Jason Clark points out that the Emerging Church is larger than Emergent, noting that some criticism may be misplaced from one to the other.
Now, mine is a relatively new emergent voice, and I’m probably 70% wrong… but I don’t know which 70%, so I blindly wade deeper. Part of the problem is semantics (again) because “Emergent” (or “emergent”) is a common word and has many uses. What this means is that it cannot be patented, trademarked, or otherwise protected because it is in common usage in the language, and for that there isn’t really any cause or grounds for complaint; what is cause for celebration is that it’s also becoming a good word once again to describe the church. Of course, it would probably help if we could be clear whether or not one is talking about the Emerging Church in general or just the group that calls itself Emergent, but this may end up being about as effective as Richard Stallman‘s crusade to have people say “GNU/Linux” instead of “Linux.” We can all assist in semantic clarity, and it goes both ways a helpful suggestion might be that Emergent start calling themselves “Emergent Village” which would be a slight change on the new website (and in conversation) to use the phrase rather than the shortened-but-vague “Emergent” …but it would align with their name as advertised online.
Jason offers some helpful thoughts on dealing with criticism as well, plus a followup post titled “History of Emergent UK.” I suspect one of the reasons the criticism is painful is that some of it is starting to come from inside the EC community. I have recently come in touch (both on/offline) with a bit of negative sentiment toward Emergent (the org or should I say EV?) over the subjects of paying for friendship and “franchising” the org outside of the USA, where a “marketing” bent can feel somewhat less than than an organic conversation. I suppose it doesn’t help that Emergent is American, and global anti-American sentiment isn’t all that difficult to find, even if the Church really should be rising above it. I don’t know if I’ve participated in the feather-ruffling, but I hope not since I respect the folks at Emergent. I do however confess that I’m a bit turned off by the requirement to pay to be a friend and join the conversation. Emergent isn’t the only group like this, btw… I also don’t like sites that force me to register in order to read the content (after which, one could make an informed choice about whether or not to join oh, wait…). I think both misjudge the inclusive nature of Internet culture, the one that gave rise to sites like Bugmenot.com and the NYT Random Login Generator.
So Jason is right, of course – EC is bigger than EV. I think there’s a general respect for the work of EV, but that won’t always translate into becoming a “registered friend.” It may also lead to other organizations with the same or similar purpose, but which are not called “Emergent.” That ought to be okay, and it would seem appropriate for these groups, though not officially or structurally related, to link one another favorably as conversational participants. So far I don’t see EV doing that, really, and this perhaps has led to the charge of “franchising” (or as Stephen Shields alludes about the discussion though not about EV per se, the Paul/Apollos thing; Charlie Wear also comments). Main issue I see here is that “franchising” is the business word for “denomination” and if we aren’t ready for a “movement” we certainly aren’t ready for a denomination.
At any rate, an inclusive conversation would be a welcome place for discussion of all things emergent about the church. See Will Samson: Expanding the Conversation and Aaron Flores: Emerging Church: Expanding the Convo & Friendships, and of course what Jonny Baker may have started. One thing became evident pretty quickly this week Planet Emergent is a good barometer of emergent conversation… and it’s inclusive, too.
Perhaps the first thing to agree is that the emerging church is bigger than any of us or our organizations… and whatever we do, let’s keep it that way.