Toward a Hopeful Future, pt. 3
In the first third of Toward a Hopeful Future, Phil Snider and Emily Bowen set out to clarify what they mean when they speak of emergent. Their intent is to offer an introduction to emergent theology in such a way that mainline congregations will see similarities to their own theologies and begin to make room for emergents in their congregations. In that regard, the book is really written for seasoned mainline clergy who hope to find ways to bring new life to their congregation. Phil and Emily are quick to clarify, however, that “progressives [do not] need to develop a different theological identity that is somehow more attractive to emergents — in other words, becoming something they are not — but instead it is about digging deeply within the rich traditions that have already shaped their identity in formative ways” (p. 2) They continue, “Much of the ‘church growth’ literature over the last several years has advised congregations to discern trends and patterns of a particular demographic in order to develop a marketing strategy that brings the desired demographic within the walls of the church. We must emphatically state that we do not advocate this approach” (p. 51).
The authors go on to define the emergents that they discuss as “comprised mostly of evangelicals (or postevangelicals) who are seeking a more open, inclusive, and socially aware approach to Christianity than what has recently been the norm in most North American evangelical circles” (p. 10). Moreover, many of these people are from “emerging generations,” which is another way of describing a demographic of people who influenced heavily by postmodernism (pp. 9-10).
All of this sets a helpful stage for their introduction for their plea to mainliners to make room for emergents. Progressive churches have nothing to fear from emergents and everything to gain. In their eyes, “emergents are not interested in being territorial or in having the corner on progressive approaches to faith; rather, they are passionate about collaborating with a wide variety of Christians who are committed to making God’s realm a reality on earth, whether or not folks self-identify as ‘emergent’ or not” (pp. 20-21). In fact, Phil and Emily declare, emergents carry a deep reverence for church tradition, though they often tend to introduce creative innovations into the expressions of these tradition (pp. 23-24 32, 56).
To help mainliners better understand emergents, the book offers an intro to thinkers such as Tony Jones, Brian McLaren, Karen Ward, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and Peter Rollins (to name a few), and I’m absolutely convinced that these thinkers would feel well-represented by Phil and Emily’s work.
The book is intended for clergy in mainline denominations. And as such (and judging by the first third of the book), it will be an invaluable resource for those mainliners who are willing to create space for new expressions of ancient traditions—and a frustration for those hoping to become conversant in emerging thought in order to attract young people to their aging churches. But I think Phil and Emily have also written a guide for young emergents who feel alone, who have given up on evangelicalism, and who have no idea where to turn. This book will not only introduce the mainliner to emergent, it might very well introduce a few emergents to the mainline denominations.