Alan Roxburgh has a brief report out about the emerging church (also at Allelon, with HT to TSK). The report is titled “Emergent Church: Filled with creative, energetic potential” which is the positive spin, but there’s also some gut-check mixed in.
The re-discovery of church as rooted in the local and particularity of a neighborhood or context is a wonderful re-emergence of what Christians in other times and places took for granted. Here we may be seeing the early stages of an emerging awareness that Christian social formation is shaped by its embedded-ness and incarnation in, with, alongside the local and particular neighborhood.
If this is the case, we might be witnessing a radical shift in our practice of church life that would make Lesslie Newbigin rise up in delight. In these and many other ways, the EC is potentially a great gift to the church.
But it is a fragile movement, despite all the creativity and energy currently being exhibited. In too many ways, it is still reacting to the immediate past of the church in the West, and no movement of reaction brings real innovation.
It is still deeply church-centered in its focus. The emphasis remains on style and form in terms of worship and the internal life of Christian groups. There remains little real engagement of the culture or movement outside the confines of what we call church. In these ways EC is still a movement in search of itself and still deeply shaped by what it is reacting to out of its immediate past.
But all developing conversations and movements need space to find their way; they need friends and partners who love them and, at the same time, engage in difference.
Excellently observed. Elsewhere, Mark Pierson says, “…I remain convinced that the future of the Church in the West doesn’t lie in the Emerging Church movement. The value of this movement is to influence and provoke the inherited church forms into change rather than to replace them. Still a vital role…”
I wonder if stuff like this is enough to give the emerging church a touch of performance anxiety? Evidently we’re not sure if we’re making a point to instigate change in the traditional (modern) church or if we’re ignoring that and doing something truly revolutionary. Maybe both are true, or maybe it doesn’t matter. The reminder remains that we must be wary lest our reform resort to reaction without reflection. (Sorry for the alliteration there, I was reticent about publishing it.) That is to say, we will do well not to make changes merely in flight of what we knew or what wounded us in the past… much better to first obtain a vision and an understanding of where we’re going, what we’re trying to achieve, and why.
Yes, the emerging church has real potential, but perhaps this is the precise moment to call for caution, with the conversation on the verge of becoming a movement… there is certainly a lot more focus on it these days. I recall a quote from Albert Einstein, “Premature responsibility breeds superficiality.” I’ve seen this proven enough to recognize the accuracy of the axiom. Do we hope to change the face of the church? Maybe, in good time. God grant us patience, and keep us from superficiality.