It is ironic and telling that within a few days of writing a post about how young people seem to be gravitating toward either neo-Reformed theology or the emerging church, I should come across a piece by Dan Kimball in which he speaks of the emerging/emergent phenomenon in the past tense.
This has been happening a lot on the blogosphere recently. The general consensus among the movers and shakers the conversation-formerly-known-as-emerging seems to be this: “It was a wild ride. We learned a lot. We deconstructed, reconstructed, and changed our approach to a lot of things. Now it’s time to go our separate ways.”
I know now that through time various theologies and differences have been discussed as categories within the emerging church world have been created... And that different people in the emerging world now focus on different things, different theologies, different networks. But those early days were quite a fun few years and very life-saving for me in many ways.
Now, I completely agree that among evangelical writers, pastors, and speakers, the “emerging church” as a cohesive movement is clearly a thing of the past. Together these guys (it was mostly guys) felt and engaged the changes brought on by postmodernism, and together they responded with new questions, new ideas, and new approaches to Christianity. As the conversation became more detailed and the initial splash turned into ripples, these leaders drifted in different directions as their interests and emphases and traditions diverged. This, of course, should be expected of any movement, particularly an evangelical one, and is probably a good thing.
But here’s the problem I have with declaring the “emerging conversation” over: Some of us are still talking.
Perhaps in McLaren’s church, “everything has changed,” but in mine, addressing global poverty or AIDS or healthcare will get you branded as a “bleeding heart liberal” if you don’t do it right. Perhaps among McKnight’s students, it is assumed that women should have the same leadership opportunities as men, but in my community, the concept of a female pastor is about as foreign as a gay one. Maybe Kimball assumes that everyone has read N.T. Wright, rediscovered the significance of the kingdom message of Jesus, and re-framed the mission of the church as being one that should benefit the world, but when I tell people around here that I think God has a plan to redeem and restore the entire creation right here on earth, I get called a heretic.
What I’m trying to say is that some of the most basic and important elements of the emerging movement have yet to catch on among the general public. Even though I know better, from where I stand, heralding the end of the emerging church is like heralding its defeat. It’s like declaring modern fundamentalism the victor and conceding that the skeptics were right all along about how this whole thing was nothing more than a fad. From here, saying that the emerging church is yesterday’s news is like signaling the end of a movement before it ever really got off the ground.
I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining about how long it takes for new things to catch on in the rural South. That’s just how things are down here, for better or worse. But on behalf of all the isolated “emergers” living day-to-day in communities like mine, I’m tempted to pull the obligatory, “Y’all ain’t from around here, are ya?” on my blogging friends.
It’s important for these leaders to remember that there are still a lot of environments in which the “emerging conversation” is desperately needed and incredibly relevant. What may seem passé in academic circles is still trickling down to laypeople across the country. What was discussed and published last year is still being read this year. Conversations that some are finishing, many are just beginning.
The truth is, there are a lot of us out there whose only connection to like-minded believers has been though the blogs and books of “emerging” writers and thinkers. Maybe “emerging” is not the best word anymore. Maybe “emerging” is “so last-year.” But for people like me, “emerging” has come to signify a sort of community, maybe even an identity - the one group where we feel we actually fit.
It may sound silly and petty...(it may actually be silly and petty)...but I wish we could keep the “emerging” label around just a little while longer because, around here, if I’m not an “emerger,” I’m just a liberal.
Even though it's nothing more than a name...it's a name. And I'd be lying if I said I wasn't going to miss it.
What do you think? Is the emerging church a thing of the past?
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