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)
nice. thanks. 5 years ago i asked a ec roundtable group at Greenbelt whether we should keep or dump the name and i have been asking it for 5 years. 2008, it seems is the year. but a lot of really good groups will still use the name for some time so we should show grace to them.
To be really honest I am finding this debate pretty ridiculous. I think it is that old protestant mentality that is creeping through. Back at Trinity I remember there being a huge debate over using the word “Catholic” in the Apostles Creed. There were enough people that thought of it as “RC” and not enough educated people to know what the word actually meant. We ended up having to change the “catholic” to “universal”. Many students didn’t feel either way on the issue and there were those who felt it needed to change and then there were those of us who felt we lost something. Don’t get me wrong. I do not equate the two words “Emergent” and “catholic” but I simply feel like I am hearing a similar battle. Instead of educating people on the distinction, we feel that we can fix the problem by leaving the term behind. It would be great if that was all we had to do, but I can guarantee that critics will “emerge” in whatever new term can be derived at describing a movement away from traditional thought. Is not even the term Christian a term that I am sure we all at times have wanted to leave behind?
good post by the way. My wife and I hated “So I married an axe-murderer” first time we saw it, like it the second time we saw it, laughed a bit, third time we saw it and now it’s a Bjerkander favorite.
On the whole emerging church thing, my good friend Gary Waller says that of course he is part of the emerging church, the church that started emerging at Pentecost…
Labels are tough to navigate, sometime they help us, sometimes they don’t. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes…
BM, I assume since there’s no hyperlink that you cannot substantiate your claim that I’ve tried to tie the worldwide emerging movement to the relational network called Emergent Village. I’ve done no such thing — I even have a call-out box on pages xix-xx of my book to make it clear that EV is just one part of what is happening globally.
All of you out there can continue to disparage EV — we’re an easy and big target. But everyone who’s a part of EV knows this: we’re not attempting to build a brand, make money, etc. We, like you, are trying to push the church into a missional future. Sorry that all of the lingo continues to be a stumbling block.
I like what you said in your post about remaining connected to those who continue to use the label — that’s crucial. There are some really great people using the term and doing good stuff in their own contexts. This kind of semantics is never the stuff to break relationship over.
I hear you! The terms are important to some, and not to others… so there are when it’s more productive to withdraw from a semantic argument — stupid though it may be — and refocus your energies on the thing you’re supposed to be about anyway. And you’re right, some people are starting to use the term “Christ-follower” instead of Christian. In reality, leaving your baggage behind is rarely as easy as just changing your name.
It’s a cult classic around here, better than any of those Austin Powers monstrosities. wrt the topic at hand, “always emerging” is not a bad motto — could easily have been something the church would have held since Pentecost. I think it’s more recent that we’re aware of the emergence of the church, or at least talking about it… but in a sense, it’s exactly right: we are today what has emerged since Pentecost. Too bad it’s so fractured and splintered, but I’ve no doubt we’ll continue to emerge. Hopefully we’ll emerge as something more unified than we are now.
I confess I’ve not actually seen the book — I was going by Andrew’s post, which, as I review it says you equate emergent with EV, so it appears I’ve overstated that and must apologize. I think the distinction you refer to in your book will be most helpful. Yes, those “outside” EV may not want to defend EV’s theology, but I’m sure the reverse is also true at times, so I can’t imagine you wanting to adopt everyone who grabs at the tag.
There are things about Emergent that have bothered me, and other things that I really appreciate. Whether or not the intent was to build a major brand, the publishing and the publicity has yielded one, hence the use of “Emergent™”. I realize it isn’t actually trademarked (nor, probably, could it be) but perhaps the perception is an unintended consequence, and that’s one of the things I personally react most strongly to… not the lingo itself, really.
I don’t have any formal ties to Emergent, but if I did I don’t think I’d break them over this. As I said, Emergent has some great people doing some great stuff, and I’ve appreciated much of what has been published under the banner — particularly in the early days as people were really trying to come to grips with a lot of what they were seeing and struggling with in Christendom.
I began talking a lot about “emerging” but am now more driven into the missional conversation, which is more related than distinct. I think we’re pulling the same way, just perhaps not in the same places or same ways… but we can continue to bless one another. Again, my apologies if I triggered any offense… none was intended at all.
Noah – we will keep on doing what we have been doing these past 20 years and we will ask people who want to name it something to come out and see what we are doing and then give it a description.
I remember a ways back Kester Brewin predicting some along these lines…that we would go through a difficult time in the ” emerging ” conversation, but that we not give up trying, and not look back in the future saddened that we didn’t grasp the opportunity. Sadly, I believe it sort of evolved into what we most wanted it not to become…from an open table, filled with passionate imaginative conversation…to a brand, a label dominated by a few voices. How many at the start ever envisioned marketing ” emerging “, as if a book could transform your church. I think we need to get back to re-kindling the spark, but this time be not so concerned about building something…but keeping the fire ” alive ” and burning. And Bro’, thanks for stirring the fire.
Tony says, “we’re not attempting to build a brand.”
Yet nearly everything about EV screams “brand.”
The old clearinghouse was centralized. The new clearinghouse is distributed. Spiritual emergence continues to accelerate, becoming increasingly harder to codify. True emergence is fluid, not static – which is why it’s healthy to see people abandoning religious labels that are no longer helpful.
One day, Tony, our progeny may look back and chuckle at how we stubbornly linked natural ecclesial emergence (born of massively accelerated human connectivity) with inherited factions and in-groupings.
More and more, people are crying “I am not a brand, I do not wear your badge. I do not carry your flag.” The river will find a way to flow around our hand-made dams, tributaries, and eddies. The River itself will lead us. Time to jump in.
I think that is great that you are not wanting to be a certain label. I myself am tired of debates that end with, “You are just one of those _____ type.” (My favorite was being told I was a preterist because I was telling the history behind John’s Apocalypse). I just dont think that abandonment of a label is going to solve anything. I also must admit that I didn’t find anywhere in Jones’ New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier that he said in order to be emergent you need to be tied to EV. Maybe I missed that…not sure
Hey John (#8),
Emergent Village has become a “brand” of sorts, but how I interpret what Tony is saying is that that wasn’t the original goal. The telos, if you will, of Emergent Village hasn’t been to “build a brand.” Emergent Village isn’t trying to be “the clearinghouse” for all things emergent/emerging/missional/whatever. Emergent Village is just one “outpost” (to use Tony’s frontier metaphor from “The New Christians”) or one “node in the Web of the emerging church” (as emergentvillage.com states).
What Dan and Scot and others decide to do will be another “outpost,” another “node,” in this thing that is growing and changing and pushing the Church into the future. I see it all as being healthy and good. I get frustrated (sorry, Brother Maynard) when people stick a trademark symbol next to Emergent (either literally or in the way they characterize EV), because I think it’s dismissive toward the contributions that a lot of people (not just Brian, Tony, and Doug) have made to foster conversations through books and blogs and conferences, etc.
But I don’t stay frustrated for too long, because frankly I’m just too damn hopeful and excited about what God is doing! ;-)
thanks for this post. i come late to the discussion, holding some missional ties and thoughts, but thinking more of an ancient/future hope. from your post i’m again reminded of the bard of the ’60s: “the wheel’s still in spin, the times they are a changin’.”
but, as i’ve written elsewhere, i’m old enough to remember the “church renewal movement” of the ’70s. we had our own gurus and notebooks and seminars. we knew we were the answer. quite a heady time. but christendom outlasted and buried us.
said another way, i’m of the mind that i will not see the church-next, but i think that we who are saying grace at the graveside of christendom must at least give an account to the future. we must tell the story of these days of loss and transition, and then we must get out of the way of those who will take us to the next church…
said still another way. sometimes i feel like the garbage man. clearing away the debris (my own debris, really) so that those coming along behind can have a fresh start. i often find myself wanting to apologize to those 20-somethings who must smell all the junk we are leaving behind…
I’m sort of like Mark Powell, coming in a little late to the conversation and not at all sure that I’ll have much part or say in “church-next”. But certainly christendom is fading away. Mark used the analogy of a garbage man clearing away the debris for the next generation. I like the idea of “hospice worker”, attending respectfully to the passing of a way of life and helping those who remain to identify/celebrate/preserve what is worthwhile in the old way that is dying.
Interesting discussion, but sometimes I wonder why on earth we are so fond of labels and titles… we have problems pinning down what we mean, and who we are, I rather like the thought of the church that is becoming…. for just as we are becoming like Christ we can only become as a Church what God wants us to be….
Perhaps the search should move beyond labels, but then I guess labels make useful stopping places… time to move on then….
I have dropped the term “Emerging Church” as well. I still co-lead my local Emergent Cohort, I still associate with Emerging Church people, including Emergent. But I’m tired of always having to defend Emergent / Emerging. I just want to reach a new generation with the gospel of Jesus Christ! I want to reassess how we’ve been doing church and mission and realign our efforts to that which Jesus Christ wants. Pretty simple, really.