I have heard the words “emergent” and “emerging” thrown around more and more frequently over the past year or so. I have heard snippets of definitions and arrogant opinions concerning both words, but had never been given a clear, concise answer to what these two words mean and how they can be identified within the realm of Christianity. Perhaps this is because these labels are often misunderstood and used incorrectly. Perhaps this is because these groups of people (“Emergent” and “emerging”) are not even all on the same page as to what their classification means. Is every Baptist you meet going to believe the same way? Is every one who says they subscribe to Calvinist theology going to act the same way? Of course not. In the same way, not everyone who associates themselves with “Emergent” or with the “emerging” movement are going to have the same attitude, actions, philosophies or doctrine. However, as with any label, there are some overarching characteristics that people within that group tend to share. I will attempt to effectively explain what I have come to learn so far…
First, and paramount to understanding this whole deal, is the fact that Emergent and emerging cannot be used interchangeably. They are not the same thing. Emergent has a capital “E” and is actually an official organization in the US and UK (Emergent Village). This organization is headed up by Tony Jones. Other names connected to the organization are Doug Pagitt, Tim Keel, Mark Oestreicher and probably most notably, Brian McLaren, author of Generous Orthodoxy. While Emergent is an organization and network that embodies certain emerging philosophies (among others), it would be incorrect to connect all those who are a part of an emerging church or the emerging movement with Emergent. Confused yet? In other words, just because you may feel that Emergent or one of its dudes has some weirdness don’t assume those same characteristics onto every emerging community and individual you come into contact with.
So if Emergent is an organization, what is emerging? Well, that’s a good question and one that I have been wondering about for a long time. By no means am I proposing to have absolute knowledge of this, but here’s what I’ve got…
It seems to me that emerging is somewhat of a catch all phrase for the global effort to restructure how to “do” church in our current postmodern world. It is not a denomination nor does it have any actual structure or beaureacy set in no place that I am aware of. It is simply the general philosophies to which a group of people seeking change within the evangelical world ascribe. In the book, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures, emerging is defined in the following manner:
Emerging churches are communities that practice the way of Jesus within postmodern cultures. This definition encompasses nine practices. Emerging churches 1. identify with the life of Jesus, 2. transform their secular realm, and 3. live highly communal lives. Because of these three activities, they 4. welcome the stranger, 5. serve with generosity, 6. participate as produces, 7. create as created beings, 8. lead as a body, and 9. take part in spiritual activities.
Scot McKnight recently spoke on the five streams of the emerging church in a lecture given at Westminster in Philadelphia. He identified the five streams as: prophetic, postmodern, praxis-oriented, post-evangelical, and political.
Please Don’t Stereotype the Emerging Church is a post that deals with the apparent disagreements that John MacArthur has with the emerging movements (of which I knew nothing about until I began this research). Dr. MacArthur’s thoughts in his own words can be found here.
On another blog I found this much more broad definition of emerging–“any church or Christian who takes into consideration the cultural context in which they minister, regardless of spatial or temporal location. In other words, a church does not need to be North American and dealing with postmodernism in order to be ’emerging.’ The early church was just as emerging as many churches are today.”
So, that’s what I have for now. Let me know your thoughts, opinions, criticisms, etc. Hopefully soon I will post again regarding my continuing fascination and exploration with the emerging movement. In closing, I realized something ironic today–when my husband and I were dating he was attending an emerging church. I, of course, had never even heard the word “emerging” nor did the church, Mars Hill, claim to be emerging (at that time). Ironically, a church by the same name but not directly connected, Mars Hill Seattle, is a well-known emerging congregation lead by Mark Driscoll. Funny how things fit together.