The Death of the Emerging Church?!
Some of my readers may have noticed the recent developments amongst those formerly known as insiders into the emerging church movement. Some of you, however, may not spend as much time as I do rummaging through the blogosphere. So, I thought I would offer you a quick survey of this recent development. Then I will offer my own thoughts on the death of the emerging church.
The first post I saw was one by Tony Jones. Jones responds to some claims that he encountered about the “demise of the emerging church” from the Tall Skinny Kiwi, Andrew Jones. TSK accuses the emerging church movement (EMC) of losing its radical edge on the one hand and of doing nothing on the other. Tony J responds by suggesting that radicality is more about content than about the tingling feeling one gets in the base of his or her spine. The message, Tony J suggests, is still radical, even if people don’t react like those silly hyenas in the Lion King. (“Emergent!” “Oooooo. Say it again!”)
TSK responded with a point by point post. His response questions Tony J’s stance on a couple of theological issues, questioning his orthodoxy. His responses are brief and pithy, though fairly unsubstantiated. I imagine TSK sensed this, which prompted his next post. This time, he bids adieu to Emergent Village (EV), rather than the emerging church movement. TSK accuses those associated with EV of “new theological emphases and sectarian attitudes” (though he refuses to clarify in the comments). He announces that his blog “will be more geared to covering the wider mission, church and social enterprise scene as well as resourcing people – like you – to leave a lasting impact on their world” rather than focusing on emerging ideas.
Blogger Jordon Cooper wrote a detailed response to TSK’s post. Cooper is friendly towards EV, even though the specific language of emerging is not all that important to him. Though he understands and respects TSK’s decisions, Cooper does clarify one of the critique’s leveled in TSK’s post. TSK quotes some promotional material for Christianity21, a conference put on by Tony J and Doug Pagitt (not EV proper). TSK recites with disgust, “Those who started emergent were at the National ReEvaluation Forum in 1998; those who will take it into the next chapter will be at Christianity21.” Cooper clarifies that this is promotional propaganda. In other words, it’s probably an exaggeration to sell the conference, not a literal proclamation.
There are tons of blogs on this issue, so here are a few quick links with less detail:
The Emerging Church’s obituary (Rick Bennett’s blog has several posts on the issue).
Brian LePort is with TSK. (In the comments, LePort goes so far as to say that emerging was just another fad.)
And LePort’s clarification.
My favorite post on this whole debate comes from Deacon Hall on Homebrewed Christianity. Hall says that the EMC may be dead, if it is defined strictly as a sociological movement (and here I would quote Tony J’s warning, “And I think it’s always dangerous to start to declare something over as an historian when one is still up to one’s ankles in it”). Hall suggests that all movements end; that’s just the fact of the matter. But Hall insists that “the only Emerging Church is the Church Universal.” The Church, by God’s grace, is always moving, always changing, and in a sense, always emerging.
Hall’s response is the most insightful to me. It seems that people are debating the end of a sociological movement, which is dangerous from this vantage point. But in reality, it’s not the movement that these people are fed up with; it’s the term. Emerging/emergent has always been about the semantics. It makes sense that people are ready for a new world, particularly when one things about the postmodern addiction and need to change. The terminology has become worn and tired for some, but the idea of moving beyond the recently deceased EMC is a quintessentially emerging kind of idea, regardless of how you feel about the semantics. Like Deacon Hall, I’m not sure that the sociological movement is actually over, and it’s fairly irrelevant to me. But I’m adamantly concerned that the ethos of emergence—the humility, the questioning, the generosity, the collaboration, and the friendships—continues as a trademark of the Church. It’s time for the “after the death-of-emergent” ecclesiologies to emerge.