I’m reaching back a little with this one, but I’ve had a partially-drafted post on this for a while and wanted to finish it up and publish it rather than just delete it and let it go. The topic I think is an important one currently.
Mark Sayers’ much-linked post “The Emerging Missional Church Fractures into Mini Movements” now has a followup, “The Emerging Missional Church is Greenwich Village — More Thoughts on Fracturing.” In the sequel, Mark offers some further insightful thoughts on the emerging/missional movement and the fragments thereof. He says, in part,
[O]ver the last century Greenwich Village has been home to various divergent and often oppositional movements, philosophies, political agendas, artistic visions. What then has drawn all of these diverse groups to the Village? A common sense of being ‘defined against’, of wanting an identity that is in contrast to what is seen as the mainstream culture of the day. Thus Greenwich Village is not a movement or manifesto in of itself, it does not stand for a set of beliefs or accompanying actions. Instead it acts as a kind of floating symbol which unites people who are defining themselves against the mainstream culture, despite the fact that many of the groups and movements which found a home under that umbrella would totally disagree with each other, they all agree that they don’t want to be part of the mainstream.
Further on in the post for those who haven’t fully accepted Phyllis Tickle’s assessment, Mark says, “The more I read history I am not sure if we are experiencing a great Emergence: I am more inclined to wonder if what we are seeing is the same dynamic that we have always seen since the birth of the Church, that is the highly dynamic and adaptive nature of our faith.”
I think Mark’s thesis supports what I said previously about this fragmentation, that the interesting point isn’t simply that it’s taking place, but what it means that it’s taking place. I’ve proposed that it represents maturation, that it’s a natural evolution of the state of a movement. As Mark Sayers points out, the alignment of people and groups against something is a natural way for the wider group to form, and it’s not all bad either. As I’ve proposed, the fragmentation that’s being observed is an alternate interpretation of different groups within the wider movement coming together around their emphases, values, and beliefs. In other words, what they’re for. Rather than representing the fragmentation — or imminent demise — of the emergent movement, this development is a necessary and positive stage. Some of the early criticism of the movement was that it was a “negative” one for being against things rather than for anything. Now as some seek to interpret the current zeitgeist within the movement it seems there could be a readiness to criticize the movement for a lack of unifying coherence, but perhaps it should be applauded as a necessary response to an earlier criticism. And as Mark points out, it could simply be “the same dynamic that we have always seen since the birth of the Church, that is the highly dynamic and adaptive nature of our faith.”