Emerging From What?


In this ongoing discussion regarding the definition of the “emerging church,” several have noted a discomfort with the name. Signposts offers a good analysis of the problems.

The “emerging” label has been misused by folks as it has been transformed from a description of a desire into a brand. Although I wasn’t around when some of the Terranova folks decided to become “emergent,” I can imagine that the description represented a hope that something new would emerge from something old, as well as the belief that something new would emerge from the postmodern generations. It’s a dream much more than a description of a reality.

Of course, as we become more institutionalized, the marketplace (of ideas and books and conventions) demands that we categorize ourselves. So “emergent” becomes synonymous with candles, postmoderns, an affinity for alternative rock and goth, and a willingness to ask questions that have been taboo for many folks. This movement towards institution and product makes us all nervous (as was seen in Brian McLaren’s recent letter to the emergent subscribers). We want to stay naive dreamers who dream of church in a new way. But the marketplace wants things to sell, techniques that folks will buy. It’s happened again and again.

I’m coming to believe that the issue is not whether we are “emerging” or not. Rather, how are we authentic to who we are in whatever context we serve. For many evangelical types (a label that I dislike as well since I consider myself evangelical even though many would say I’m too “liberal” (another loaded word) to be one) there has been a push away from authenticity. Our seminaries have pushed on us the CEO or “Ministry Professional” visions of ministry and many have felt unable to be fully human, asking the hard questions of faith. That is why McLaren’s “New Kind Of Christian” was so refreshing for many, as it offered a vision of freedom from the shackles that have been put on so many. Certainly I believe that there is a particular theological direction that “emerging” folks are headed in (see my previous post). But I have found the authenticity and theology that is compelling to postmodern folks is equally valued by my congregation of suburban middle aged and older folks.

“Emerging” is a faulty label. What we are wanting to be is the “wounded healer church” (to use a Henri Nouwen description, the “not afraid to ask questions church,” the “honest church.” But even these are faulty labels. What we are all trying to do — emerging and non-emerging alike — it to be faithful to who God wants us to be. If we are doing that, then all the labels can slide off into oblivion.

I gotta put the girls to bed…

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