You have to read that title with a Mike Meyers beat poet voice like in So I Married an Axe Murderer (a true classic, directed by Thomas Schlamme of West Wing fame). I don’t know if we’re all “emerge-ed” now — I doubt it — but it looks like we’re dropping the name. Some of this appears to be distancing from Emergent™ and some looks to be simply distancing from labels that are confusing and misleading to some. Often people get a certain idea of what the term “emerging church” means, and the idea has a lot read into it that shouldn’t be there. No doubt some of the reading-in is caused by the poisoning of the waters by some critics who essentially critique a caricature rather than an accurate portrait of the emerging church itself. In some cases, I gather the caricature becomes so pervasive that some distancing from the term itself needs to take place. I hate when this happens with the really good terms.
We’ve reached that point now… Andrew Jones will stop using the term after a poll he ran came back 60/40 in favour of dumping the term. He gives a good statement from both sides to illustrate how the choice is a difficult one for him, and notes that he is remaining connected to organizations who continue to use the term. [Update: That's an important note, and it would be where I'd stand as well. This kind of semantics are not a good thing to break relationships over. Still,] It’s also been noted that Emergent™ through the mouthpiece of Tony Jones has defined the emerging church as relating to Emergent Village, which further muddies the waters for those who are part of the emerging church worldwide but are not connected to Emergent Village. [Update: Tony doesn't actually equate the two, saying that Emergent is but a part of the global emerging church. Nevertheless, he points out that that some people are using the terms synonymously. No wonder it's confusing.]
Bob Hyatt takes a look and concludes he’s not quite done with the term “emerging church.” After recalling how some had suggested EV could change their name to avoid conclusion, he says, “Well, you know… the name remained. Too much had gone into building the brand, and the confusion not only remained, it solidified.” Emphasis added — and what does that tell you? He continues, “In fact, people began to speak of the ‘Emergent Church’ and far from looking to the churches that made up the movement, folks, critics in particular, began more and more to look at Mssrs. McLaren, Jones and Pagitt (as well as some others).” Bob is right to observe that people grew tired of being asked to defend the theology of others as if it were their own, and conclude, “I like and love those guys, but I don’t want to… I can’t own everything they write or say.” [Update: It seems to me that they probably don't want to have to own or defend everything the rest of us might be writing or saying.]
Bob points to Dan Kimball’s post on Emerging and Emergent Distinctions, where Dan says it doesn’t matter to some (I believe “some” includes Dan himself, though he doesn’t say so in this post), it does to others, including Scot McKnight, who he quotes on the distinction between the two. Dan mentions that he is working with some people including Scot to form a new network, which Bob suspects may be a counterbalance to Emergent™. Not enough details have come forward to really speculate, but suffice to say it’s another, separate network. In the comment thread on his post, Dan Kimball says of this network,
It has to do with the passion and desire to go back to the original reason I along with some others got into what was the emerging church world was at that time and that was about the gospel and evangelism to new generations. So this network would be rallying around that as the common reason for focusing time and prayer and energy on being together. The reason for a doctrinal statement like the Lausanne Creed is to clarify common core theology from the beginning for those in this network so there isn’t confusion later on. Or if someone asks about theology and doctrine, we can then refer them to this so it isn’t ambiguous and we don’t have to focus on explaining or clarifying all that, when instead we want to focus on evangelism.
I gather that the network that’s being organized isn’t as frayed on the theological edges as Emergent Village, and signals a return to something of the origins of the whole emerging conversation. It’s a pretty young movement to be having a “let’s get back to our roots” crisis, but there you go. Jordon Cooper speculated on his blog recently (and I think wrongly) that he might be irrelevant to the emerging church conversation. Significantly, he says,
Somewhere along the way, something got lost, misplaced, sold or changed. The vision of what was talked about a long time ago in places like Three Hills, Seattle, and online was changed, about the same time the marketers saw us as a market and the media saw this as a news worthy story. If there is anything I would love to do, it’s find that again. If it still exists, I’ll be over there.
If you know the movie reference, in the photo above, Mike Meyers is saying, “Excuse me, I think there’s been some mistake — I believe I ordered the large cappuccino! HELLO!” And yes, it seems maybe there really has been some mistake. Somebody mixed up all the terms on us so we got all confused so we didn’t know what we were talking about anymore, like some postmodern Tower of Babel where we were all using the same words, but nobody meant the same thing. I don’t know if it’s God that did the mixing-up this time, but if it is, I think it’s designed to drive us back to square one, before we got off-track.
In addition to getting back to the original reason he got into the “emerging church world” being “about the gospel and evangelism to new generations,” Dan wrote in his post that “From talking to Scot, I know that we both feel that the urgency of the gospel need in our world today is far more significant…” and when I read that I began thinking of the missional conversation, which I’ve gone to pains to describe as separate though somewhat related to the emerging church conversation. I know I’ve got good company in this assessment, too.
This brings me to a post by Grace, formerly known as “Emerging Grace,” where she suggests she’s more interested in “the church that is becoming,” which isn’t a bad term if you ask me. Of the Kimball/McKnight network, she says, “I hope this isn’t the beginning of a process to organize and define the missional conversation.” And that sentiment I resonate with. Dan uses the term “missional” as a synonym for “emerging,” so I hope that idea doesn’t muddy the missional waters any further or we’ll soon be having to drop that term as well — an idea that’s already been floated by some.
Perhaps as a reminder not to get hung up on the terms, Grace concludes, “I believe with all my heart there is a church that is emerging, but it is not necessarily The Emerging Church, and the church will be a missional expression of the heart of God, but it is not necessarily The Missional Movement.” And I think she’s probably right. Myself, I still have mixed feelings about the loss of the term and mixing-up of the meanings. But either way, the important thing is not the term itself, but its conceptual content. And if we’re getting down to the original impulse that has driven many of us to ‘emerge’ into the central purpose of the church in the first place, then it’s all good with me.
See also: Emerge-ed? — Further Thoughts (a sequel to this post)