Posted by: minnow | February 19, 2008

What Is Emergent

Tony Jones’ banned lecture at Wheaton College, Josh Brown’s blog series on answering the criticism against Emergent or browsing the Emergent Village site can answer the title question much better than I can for those of you who have no personal connection to an “Emergent Church”. At least they better address the beginnings, the parts of Emergent that are somewhat organized, the Emergent Movement, and the criticism. On the other hand, the more I read the more I wonder if the loosely organized Emergent Movement is aware of a growing number of “on lookers” (like myself) who are emerging from places of Church hurt, and spiritual seeking, who desire fellowship but are gun shy of Church programs, and who do not quite fit the “demographics” of those who have already grouped under the Emergent banner.

While the imagery of a bunch of white guys sitting around a table drinking lattes (or their favorite micro-brew) and discussing theology is romantic, Emergent has morphed since its early days. By their own admissions “they” are a bit bigger now. They are not a denomination in the top down pyramid sense but they are somewhat organized, more like a web network with certain intersections receiving more traffic than other intersections. They reject the notion that they have chosen orthopraxy over orthodoxy saying instead it is impossible to embrace the latter without living the former. They are relational yet deny the criticism that they have abandoned the importance of individual salvation. Instead as Tony Jones argues, “together we are figuring out where the strike zone is”.

Tony’s assertion is where I would like to jump into the conversation. Emerging–whether coming out of the tomb (from death to salvation) as Lazarus did when Jesus brought him back from the grave or budding, blossoming, and baring fruit (growth) like a fruit tree–is an action, a process. My two year old sings “Jesus Loves Me” and prays when she sees others pray. Does that mean she is saved or is she simply copying what she sees around her and learning? Is she different from say a ten year old or a teen who sings and prays? What about an adult who has just been “witnessed” to, shown the four spiritual laws, and repeats the “sinner’s prayer”? Is that person actually much different from my two year old? Are not both of them in process? Does one truly have a better understand of Jesus than the other or of what he or she is doing? Scripture tells us God alone is able to judge (correctly) the contents of a man’s heart (Hebrews 4:12). Is that not a more accurate description of the position Emergent has taken than to say they have abandoned the importance of salvation?

If my assertion is correct then the declaration that Emergent is a verb more than it is a noun fits perfectly. Orthopraxy pushes orthodoxy; community and communities link together to improve education, clean up the environment, alleviate the suffering of HIV/Aids, and end hunger–globally; and salvation walked out by sharing, studying, and pursuing God individually and corporately both inside and outside the Building.

If these definitions and descriptions of Emergent behavior fit then what we have seen so far may only be the tip of the iceberg.  Barna says something like 80 percent of Americans call themselves Christians but only 36 percent attend weekly services.  What does that statistic mean?  44 percent are not telling the truth? Or 44 percent are hungry for God but for one reason or another do not like the taste of Him they get from Building-based Christianity. 

In politics, the so-called core of the Republican party–the moral majority–represented by voices like Ann Coulter and James Dobson, was dealt a shocking blow when it discovered it could no long call the shots for its conservative base.  Does this mean that abortion is no longer an important issue for Christians?  Not at all.  But, it does mean that reasonable people are reasoning differently.  And, the life issue that has driven conservative politics for so long has finally emerged, grown, and matured.  Life has become an inclusive issue.  It is about poverty and world hunger, it is about the economy and war.  It had become about doing not just talking.

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