Brian McLaren’s new book (A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith) has just been released, and it’s already causing a bit of a firestorm. I’m still awaiting my copy, but plan to look through it at his ten questions and interact with those once I’ve been able to consider them in more detail. In the meantime, there are a few things upon which I really feel the need to comment, and since I have a ready-built platform, there’s nobody to stop me. I apologize for the length of the post — I went back to see if I could split it up into two parts, but it just doesn’t work very well to do that. It’s long, but I think it’s important. Thanks in advance for bearing with me, and reading on. And if you get bored, skip down — I summarize at the end.
Well, I started out with some prognostication, and then I got distracted. It’s easy to get lost when you’re talking about the future, which is inherently hard to see anyway. But let’s get back on track nonetheless. As I was saying, the emerging church was set to become more mainstream, and it has done so in the past couple of years. This is not to say that the self-fashioned heresy-hunters are happy, but that’s not something that’s about to happen anyway. (Not ever, that’s their schtick.) Evangelicalism, however, has become more comfortable with certain forms and contributions from the emerging church. For those who followed along in the past year, you might think this is convenient, because evangelicalism is dead as well as the emerging church, or they’re at least on side-by-side deathbeds. What a pretty pair they make, gasping for breath to tell you that rumours of their demise have been greatly exaggerated. The precise meaning of the word “greatly” in this instance is still in some dispute.
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,
Big changes at EV, and I heard it first on Twitter, wouldn’t ya know it? “MINNEAPOLIS, November 1, 2008—Emergent Village today announced a major change in structure that will position it less like a traditional non-profit organization and more like a social networking organization.” (from the press release). The Letter from the Board to Friends of Emergent Village has more information, including the results from their survey last year. I really liked this bit as they process their future:
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.
Perhaps I’ve said my share already as I’ve seen the comments that others have been making about the shift — for some — away from using emerging/emergent terminology. Having had a couple of my posts picked up and linked around, I thought I’d be done, but it turns out I’m not — even if it turns out I’m saying more than my fair share. I’ve been pondering the bigger picture of it though, and late last week something clicked as I began to see the whole matter from a different angle, and I’ve decided there’s an alternate interpretation to be applied. This post, I think, is my most important observation of the discussion, and one which I hope time will prove to be accurate. And as I’ve said before, language is important to me, even if others tire of the talk of words. Eventually I do as well though, so hopefully this week will wrap up all that I feel I need to say about this battle of words. And anyway, I’ll point out that it’s not about words anyway, nor is it about people de-friend-ing one another.
It’s gone so far now that we’re blogging about how we’re tired of talking about the topic we’re blogging about. Again. Oh, don’t worry — I’m no better. So here we go again, but this time it’s Scot McKnight posting on the latest bruhaha with some new info, or new perspective on old info. I bring this up not because we need to say it once again that there’s discussion about the continued use of the term “Emergent,” or for that matter, “emerging.”
Yesterday afternoon, the Autumnal Equinox occurred, summer ended, and fall began in the northern hemisphere where I reside. I noticed this today when Google‘s logo changed to a fall theme for the day. The fall colours have begun to emerge… wait, can I still use that word? The emergent leaves are beginning to turn… uh… I’m enjoying the fall colours. And in an apparently unrelated turn of events, the new issue of Next-Wave is out, with a cover story titled Emerge-ed?, which may possibly sound familiar, as I wrote and published it here a few weeks ago. The post takes a kind of summary view of the discussion around the abandonment of the term “emerging” or “emergent” with perhaps even an insight or two of my own in there. The post received some linkage and clearly resonated with a number of people… which I think might be fully attributable to the way it rides the coattails of a cult classic for which I’ve unwittingly awakened some kind of craving.
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:
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.
When I composed my entry into the Missional Synchroblog, I suggested that of the 50 different responses in the list, there just might be 50 different definitions of missional. Some of the entries have been really top-notch, and make valuable contributions to a rounding-out of the term. While there may be some mildly contradictory views, I did want to explore what the corpus of posts is saying as a whole — or at least to summarize and interact with a few of them. Given the number of posts to wade through, this will probably be a bit of a miniseries, lest I be accused of writing too many loooong posts. We set the stage with apologies to Paul Simon.
I’m thinking today about criticism. Not in the fine sense of the word, like “literary criticism” or critique as in “peer review.” But then, today everyone’s thinking about criticism, I think. I have some stuff to say on the matter, but I haven’t finished counting to ten yet. I’m deliberately counting s…l…o…w…l…y. But when I’m done, I’ll probably open my trap and say something. I’ve already been quoted (nicely, thankfully) as commenting upon this whole critical debacle. I’m glad it was something good that I said. I’m omitting all the links from this post, saving them for a future one… but I’m still going to offer some preliminary to think over while I mull over some more prepared words. I find I’m disagreeing with both sides to some extent, so yes, I’m disagreeing with some of the people I’m supposed to agree with… which isn’t to say I’m exactly agreeing with the people they disagree with. If you know what I’m talking about, the commentary below will be apropos, and you don’t need the links. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, links will be forthcoming, and I’ll explain everything — but the preliminary commentary I offer here is important background. I think we all need to stop and consider the following.