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Recently, I had a class in Theologizing in the Emergent Church. As part of the class, I had the opportunity to create a project that would display my learning on the subject. In true emergent colors, I decided to do a series of blogs, Youtube videos, and tweeters that would partially entail my project itself. My hope is that I would learn from the emergent church biblical concepts that would inform our own church plant.
Soon I will be visiting 2-4 churches of various types. I’ll likely be visiting a house church, mainline denominational mega-church, a Catholic Church, and of course, a church that could be considered an emergent church. Since I’ll be critiquing the churches, they will remain anonymous. (1) (2) I’ll also be conducting some interviews of members at each of those churches.
Afterwards, I’ll reflect on my visits and give commentary, while keeping the spirit of the emergent church in mind. In other words, I’ll try not to just say, “I liked the music.” Rather, I’d be more likely to comment that “Those in the emergent church may have felt the music was too performance and entertainment oriented.” Lastly, I’ll do a final summary of the emergent church in light of my readings and visits. (3)
Hopefully, some of those readings would be from responses to my blogs and tweets and not just the text books I read for class. So, if you’re interested I’d love if you got a chance to comment. Don’t worry if you’re not an expert. (However, I won’t approve disrespectful, “You’re an idiot” type of comment whether it’s directed at me or another commenter.) In fact, I’ll do my best to “spark” the conversation by writing in a style not typical of most papers I’d write for class. (4)
So, here we go!
A good place to start may be to describe what the emergent church is. As part of my project, I’ve begun to do an extremely limited survey to find out, among other things, how many people know what the emergent church is. So far, the results are overwhelming. I’ve asked a total of 12 people and none of them have heard of the emergent church. I’ll relay the final results in my last posting.
What exactly the emergent church is is a slippery matter. It’s not quite like identifying the Catholic, Lutheran, or Anglican Church. While it’s true that some of those have fractions, the emergent church seems more loosely connected.
I’d start by giving thoughts on the name emergent itself and move into 4 key themes that I would say define most, if not all, emergent churches. (5) Emergent people and emergent churches are emerging out of the foundationalism/modernism that characterizes many mainline denominations that dominate the popular culture’s knowledge of who constitutes the church. Emergent churches are likely people “emerging” out of churches like the Methodist Church or the Catholic Church, for example.
The question of why they are emerging leads us to our first key theme. That theme can be called “epistemic humility.” Epistemology just refers to what we can know. Someone with too little epistemic humility is very sure they are right all the time. Someone with too much may be an ameba with no useful opinions. People in the emergent church are largely reacting to the long history of perceived theological overconfidence (modernity) by taking an epistemic humility approach (postmodernity) while reserving the right to still have an opinion on topics. (6)
Since we’re talking about opinions, we should move to my second marker of the emergent church. Conversation. The emergent church is reacting to their perceived domination of monologue at the expense of dialogue. To put it visually, they want more circle gathering and less of the classroom style seating teaching and learning that has characterized the church.
This points to a larger identifier of participation. Not only do they want to participate in the conversation but they want to be actively involved both in the worship service and outside of the gathering. They want to be community focused. In doing that, they want to build a culture that emerges out of the groups who passively listen to a sermon and retreat homewards that they see too often in large institutional churches.
The last key theme is decentralization. Generally, emergent churches are not headquartered. If there is any centralization, it resides in a person rather than an organization. They are largely non-denominational, local, communities of faith. Church partnerships, if they are formed at all, are hand-selected rather than defaulted by membership. For example, if one is a member of Church of God in Christ, that person will likely get a similar experience at any Church of God in Christ in the nation. Not so with an emergent church. Part of the reason for this may be that in some ways the emergent church is defined by what they are rejecting rather than a set of doctrines they have banded together under.
My observations of the various churches will focus mostly on these 4 themes.
1. Click here for my thoughts on social media and ethics.
2. Of course, I am pretty famous so I can’t help if one of my fans sees me visiting their church.
3. For those interested in me giving my view, as it stands today, of the emergent church, I’ll mention straightaway that I am neither fully pro or fully con regarding the emergent church and, since it is so dependent on the individual (person or church), I take a dual approach of attempting to harness the positive contributions and rejecting what I see as negative contributions. So, I am neither an emergent church apologist nor am I a doomsday prophet.
4. Although, I may have footnotes to clarification points that only some will want to follow to keep the word count down.
5. I’m going to purposely ignore the debate over emergent and emerging to keep from getting bogged down and hopefully to appeal to a wider audience.
6. I’ll save skepticism, which sometimes flows out of epistemic humility, for a later post. For now, I’ll just say that it’s easy enough to find examples of someone going too far with skepticism, but I also believe that often theology is advanced because someone, somewhere had the courage to look with askance at a widely held view. It seems to me the emergent church folks have done some of both.
P.S. For information on participating in our dialogue group, click on the “Become A Participant” tab and tell us if you’d like to join us in person or via the web. We’d love to be in community with you! (This is not related to the class project. This is our standard insert at the end of all of our blogs as we build our community at EWCC.)