Emergent and Renewal

I had a very interesting conversation yesterday with Jim Wallis (of Sojourners), Brian McClaren (Emergent Village),  and several young people about a possible “American Green Belt Festival” planned now for the summer of 2009. “Green Belt” has been around in England for decades and is a combination music festival, art show, conference, and revival! It is ecumenical and celebrates renewal in its broadest sense.

The dream here is to find an American expression of that event, bringing together large numbers of young people — musicians, artists, pastors, teachers, seekers — who are involved in the “emergent” church, movement, conversation (whatever) with some of us “mainliners” who are interested in tracking and learning from this movement. The hope is also to cast a wide net by being “catholic friendly,” diverse in race, class, age, and ethnicity. 

The emergent conversation often describes itself as being post-evangelical and post-liberal, seeking to find ways to bring the gospel message of the kingdom of God to the “post modern” world by linking faith and social justice.  I’d be interested to hear from some of you who check in with this blog from time to time what you know or think about “emergent.” 

Is this a new wave of renewal or a “passing fad?”

10 Responses to “Emergent and Renewal”

  1. thomas bushnell, bsg Says:

    it’s too vague to say. the word has no meaning, as yet, which could help one identify “this counts as ’emergent’ and that does not”. it is a word around which people get excited (some of them), whether positively or negatively. they are generally either reacting to the word itself, or else to things they have heard about it, or to particular experiences and places which may or may not be typical of things labelled “emergent”.

    green belt, btw, is not all sweetness and light.

  2. ecubishop Says:

    Say more…

  3. rwk Says:

    I’ve read a lot about the emergent church and it seems first and foremost a demographic phenomenon — maybe akin to the “Jesus Movement” of the 1960s. My understanding is that the emergent church movement features two key groups — young evangelicals who have grown disenchanted with their experiences in mega-churches and are looking for something countercultural as “the church” they grew up in looks to much like the culture they live in and previously unchurched persons who find post-modern culture rootless and ultimately unsatisfying. What I find interesting is that both groups have looked back, waaaay back, into Christian history to revive old models of community and bring them into the modern world. There is apparently a great deal of attraction to the forms of worship in the Orthodox Church and Coptic Church. A revival of the mystical. This in some ways makes since because the post-modern discards the idea of a knowable “truth” and without it the categories of reason and science are greatly weakened. Whether such a strategy is viable long-term is an interesting question which I do not know the answer to. However, wherever the Word of God is proclaimed, lives will be transformed and for that I am grateful. As Paul reminds us, it is necessary to become all things to all people if you are to reach them with the Word of God.

  4. Mike Croghan Says:

    Hi folks,

    If you want to find out more about the emerging church/movement/conversation/wossname, my advice is: don’t just read about it; meet some folks who are connected to it. As others have mentioned, there’s a lot written about it, from a variety of perspectives – some of which are very strongly felt. Both the specifics and the generalizations you read might be misleading, only because it’s such a diverse movement. A good friend of mine recently put it this way: emerging churches are churches that tend to be more interested in Jesus than in Christianity. But even that’s misleading, since (as rwk noted), a lot of emerging churches are digging a rediscovery of the riches of Christian tradition, while a lot of communities that have zero to do with this movement are a lot more about Jesus than they are about the human religious institutions founded in his name.

    In my opinion (my perspective is from within this movement, BTW, but my background is mainline Episcopalian), what pulls the emerging movement together is three things: 1) a commitment to Jesus, 2) a sometimes extreme willingness to question assumptions about what Jesus-following might look like, and 3) a desire to be friends with one another. A movement founded on those three things leads to an awful lot of diversity.

    So anyway, if you want to take my advice and meet folks who are connected to this movement, let me know. I can probably hook you up with folks geographically near wherever you are, and I can certainly make online connections. You can email me from my blog if you want.

    BTW, I think a US Green Belt festival is a smashing idea. And I also think that partnerships between mainline churches and emerging church communities, in general, are a smashing idea. 🙂

    Mike Croghan

    My church’s website, FYI: http://www.commontable.org/

  5. ecubishop Says:

    Thanks, RWK and Mike! Both of your posts are extremely helpful!

    The one category I would add to RWK’s two “sets” of people who seem most interested in the movement would be “post liberals” who have discovered a certain hollowness in “modernist” deconstruction and categories.

    They too are discovering mystery and paradox and even a certain “second naivete” with respect to scripture and tradition.

  6. Sandy Webb Says:

    Dear “EcuBishop”:

    A few Episcopal seminarians went to Cedar Ridge (the emerging church that Brian McClaren founded in Maryland) a few weeks ago. It was a remarkable experience. The defining characteristic was the contemporary music and the hospitality that was offered to us by all of the members from the moment we stepped in the door. The service was set-up for, and obviously appealed to, those tired of the “traditional” church.

    That said, I am not fully persuaded of the movement’s staying power on the religious landscape. Most of the criticisms being lobbed at the “traditional” church flow from our reevaluation of “traditional” beliefs as we try to respond to what we see God doing in our midst and in the lives of our brothers and sisters. I, too, am more interested in Jesus than Christianity, but it seems that our culture’s frustrations with us (and, in the Episcopal case, our Communion’s frustrations with us) are a result of us not having answers to questions that relate to both Jesus and Christianity, or of us not being able to clearly distinguish solely Jesus questions from solely Christianity questions, if that is even possible.

    It seems inevitable that these pressing cultural questions (e.g., “What do we believe about ___”, “What does Jesus think about ___”, etc.) will find their way into the emerging church movement if they haven’t already, and I will be interested to see how they respond. If the movement can find a better way of answering the culture than the “mainliners” have, they may become the new predominant expression of Christianity here. However, if they can’t find better answers than we have found, I am not sure that they will continue to be seen as an alternative.


  7. Sarah Dylan Breuer Says:

    I was involved in the ‘alternative worship’ movement in Britain in the 90’s, and have been involved in the ’emerging church’ conversation in the U.S. for some years. The first thing I’d want to say is that the emerging church conversation is MUCH bigger than the organization called Emergent or Emergent Village. Emergent mostly consists of white male Americans ’emerging’ from a primarily evangelical or fundamentalist context, and tends to be much more theologically conservative than the emerging church conversation as a whole. The conversation in Britain is shaped far more by Anglicans who are ’emerging’ more from rigid models of church as parish ministry to embrace more “mission-shaped” models, such as we see in the Fresh Expressions movement.

    There are quite a few Episcopalians and members of other mainline denominations who have been involved in the emerging church conversation for years, and I think would be helpful to you in navigating the conversation. Please feel free to give me a shout if you’d like some introductions.

    On whether the emerging church conversation is a fad: The words and “emerging” and “emergent” may and probably will lose currency over time. The points from which those in the conversation are ’emerging’ will change as well; like “coming out,” one hopes that the process will continue, but continue to change as well. But the emerging church conversation, like many church phenomena happening primarily among “Gen Xers,” indicates that many models of being church held too often up as universally “more relevant” or “good for evangelism” — e.g., liturgically stepping back from the BCP, vestments, incense, or traditional music — is mostly a generational phenomenon appealing to Baby Boomers.

    The most important points I’d want TEC leaders to know about the emerging church conversation are these:

    Emerging church’ will mean something different in different contexts of TEC than it does for those emerging from evangelical mega-churches. For example, a great many people in Emergent are still struggling in an “Am I the only one who’s ever thought this?” way with the 20th-century concept of “verbal inerrancy” in scripture, and they find +Tom Wright to be mind-blowingly liberal. And I find myself frequently frustrated as older leaders in TEC, eyeing Emergent, decide without paying much attention to context that it’s “emergent” to have the congregation on sofas, the pastor wear jeans and grow a ‘soul patch,’ and to discard traditional liturgy. Such observers tend not to notice that, for example, Dan Kimball (who is ’emerging’ from a conservative context of non-liturgical and nondenominational congregations) has two books in the bibliography of his book on worship for the emerging church: our 1979 BCP and the New Zealand Prayer Book. “Emergent” evangelicals aren’t “emergent” because their liturgy is less formal than ours; they’re actually moving MORE toward formal liturgy, and Brian McLaren’s congregation, for example, started out using our 1979 BCP and still takes much of their liturgy from it. Similarly, the theological conservativism of many in Emergent needs to be understood within the even more conservative contexts from which these people are ’emerging.’

    The larger point of all this is that the emerging church conversation is not a phenomenon outside of TEC, but one that includes many within it. I am glad to count Brian McLaren as a dear friend and am glad you’re talking with him, but please also talk with Episcopalians in the emerging church conversation both within and outside of the organization called Emergent.

  8. Mike Croghan Says:

    Really good stuff, Dylan. Yeah, what she said. 🙂 Also, it’s worth noting that despite being founded by Brian M., CRCC is not really all that “emerging”. It’s only barely “post-“Evangelical – mostly it’s a moderate Evangelical church community. He’d be the first to admit that. Y’all at VTS are welcome to stop by at Jammin’ Java in Vienna some Sunday morning, if you want to check out something a little more “alternative”. We also use the BCP more than Cedar Ridge does. 😉

    Sandy, you make an excellent point about divisive cultural issues: They can, have, and will become a cause of division and missional distraction for emerging church communities, as they have for mainline churches. It may or may not be an advantage that most emerging church communities are not part of denominational communions where there is some expectation of uniformity. In theory, one emerging community which is very traditional on sexuality issues can be connected by friendship (a looser standard, arguably, than “full communion”) with one that is boldly accepting of, for example, the leadership vocation of gay Christians, and there’s no expectation of conformity on this issue. In practice, of course, everybody struggles with this crap, people get upset with one another, and John 13:33-34 is thrown out the window, even in emerging churches and networks of churches. (This can be especially true in the interactions between Evangelicals and post-Evangelicals, it seems to me – folks can get worked up and judgmental. Human nature, I’m afraid. I’m sure it can happen between us (post-)Liberals too, if we get each other’s dander up.) 🙂

    In my own community, we’re well aware that our own theological diversity, which we celebrate, may some day soon be tested. We’re only about 30 adults and their kids, but our backgrounds are diverse (from Pentecostal to Fundamentalist Evangelical to more moderate Evangelical to a variety of denominational backgrounds: Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Anglican). We’re close enough to each other theologically to worship and discuss scripture together without running up against *completely*incompatible assumptions (for example, I don’t think any of us are rock-hard inerrantists), but some of us are very traditional/evangelical in our view of God, Jesus, and scripture, and others of us keep our mouths shut during the Nicene Creed because we aren’t sure we can affirm all that stuff. 🙂 So if, for example, a gay person became a part of our community who was an obvious fit for our Leadership Team, would it divide us? I don’t think so, but I don’t know it wouldn’t.

    Anyway, good conversation. Thanks, folks.

  9. Taylor Burton-Edwards Says:

    Bishop Epting:

    I’m sort of the current point person within the General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church for emerging church ministry in our denomination. I’ve been working with several folks doing this work across our denomination to organize a modest gathering of us in Nashville in October. I’m also co-presenting (with Karen Ward, and my predecessor at GBOD, Dan Benedict) at an event on worship in the emerging church later that month.

    I’d agree with much of what others have said above– especially Sarah. And I’d add an observation that those of us working at these issues with in the UMC tend to agree with.

    When you’re talking about “emerging,” you’re really talking about four different streams that converge in different ways in different places. Those streams are the contextual missiology of folks like Lesslie Newbigin, a rediscovery and new commitment to the practices of Christian spiritual formation (including community as one of those practices), the kind of “generous orthodoxy” theological conversation one sees in folks like Brian McLaren and organizations like Emergent, and a practice of ancient/future worship (which may itself emerge or not, depending on where folks are on the other three). Not all four appear always and everywhere– but I think these pretty well capture the “larger chunks” of what’s going on.

    You may notice I’ve NOT mentioned two things that are often associated with “emerging”– younger adults and postmodernism– as constitutive. That’s basically because I don’t think either is, and to the degree that either DOES become that, emerging may have found itself a victim of the sort of consumerist market segmentation it more frequently critiques. Why? Because at the core of the missiological understanding behind emerging is the sense that to the degree the church, and especially worship, attempts to be “attractional” it has given up its core mission (which is to send people OUT as disciples of Jesus who witness to the work of the kingdom and follow where Jesus leads) and replaced it with a consumerist one (let’s bring them all in any way we can) which is also, quickly, institutionally focused. If we’re really doing the sending well, THAT will become attractive enough.

    That said, since context does matter, postmodernism in some ways WILL be an important factor in SOME places– though not in all, since not all communities are equally influenced by its presuppositions or patterns. Doing contextual mission means first of all understanding the context at many levels, and then seeing what God is already up to, or seems to be preparing to do, in that context, and then joining what God is doing. There’s a deep sense of prevenient grace about all of this– a trust Jesus meant it when he is reported to have said, “The fields are white to harvest…”

    Hope that helps some, too!

    Peace in Christ,

    The Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards
    Director of Worship Resources
    The General Board of Discipleship of
    The United Methodist Church

  10. ecubishop Says:

    Yes, all the above are very helpful and largely consistent with what I’ve been reading and experiencing in conversations locally. It’s the nature of “movements” that there is great variety, that several often coalesce, and that some streams survive and others do not or morph into something else. Thanks for the sharing, folks!

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