and] [c]onnected.” This approach to the postmodern moment in which Christians live, Sweet argues, creates space to contemplate “creativity” and display “imagination.” In other words, some Christians part of a postmodern context, or even those interested in spiritual things for whose worldviews postmodernism forms the structure, often seek to visually participate in a communal experience with something transcendent. According to Sweet, a visual religious experience augmented by oral communication and participation, serves as something of an entrĂ©e, even a metaphor, for a deeper relationship with God and a more authentic connection to community. To contextualize the EPIC approach, Sweet marshals scores of examples from popular culture, from corporate and business literature, from politics, from music, from art, from communications theory, and from economics. Resident in every imaginable corner of today’s culture, Sweet contends that in order to have an acknowledged voice Christian churches must study and engage postmodern culture or risk atrophy or irrelevance. Put another way, Sweet asserts that Christian communities must learn to “do church” in ways that are “biblically absolute but culturally relative.”1

In a similar vein, Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism in a Postmodern World (1999) crafts an “ancient-future” lens through which Christians might see the postmodern world. The phrase “ancient-future,” according to Webber, attempts “to find points of contact between classical Christianity and postmodern thought.” Webber chronicles and defines the differences between modern and postmodern conceptions of Christ, the church, spirituality, and missions. Webber contends that the cultural context of “classical” (ancient) Christianity has some parallels with the postmodern world and thus intends to “interface historic Christian truths into the dawning of a new era.” This is done, Webber insists, by seeing Christ as the ultimate victor over sin and evil and the church as the incarnational extension of Christ into the world. Furthermore, Webber contends, the incarnational embodiment of Christians is best fostered in a church that is consciously holy, catholic, and apostolic. The worship in such a historically conscious church, Webber argues, revolutionizes “experience” such that communication, ritual, and spiritual discipline become “the vehicle through which the story of the work of Christ is proclaimed and enacted” as well as “the rehearsal of the Christ event through which one’s experience with God is established, maintained, and repaired.” Thus, for Webber, like Sweet, the interplay of present and past defines the ancient-future thrust of evangelical faith in a postmodern context.2

While thinkers like Sweet and Webber aim to situate and equip evangelical faith and worship in a postmodern setting, Carl Raschke’s The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity (2004) seeks to orient evangelicals to postmodern culture through the lens of philosophy. Raschke carefully details the roots of postmodern philosophy, which he dates to “deconstruction” championed in the 1960s and 1970s by the late French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), and explains the dynamics of postmodern philosophy as it appeared and continues to appear in philosophical, literary, artistic, historical, and religious studies circles. 3 Most important for the current discussion, Raschke sets his argument for the compatibility of postmodernism and evangelicalism against the postmodern critique of many evangelical scholars. “The postmodernism preoccupation with popular culture, which many evangelical theologians disdain,” Raschke points out, “[is] but a form of cultural sensitivity and intellectual humility that ultimately offers an evangelical opportunity that hard-core Christian rationalists overlook.”4

So, how do postmodernism and evangelicalism actually comport and how will they usher in what he calls a “new reformation”? First, Raschke argues that three dimensions of postmodernism create the possibility for this new reformation: its egalitarian nature; its animus of interconnectivity (both electronic and physical); and its dynamism and pliability. In Raschke’s view, these dimensions of postmodernism will merge with evangelicalism to create a new reformation that prizes relational Christianity, displays a winsome revival spirit that embraces radical, often ascetic living, and in turn allows a kind of Charismatic, even Pentecostal worship experience. “Postmodernity is the exposure of the flux that engulf us,” Raschke describes, “but it is also the realization that this vast panorama of fragmentation, instability, and discontinuity can be an opening to redemption.”5 For Raschke, then, a relational, Pentecostal evangelicalism most accurately reflects the postmodern sensibilities of the contemporary world and ultimately makes possible a new reformation.6

Many in the Emergent church acknowledge the postmodern moment of which humanity is a part, accept the challenges of its major claims, and seek to articulate a faith that is biblically rooted yet culturally sensitive. And while scholars like Leonard Sweet, Robert Webber, and Carl Raschke offer a kind of theoretical framework for Emergent engagement with postmodernism, practitioners and pastors demonstrate how, in such a cultural context, the Emergent church might think about history, tradition, preaching, worship, spiritual formation, artistic expression, and cultural engagement (i.e., evangelism).

These are the topics I will address in subsequent posts.

1Leonard Sweet, Postmodern Pilgrims: First Century Passion for the 21st Century (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2000), xxi. Sweet further describes the EPIC approach as a “double ring” or what John Stott calls “double listening” (xvi). Sweet’s double ring “ ‘reaches out’ for a back-to-the-future methodology of movement that is simultaneously backward and forward,” while Stott’s double listening, though very similar, has “one ear listening to God’s Word and the other to God’s World” (xvi). In starkly philosophical terms, Sweet contends that “[a]n E-P-I-C epistemology does not negate objectivism with subjectivism in another recurring dualism. Rather, it encompasses both in a wider enfoldment that bring together organism and environment. In an E-P-I-C epistemology rationality is expanded to include experience. The E-P-I-C perspective moves beyond objective and subjective “groundings” to an experiential accounting of truth where presence and participation play literally a “critical” role in history” (156).

2 Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 7, 14, 104-06 (italics his). This section on Webber is adopted from my article “Embracing the Early Church.” Such a short summary does not do justice to the breadth or depth of Webber’s analysis of contemporary culture in light of the church’s ancient past. As such, readers might consult Webber’s application of his ancient-future paradigm in Ancient-Future Evangelism: Making Your Church a Faith-Forming Community (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003) and Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality Through the Christian Year (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004). Also relevant is Webber’s sociological analysis of today’s postmodern evangelicals often interested in (ancient) spiritual things, The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002). Also important on this score is Colleen Carroll’s study of postmodern Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox believers, The New Faithful: Why Young Adults are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy (Chicago: Loyola, 2002).

3 Carl Raschke, The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004). For an accessible, understandable introduction to deconstruction, see John D. Caputo, ed., Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida (New York: Fordham University Press, 1997).

4 Ibid., 20.

5 Ibid., 145-205, quote from 174.

6 In a book that is both highly philosophical and transparently personal, not only does The Next Reformation detail Raschke’s devotion to and penchant for postmodernism, but it reveals that relational, communal, and a highly experiential (Pentecostal) Christianity grounds this philosophical devotion. Referencing his important contribution to the field of theology – “the end of theology” – Raschke remarks: “The end of theology is say an adieu to theology in the most literal sense of the word. To say adieu to theology is to “say it like it is” (in French) – literally, to God. It is the power of God liberating evangelical, if not the whole of Christian thought and theology from its long captivity in the Egypt of metaphysics and the Babylon of modernism and drawing it back “to God,” of “letting God be God,” in the face-to-face relationship of faith and worship. After theology we must all get on our faces” (215).

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Expressing an Ancient-Future Faith

In something of a sidebar to my present series on the Emerging church, I'd like to pursue another line of discussion.

A fellow bow tie wearer, Jonathon Norman (here's one of my bow ties), recently offered a series of posts that explored various facets of Robert Webber's conception of an "ancient-future" faith embodied by what he calls the "younger evangelicals."

So, with a nod to Jonathon as I finish tying my bow tie, and before I post my own commentary on Webber's work, I'd like to pose this question: how do you define "ancient-future" faith? What is it? What does it look like? In your opinion, are there really large numbers of younger people (say, high school youth groups up to 35-40ish) embracing an ancient-future faith? (Webber, of course, marshals data to demonstrate this; I'm looking for more anecdotal types of observations.)

Alternatively, might ancient-future be synonymous with the phrase (small "c") "catholic evangelical," as found in one of my recent papers and in several parts of Kennth Collins's book The Evangelical Moment? (It might be interesting here to remember that Roman Catholic theologians William Shea , Bill Portier, (and here), and Robert Barron discuss the term "evangelical Catholic.")

Monday, October 17, 2005

BaldBlogging on the Emerging Church, Part 3

Both insiders and critics of the Emergent church note the movement’s relationship to postmodernism. 1 Admittedly, postmodernism is a hefty term that has been subject to trenchant debate within evangelical circles. As I discuss below, many in the Emergent movement readily acknowledge that Christians must critically engage, and in many cases adopt, postures of postmodernism; faithful articulation of the Christian gospel, they argue, demands intimate interaction with and analysis of contemporary culture. The culturally creative element within the Emerging movement adopts and appropriates familiar cultural signs, symbols, and other elements and uses these as a way to engage conversation. Generally this does not result in a mere “Christianization” of “secular” cultural elements, but a rigorous (i.e., theoretical) use of culture as a bridge to friendship and conversation through visual, personal, and relational (i.e., practical) ways. For more on these points, visit the current book blog A New Kind of Conversation.

In what follows I will address the issue of postmodernism and its relation to the Emergent movement and then describe the practical ways Emergent churches engage, adopt, and appropriate aspects of postmodernism.

Postmodernism is a contemporary frame of reference for many in the West, the current context in which individuals create meaning and self understanding, though as Sherman Kuek brilliantly explains in a six-part series from August 2005, postcolonialism is of more significance for the global South. Postmodernism, the ideas of which receive attention in academic disciplines like art, history, literature, philosophy, sociology, economics, theology, linguistics, technology, and even architecture, interrogates received structural notions of human knowledge and meaning. The aim of postmodernism, therefore, is to question or subvert structural modes of knowledge and discover the ways in which meaning exists and is created in these institutional structures. Thus interrogated and dismantled, local and contextual knowledge replaces institutional modes of knowing; meaning emerges at an individualized level and through a multiplicity of refractions.

For some time now many in the evangelical world have defined postmodernism, outlined its parameters, sketched its implications, and assessed the ways in which postmodernism compares and contrasts to Christian knowledge found in the scriptures. Some commentators are critically dismissive, some skeptically reserved, and others discriminatingly welcoming. 2 And while it is beyond the scope of these posts to offer full coverage of evangelical interaction with postmodernism, it is important to point out that Emergent church leaders and those sympathetic to Emergent perspectives acknowledge this cultural climate and seek to interact and engage. Several examples demonstrate this posture of critical engagement.

The next post will show how the work of Leonard Sweet, Robert Webber, and Carl Raschke thoughtfully, though not uncritically, interacts with postmodernism.

1 For insider accounts and opinions, see Chris Seay and others in Leadership Journal.Net and Christianity Today. For trenchant criticism, see especially the work of Albert Mohler, D.A. Carson, the EmergentNo Blog, and the essayists in Millard J. Erickson, Paul Kjoss Helseth, Justin Taylor, eds., Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern Times (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005).

2 See, among many others, Gene Edward Veith, Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture (Wheaton: Crossway, 1994); Timothy R. Phillips and Dennis L. Okholm, eds., Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1995); Stanley J. Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996); D.A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996); Jerry L. Summers, “Teaching History, the Gospel, and the Postmodern Self,” in Ronald A. Wells, ed., History and the Christian Historian (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996); Merold Westphal, ed., Postmodern Philosophy and Christian Thought (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999); Richard B. Davis, “Can There Be an “Orthodox” Postmodern Theology?,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 45/1 (March 2002): 111-123; Brad J. Kallenberg, Live to Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Age (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2002); J.P. Moreland, “Truth, Contemporary Philosophy, and the Postmodern Turn,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48/1 (March 2005): 77-88; Millard J. Erickson, Paul Kjoss Helseth, Justin Taylor, eds., Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern Times (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005); Myron B. Penner, ed., Christianity and the Postmodern Turn: Six Views (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005).

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

BaldBlogging on the Emerging Church, Part 2

While diverse in local expression, the Emergent church in the United States (and larger Emerging church) comprises transdenominational communities of Christ followers who aim to be historically conscious, biblically sound, culturally creative, artistically expressive, doctrinally responsible, and faithfully missional. Collectively, the movement embraces history (in large measures from the early church or medieval church); teaches the scriptures (often dialogically or through stories; not necessarily in an expositional way); supports creativity and even improvisational kinds of worship (displayed through art or other creative expressions); and attempts to speak to a generation engaged in various kinds of pilgrimage, spiritual or otherwise (in missional ways).

The transdenominational nature of Emergent communities means that members of many of these churches within the United States come from a variety of evangelical and mainline backgrounds, or even Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox backgrounds (I would presume), and even those unaffiliated with any church whatever. This also means that Emergent churches are by and large independent churches, communities of faith not part of any formal denominational structure or body. Many Emergent pastors, leaders, and practitioners, however, meet annually at meetings and conventions (such as this week's Emergent Gathering; anyone blogging about this?), while others in the movement host local meetings, known formally as "cohorts." These modes of meeting and contexts for conversation, often initiated and/or announced electronically through web sites and blogs, indicate a desire for authentic community (identified and articulated beautifully in Aaron Flores's recent Master's thesis from Vanguard University), and conversations sometimes include discussion with those outside of the Emergent movement.1

Now some thoughts about what I take to be one of the most important trajectories of the Emerging/Emergent movement.

Those in the Emergent community often describe cultural engagement, what some call evangelism, as a "missional" activity. In fact, in the literature of the Emergent church one is less likely to come across references to evangelistic strategies or schemes; rather, one more often reads about missional modes of cultural interaction, and carefully defined statements about living within postmodern culture. Several theologians and thinkers illustrate the Emergent understanding(s) of missional.

In a recent essay, "The Church as a Missional Community," theologian Darrell Guder argues that the term missional avoids direct reference to words like "missionary," a controversial word with imperialistic overtones. "The term missional," Guder explains, "is an attempt to move the discussion beyond too narrow definitions of mission as merely one among the various programs of the church, and to find ways to think about the church's calling and practice today in light of the fact of the multicultural global church."2

Similarly, in A Generous Orthodoxy (2004) Emergent leader Brian McLaren suggests that the term missional "probably reflects a kind of postcolonial embarrassment about the term missionary, which has too often been associated with a colonial version of Christianity that inadvertently (one hopes) exported (and imposed) Euro-American culture right along with the gospel of gets us beyond the us-them thinking...that lead [sic] to prejudice, exclusion, and ultimately religious wars."3

Jesus historian Scot McKnight echoes Guder and McLaren and describes the global implications of a missional outlook. The missional church "breaks down the barrier between secular and sacred," writes McKnight, "between the spiritual and the secular, and between the holy and the profane. If the former conceptualization of the gospel was in the terms of "come out from among them" or "be not of this world," the missional Christians are asking how to be among them and of this world in order to participate in what God is doing."4 Describing Jesus's "missional discourse" from Matthew 9-11, McKnight explains that missional work "incarnates" Christ as Christians extend grace into their contexts and settings. By so doing, McKnight describes, "the missional person finds herself or himself on the border, in liminality, and that means being forced to make decisions never made before. Forced to do things never done before. Forced to engage in situations never engage before. Force[d] to try new things and see new things and say new things - and it is not easy to know what is right sometimes."5

To be missional, then, according to Guder, McLaren, and McKnight, is to possess a global outlook attuned to the diverse work of the Spirit, and to frame cultural engagement in more organic or relational ways, prizing dialogue above confrontation, and creativity over programmatic engagement. In my estimation, the missional posture of the Emergent church, its global-consciousness-in-liminality, offers a way for the movement to dialogue with Christianity in global terms and on a global scale - something about which I will write several posts down the road.

The next post will reflect on the Emergent engagement with postmodernism.

1For a list of meetings and links to local cohorts, visit Emergent Village. The Emergent-US group, along with other sponsors, will host theologian Miroslav Volf in February 2006 in the "2006 Theological Conversation." One hopes that future conversations/consultations will also include formal exchanges with theologians and/or practitioners from Latin America, Africa, or Asia.

2Darrell L. Guder, "The Church as Missional Community," in eds. Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier, The Community of the Word: Toward an Evangelical Ecclesiology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 116. Guder places the concept of being missional in the context of ecclesiology and illuminates much of the discussion about missional within the Emerging church: "Our ecclesiologies of institutional maintanence and the tending of savedness are not adequate to the task that faces us now. We cannot evangelize under the assumption that most of what it means to be a practicing Christian is already handled by one's being born and raised in so-called Christian North America - so that all one needs to do is accept Jesus, join an church and perhaps start tithing. Nor can we evangelize under the assumption that our culture prepares people for Christ, so that we merely need to recognize the "felt needs" that people bring to church with them" (121).

3Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 106, 109.

4Scot McKnight, "Pro Missional," weblog post , July 13, 2005, (accessed July 2005).

5Scot McKnight, "Jesus on Being Missional 1, 7," weblog posts, August 28 and September 3, 2005, (accessed September 2005).

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Bald Blogging on the Emerging Church, Part I

**Most of my posts on the Emerging Church will have "endnotes" where readers may refer to my notes, citations, and further reflection. These posts are aimed at both professional scholars and laypeople, and above all I hope readable for/to all who visit. Some posts will be quite long, while others much shorter.**

“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), [Accessed May 2005]; Chuck Smith, Jr., “What is Emerging?,” Worship Leader 14/2 (March/April 2005): 22-27; D.A. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005); Gerardo Marti, A Mosaic of Believers: Diversity and Innovation in a Multiethnic Church (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005); Albert R. Mohler, “What Should We Think of the Emerging Church? Part One” Christian Post (July 29, 2005), and “What Should We Think of the Emerging Church? Part 2” Christian Post (June 30, 2005), [Accessed July 2005]; D.A. Carson, “The Emerging Movement,” Modern Reformation 14/4 (July/August 2005): 11-18; Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger, Emerging Churches: Creating Community in Postmodern Cultures (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005); Jonny Baker, “The Labyrinth. Ritualisation as Strategic Practice in Postmodern Times,” (M.A. thesis, Kings College, 2000); Matthew Guest, “Negotiating Community: An Ethnographic Study of an Evangelical Church,” (Ph.D. diss., Lancaster University, 2002); Steve Taylor, “A New Way of Being Church,” (Ph.D. diss., Otago University, 2004); and Aaron Flores, “An Exploration of the Emerging Church in the United States: The Missiological Intent and Potential Implications for the Future,” (M.A. thesis, Vanguard University, 2005). Though I knew of Aarons Flores’s work, citations to the academic work on the Emerging church from abroad and information about the forthcoming issue of the International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church appeared on the July 20 and 28, 2005, posts at pastor Steve Taylor’s blog . A version of Steve Taylor’s doctoral dissertation appeared as The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005). The White Horse Inn radio program devoted its March 6, March 17, and July 17, 2005, shows to the Emergent church, and the July 8 and July 15, 2005, episodes of Religion & Ethics Newsweekly devoted attention to the Emerging church.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Reflections on the Emergent/Emerging Movement/Church/Conversation

This note is to announce a series of posts forthcoming on the Emergent/Emerging Movement/Church/Conversation.

I use "Emergent/Emerging" to indicate that my reflections are mainly on the Emergent "movement" in the United States, though throughout these posts I will interact with the larger "Emerging" movement situated in the U.K. and elsewhere in the world. I use "Movement/Church/Conversation" because in my research I notice the use of all three terms to describe this particular faith movement. Henceforth I will use Emergent or Emerging when the context dictates and I will use movement, church, and conversation (generally) interchangeably.

At this point I envision a series of somewhere around 15 posts that will begin with a glance at the flurry of attention the Emergent/Emerging movement has received in the last 12-15 months or so. I will then outline what I see as the major themes of the movement and discuss the movement's relation to postmodernism. From here I will flesh out the themes I identify previously, narrated through/by the voices of Emergent/Emerging writers, pastors, and practitioners. My comments will then shift to a more descriptive (rather than expositional) mode. I will describe my experiences with Ecclesia, an Emergent community in Houston; I participated in/with this community through the Lenten season earlier this year. Summary thoughts will follow this post, and will have something of an interpretive edge. I will then move into the prescriptive mode, and offer my thoughts as to where and how the Emergent movement in the United States might interface Christianity in the global south.

I plan then to offer my reviews of D.A. Carson's now infamous book on the Emerging church and R. Scott Smith's forthcoming work that interacts with the Emergent movement.

Here's where I stand in relation to the Emergent/Emerging conversation: First, [born in 1977] I am what Robert Webber calls a "younger evangelical." I am one who attempts to "deal thoughtfully with the shift from twentieth- to twenty-first-century culture," as Webber puts it, "[one who] is committed to construct a biblically rooted, historically informed, and culturally aware new evangelical witness in the twenty-first century" (16). More specifically, I would describe myself as a "catholic evangelical," one who hails from the evangelical strain of Christianity, and is somewhat ambivalent toward yet hopeful for the movement, and who attempts to dialogue historically, theologically, practically, and relationally with both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Second, I am a historian by training, though my interests, writing, research, and teaching straddle disciplinary boundaries. Third, I am not "officially" (i.e., a "member") part of an Emergent community, though I am an interested observer and occasional participant in Emergent activities.