(originally published in the Canon25, Fall 2006)
The popular church press these days seems to consistently touch upon what is commonly known as the “Emerging Church” – the subject generally being quite negative. Generally, these critiques revolve around how the “Emerging Church” disavows truth, loves disorganization and loves rebelling for the sake of rebelling. Frankly, this is simple untrue.
Before we go any further, let us first make sure we know who were are talking about. Its most important to remember that “Emerging Church” is not and should not be a title, but a description. The emerging Church is a porous description that blankets most churches who are trying to become conversant with postmodernism – those who are reshaping themselves to reach out to the disillusioned people of the 21st Century. Essentially we’re talking about people who do church for the emerging generations. Get it? Good.
Here’s the rub: most people think far too small when it comes to the emerging church. Essentially, when people hear of the “Emerging Church”, most tend to think of the American contingent – or conversation – known as Emergent (http://www.emergentvillage.com), led by Brian McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christian and its subsequent sequels. Almost all of the major problems that are arising amongst mainline evangelicals about the emerging church stem from Emergent’s statements on relativity, the agnostic views towards certain orthodoxies and fringe worship and prayer practices. While not necessary putting any of these down at this time –mostly because these are also misrepresented – that is not the subject at hand.
While Emergent and its followers are the most vocal and well-known people in the emerging sphere, their’s is a vocal minority. Their ideologies and practices represent very little of the totality that is emerging in the world. Simply stopping at blogs like Andrew Jones’ Tall Skinny Kiwi (http://www.tallskinnykiwi.com), one can see the world trends of the emerging church.
So what are the main ideas that seem to encompass what it is to be emerging? Scot McKnight, author of the scholastic blog, Jesus Creed (http://www.jesuscreed.org) and self-proclaimed emerging follower, says in a paper to the Westminster Theological Seminary on October 26-27, 2006, that there are 4 ‘rivers’ that flow into ‘Lake Emerging’: postmodernism, praxis (practice), postevangelical and politics.
Postmodernism should not be seen as moral relativism and denial of absolute truth, but of a time to re-assess what is actually being taught to society, or the church, and to quest for what is actually truth, and not generally-accepted truths. Christian postmodernists believe in absolute truth, they just don’t believe that we, as a people, know everything.
One of those ‘in-the-know’ words amongst emerging thinkers is ‘praxis’. Praxis – essentially, practice – is the short form for orthopraxy or ‘right practice’. The emerging church phenomenon places a very large emphasis on doing. They are primarily a missional people, reaching out to their community while they feel the evangelical community is still trying to get people to come to them. Emerging leaders want their congregants and leaders to go out and live like Jesus the way Jesus actually lived: healing the sick; embracing the fringe peoples; helping people see the light of God. Not only do they go out and ‘do’, but they also explore different ways of worship, much the same way Tyndale attempts to explore new ways of worship each week on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
As for post-evangelical, Scot McKnight, echoing D.A. Carson is correct in saying that the emerging phenomenon is a rejection of many, if not most, evangelical ideologies. It is important to know that these ideologies are not the ‘ideals’ that are whimsically called upon by prominent christian writers, but the generally-accepted facts of Christianity by the majority of evangelicals. This is seen through through 3 ‘post’s:  post-bible-study-piety, the – for lack of a nicer term – phariseeism of our theological gnosis;  post-systematic-theology, the need to get away from firm lines and statements and to return to the biblical narrative as our starting point; and  post-in-vs.-out, the most controversial element, which can be best stated by reading C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, chapter 15, about Emeth the Calormene.
The Final stream of McKnight’s description of emerging is politics. Generally, emerging politics lean left, usually quite left, when it comes to the political spectrum. The importance of the social gospel is paramount to this group. Most evangelicals see ‘social gospel’ as bad word at best, but emerging churches see it as important as the ‘spiritual gospel’. Emerging canadians would most likely tend towards voting Green Party, if that helps frame the political sphere.
These are the 4 emphases the emerging church ‘movement’ are taking hold of: postmodernism, praxis, postevangelicalism and politics. It’s important to note that these are emphases and not hard and fast rules or policies. Everyone part of the emerging church will expend different amounts of energy on each of the emphases. This is what makes the emerging church so hard to define, it’s like trying to describe something as porous as a historical movement, while it’s happening. So as people criticize the emerging church movement, one can either take it as it is told to them or they can learn for themselves what the emerging church really is. As Scot McKnight says in his WTS paper,
In other words, if you define emerging as Brian McLaren, and then narrow Brian to his sometimes incautious – even if nearly always probing and suggestive – comments about postmodernity and epistemology, and then roll out the implications of what Brian would seem then to believe, and then close with two chapters about what the Bible says about truth, you will give the impression that emerging is about hard postmodernism and, if you got your guts about you, you should avoid these folks like the bubonic plague. Which is what some are doing… which is fine … unless you want to be accurate. <
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