Wednesday, July 12, 2006

there is no such thing as emerging church

Given that I don’t have a Mac, a goatee or sunglasses, I find this cartoon hilariously funny.


It also names a personal wondering of mine over the last few weeks: is there is any such thing as emerging church?

I wrote this a few weeks ago: The emerging church seems (IMHO) to be a shared conversation among people, groups and churches, about life and faith in a changing contemporary context. But it is so easy to objectify the stories and to read the conversation as monolithic, as “this is the emerging church.” In doing so, the stories have been stripped of context. They are then in danger of commodification, as books, websites, podcasts etc. (A few sentences buried in a jet-lagged post about place and cross-cultural storytellinghere).

In other words; there is a conversation between various people about mission, faith, God, church in a postmodern context. This conversation has become commodified and homogenised into a universalist label “emerging church.”

The result
– the focus has become the conversation rather than the work of missional communities
– like any good conversation, it has no “leader.” Thus it has very few mechanism to respond to critics. (This infuriates critics even more.)
– words and labels can so easily be used to exclude and include
– we are in danger of homogenising voices and contexts and in so doing, obscure difference.

Posted by steve at 12:51 PM


  1. I wrote the other day:

    The Four O-s Of Success
    I think obscurity is the path. Obfuscation are the stepping stones. Obstinance is the fuel. And orangutans just start with an ‘o’. They’ll be the cheerleaders. Lots of orangutans.

    Together they form a chain which cannot be broken unless somebody pulls hard enough.

    I’m still unsure exactly what I meant by that… but since then I saw 7 orangutans catapulted into space… and I witnessed my parent’s 40th anniversary…

    Comment by Keith — July 12, 2006 @ 3:29 pm

  2. Maybe I should explain the seven orangutans and space:

    Comment by Keith — July 12, 2006 @ 3:30 pm

  3. Since the church is the saints, and emerging is a conversation why couldn’t there be an emerging church? that might be stretching a bit and I get your point but I think it’s easy to get hung up on all this stuff instead of doing the real work of the kingdom…which is probably why I don’t really use the term emerging in the context of our specific community of faith, I just don’t want to get sucked into that vortex. I like what the Eastern Orthodox Church says – you just have to come and experience it. And that’s what I would say to people who demand that others identify/label themselves

    Comment by Makeesha — July 12, 2006 @ 3:34 pm

  4. A few thoughts Makeesha;
    1. i use the word conversation to refer to what is happening outside a local church – blogs, books, conferences, etc.
    2. it is a real challenge to describe what you are doing to outsiders — come and see only works if people are willing to trust you and can be physically present — when they can’t, we use words and then we are faced/bounded by the limitations of our words.

    Comment by steve — July 12, 2006 @ 3:49 pm

  5. I just have to carry on a little bit more.

    My view is narrow. I’ll say that up front. But, in some respects, that may be of service.

    My experience has been several books that I have run across. I wish I could rembember the first one. I don’t go to a church that I’d consider emerging. I’d say it is submerging if anything. I started with books on the history of the American church… and I’ve read other things… where I was trying to get a better historical context for my faith. I read a couple historians that were IMO honestly grappling with issues. Then I read some stuff on culture… generational cultures… mind you mostly centered around American stuff… although I read a couple books on the history of the Reformation.

    My passion has been on pulling out of the assumed conventions that we’ve (or at least I’ve) always taken for granted as -it-. As -it- has seemed to have been obliterated.

    I knew this deep inside, but thought there was nothing to do about it, but clam up, grin and bear it. But I ran into a couple other people, not online, who were grappling in a similar fashion.

    At first I couldn’t believe that anybody could be wrestling with this stuff so brutally. One guy came to our church and spoke, his name is Darrel Guder. That was, I believe, the first and last time I saw somebody who was totally rocking. That dude doesn’t need a goatee. That is a limited perspective.

    It just wasn’t until recently that I really poked around on the internet to get a grip on what is being considered emergent. Quite honestly, part of me didn’t want to know for fear that I’d find out that my growing passion was just another inevitable expression of my age group.

    For the most part, I think I’m crotchety enough to have decided that I’m going to stick with my old church where I probably will find much more gray hair than anything.

    To me, the real fringe will be doing like that guy who wrote “In The Ruins Of The Church”… that is tough work though.

    Because when it comes down to it, we are all creaturely, and like you say categorizing throws up walls. But working amidst the people while the walls crumble cannot be taken for a trendy-half-latte dumaflotcher. But being trendy isn’t bad either. Whatever.

    I like the conversation. I like the honesty of it. And if it is simply an outgrowth of tech savvy geek Christians with an attitude, oh well, may Christ be preached.

    Shoot. That cartoon is pretty funny though. The silly thing is that I was expecting the guy with the notepad to have a Dell.

    BTW: I think the open source software deal embodies much the same ethos as the emergent movement… I think Linus Torvalds is a great example of a leader who has remained basically underground… leading… yet not heirarchically… but more of a neural thing.

    Better run. ’nuff said.

    Comment by Keith — July 12, 2006 @ 4:19 pm

  6. BTW: I posted the last comment… which took me some time… so I missed the Makeesha-Steve exchange… so the above post was not in response…

    Comment by Keith — July 12, 2006 @ 4:22 pm

  7. Keith, your comment linking open source and emergent is quite accurate. And perhaps that sabotages my rant. open source is about lots of people creating code, but it does need a shared language and words (linux and open source) to create momentum. So perhaps we do need a shared conversation. Oh well 🙂

    Comment by steve — July 12, 2006 @ 4:29 pm

  8. Dang. I’m breaking the talking-too-much rule.

    But here: is a place that discusses in the context of software:
    # Reputation&trust
    # Routing
    # Social software
    # Social topology
    # Thoughts
    # Semantic addresses
    # Semantic content
    # Semantic distance
    # Control vs Openness theory

    … to me I think we can run the danger of confusing the method or conduits with the actual. In other words, we get hyped on the forms or styles (you mentioned this) with the actual.

    That isn’t to discount the wondrous new systems… but maybe this is what you are talking about when you say “conversation”.

    I’m just saying that when the rubber meets the road, Aunt Bessie needs help getting to the doctor… listening to U2 isn’t going to help Aunt Bessie… neither is a cool haircut. But I’m not knocking cool! We’d have little or no youth ministry without it. (at least us Americans)

    Comment by Keith — July 12, 2006 @ 4:46 pm

  9. Shoot… that was another comment… where I missed yours in between… so the above was yet not-another-response response

    Comment by Keith — July 12, 2006 @ 4:48 pm

  10. I must say… that I’d -love- to think/write about what you just said about open source, language etc… but I have a jury summons in the morning… 🙁 And I have to wake up… and it is late…

    Comment by Keith — July 12, 2006 @ 4:49 pm

  11. steve – I think perhaps you misunderstood my random pondering as a disagreement. I agree with your general thoughts about “those outside”. and by the way, that cartoon is very funny.

    Comment by Makeesha — July 13, 2006 @ 1:23 am

  12. Makeesha, thanks for commenting again. i didn’t feel like i was disagreeing with you and i’m regret if that’s the way it came across.

    i was just checking with the first comment we were both hearing each other right; and the second comment was me “bounce” off what you’d said – finding it helpful and trying to integrate the new perspective.

    peace, steve

    Comment by steve — July 13, 2006 @ 11:25 am

  13. I had planned on commenting on the open source deal… only I’m just getting home after a looong day (midnight-ish)… so I’m afraid it is going to slip… and I’ll probably never get to it 🙁

    Comment by Keith — July 13, 2006 @ 5:17 pm

  14. steve – gotcha – I think we should just keep going back and forth talking about how we don’t disagree with one another 😉 written communication is certainly not always the most effective is it?

    Comment by Makeesha — July 14, 2006 @ 3:22 am

  15. While searching for the Mclaren talk on lectio divina… I ran across a few anti-emergent sites. This quote was interesting…

    “A debate is a conflict which clarifies a position. A dialogue is a conversation which compromises a position.”

    I guess they haven’t been able to nail it on the head, so they are saying that if nothing else, you shouldn’t even speak with one another… and attempt to move along with one another…

    Funny. I suppose it has some truth. I think we agree the position we are in stinks, so lets talk. I don’t know.

    Comment by Keith — July 14, 2006 @ 12:30 pm

  16. I’ve never heard that definition of dialogue before – I can’t respect someone very easily who actually distorts the meaning of an entire concept to fit their agenda.

    Comment by Makeesha — July 15, 2006 @ 1:28 am

  17. I am guessing that they made that point about dialogue since they think that truth is adherence to a patented set of line-item rules. And the goal in life is to abide by those set-in-stone items. Although they claim that they don’t, in practice, they do.

    One site has reduced the entire “emergent” thing into a spawn of the “New Age” movement. How silly is that?

    What gets me is that the part of the “emergent” deal I am attracted to is the emphasis on loving your neighbor and loving God.

    Hopefully the emergent movement is about, as you said, doing the work of the Kingdom.

    There are threads within any movement that are going to be errant. There are going to be people who abuse for self-advancement. That hasn’t changed since day one.

    To me, what we are saying offers hope, because it is adaptable.

    And they may cry that God doesn’t change and you can’t add a word to what is there… and full disclosure and all that…

    But what I find in this emergent thing is people honestly grappling with change… and keeping as best they know how… the faith… which in some sense does not change.

    I can’t imagine that if you, Makeesha, disagreed with me, and we bunkered in our own little holes fortifying our positions, that we’d be any closer to the truth. This reduces truth to something that is dead, IMHO.

    I can see debate good though.

    There are obvious contradictions as I sit here and debate my position against theirs. But I can live with that. Maybe that is the difference.

    Or maybe there is no difference. Okay I slipped into nowhereland. Hee hee.

    Comment by Keith — July 15, 2006 @ 11:19 am

  18. In a brief post I think you have identified areas that should be of real concern for the emerging church. How might it compliment Internet discussions and critique of other expressions of church to critically interact and self-reflect on missional church theology and praxis?

    Related to this, discerning EC practitioners might also be interested in an article by Simeon Payne & Philip Johnson serialized in four installments on my blog:

    Perhaps there is value in EC leaders interacting with missiologists and theologians in order to move beyond the pixel fixation?

    Comment by John W. Morehead — July 19, 2006 @ 5:50 am

  19. This picture seems to sum it up quite well 🙂 The guy with the glasses and a paper notepad is supposedly out of sync. Reminds me a lot of how I tend to operate 🙂

    “Shoot. That cartoon is pretty funny though. The silly thing is that I was expecting the guy with the notepad to have a Dell.”

    Yeah no kidding 🙂 I could dust off my iBook, but honestly I’d rather use my Dell laptop. If needed I can run PearPC and bring up MacOS on the Dell. 1337 h@x0r rulz!!!111!

    “BTW: I think the open source software deal embodies much the same ethos as the emergent movement…”

    To a degree but the philosophies behind open source are quite different between projects and people. Comparing the nebulous open source movement with the nebulous emerging church movement is tempting, but dangerously oversimplifies the complexities of both. Just because something is open source doesn’t mean it’s well suited to Christianity. Eric S. Raymond’s “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” compares Emacs with constructing a cathedral with a small team of builders and designers – not something we would want to model our practice of Christianity after.

    Although I’ve blogged some of my thoughts on the emerging church and where I think it goes off base, I haven’t yet put my thoughts to paper on a better way forward. They say that the greatest novels are the ones that never get written 😉

    Comment by Michael Hamblin — July 19, 2006 @ 8:17 am

  20. I am very late in getting in on this conversation, and I am new to this site.

    First off, I do not come from a church background, I have recently been invited to know Christ and have been rockin’ life for Him for 2 and a half years. So I don’t have any longevity in tradition and religion. I would be considered peers with those who want to be part of an emergin church movement.

    I would like to comment on a thought that ran through my mind while reading the Makeesha-Steve exchange. What if the emerging church movement meant we, followers of Christ, were spilling out of our church (defined by an address) to impact the world. Not what I would consider the definition of an emerging church as I have heard it.

    This is not a Sunday school answer either. What if we stopped worrying about how to define, or by emerging church standards not define, ourselves and just started loving people.

    Is it easier to love someone over e-mail or in person? I think the answer to that is clear, which helps define my stance on emerging church.

    No one will probably read this but it was a way for me to write down my idea as I read. If you do read this, thanks for putting up with me and my limited perspectives.

    In Him, Chad

    Comment by Chad — July 22, 2006 @ 9:13 am

  21. Chad,
    thanks for dropping by. I wonder if we can saying the same thing; when I said the focus needs to “the work of missional communities” ie on, as you say “What if the emerging church movement meant we, followers of Christ, were spilling out of our church (defined by an address) to impact the world.”

    I was trying to say, obviously not clearly enough, that I think this missional task of local loving is exactly what the missional church should be about.

    Sorry I didn’t make that clear.

    Comment by steve — July 22, 2006 @ 10:46 am

  22. looking at the cartoon, it seems to me that the person with the paper and pen/cil, no goatee and no shades, may not be a male! But if all the dudes sitting round are men, then what is the cartoon saying?

    Comment by Eileen — July 23, 2006 @ 6:58 pm

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