Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Emergent or emergent? Do You Care?

Last week there was a bit of discussion around the blogosphere concerning the labels Emergent and emergent (or, as I like to put it, "E(e)mergent", because I feel so "postmodern" when I throw parentheses in the middle of a word like that). Anywho, one discussion took place on this side of the ocean, over at Tony Jones' place and another on the other side of the ocean over at Jonny Baker's place.

Two weeks ago I spoke to a religion class at Calvin on emergent and people (including the professor whose class I was guest-lecturing in) wanted to know if I consider myself emergent. (But maybe he or they meant Emergent or E(e)mergent.)

So what's the issue? Well, there are several issues. For one, there are people who are a part of a very large movement/conversation that quite literally spans the globe concerning how to do church in a postmodern, globalized context. This movement/conversation is very grass-rootsy, too. Not everyone who is a part of this movement/conversation is a part of the Organizaton/Institution in the U.S. known as Emergent (i.e., Emergent Village with spokespeople Tony Jones and Brian McLaren). Some who are a part of the larger movement, in fact, want to distance themselves from some of what the likes of Brian and Tony are up to. Anyway, these folks might like to say that they are part of emergent, but not Emergent. Problem is, outside of contexts like this one (i.e., this blog, where those reading are likely to have an inkling of the difference) there's just one word--emergent--and the average person who hears it is likely to hear it as Emergent, i.e., as everything-Brian-McLaren-says or everything-Tony-Jones-says and so dismiss the whole movement/conversation as a result. In so doing, however, they may be throwing the proverbial baby out with the proverbial bath water, insofar as the baby (emergent in this case) might just contain some things the thrower-outers highly value.

I myself don't like the question "Do you see yourself as part of emergent?". But unlike many, I'm not allergic to categories and labels, as such. So that's not the issue for me. Yet when it comes to the label "emergent" I bristle. And this is so for two reasons. First, I am a Christian. That's a label. It is, in fact, a label I am happy to apply (with fear and trembling) to myself. The issue for me--and one we can add to the above--is that I am aware that the first Christians were called Christians. In other words, they didn't call themselves Christians. Others applied that label to them. My view is this: I will simply
say what I say, do what I do and participate in the conversations I participate in and allow others to label and categorize me as they see fit. I feel there's too much work to be done to take time trying to figure out whether I'm emergent or Emergent or whatever. I have enough trouble trying to be and become a Christian. And that's what I really care about; not whether I'm emergent or Emergent.

The second reason I bristle constitutes the third issue in the Emergent vs. emergent discussion. There are a good many people (including Jonny Baker) who feel that Emergent has become a brand. And to them this smacks of the very stuff of consumerism and (dare I say it?) the worst of American pop culture. In other words, the Organization employs paid merchants of Christian cool and hip who are in the business of commodifying elements of the larger movement/conversation (plus some other stuff that has nothing to do with the larger conversation like where you buy your latte, where you wear your facial hair, if you're a guy, and other such stuff), packaging them, selling them in books, seminars and bus tours and calling the product "Emergent". And, well, not everyone is down with that, as commodification and merchandising tends to kill whatever it infects.

So to recap: emergent is the larger movement of which Emergent is a part. Just as all Volkswagens are cars, but all cars are not Volkwagens, so all Emergents are emergent even if all emergents are not Emergent. Got it?

You know, whatever else you may think of Rob Bell, he assiduously and wisely avoids this whole business of labeling by refusing to be commodified by the Emerchants of cool. So too Shane Claiborne. Everyone who takes him or herself to be a part of emergent or Emergent reads whatever either one of these guys say, and would I think, point to both of them as people who are living out the animating impulses of emergent. Yet neither of them self-identifies as emergent or Emergent. And I say, good for them.

How about you? Are you Emergent, emergent, neither? Do you care?


Kyle said...

The word I initially heard was small e "emergent," as used by Raymond Williams along with the concepts of "residual" and "dominant" to describe the position that certain ideas hold in society at different times. I still have no idea if big E Emergent cribbed their name from Williams.

As for how I label myself, I'm comfortable with the utterly vague label of "postmodern," but I don't resonate with the "emergent" label primarily because I was participating in these types of discussions and thinking long before I'd ever heard the label. And I'm also dismayed that "Emergent" has become the place where all the cool kids hang out and buy lots of cool stuff (which I all too often find paired with the worship-as-rock-concert paradigm that I am increasingly tired of); the best parts of the emergent movement, in my mind, are the ones that focused on community and liturgy (i.e., those influenced by the thinkers like Robert Webber Stanley Hauerwas).

P.S. You need to work on using parentheses to look postmodern. Most uses of such parentheses actually spell a word if you got rid of the parentheses(e.g., (m)other, (cult)ure, imag(in)ing, etc.) but I'm not sure exactly what the label "Eemergent" refers to (unless it's someone who is scared of emergent). Perhaps use a slash, as in "(E/e)mergent" (plus this way, you get to add yet another unpronounced piece of punctuation, always a plus in postmodern spelling).

Kevin Corcoran said...


I think the genesis in Christian circles of the use of the "emergent" had nothing to do with Williams. As I understand it, it had more to do with the "bottom-up" nature of discussions and ideas, that they weren't coming down from on high, but were bubbling up to the surface from the "people in the pews", so to speak.

Couple of questions. How long would you say you've been thinking about this stuff? Since Webber's Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trali (mid 80's) or later? I'm also curious where you were when you first started thinking about this stuff. Were you in college? And where were you, east coast, west coast, midwest, southern US? Did it seem to you then that you folks were just interested in figuring things out and doing things differently?

My sense is that Webber was more interested in actual change, through the recovery of ancient practices, than he was on figuring out what what he was doing should be called. I worry sometimes that among some in the emergent conversation there's a little too much fixation on trappings and labels.

Finally thanks for the postmodern writing tips. I haven't got its grammar and syntax down yet. (-: As for what E(e)mergent might refer to, well, it would have to be other words of course, since it is just one signifier among an endless string of signifiers. Plus, I thought when it comes to language pomo and 'playfulness' went hand-in-hand. Are you telling me that all those hyphens, back-slashes and parentheses among words actually mean something? (-:

themethatisme said...

No, I don't care really, except that the whole emergent thing is becoming a management yardstick by which evangelistic outreach is being measured. This is all the trendy, cool product selling nonsense that Jonny Baker refers to and I find myself much in agreement. It is behind the source of my whinge on my Blog last week.

The whole idea of emerging as a new thing is bollocks anyway. What has the last 2000 years been if not an emerging instance of faith. Everything else we understand as church was instantly formed, fixed and tedious at the instance of the resurrection? I think not. Evolving is what we are, not emerging, and certainly not Emergent. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Emergent is a damned odd egg and I'm not sure what will hatch from it.

Kevin Corcoran said...


The whole idea of emerging as a new thing is bollocks anyway. What has the last 2000 years been if not an emerging instance of faith. Everything else we understand as church was instantly formed, fixed and tedious at the instance of the resurrection? I think not. Evolving is what we are, not emerging, and certainly not Emergent. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Emergent is a damned odd egg and I'm not sure what will hatch from it.


I agree with you, in large measure. Though I do think some very good things are being done by Emergent. But, you're right, what is going on now, in our particular time, is another chapter in a story that has been unfolding for 2000 years.

I'll be checking out your bit of complaining soon!!!!

Stephen Krogh said...


As my previous posts would indicate, I am not particularly interested in the emergent movement, or any movement which calls itself or relates itself to postmodernism. Because I've explained this before, I will spare you here.

I could not agree more with themethatisme. I hesitate to use any sort of progress language when dealing with a 2,000 year old faith. It is naive at best and arrogant at worst. Further, while I understand the necessity for making the faith relevant in today's world, when we begin to try and make the church relevant to a 'postmodern world' (in scare quotes because I don't think it exists, but for the sake of argument...) as opposed to show the 'postmodern world' why the church is relevant as is, then I think we've conceded a lot, chiefly that the church does not act as a beacon in the ocean of reality anchored to the truth, but that it is a beacon floating along with the whims and fancies of the world. Of course these are loaded words, which could never be adequately cashed out on a blog, and while my beliefs are not without controversy (I am a Catholic for crying out loud), I simply find anything relating to 'postmodernism' radically insufficient and either naive (if I am in a charitable mood) or arrogant (if I am in a bad one).

Kevin Corcoran said...


Love your comments, man. I will say that most of the people I talk with are not the least bit interested in making the faith relevant to a postmodern world. I think it would be more accurate to say that they find themselves in a postmodern context (culturally if not "philosophically") and they're just trying to figure out ways to express the faith in such a context.

In the UK, w/in Anlgicanism anyway, they have what they call "fresh expressions". The idea is that what's expressed (the gospel call and all that it entails) isn't new, but the expression bears all the marks of the times. An alternative to the reality of an emerging or evolving story (a single story with continuity from chapter to chapter)is to do do what the EO do and that is, change nothing, not even the expression. No evolution. No mutating. I'm not there, myself. And neither is the Catholic Church, for that matter.

Keep it up, Stehpen.

Kyle said...

in response to stephen:

It seems that many people who are anti-postmodern think that the church is somehow non-cultural or its own little completely independent sub-culture, but of course, such thinking led the church to create an alternative subculture which was nearly the same but lamer (most easily seen in music, but also seen in politics, business practices, general consumerism, etc.). I think if we examine the church as always already (to use what I think is the most useful pomo phrasing) enculturated, always at least part of the surrounding culture, and that that's *both* a good thing and something to be concerned about, we can get past the stale and unhelpful criticism that the emergent church is just trying to pander to contemporary desires because we'll also have gotten past the actual pandering that does take place (see my above criticism of the consumerist tendencies of part of Emergent).

In response to kevin's earlier query, I'm only 28, so I haven't really had the chance to think about anything substantive since the mid-80s. It was ~1999-2000 that I stumbled upon Stanley Hauerwas (you can find a version of the above argument criticizing Richard Niebuhr's "Christ Transforming Culture" position in SH's and Will Willimon's Resident Aliens) at about the same time I started reading literary theory for my major (the first time I'd read "postmodernism" from its source, not the reductive dismissals that were a dime a dozen in evangelical circles at the time), and I realized that Christianity need not be moored to modernist conceptions of epistemology a la D.A. Carson and other critics of pomo, etc. When I found McLaren ~2002, it felt like he was trying to start a party that I'd already been at for awhile.

The fact that I came to my current ways of thinking through Hauerwas is probably why I concentrate on the ideas that emergent values that themselves have much deeper sources within the Christian tradition, i.e., community and liturgy (and let's throw in non-Constantinianism for good measure). I only found Webber a couple years later when I attended the Worship conference at Calvin.

I've also seen the ideas of community and liturgy come alive in the small, midwestern, university-based CRC congregation which I've been attending since I started grad school 2001. I wouldn't call it Emergent b/c it doesn't have a trendy feel, but parts of it border on emergent, though I doubt more than a couple people there know that term.

Kevin Corcoran said...


I agree with you that the church is always already enculturated. I do have two questions, though. First, that being so, how do you describe or explain EO, whose liturgy is virtually unchanged since its beginning? How is its liturgy itself enculturated, not by the culture in which it was birthed, but by our contemporary, postmodern culture? Second, examining the church as a/a enculturated will, you suggest, help us get past the criticism that the emergent church is just trying to pander to contemporary desires because, as you say, we'll also have gotten past the actual pandering that does take place. How do you see that working? I guess I'm having trouble seeing how a recognition that all forms of church are a/a enculturated will do anything in terms of getting us past the actual pandering that does take place among some. Can you say a bit more? What do you have in mind? Thanks.

Stephen Krogh said...


I wouldn't claim that the church is non-cultural, nor would I claim that the church ought not to benefit from the cultures around it (as a Catholic, I've been blessed to attend masses in Italy, and Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Greece and have regularly attended a Kenyan mass, led by Kenyan refugees here in Tennessee. Each of these experiences is as varied as the parishioners in them and the church is strengthened by it and I believe God revels in celebration led by either the pipe organ or the djembe), nor would I claim that the church should avoid culture.

As a student of Heidegger, (by way of Matt Halteman), who intends of furthering his study this fall in graduate school, I fully appreciate the idea of the inseparability of culture and context from the church (or really from anything, for that matter). The concern I have with anything postmodern is that I don't think that anything 'postmodern' philosophers, authors, pastors, etc. is original or groundbreaking enough to warrant recognizing a new 'age' in civilization. This is not to say that many 'postmodern' philosophers, authors, pastors, etc. don't have interesting things to say, I believe they do, but I mitigate the importance they bear on the society today, and certainly on the whole of human history. I think it is simply a fact ( and here, I think Kevin would agree), that in ten years (maybe more) the postmodern movement as we see it today will seem antiquated; much of McLaren already seems antiquated (I realize that many in the pomo movement don't recognize him as an authority, so I use him only as an illustration). If it (pomo) is still around, which it likely, (labels have this way of sticking around), it will look something different than it does today, and will come to a point where we will have to start distinguishing among 1st wave, 2nd wave 3rd wave, etc. postmodernism, much like we deal with feminism, evalgelicalism, and any other such movement. All of this isn't to say that pomo doesn't say useful or interesting things, and certainly just because it is a definite product of our culture today doesn't mean it is useless, but it seems that many (not all, Kevin, for instance) fans of pomo either don't realize this fact (naivety) or think it doesn't apply (arrogance).

Kevin, I agree 100%. Stagnation will kill a church. To dig one's heels in the ground and demand normalcy (as though it exists) is unrealistic and counterproductive and probably damaging, both to the church and the culture (I think to do damage to one is to do damage to the other). I say all of this, I must remind you, having not read full works of anyone who would consider himself or herself pomo. I've read articles, attended conferences, heard sermons by, and read the philosophers regarded as the fathers of the movement, but my knowledge of it is passing at best and so I apologize if I oversimplify or overstate any positions; I've never been accused of prudence...

Rachel said...


The unchanging nature of the EOC was something I struggled with a lot in Facing East. But I think it has everything to do with lex orandi, lex credendi, which I have a lot of respect for. I think they struggle just as much as the rest of us with trying to be Christians in whatever sort of society they find themselves in, but they just don't care about pandering to people when it comes to worship. :)

Kevin Corcoran said...


Help me out. Lex orandi, lex credendi literally means (from the little bit of Latin I remember and my son helps to preserve through his love of the language--it's one of his favorite 5th grade classes!!!) rule or law of prayer, rule or law of belief. I think it gets loosely translated as we pray/worship so we believe. And I think the EO often add lex vivendi to that, so that it becomes something like as we worship, so we believe and live, or something to that effect.

But what exactly does that mean? How does the worship of 21st century EO reflect how he or she lives? I've been to a couple of EO services and they strike me as so utterly alien to where and how I live that it's like walking back in time. Don't get me wrong. The rhythms built into the religious life EO by way of the church calendar--with its feasts and fasts and such--make a lot of sense to me. But the liturgy itself I find to be radically counter-cultural, where the counter in this context is aimed at our culture. Yet the liturgy as it is practiced didn't emerge in a cultural vacuum, as Kyle points out. It was always already enculturated. I guess my question is, why privilege that culture--the one it was birthed in--as special, so special that we freeze the liturgy in it?

Scott Lenger said...


Like many self-labeled (E/e)mergents, I have been formed by postfoundationalism and the ekklesial ethics of Yoder/Hauerwas. Yet as much as I like kite flying I think the label Christian fits me just fine.

Tony Arens said...

Good Read... thanks! I'm neither. I guess I'm one of those "moderns" that see lots of "post moderns" engaged in philosophical conversation and relationship while people outside the coffee shop or pub are parishing. I'm the guy on the corner who's not trying to be "relevant" - I'm trying to do what Jesus expects of me and I'm being ridiculed for it. The world hated Him first.

Tony Arens said...

Thanks for the post!

Brian L. said...

No, but let me tell you what bugs the hell out of me: it's those twerpy little emergent brats who sit and sip coffee at our local coffee house who loooove to theorize about "being emergent" and "emergent praxis", but I'll be damned if I ever see them doing anything other than sitting around drinking coffee!

Anonymous said...

Wow. Reading your post, I wondered if you had somehow read my mind and posted my thoughts on my behalf. Except you wrote them much better than I would have. I particularly resonate with the idea of not self-identifying as an E(e)mergent, and have admired Rob Bell much for that very trait. The problem with that is: as someone who has within the past couple years recognized that my heart, mind, and soul have changed in ways that seem to meet the description of "emergent", how do I then concisely explain those changes to my friends within the world from whence I'm meant to be emerging? Maybe the whole point is that being concise isn't a virtue in this discussion.

Steve said...

Didn't mean to post that last comment by my blog name.

Eric said...

I am new to trying to understand the emerging church culture in a post-christian society, which I think is trying to escape out of the binds of 20th century fundamentalism/modernity/rationalism and is looking for an experiential faith. How that will play out in the future is anyone's best guess. The church has always been E(e)merging and speaking into the culture. (For the most part anyways). I like your comparison of the VW and the E(e)mergent/ing church - it fits. (I think i'll stick to using proper English grammar, even if it's so un-post-modern.

Kevin Corcoran said...

Thanks for the comments folks.


Everything okay? You sound angry. Or maybe you're just juiced, owing to whatever coffee you're drinking at the joe shop while the emergent brats are sipping down their caffeine-free, chai lattes.

Seriously, the emergent brats aren't ALL talk. You are right, though; they do have the gift of gab. But there's a lot of action, too. I've seen it.

Tony A:

I've gotta ask you. When you said the emergent pomos are busy relating inside the pubs and coffee shops while those outside are parishing did you mean parishing or perishing? (-:


There are probably a few posts on this blog you might be interested in to get a feel for emergent. Have at 'em!

Does anyone know how to make it such that each comment is automatically numbered when posted? Or can't you do that with Blogger?

themethatisme said...

Anyone for radical orthodoxy?

Kevin Corcoran said...


If RO is just going back to the roots of Christian theology and doing theology in conversation with politics, economics, science and the like, then I'm for it. If it has an agenda of overthrowing secularism, I'm not. Do RO adherents embrace the Augustinian view that there is a civitas mundi and a civitas Dei, and that the two are in an epic struggle for domination? I'll accept the two cities picutre, but I have little patience with the warfare imagery. I myself have no desire to overthrow secularism.

How about you? Are you for RO? Maybe you can help us (and me) get a better handle on what it is.

Brian L. said...

Sorry for the seemingly angry tone. I'm not angry. Just aloof that for all the praxis talk there is not much praxis, for all the generous orthodoxy talk there is not much confessing of what it is that is they say is orthodox (I've tried to ask - in the most generous way - but apparently it's not hip and cool to be able to say that non-Trinitarianism is not a Christian position, for instance).

And besides, these kids are now talking about being "post-emergent". (see, you miss a few days at the coffee bar and today's hot ideas becomes yesterdays old news). One kid even said that "we need to get behind the dogmatic tendencies of the older emergent orthodoxy". It was hard not laugh hearing the words 'older emergent' modify the word 'orthodoxy', but I held myself together.

Kevin Corcoran said...

Hey Brian:

Allow me to make you fee quite at home: non-trinitarianism is not a Christian position. I'm inclined to agree that with respect to orthodoxy, I'd like to hear from some(e.g., Brian McClaren) just what counts as orthodox. As for me, give me the Apostle's Creed. And that is, I dare say, pretty generous. I don't have a problem with a lot of what Brian says. It's what he doesn't say that bothers me.

I do have to say that my experience has been different from yours. For all the talk--and emergents are talkers--I've found them to be very praxis oriented. But praxis is something to be seen. It's what a lot of these folks are doing when they're not writing books and talking. It is there, though. I see it.

Thanks for coming back, Brian!

themethatisme said...

I'm struggling with it myself, truth be told, and would find it difficult to define simply.

But..I don't think that it accepts the Augustinian civitas mundi and a civitas Dei or the neccesity of conflict implied. Augustines picture depends too much on Platonic duality, a paradigm which critics of Plato are wont to use. Plato did actually recognise that there needed to be a balance, a moderator which used higher thought processes to mitigate between the apparent paradox. In recognition of Augustines construct I would hold RO as recogniing that the civitas mundi and a civitas Dei are equally enculturated. The moderator in our context being humanitys' ability to recognise this and order our lives accordingly. This would be in denying exclusivity, moving beyond the inclusive (pomo) to a new pluralistic theology.

Lori said...

You should know upfront that I'm not an analytic philosopher, an historian, nor a trained theologian. None of those labels fit me, but the label of emergent, I believe, does. So does the label woman, and the label mother. And I think they all fit me in more or less the same way.

I've historically shied away from labels because they represent a box into which a human being is stuffed. A label inherently implies a comprehensive description of a box's contents. Yes, I'm a woman, and that does tell you certain undeniable things about me. The label will also lead you seriously astray on various other things. Telling you that I'm a mother (and a full-time one at that) leads you to understand that I have children, and that parenting them takes up much of my time and energy. But it does not tell you how I parent, what I do with the time and energy not consumed by my children, nor, in fact, what interests me, or even what I'm passionate about. That label, while it fits, also leaves some pretty big holes in telling you much about me. Such is the nature of labels--they tell part of the story, but not all.

Which leads us to the label "emergent". As logomanikos describes, there are many of us who have found ourselves, neither by design nor by intent, in a place where past labels no longer tell even a part of our story. We find that our faith, real and pressing as it is, has itself alienated us from the labels which once fit nicely. For many of us, it comes down to embracing our identity (in Christ) and losing community, or embracing community at the cost of losing identity (in Christ). (I reference in Christ because again, it's not like we went out looking to change. We have followed God's call on our lives, something significant has shifted, and this is where we've ended up--still in Christ.)

If we could ditch labels entirely (and some of us, a la “artist formerly known as...” have given it our best shot), we would. Telling just part of the story often seems more dangerous than telling nothing at all. But there seems to be something inherently human to the process of label-giving, or label-claiming. There’s a certain pragmatic acceptance of our gifts and (and of our limitations) which comes along with a label. By claiming a label, I demonstrate that I am willing to share with you something of myself. I also make myself vulnerable to you, as I must trust your intention to discover the parts of me not contained by that label. It’s a risky business, but treated respectfully, can form a very basic foundation for relationship.

Somewhere in the mix of labels we reject, and pragmatic desire for a label to embrace, some of us have stumbled onto the term emergent. Few of us think we've found solid enough ground on which to do more than pitch a tent. But rather than camp by ourselves, we've taken a name to share with fellow travelers. Uprooted as we've felt, we're profoundly grateful to have found community again--and community within which we can not only own who we are becoming, but find sustenance and guidance for the journey. Some of us, like Kyle, have been on this journey much longer than the name itself. And many of us are dismayed (though not surprised) at its co-opting by market forces. Few of us are loyal to the label, but many of us are simply grateful.

We're grateful to have a place where we can be who God has created us to be. We are grateful to find a label that fits even the tiniest bit. We're grateful to share that label with fellow travelers. We’re simply grateful to rest in the peace of a label claimed.

Brian L. said...

lori, with all due respect and with all of the sensitivity I can muster, your comments above make me want to puke.

I think the emergent crowd have their post-foundationalist undies in a bind. What about the label "orthodox"? Would you accept that description for yourself? or what about a larger label such as "one who affirms the historic teaching of the Christian church"? or what about even the term "christian"? Or is it enough to let these terms go on undefined?

In seeking to eschew labels, the emergent crowd have in turn rejected definitions themselves. And no, this has nothing to do with being a post-foundationalist, a post-evangelical, and post-taco bell eater, or a post-whatever-is-trendy-at-the-moment.

I don't mean to argue or be obnoxious, but I would like to get past the "conversation" - if I may use an overused and abused word - and seek some affirmations of just what it is in fact you do believe.

And isn't "emergent" a label?

Kevin Corcoran said...


Your questions to Lori are good ones. They're fair. But I must say I'm pretty sure you could muster more sensitivity than that which led you to say that what Lori said makes you want to puke. I'm not sure you really tried to muster that much sensitivity.

Hear me: your questions of her are fair ones. Your call for more clarity with respect to what is believed is eminently fair and reasonable. And yet. And yet the "make me puke line" is neither fair, productive, helpful or necessary. And it certainly was not sensitive. I'm fine with disagreement on this blog, but I must insist that all participants are respected and treated with the dignity they have in Christ.

The question about whether Lori would accept the label Christian was also not one that should have been asked, given her comments. The number of times she speaks of her identity in Christ in the third paragraph makes the answer to that question abundantly clear: of course she's a Christian.

Alright. I realize these are issues about which we are very passionate. But I must insist that everyone show respect for each other.

Kevin Corcoran said...


Honestly, I can think of only thing to say in response to your comment: B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L.

No label says it all. But label we must and we do. And I think you're right about the vulnerability part. I don't (and can't) know what it's like to be a woman. But I can imagine how liberating and refreshing a certain kind environment might be found to be by someone for whom many (if not all) previous Christian environments have been found inhospitable. Emergent Christianity is a hospitable environment. So it's not difficult at all for me to see how it provides a resting place for many weary travelers who have come to that space not even looking for it.

A very moving ppiece of spiritual autobiography. Thanks so much for sharing it.

Lori said...

Kevin, thank you for your gracious words and for the hospitality of this space. And Brian, thank you for being willing to engage. Despite your apparent aversion to conversation, I appreciate your willingness to continue this one, at least a few questions further. You could easily have ignored my post; thank you for not doing so.

As I read your questions, I'm impressed with my own need to clarify what I say. Much of what I think & hold dear is very much in the process of becoming, and is consequently difficult to articulate. Your challenge to me is to get better at at it (and ideally, soon!).

First, let me say that yes, emergent is a label. And accepting that label has for me been part of a journey, similar to others I've witnessed: over the past 5 years, I have watched dear friends embrace the label of Orthodox (of the Eastern variety) and another set of dear friends embrace the label Catholic (of the Roman strain). We all share the label Christian, as well as the label orthodox. The breadth of our views on a wide variety of issues demonstrates that orthodoxy is indeed a very big box. Giving you that "handle" (that of orthodox Christian) for me may be a safer route, and in fact a more helpful one to you. But from where I stand, it says less than to call myself emergent. I guess embracing the label of emergent is an attempt to specify.

Simply put, I embrace the central creeds of the Christian church. I believe nothing in all of existence is worth anything compared to the incomporable treasure of knowing God's love, and sharing it with others. I want my mind to be shaped, my heart transformed, and my life guided by the active presence of the Holy Spirit. None of this could happen without the self-sacrificing, history-altering incarnation of Jesus Christ. Finally, I live in gratitude for the church: God's people, both now and in ages past, who flesh out for me a whole-hearted pursuit of God's kingdom.

I guess that's where the rubber meets the road for me. I hope it helps.

Brian L. said...

You know, in all honesty, I had just returned from a neighborhood poker game where I had a few drinks and probably should have waited until the morning to comment. So, with all sincerity to the Lori, the blog host, and others, please do forgive me for my nastiness. (is this what humble pie tastes like?)

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't consider myself to be either. Missional is a term I would embrace however, and I am not turned off by the term

I like the questions the emergent movement is asking even though I don't care for many of the positions of the Emergent takes.

Lori said...

Brian, apology accepted. The taste of humble pie is a familiar enough one to me...at times it feels like my particular specialty. :)

And Shane, you may be interested in a book just out: The New Conspirators, by Tom Sine. It presents real-life folks who embrace a variety of labels (specifically: emerging, missional, mosaic {multi-cultural}, and monastic) who are finding creative ways to make God's kingdom real. While I haven't read this book yet (I enjoyed his "Mustard Seed Conspiracy") he's doing a great job of bringing together folks with different inclinations to work & worship together. He encourages to us to get beyond passive labeling and into active, transformative engagement.

Tony Arens said...

Kevin - perishing or parishing... I meant perishing - yikes - now that's funny! You mention that emergents are praxis oriented - hmmm, I hope you're right but I don't see it. What I do see are those pesky moderns out telling their stories, teaching scripture, leading bible studies, volunteering their time, and oh yes - providing the funding to send the emergent leadership at our church to catholic retreat centers to walk labyrinth's and practice centering prayer. And when they're at the retreat, the pesky moderns are cleaning up the dishes in the fellowship hall after volunteering their time helping out with a funeral. At the chuch I attend, the emergent group pays a coffee barista to come in and make latte's. The band is paid, the lighting guy is paid, and the babysitters are paid. Praxis? No where to be found in my neck of the woods I'm afraid. I do remember one emergent service on a Sunday night in the middle of winter when the emergents were so moved after a sermon (about the poor and that they had no shoes), that they all threw their footwear up on stage and walked out into the snow in bare feet. Praxis? No... most of the shoes were thrown away and a few frost bit toes were the result. However, the event was touted as Praxis for weeks after!

But then as Lori's posted so eliquently reflect - the conversation IS praxis for many emergents. Sorry folks, sounds good, but talk is cheap. "For many of us, it comes down to embracing our identity (in Christ) and losing community, or embracing community at the cost of losing identity (in Christ)" Huh? man, that's heavy - maybe we should set the words aside (oh, please...) and get out there and proclaim Christ Crucified to a world that is close to a point of no return.

Kevin Corcoran said...


The old parishing/perishing routine! I thought you may have actually said "parishing" intentionally, meaning the people outside the pubs were Catholics who "parish" together. Clever, I thought. Ha!!

I didn't pick up from Lori's comment that the conversation IS praxis. I wonder if there's just not a different sensibility at work, here. Individual emergents may be helping out in soup kitchens, passing out blankets to the homeless, tutoring urban kids in after school programs, volunteering in senior citizen homes, etc., etc. They may do that as a collective, but not always. Tony J. is a police chaplain. He doesn't do that as part of an emergent collective. Still,thats praxis.

To me it's what people do when they're not gathering at the pub, coffee shop or church building. That's where the praxis happens, it if happens.

Now do any of the things I mentioned count as "sharing the gospel"? Depends. If you think sacramentally, that the gospel can be shown, visibly concretized and demonstrated in more ways than just baptism and the Eurcharist (or the other five ways if you're Catholic), then those activities most certainly count as "sharing the gospel".

If, on the other hand, one thinks that "sharing the gospel" means the verbal proclamation of the Christian story, then these activities are not likely to be thought as "sharing the gospel".

I'm inclined to believe that our task is to sow parables of God's coming, consummated kingdom and that these sorts of activities do just that, they little signs and foretastes of the kingdom.

Like a minister charged with being minister of the Word and sacrament, so I take it we should be witnesses in both word and deed. Emergents feel that evangelicals have been very good with words and not as good with deeds.

Is the world near "the point of no return?" Well, my understanding of the gospel is that God wins in the end, that God's will ultimately prevails. Penultimately, it doesn't always look so good. But ultimately, God gets what God wants. And what God wants is good and that good pertains to this world. So, as a disciple of Jesus, I don't think there is a point of no return. Under the current fallen conditions it can look pretty bleak, I know; but, Christ has come and Christ will come again. Hence, the eschatological hopefulness that characterizes emergents.

One of my favorite pictures comes from the gospel of John. Jesus walks around announcing the dawning of the kingdom. And very often, after he says "the kingdom of heaven is at hand" he performs a miracle. Those miracles, I believe, are signs. It's as if Jesus is saying "the kingdom of God is at hand; what does that look like? Let me show you" and then he heals a blind man or makes a lame man walk. Why? Because in God's kingdom people are whole and flourishing.

I think we're called to do the same. To announce the good news AND to show it.

My advice is this: follow the emergents out of the pubs and coffee shops. See what they do when they're not "conversing". If "they're" not engaged in sowing parables of the kingdom, remind them of their--and our--calling.

Tony Arens said...

Good words Kevin! Thanks - I agree with much of what you are saying. Point of no return - I mean the vast multitudes that don't know the Lord, even though they may be surrounded by people who know the truth but are afraid to share it because it might come across as judgemental. The truth can be very difficult to hear for many, but eventually, I believe in my heart-of-hearts that it will set one free. Word and deed need to go hand-in-hand, I agree totally.
Many emergents live by the old saying "preach the gospel at all times, and only if absolutely necessay, use words". I think they are missing out on a real opportunity! We are taught to be prepared to proclaim the reason why we have hope. Some words affirm, and some words criticize - Jesus used both and we should have the same courage.

Lori said...

Tony, in the nearly 40 years I've spent in the "established" church (yes, I still attend a traditional local church), I've met all sorts of folks. Some of them are beautiful souls, reflecting God's grace & transformation. Many of them share God's love with our world in meeting both spiritual and physical needs. Many of them have been more kind to me than I ever deserve.
And then there are the others...folks who sit in church on Sunday morning, and call that enough. Folks who are satisfied letting Jesus serve as "fire insurance", but feel no call to follow Him into service to the least of these.

I'd like to think that you're one of the former. I'd like to think that you're visiting this blog, and this specific post, because you believe (as do I) that God deserves our wholehearted obedience, and yes--action. And I'd like to think that you might extend me that same "benefit of the doubt".

I'm sorry your experience w/ emergent folks has been such a disappointing one. And I'm sorry my experience w/ non-emergent folks has often left me disappointed, as well. The failures of our fellow Christians can embitter us (I confess I'm still digging my way out of piles of cynicism). Or, I think, they can narrow our focus--driving our own personal passion to follow God's call on our own lives, and then to encourage others as they live obediently, as well.

As a small sign of hope, let me tell you about the emergents that I know. We do meet at a coffee shop, though only once a month. Our group includes several youth pastors, one of whom, with his group of teenagers, regularly brings food and relationship to homeless folks in our downtown. One pastor in our group has led his congregation in sponsoring an African refugee family, as well as partnering with a needy African community. Another pastor leads a group of people with profound spiritual and emotional needs, and has seen the Gospel take root in significant ways. Another of my fellow emergents is in the process of selling his home in a comfortable small town in order to move into a multi-ethnic, impoverished downtown area. Needless to say, community like this has been a tremendous encouragment to me to talk and act, and I'm profoundly grateful to find God in their midst.

Tony Arens said...

Thanks Lori! Thanks for your words of hope. I'm glad you have a community that are the hands and feet of Christ! - emergent or not. I too am part of an awesome community that sounds a lot like yours!

I've never known a Christian who simply sits in the church as views Jesus as fire insurance. I would content that they are not Christian, even though they may claim the label. To truly know Jesus and understand His gift of Life must certainly result in a yearning to follow Him and serve others as He modeled to us. If we truly embrace His Name as Truth, we should have no other choice. To not claim it must mean that one doesn't really believe it to be true.

Yes, my encounters with emergents have been a little disappointing. My conversations with them tend to result in them getting angry with me and calling me names. I'm sure that emergents run into the "other folks" and get the same treatment.

Lori said...

To truly know Jesus and understand His gift of Life must certainly result in a yearning to follow Him and serve others as He modeled to us

Amen! I couldn't say it better myself.