Monday, June 08, 2009

The "death" of the emerging church conversation

It seems that the latest fad in the blogosphere has been to debate the state of the emerging church conversation. Specifically, regarding the seeming lack of direction at Emergent Village, some have been quick to declare the entire emerging church conversation "over".

Examples of such claims can be found here and here, while alternate viewpoints can be found here and here.

Given that people much smarter and more eloquent than me have already weighed in on this issue, here are my thoughts.

It's a bit of a misnomer to declare Emergent Village or the larger emerging church conversation "dead" because from the beginning, this whole conversation has not played by the standard rules of what we usually think of as "movements".

For example, most movements in the modern era have tended to coalesce around a particular individual or group of individuals who come to symbolize the values and goals of the movement. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the symbol of the Civil Rights movement. Jerry Falwell was the symbol of the Religious Right/"Moral Majority" movement. Reaching farther back, Martin Luther was the symbol of the Protestant movement. 

While some folks have tried to cast Brian McLaren and/or Tony Jones as the leader and symbol of the "emergent movement", both gentlemen have actively (and wisely, in my opinion) resisted such labels because the emergent conversation would be ill served by playing by such rules.

Instead of being a "movement" as such, the emerging church conversation has been an attempt to shine the spotlight on some thinking and practices that are emerging (hence the term) in different places and share some common characteristics. 

These characteristics include the tendency to question long held assumptions, deep suspicion of authority while not rejecting it outright, a fascination with ancient thinking and practices long forgotten by the modern evangelical movement (which generally does play by the rules of a "movement"), and an emphasis on conversation and learning from one another as opposed to promoting a set list of ideas. 

A couple years back there was some conversation about an emergent "statement of faith/orthodoxy", that thinkers like Brian and Tony resisted, because that would be playing by a set of rules that the whole conversation had consciously rejected since the beginning.

If anything, the emerging church conversation is deeply eschatological, in the sense that it anticipates something that has begun, but has not yet fully arrived. It acknowledges the stirrings of something new and significant, and resists bracketing it with definitions and statements of faith because the most significant work is yet to come.

So is the emerging church conversation "dead"? No, not by any stretch of the imagination. 

It's going through an ebb and flow, yes, maybe something akin to Martin Luther hiding out at Augsburg and people wondering if he was alive, but it's not over. The best is yet to come, which has been the idea the whole time anyway.

Stay tuned...

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