What Does It Mean to be Emerging?

February 9, 2004 — Leave a comment

During the past few days, there has been some discussion going around the blogs on the nature of the “emerging church” movement. Folks like Andrew Jones have been attempting to define what this is all about. Others like Alan Creech say that it’s not a movement, but rather a loose way of thinking that is shared by several folks.

To give a little history as I understand it. The whole concept of the “emerging church” arose out of conversations among a group of young church leaders on the relationship between ministry and postmodernism. As these leaders talked, the realized how much the assumptions of modernism (dualism, dependence on logic and oral argument, categorization, etc.) had permeated the church (especially in the evangelical tradition). These leaders brought up in a world that is much more “postmodern” than modern recognized that the assumptions they had been brought up with didn’t make much sense in this world, and that they were more in tune with modernity than with scripture, tradition, and experience. The conversations continued. Others began to get involved. Folks like Brian McLaren began to write on the issue. Others, like Doug Pagitt and Tim Keel, planted new churches that turned the assumptions of the “traditional church” (whatever that means) upside down. Over time, a number of folks were drawn into this conversation, and it continues through blogs, through the Emergent web site, and through events like The Emergent Convention.

So what does it mean to be emerging? Unfortunately, it means different things for different people. For some, it represents a move toward an alternative worship style (sometimes called “Anicent-Future) which moves away from the seeker sensitive models of worship and marries ancient practices with contemporary elements. For others, emerging represents the latest way to market to the new niche of postmodern, gen-X, young adults. For others of us, as Alan Creech and Brian McLaren have suggested, it is much more of a way of thinking about God, church, scripture, and life.

While I don’t really want to offer a full definition of what it means to be “emerging,” here are a couple of ideas on what it means for me.

1) Emerging folks generally maintain a theology that places the story of creation at the center of theological / biblical understanding (the hermeneutical center, for those seminary folks). The story of Jesus is only understood in relation to the story of creation. This is different from much evangelical, Calvinist thought which places the crucifixion as the center around which the story is understood (all roads lead to the cross). I could say more on this, but for right now, let’s just assume this is the case.

2) Emerging folks generally acknowledge that scriptural understanding is a process of interpretation. For the most part, emerging folks reject the literal interpretation theory, recognizing that nobody truly believes in the Bible literally. While scriptural authority is maintained (for some more than others), there is an acknowedgement that human authorship was part of the process, and that tradition has influenced our understanding of scripture through the years.

3) Emerging folks generally embrace ancient traditions of the church, especially in regards to spiritual practices / spiritual formation. Tradition is not seen as evil, but a a resource for growth. However, the appreciation for tradition is limited. The traditions that are lifted up must be filled with meaning, and generally focus more on spirituality than ecclesial practice.

4) Emerging folks have an appreciation for social justice as a spiritual practice. There is an understanding that Jesus came into the world to free the oppressed, and that our spirituality is directly connected to our work at bringing forth God’s kingdom on earth.

5) Emerging folks are less concerned about developing and maintaining institutions, and are seeking to participate in community. The place of connection and relationship is important for emerging folks. As such, they are willing to eschew some of the megachurch understandings on church growth as they work at developing community. Bigger is not necessarily better. Quantity does not outweigh quality.

6) Emerging folks generally mistrust religious authorities who attempt to define theological categories for them. Rather, they want to “do theology,” to develop ways of understanding God in community together.

Anna is calling and I have to get the girls ready for school. I’ll try to write more on this later.

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