We are looking into a unity movement in and around the Christian community known as Emergent Church. Tony Jones, one of the founders of the movement, defined terms within the movement like this:
- emergent Christianity – The new forms of Christian faith arising from the old; the Christianity believed and practiced by the emergents.
- the emergent church – The specifically new forms of church life rising from the modern, American church of the twentieth century.
- the emergents – The adherents of emergent Christianity.
- Emergent – Specifically referring to the relational network which formed first in 1997; also known as Emergent Village.
We looked at the influence of Tony Jones, Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt through their books and speaking. Other major influences have been websites, blogs and social media.
The Emergent Village, one of the early E/EC websites, is now Emerging Voices. This is from the “History” section of The Emergent Village –
“Emergent Village began as a group of friends who gathered under the auspices and generosity of Leadership Network in the late 1990s. We began meeting because many of us were disillusioned and disenfranchised by the conventional ecclesial institutions of the late 20th century. The more we met, the more we discovered that we held many of the same dreams for our lives, and for how our lives intersected with our growing understandings of the Kingdom of God.”
Leadership Network’s website (leadnet.org) states the group began in 1984 with 20 leaders and that number has grown in 30 years to more than 200,000 leaders around the world. Their focus is to “work with the few to influence the Many.”
This is the Welcome from the new website, Emerging Voices –
“The Emerging Voices blog picks up where the Emergent Village Voice left off. We are no less than 31 rotating voices speaking daily into this movement to continue conversations around Emergence and emerging Christianity. We hope that by keeping this space alive, all those who are emerging can find mile markers of resonance along their journey. We also hope to inspire action for justice among Emergent, emerging, progressive Christians and all allies of hope, so that might put our faith, together, toward praxis and help make the world we inhabit more Christ-like. We are 50% women, 50% people of color, 25% LGBTQ and 10% international voices and we have much to say.”
Many of the leaders in the Emerging/Emergent Church movement have websites and are blogging. They are an important resource in both the history and current positions of the E/EC. Some are also involved in social media. We share several of those sites for further investigation into what they believe.
Brian D. McLaren –
Tony Jones –
Doug Pagitt –
Tim Keel –
Chris Seay –
Tim Conder –
Tony Campolo –
Rob Bell –
What are the spiritual implications of the E/EC movement that Christians should consider?
I saw some of this coming during the 1970s. Young people then were looking for something different, something “real” in church experiences. I attended many national youth and church conferences where leaders talked about how to make church “relevant” to young people. Some conferences focused on the importance of preaching the Gospel and making disciples through the teachings (doctrine) of Christ. Other conferences focused on the importance of young people experiencing a “journey” through God’s love and making disciples based on unity in His love for all people. One group focused on the historical “orthodoxy” of the Church, while the other group focused on “orthopraxy” of the Church.
The tension between the different spiritual philosophies was clear to me as a young Christian saved in the turbulent early 70s. What was also clear was that the tension would take the “church” in a variety of separate, if not oppositional, directions. In the 40+ years since attending many different church leadership conferences, we have seen many different kinds of “church” initiatives birthed or expanded. Here is a short list in alphabetical order –
So, what’s a young Christian to do? Does it matter which “movement” we join? Aren’t all groups that identify as “Christian” basically the same?
1970 is the year some authors and commentators have chosen as the beginning of the “post-modern era” in culture, art, architecture, philosophy, academics, economics and history. Some have joined it to “deconstructionism” and “post-structuralism.” The term “postmodernism” was first used in a philosophical lexicon in 1979 when Jean-Francois Lyotard wrote La Condition Postmoderne (English version, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, University of Minnesota Press, 1984).
In his book A Primer On Postmodernism, E/EC author Stanley Grenz wrote –
“The term postmodern may first have been coined in the 1930s to refer to a major historical transition already under say and as the designation for certain developments in the arts. But postmodernism did not gain widespread attention until the 1970s. First it denoted a new style of architecture. Then it invaded academic circles, originally as a label for theories expounded in university English and philosophy departments. Eventually it surfaced as the description for a broader cultural phenomenon. Whatever else it might be, as the name suggests, postmodernism signifies the quest to move beyond modernism. Specifically, it involves a rejection of the modern mind-set, but launched under the conditions of modernity. Therefore, to understand postmodern thinking, we must view it in the context of the modern world that gave it birth and against what it is reacting.” A Primer on Postmodernism, Stanley Grenz, Eerdmans Publishing, 1996
I remember the 1970s as a young Christian talking with other young Christians about what it meant to be a Christian in a changing world. Many young Christians believed it was important for the Church to change with the times and become relevant to the needs and demands of young people in western society. The “old” ways were not working and “new” ways should be embraced with hope for the future of the Church. Many young Christians were in the process of turning from “orthodoxy” to “orthopraxy.”
Those discussions eventually led to the issue of “absolutism vs relativism” and “objectivism vs. subjectivism.” E/EC co-founder Brian McLaren, who views the Gospel as more relational/missional than informational, was quoted for an article for Christianity Today in 2004 –
“I think most Christians grossly misunderstand the philosophical baggage associated with terms like absolute and objective (linked to foundationalism and the myth of neutrality). Similarly, arguments that pit absolutism versus relativism, and objectivism versus subjectivism, prove meaningless or absurd to postmodern people: They’re wonderful modern arguments that backfire with people from the emerging culture.” Brian McLaren, “The Broadened Gospel,” in “Emergent Evangelism,” Christianity Today 48, Nov. 2004, p 43
The conversations I had with other Christians during the 1970s and the conferences I attended demonstrated the importance of knowing what I believed and why I believed it. As a former atheist, I had come to Christianity through a process of investigating the evidence for theism, the Bible and Christianity. It was the “objective” nature of the evidence that convinced me of its “truth.” What I saw and heard coming from discussions and conferences in the 70s was serious questioning of the “relevance” of those evidences I had found to be true. Could it be that “Christian truth” was subjective truth rather than objective truth? Could it be that truth was really “relative” and open to discussion and self-determination? McClaren wrote that “Because knowledge is a luxury beyond our means, faith is the best we can hope for.” (McLaren, The Church on the Other Side, Zondervan, 2003, 173)
That’s an interesting statement – “knowledge is beyond our means, faith is the best we can hope for.” Really? I had a problem with that kind of thinking in the 70s and still do. Dr. Norman Geisler looks at McLaren’s “relative” philosophy this way –
“One of the more difficult aspects of McLaren’s writings is his seeming unwillingness to say anything definitive about what he believes. He seems to want to be able to present his understanding of a given doctrine, but he doesn’t want to say anything that might give others a basis upon which to critique his views. He wants to retain the right to say what he thinks is the correct way to depict a doctrine or belief, but he doesn’t want to express himself in a manner that others can challenge.” Norman Geisler, Evangelicals Engaging Emergent, B&H Academic, 2009,
In his book A Generous Orthodoxy, McLaren wrote –
“Missional Christian faith asserts that Jesus did not come to make some people saved and others condemned. Jesus did not come to help some people be right while leaving everyone else to be wrong. Jesus did not come to create another exclusive religion—Judaism having been exclusive based on genetics and Christianity being exclusive based on belief (which can be a tougher requirement than genetics!).” A Generous Orthodoxy, Brian McLaren, Zondervan, 2006, p 110
One of the statements by Jesus Christ that I had already investigated while still an atheist was His claim to exclusivity (e.g. John 14:16). If Jesus was not “exclusive,” there would have been no reason for me to have become a Christian. I could have either remained an atheist, or if I believed God existed in some form, could have chosen any belief system that acknowledged the existence of God. If Jesus did not come to present Himself as the one and only, exclusive, Lord and Savior, then what Jesus said and did does not matter in the real world.
[Emerging Unity will continue …]
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