Will Samson is resuming his discussion on Emergent as a Society after a few catch-up links for those who missed the earlier significant posts, he launches into a further apologetic for an Emergent Society as a kind of middle ground between Conversation and Movement. He writes, “A society, because it would sit at the crossroads between praxis and theology, could not only host the conversation about this issue but could provide ongoing updates to progress that key members of a working group are making on the issue.” I don’t think he’s quite saying that a Society would become the conduit between orthodoxy and orthopraxis; the supporting example he provides supports the search for orthodoxy more than it does praxis.
Having just said that Emergent becoming a movement is inevitable, I consider Samson’s suggestion of a society to be a good way of dealing with it, since it allows a form of self-definition that is outside of the expected norm. As I said, “everyone knows that movements have leaders, spokespersons, and meccas.” However, defining a Society may garner the ability to function like a Movement externally while continuing to function as a Conversation internally, which could provide a good means of presenting a summarized conversation for the benefit of those presently outside of it.
I would largely agree with Samson’s suggestion that something more formal is required in order to provide incentive for the Conversation to press through the hard subjects, but I would tend to think that the motivation exists even if the structure and outline don’t yet. A couple of attempts are being made to produce “open-source” or “wiki” style theologies, but these are not quite the same thing. I suspect that something similar to the Linux Kernel Mailing List would serve well to host the conversation as well as provide a public archive and RSS feeds (including one which only lists posts by BDFL Linus Torvalds). An understanding of Hacker culture is helpful here, but even moreso may be Eric Raymond’s seminal The Cathedral and the Bazaar which contrasts a structured heirarchical approach to software development with the community development approach. (Of course, most Emergent types will appreciate the imagery of moving theology out of the cathedral and into the bazaar.) Since both software development and theology represent the description and assembly of a complex system, I think the parallels are apt. Since the Free software movement and GNU/Linux in particular probably represent one of the first consciously-destructured community approaches to a complex project, I suggest that Emergent could learn much from the structure employed there, even though it won’t likely translate directly.