My little Emerge-ed? piece really seemed to strike a cord with some people, and maybe hit a nerve with others. As I’ve thought about this over the last little bit, I decided that an addendum might be in order.
Even Brian McLaren is clarifying statements about him having “moved past” Emergent, (Tony Jones goes defensive over different issues with the article, getting a response from Marcia Ford) but I did like what Brian said:
For what it’s worth, I have no interest in arguing who is and who isn’t emergent, emerging church, missional church, postmodern, new monastic, etc., etc., etc. It’s just not the way I think, and in fact, drawing branding lines to define an in-group or out-group makes me itchy. Besides, for some people, having emergent sympathies might be like working for the CIA – the people who are deepest in could be the last to admit it for lots of good reasons.
Anyway, I’m interested in finding common ground with everybody I can … as the subtitle of “A Generous Orthodoxy” suggested. I tend to think that this is what the emergent conversation has actually been about all along…
So no “post-emergent” for Brian McLaren. Unfortunately, this isn’t a universal conclusion, and there are some corners where the discussion still needs a bit of addressing since the reasons to do so come from a different direction. I’ve thought a little about how often I use the term emerging-missional on this blog, the way I refer to the emerging church and/or the missional church (and conversations attached thereto). I considered what might make me stop using the term, and why I think it’s a good idea for Andrew Jones to stop using it. And I reached a conclusion, or at least an interim one for the time being.
Firstly, it isn’t that I use the term an awful lot, but enough that I’d be stuck for an alternate term. I use “missional” a lot, but the words are not synonyms, so one can’t just replace the other. “The church that is emerging” conveys it perfectly, but it’s a bit bulky and is naturally shortened to “emerging church” anyway. I tend to use the term as a catchall rather than a label, so some diversity within it is just fine. Andrew outlines some good reasons to keep the term as well.
The best reason to dump it, and the one that in my view gives Andrew the greatest cause for concern is the confusion caused within his constituency. As he describes it, he was invited to be the speaker by a denomination who wants nothing to do with the emerging church… as they understand it. I think it’s fair to say that whenever terms bring more confusion than clarity, others should be sought or explanations must be made so that an adequate understanding is garnered that everyone can be on the same linguistic page. For a movement that values conversation, this is a key point — we need to use words and phrases that extend understanding, not hamper it. There are even some now who eschew the word “Christian,” preferring “Christ-follower” or some other epithet. I like Paul Young’s response when asked if he was a Christian: “Tell me what you think one of those is and I’ll tell you if I’m one of them.” This is about understanding far more than it is about linguistics in any semantic sense of the word. And this is where I stand with the word “missional” as well.
The major difference between the state of the two words is that “missional” doesn’t have the same kind of critique against it as does “emerging.” There isn’t a single group that has cropped up as the “keeper of all things missional” in the view of the media or anyone else, and it has had a good theological explanation from the outset. The assault on the meaning of missional is of a much different nature, with people who like the term attempting to co-opt it and imbue it with their own nuances to the extent that it no longer means what it was supposed to mean. With emerging, some of the critiques have had the effect of making the caricature the general perception so that there becomes not only an ambiguity, but a negative connotation left by the critics. That said, I read the other day that we in the “Missional Movement” are a grave danger as well, with Allelon actually using “code words” like “story, narrative, journey, shift, change, post-modernity, community” in their videos. Allusions to Hitler are not exactly oblique in the accusations leveled. Actually… on second look, no accusations are actually leveled, although Hitler is mentioned by name. (The blogger seems to be an avid Slice-er, so that’ll tell you a lot.)
It seems to me that inconvenience is a poor reason to abandon a good term, while clarity is a reasonable one. In either case, maintaining rather than weakening relational ties ought to be a significant consideration. On the other hand, intentional distancing is a typical reason for a changing of terms — in this case, clarifying the reason is appropriate if no distancing is intended. If it’s intentional, that will likely become clear as well. Scot McKnight comments on Dan Kimball’s blog that “analytical difference does not have to lead to dis-fellowship but to understanding and the opportunity for genuine conversation,” and I appreciate this insight particularly. While the semantics genuinely are important to some of us, the best reason for them to be so is found in the relational bond of conversation, where understanding can be found. As I said, the definition of terms (particularly of this type) is not a thing that ought really to cause separation.
All of this to say that I personally don’t have a good reason to stop using the term “emerging” as it relates to the emerging church, or the other form of the word, viz., “emergent.” I may refer to “EV” to mean Emergent Village, or as is common practice, simply say “Emergent.” with the upper-case “E”. From time to time I may also refer to Emergent™, which I may do for one of two primary reasons. Either I’m just feeling snarky or I’m referring to the perception (real or imagined) that Emergent has become something of a brand, a commercial publishing machine, or anything of that sort. I realize that the name is not trademarked, and they have no intention of building a brand or becoming a marketing machine, but some of what they do gives a person pause how those specific actions would lead to the avoidance of such a conclusion rather than its reinforcement.
So as I’ve said before, Emergent has some great people involved doing some great things. I don’t purchase friendship from them, so I don’t have the blog badge… but I’ve no real beef with Emergent any more than I have with Evangelicals or Charismatics. I’ve called myself post-evangelical and post-charismatic, but pick a subject and my own views may align most closely with any of those three labels — as well as with missional, or Reformed, or who knows what else. They’re just labels, and as long as they don’t add to or exacerbate any existing (mis)understanding, there’s nothing to fear from them.
Dan Kimball has done a very good post recounting the history of the emerging church from the early days and how the definition of the term has changed over the past ten years. Originally, there was a lot more to do with evangelism at the core of what they were doing, more than there probably would be today by most people’s definitions. For his part, Dan doesn’t seem to be abandoning the term, but like me, is talking more about missional these days. The missional conversation does attempt, if nothing else, to move the heart of the discussion back to the missio Dei. And that’s where I am on this whole question.
We now return to your regularly scheduled blog.