Yesterday I wrote the introduction to this post, which ended up being about as long as the next bit that contained the important stuff I wanted to say, so I split it up. Feel free to start yesterday, then continue on below, which is about the whole mess of misunderstanding over networks that are not called Emergent.
We return to the assertion that nobody’s mad at anyone, and add a caveat for the possible exception of those who have been grossly misrepresented in the fray. The essential take-away here is that the forming of a new network is not to set up an alternative one, but to found something for people with a specific focus. Undoubtedly, people both within Emergent Village and outside of it, within or outside the missional conversation, and within and outside of the emerging church. This should not be a surprise, and should be considered a form of progress. Not in the sense of “better than” another network or anything of that sort, but better in the sense that it represents a form of self-organization that is necessary for the inclusion of more conservative Christianity in the thick of what we’ve all been on about for a number of years already.
In 1962, Everett Rogers wrote about the Diffusion of innovations, which is used to describe the Technology adoption lifecycle, and is diagrammed using a bell-curve. To be clear, the “more conservative Christianity” which I mention would be anything to the right of the “innovators,” which term I attempt to use here as matter-of-factly as I can, with no value judgments attached to that or any of the other terms, including “laggards.”
The first thing I am suggesting is that the forming of networks is a signal that some of the contributions of the emerging/missional church are preparing to move beyond innovation and into the early adopter phase. To some extent, I’m sure this has already happened. As for the networks themselves, they are best considered in the same sense as Christianity itself… not an opportunity to claim that one is “of Paul” or “of Apollos,” but one which is used to highlight different strengths and contributions of each network, as identified by the specific focus or contribution of each. As for the manner of the networks themselves, relevant reading material will include Clay Shirkey’s Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations and Seth Godin’s forthcoming Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. And yes, I’m talking about networks, because besides the existing ones like The Ooze, Emergent Village, Forge, Resonate, Allelon, and the new one being formed by Kimball, McKnight, et al, there will be others formed — not as competing networks, but as affinity groups uniting around a certain idea or specific focus. Group membership will naturally intersect and overlap, but the existence of the groups as an organized manifestation of an idea make it easier for people to get behind that idea and work to further or accomplish it. The current shift is therefore toward more organization in certain quarters, which not only makes it easier for newcomers to engage and become involved, but also to simply understand what each emphasis is all about.
The question that is begged is what has changed. Possibly the answer is found in a changing social milieu, a new spiritual awareness, or simply the wind of the Spirit. These and many other answers may well be valid, but the contributing factor that has the most significance (outside of the Holy Spirit, naturally) to this discussion is a shift in the emerging church movement.
The second major suggestion I would make is that the establishment of networks and social groupings with attendant linguistic changes marks a shift in the emerging church from deconstruction into reconstruction. The emerging church’s penchant for deconstruction was criticized by many, but it has always been a necessary part of the renovation and reformation of what was into what will be. During this part of the renovation, it was enough to note affinity for people to be about the task of deconstructing much of the same constructs and traditions. Most of the why’s were of secondary concern, as was the hope of what might be built once the deconstruction phase had coasted to an end. A significant amount of re-envisioning took place during the deconstruction, and as the dust began to settle, it became apparent that people had different emphases in their new vision for the reconstruction of the church.
During reconstruction, of course, it matters much more what the floor plan looks like and what building materials are used. And here is where the change in language may be found. What is portrayed by some as disagreement, distance, disgruntlement, or worse is simply a moving on with a slightly different form of reconstruction. These forms may represent significant or subtle theological and methodological differences, distinctions, and emphases, but for all intents and purposes, they all continue to work on the same overall reconstruction project, recognizing and affirming one another’s efforts. After all, not everyone on the job site is a plumber, or an electrician. Indeed, everyone has their own part to do.
In this way, each of these networks (not competing or alternate, just “networks”) remain within the overall big picture or stream of the emerging church. In its emergence, the church is becoming multi-faceted. And why would we ever have expected anything different? To a greater or lesser degree, this is by divine design. I’ve always loved the illustration that Gary Best of the Langley Vineyard (Vineyard Canada) used to use to describe the body of Christ, that of a colourful mosaic, which when you looked at closely, you could see that it was always changing and evolving and shifting, but the overall effect still created a larger picture. This is of course simply the nature of the church, as directed by the Holy Spirit who oversees all the networks and guides each of them.
True, some of the lines being drawn are theological. Again, this points to the winding-down of deconstruction by those who are highlighting some of the differences, which are only revealed as reconstruction begins to take place. This is not to say that the deconstruction is completely finished — even during construction, sometimes temporary supports are set in place that are later removed, and sometimes during renovation, it becomes apparent later that some further demolition is necessary. I have observed before that some kind of emerging systematic theology seems to be forming as theological subjects arise which had not been widely considered previously, and again, this points to reconstruction.
So if as has been suggested, there were always five streams in or into the emerging church, there are quite likely to be multiple streams within it as well. This is, in fact, nothing but the natural behaviour of centered sets. people are drawn into the general stream, and once there find affinity with particular facets or emphases, and begin to move in that specific part of the current. It’s not correct to say that the current is no longer part of the stream — it is in fact a component part even as a rope is made up of several cords made up of several strings made up of many threads.
Consider Mark Driscoll. He was definitely in the emerging church at one time, and wherever one places him now and whatever one thinks of his current emphases, his path out is looking quite different from that of others… his emergence is into the stream of new reformed theologians and churches. And bless him on that path after all, no matter what he thinks about the hot-button where one might disagree with him. The same will be true for many or most of us as we find “resonance” with certain leaders, journeymates, ideas, emphases, methodologies, or models which attract us once we’re in the stream and bobbing around. Having been part of the emerging church conversation for some time, as networks are formed to help contain and direct portions of the conversation to helpful ends, we are likely to fall in with one or more of these networks. For some it will be Emergent, and for others it will be yet unformed or unnamed networks and tribes who share affinity and purpose, with or without emerging/missional teminology.
In a nutshell, then, this “fracturing” of the emerging church is not a fracturing at all, but a “gelling” of different emphases within it and a moving from deconstruction into a reconstruction phase of the life of the emerging church, always seeking to emerge and continue to become what the Holy Spirit would shape us to be. Thus what is being called a death by some is in fact merely a shift into a new form of life. And after all, those of us who struck out across the desert on a journey of detox know well our hope and the foreboding words of concerned onlookers who said, “After you’re all done deconstructing, I hope you’ve still got something left,” and “After all is said and done, hopefully all that’s said will still get done.” Or other words to these effects. Of course, we’d caught wind of something, and struck out across the desert, saying, “There’s no time to waste, then, is there?”