What is Emergent?

Friday, July 06, 2007

You might have noticed that I stuck a "friend of Emergent" banner on my blog. So thought I'd share a bit of what it means to be an emergent Christian. Here are:

Some sure signs that you are an Emergent Christian

1) You don't agree with everything Emergents believe or say.
One of the hallmarks of being emergent is to challenge ourselves and others to be more faithful to the Gospel. That's why they talk of a "conversation" instead of a statement of faith or creed. So if you think the emergent church is sometimes too relativistic, or does not focus enough on the Gospel, or is not being biblical, then you are being very emergent in disagreeing. If you just bought the whole party line, you would not really be emergent.

2) You could care less if you are Emergent
You don't have a special postmodern groovy service at your church, you are not trying to "relate to people today", you didn't just grow that goatee. You may agree with some of the values of the emergent church like caring about social justice, finding ways to communicate the Gospel in relevant ways today, daring to ask tough questions of faith, or being more concerned about being loving than about being "right", but you were concerned about these things way before anyone was even talking about being emergent.

3) Your focus is on being faithful to Christ, not on relating to the world.
It is not so much about what exactly you are as what you are not. It is post-secular, post-scientism, post-colonial, post-churchianity, post-fundamentalist, post-red/blue state, post-dogmatic. In other words it recognizes the limits of all of these and tries to go beyond them. So for instance, emergents think that theology can only really be right if it produces the fruit of people who are like Jesus. If we have all the right doctrine, but have not love, then we are just a clashing cymbal.

4) You're not theologically liberal (in a Marcus Borg kinda way).
Liberalism is the child of modernism, so being post-modern also makes Emergents post-liberal. Liberalism gets way too stuck in science. Emergents are much more open to awe, mystery, love, and all sorts of things that you can't dissect and control. Of course Emergents would have a lot to critique about conservatism too, and of course find good things in both.

5) You're not relativist (in a "there are no absolutes" kinda way).
Saying there are no absolutes makes truth individualistic. Emergent is communally focused. So we may be related to our bigger world and shaped by it, and we may be limited and unable to know absolutely. But this is a statement of humility rather than certainty. God is absolute, we are relative. So the way we "know" truth is relationally, through trust and humble dependency on God.

6) You're not universalist (in an "I'm ok you're ok" kinda way).
I'm sure we all hope that God will be able to save everyone, but that is quite different from saying that there is no radical evil and brokenness in us and our world. Emergents may also think that Jesus is a lot bigger than the little church boxes we try to squeeze him into and that people might be able to find Jesus without knowing his name. But this again is very different from saying "do/believe whatever you want".

So if you don't agree with everything Emergents believe or say, aren't sure you even want to be Emergent because you really care about focusing on Jesus, and are not a relativist, liberal, or a universalist. Then maybe you might be an emergent. Confused? Good. That's part of it too.

Anything you would want to add to the list?



At 11:14 AM, Blogger Clay said...

Hey, Derek. It's the Clay from your Church History class. Just found your blog. Viva sharktacos!

Thanks for the post. I haven't really paid much attention to the whole "emergent" thing. I didn't want to get caught up in what I thought was the latest fad. What you've written, however, has made me reconsider. It resonated with where I am & how I feel about many issues.
I don't plan on rushing out to buy the latest "emergent" authors, but at least I'm a bit better informed...and certainly open! Perhaps, as you mentioned, I'm one of those "emergent" Christians who doesn't even know it.
Keep up the good writing.

May God bless you!

At 12:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Clay,

Great to hear from you!
If you have some free ear time, there was a great series of podcasts on the emergent movement done by the folks at "Theology Unplugged". They are themselves not emergent, but did a really fair and wise job of describing it. You can download their podcasts on iTunes.

At 7:04 PM, Blogger Clay said...

Thanks, Derek, I will (when I get a bit more time).
I had lunch with Nathan today, and we talked about you. I'm having him over for dinner tomorrow. Wish I'd have done that with you while you were here.
By the way, I enjoyed reading the interchange between you and WF about Church history. I like both of your blogs, too.
Nice to re-connect via the blogoshphere.

At 8:07 PM, Blogger David Castor said...

Hey Derek,

You may remember me as the Australian who got you involved in the whole CV/PSA debate on an Australian blog. Anyway, found your post on the Emerging Church pretty interesting and broadly speaking, accurate. The only thing I'd add is that Emergents like to tie together different strands from different theological strands and cultures. Being Emerging doesn't involve bypassing church history and creating something new, but rather attempts to look at the very broad body of Christ in its different manifestations.

At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey David, sure I remember, "Infinite Spaces" right?

I agree with your addition, and would say that from a post modern perspective this reflects an appreciation for other worldviews and for our own connection to history.

The danger is if our consumerism gets in the way and we get caught in the "shopping cart" mentality of taking the chants from here, and the candles from there, to mold our own custom made worship without getting the deeper contexts that these traditions come from.

Of course consumerism is a problem that we as Westerners all have to deal with, not just postmoderns or Emergents.

At 3:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, my name is Jim.

"So the way we 'know' truth is relationally, through trust and humble dependency on God."

We know truth through the word of God.(2 TIMOTHY 3:16) That truth is not relational. In other words, the truth of the words of God are not in any way dependent upon our attitudes or perceptions of the text of the Bible. We can fail to accept the words of the Bible as the truth, but that doesn't change the condition of God's word as truth.

Another way of putting this is that the Gospel message is true not because we have faith in the content of the Gospel. It isn't true because we believe Jesus was crucified, died, was burried, and rose from the dead on the third day. If everyone in the world failed, for one reason or the other, to believe the truth of the Gospel, that wouldn't make the Gospel "not-true". The Gospel is true because Jesus really did die. He really did rise from the grave. We don't "know" that by faith, we know the Gospel is true because it contains historical facts, and those who have come to salvation directly percieve their position with God.

I know the truth of the Gospel not because I trust God and am dependent upon God, I know the truth of the Gospel because the Holy Spirit acted upon me and showed me the truth that I am a sinner saved by the grace of God and that can only be possible through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord!


At 4:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I know the truth of the Gospel because the Holy Spirit acted upon me and showed me the truth"

Jim, this is still a very relational formulation. God "acted upon you" God "showed" you. Relational truth is not based on our subjective experience, nor on our subjective reason, it is based on a relational God who acts to reveal himself to us in relationship.

In that, you are dependent on God, otherwise it would be human based and thus idolatrous.


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