Buzzword R.I.P. – “Emerging”

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Can we please dispense with using the phrase “emerging church”? I’ve never been a fan of the term, for the following reasons: 1) What does “emerging” mean in reference to the church? Isn’t the church always in transition? 2) Why do we need a label to define something so broad and fluid? Defining “emerging church” is almost as futile as defining “postmodern.” 3) Labels like this scream “buzzword to sell books!” to me. How many gullible pastors, youth pastors, and otherwise interested Christians have bought “emerging church” books just to see what all the edgy fuss was all about?

Now, before I am attacked for any of this, you must understand: I am a fan of much of what we might call “emerging.” I love Rob Bell, prefer liturgical worship (candles too!), and generally agree with the admittance of “mystery” into the epistemological discourse of Christianity. But I do not like the fact that “emerging” or “Emergent” is a thing. I don’t like the fact that suddenly there is this debate about whether emerging is a good or bad thing (as if there are two clear cut sides on the issue!). I don’t like that we’ve elevated the last ten years of history to be some revolutionary epoch of massive church change. There have always been shifts in how Christianity is understood and contextualized. Why are we getting so worked up about it now?

There are larger questions about trends in Christianity that we might be concerned about (and that probably implicate the “emerging church”): namely, the trendification of the faith. If anything really worries me about “emerging” things, it is that it has tended to make Christianity “hip” (in the “I’m not a fundamentalist, anti-environment, gay-hating prude!” sort of way). I’m not so sure “hip” is a thing Christianity should be… or can be. There is much more to say about this, and much more I will say about this. Stay tuned.

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17 responses to “Buzzword R.I.P. – “Emerging”

  1. “Cultural Awareness: Following Bono into the pub…” Hilarious!

  2. Thank you for putting more eloquently the things I am too lazy to go about putting properly into words.

  3. petertchattaway

    . . . it has tended to make Christianity “hip” (in the “I’m not a fundamentalist, anti-environment, gay-hating prude!” sort of way).

    Not only “hip”, but “negative”, as in the example you cite; you can’t sustain a church on the sort of energy whereby people are always saying what kind of Christian they are not.

  4. Honestly. If people were really interested in the liturgy and the connection to community, communion, historicity, and structure, they might join the Catholic Church or the Episcopal Church. The Emerging Church is like an ironic hipster t-shirt, the purpose of which is to point out how awesome you are for knowing about old things.

  5. Brett,

    I think if you asked most of those involved in the emergent conversation [and I am one of them…and so are you…so let’s just–:)] about the prospect of laying the word to rest, they might whole-heartedly embrace the idea; because from what I’ve gathered, they, like yourself and many others (Barack included), are quite tired of the limiting nature of labels.

    Sure, the church is always in transition…emergent folks would simply suggest that our current state of transition may require more attention than we’re used to giving it. (For a great summary, see Phyllis Tickle’s article The Emerging Twenty-First Century Christianity here: http://princetonemergent.blogspot.com/2008/02/cohort-march-4-discussing-phyllis.html)

    While I have not personally become acquainted with any of the writers whom you question of using the word merely “to sell books,” and therefore do not pretend to know their motives, I would point out that the very fact “an edgy fuss” even exists suggests something more substantial than your article assumes may be resonating.

    Love the video, and I look forward to more posts on this topic.

  6. I would guess that the folks who want to sell ’emergent’ books aren’t the authors, per se, but the but booksellers/publishers/marketing folks.

    And as a postmodern type myself, I’ve never like the term emergent, mostly because it’s just too dang confusing with Emergent (Village).

    About like ‘postmodernism’: originally handy, rather off-putting as a label.

  7. petertchattaway

    Honestly. If people were really interested in the liturgy and the connection to community, communion, historicity, and structure, they might join the Catholic Church or the Episcopal Church.

    Surely the Orthodox would have an edge on the Anglicans (a.k.a. Episcopalians), at least. :)

    . . . they, like yourself and many others (Barack included), are quite tired of the limiting nature of labels.

    Assuming “Barack” means Barack Obama, the comparison does not necessarily do the “emergent” church any favours. One of the problems that both the “emergent” church and Obama face is the fact that labels are necessary in life, precisely because there are limits to things, and at some point we need to say what those limits are, and where. That is why we can make distinctions between “orthodoxy” and “heresy”, just for starters.

  8. It is true that the “emerging” movement is unable to be labeled, but there is a distinct difference between Emergent and Emerging, as well as a massive difference between the authors that you mentioned, being Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and Mark Driscoll.

    http://theresurgence.com/theology/hot_topics/emergent

    For a far greater take on the subject, I encourage you to visit that website and listen to Driscoll’s lecture on the topic. Essentially, to put him in the same category of Bell and McLaren is quite comical when you find out what Driscoll really believes.

  9. Scottie-
    You are quite right that there is a massive difference between Bell and Driscoll, et al… That is precisely my point in critiquing the “emerging” discourse. It is far too broad a label that includes (or tries to include) a strikingly vast range of ideas and theologies. Driscoll’s neo-reformed approach is totally opposite of many others (McLaren) and thus it is ridiculous to consider them a part of the same “movement”… but that is what the confusing emerging rhetoric has done.

  10. Very true. I think that’s why Driscoll tried to separate the “emerging” movement into four different categories. The book “Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Movement” by D. A. Carson is an incredible breakdown of most of the movement, if you’re interested in learning more about the beliefs and beginnings of all things emerging/emergent. It’s funny being able to recommend something to you because you’ve recommended so many different pieces of art that I’ve absolutely enjoyed, so thanks for that!

  11. Brett,

    In case you were not aware of it, another interesting conversation on this topic started a week ago on this blog:

    http://peculiarpastorscott.blogspot.com/2008/03/emergent-is-dangerous.html

    I haven’t read through all of the comments yet, but thought I’d pass it along, since it also received a lot of attention over at the emergentvillage website here:

    http://www.emergentvillage.com/weblog/emergent-critics-whats-the-basis

  12. Did you make that video? Whoever did, just lumped as many “good” guys in with the “bad” ones as they could.

  13. You said:

    “If anything really worries me about “emerging” things, it is that it has tended to make Christianity “hip” (in the “I’m not a fundamentalist, anti-environment, gay-hating prude!” sort of way). I’m not so sure “hip” is a thing Christianity should be… or can be.”

    I’m afraid I don’t quite get what you’re trying to say here. Are you implying that we ought to be fundamentalists, anti-environment, and gay-hating? I would suggest that if emerging folk are against these things, it has nothing to do with trying to be “hip” and everything to do with a conviction that these things are just plain wrong.

  14. No of course I’m not saying we ought to be fundamentalists, bigots, etc… I’m just saying that we shouldn’t define ourselves in negative terms (i.e. we are NOT this and NOT that…). Rather, we should accept that we are inheritors of these dark histories whether we like it or not… and that any growth or change must come in and through our collective “baggage,” not in spite of it.

  15. But when you actually listen to the conversations of those in the emergent crowd or read their articles/blogs/books, you find that their lingo is overwhelmingly in the positive–not the negative as you originally implied, Brett. A perfect example is the book Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren, which I recall seeing in your video. Every chapter is titled: “Why I am ____.” Not: “Why I am not ____.”

  16. A tardy “amen, and amen” from LiturgicalCredo.com, which, incidentally, also really likes liturgy and candles and other old stuff.

  17. harry blamires: the christian mind

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