My friend Tony Jones just posted a reaction to the Andy Crouch article in Christianity Today on the Emerging Church. While I agree with much of Tony’s post, I take exception with his comment on an unnamed blogger whose asterisks work out to be Maggi Dawn. Basically, Tony interprets a recent post by Maggi on the Crouch article as suggesting that the US form of Emergent is reworked evangelicalism, while the British version is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
First of all, while Maggi can certainly defend herself, I didn’t read her post in a way that was unfairly critical of the Emergent scene as presented in the CT article. CT is basically an evangelical rag, which then lends itself to focusing on the evangelical expressions of this thing we find ourselves in. Thus, it would be easy to interpret from that piece that Emergent is primarily Evangelical-Centric.
I also don’t think that Maggi was lifting up the British model as without fault and the ideal to which we should all aspire. She was commenting on the very real differences between the American and British churches, differences which we would be foolish to deny.
Having said all that, Maggi’s questions about the Evangelical emphasis of Emergent are not invalid. I write this not to critique the leadership, for they are friends and colleagues and very open to being in relationship with us heathen mainline liberals (post and otherwise).
Yet, several of us from the mainline have suggested along the way that some of the formal Emergent emphasis was so centered in evangelicalism as to marginalize our participation. It wasn’t intentional, for the reality is that we live in very different worlds. We attend different seminaries. We purchase books from different bookstores by different publishers. We have been mentored by different scholars, and thus our ability to speak a common language is often hindered when we move away from the big names like Hauerwas, Brueggemann, and Volf.
The reality is that some of us have been involved in trying to build relationships beyond the evangelical publishers into other realms. Yet, the mainline world doesn’t move as fast as the evangelical world. We are too hindered by our structures, our political realities, and that slowness seems like an eternity for folks in the evangelical world who readily change structures to meet missional needs.
What I am trying to say (as Tony clearly says) is that Emergent in the US is much broader than any 3000 word article can convey. At the same time, I think that we must understand that the US and British situations are radically different because of the radical differences in our culture. Neither form is univerally right or wrong, but each is appropriate for their world.
One last word on the inclusivity and exclusivity of the Emergent world. I have been working with several folks (Tony Peterson, Brian McLaren, Jen Lemen) to create a Critical Concerns Class for the Nashville Emergent Convention titled “The Embracing Church: A Spiritual Retreat on Life in the Expansive Kingdom of God.” We have been pulling this together as a partnership between Emergent/YS and the Upper Room (a United Methodist publisher) with the intention of modeling a relationship that transcends normal evangelical / mainline splits. Marko and others have been supportive from the beginning, and I believe that these types of partnerships will be carrying us to new places in the future.