Can you help?

What is the deal with “Emergent?”

I will acknowledge that I haven’t read any actual books about the Emergent (or Emerging?) Church. This morning I read something on maggi dawn’s blog that pointed me to Rachelle, whose post had a supposedly funny comment, explaining what it really is.

Now I’ll admit I’m getting a superficial understanding of the movement by reading blogs. So help me out here. If it’s not a bunch of white guys who, in private moments, like to indulge in theo-speak mixed with curse words while drinking Guinness, fashioning themselves as some sort of latter-day Inklings, while putting on either mediatastic or beautifully simple worship, who stay on top of trends and are pseudo-hip even though we all know that being church folk argues against that possibility, and are no different than generations of tall white guys who fail to hear the voices of women, people of color, the poor and people otherwise marginalized, and who absolutely nowhere have anything to say about inclusivity for GLBT people–please straighten me out and point me to a resource that will say otherwise. I’ve been reading things that people who call themselves Emergent/Emerging are writing, and that’s the impression I have received.

I’m reminded of asking my first husband, many years ago, what the whole UFO thing was about, and having him essentially cock an eyebrow, Mr. Spock-like, and suggest that I need not worry about such things, which were far too metaphysical for my pretty little head. I will admit that I was 22 at the time, and my head was about as pretty as it’s ever been, but still…

Help me out here, and no cocking the eyebrows, please.

23 thoughts on “Can you help?”

  1. Hi Songbird. I don’t know a huge amount, but my take on the emergent/emerging thing is a bit more positive than yours….I do agree that there is a preponderance of big boys playing with techie gadgets and communing with themselves by candlelight…but it’s not the whole story, I’m certain! Why not visit Lilly’s Pad (link from my blog).I think she’d describe hereself as emergent but she definitely doesn’t fit the rest of your cameo. Nor does Karen Ward (woman of colour who leads COTA in Seattle).And Brian McClaren is in a different mould, too, I’d say.
    It seems a much more defined genre in the States than here…Jonny Baker (whom I also link to) is probably the most high profile UK emergent type…but his stress is very much on church emerging from a creative community of women and men…And he sees church as “both/and” in terms of traditional or “fresh expression” (the UK version of emergent/emerging…I think). Maggi would be seen as a UK emergent voice too, I think…
    Oooh…just found a good post on Jonny’s blog about a COTA project which gives more of a flavour than I can manage:
    It doesn’t have alot to do with holding hands with an old lady who is scared to die…but I think that it can be a valid and helpful way of sharing the Gospel and engaging people with their faith…and it doesn’t have to be high tech, whatever some of the blogs might suggest. The best thing about it, from my perspective, is that it allows us to imagine new ways of being church for our particular context…Your emerging church would look very different from mine, which is hugely different again from Jonny’s. Does any of that make any sense at all???

  2. Kathryn,that’s very helpful. I’ll check the links you recommend. My point was not that I have a negative impression so much as what I had come across seemed to be self-stereotyping. As I read Rachelle’s list of suggestions for instance (link above), I wondered why women would even want to be involved?
    Anyone else? Give me more, please.

  3. Good morning! Songbird, I have wondered these same things. I went to the link above with the joke and was right there with her, until the things I like showed up on her list. (Which I’m pretty sure was the point!)
    I jusy don’t get “emerging/emergent”. Maybe it is my sin of envy: I see this kind of church growing by leaps and bounds up the road, while St. Stoic does the mainstream dance of two-steps-forward-one-step-back. I look quizzically at “newness” and wonder what happened to the “original” idea of church–a people gathered together to build disciples out of one another?
    And Kathryn, thank you for your explanation, but I have to say that in my eyes, I don’t see much difference from one emergent church and another. In my corner of the US it all seems rather formulaic. If there is white male leadership, multi-media worship, drums, loud music, and coffee house on Saturday night, it must be emergent.
    Perhaps I need to learn more.

  4. I’ve been wondering the same thing about the “emergent” movement. I’ve been trying to read a few of the blogs that follow this but the “emergent-speak” that they are written in isn’t clear to the uninitiated like me. So I wonder–Jesus was usually pretty clear with people. The emergent church folks need to drop the insider lingo if they want to broaden the appeal of this movement.

  5. Hi, Songbird! I’m struggling with this, too. I went to a workshop on Emerging Church Worship at my continuing ed thing last week. The workshop was good and had some cool interactive things to do, but I’m not sure how it all hangs together. I need to do more thinking about it, too. I’m hoping to get my notes out and post about stuff when I finish those Ordinary Time thingies. . .

  6. I totally agree with Grace. They have done a poor job communicating who they are and what they believe. They seem to consider that vagueness a plus. I don’t–and you know I’m all sbout living the questions.
    Just finished reading McLaren’s Generous Orthodoxy from the library and my reaction ranged from Brilliant… to Yes, duh… to For the love of God, stand for something, anything!

  7. I think the movement is far to diffuse to have a clear “this is who we are and what we believe” statement. From my reading it seems to be twenty or thirty somethings reacting against the mega church/contemporary worship from the evangelical strain and the institutionalism/bureaucratization of the mainline stream. This takes various forms in various places. In the US it seems male dominated, but in the UK not so much.

  8. Songbird, I’m no expert by any means–I’m just picking up on stuff like the intro to Aleternative Worship (Jonny Baker–see Kathryn above) which says that Alt worship is in part “a reaction against the performance based musical idiom of contemporary worship in favor of more communal celebration and participation . . . . and a rejection of the charismatic movement’s assumption that spontineity and extemporizing were the best signs of the Holy Spirit’s movement . . . ” Also he describes “a turn away from the evangelical emphasis on personal morality . . . and the narrow peremiters for theological discussion that governed much of the evangelical world. . .”
    The few mainline churches I know of that are trying to encorporate “emergenty” stuff seem to echo these concerns.
    I’d also have to say that where the emergent church seems to endorse and uncritical embrace of technology in worship, the mainline worship “experts” seem to endorse an uncritical rejection of technology in worship, which doesn’t seem helpful either.

  9. I just keep finding the vagueness unsettling. Maggi Dawn linked to a piece by Brian MacLaren today that illustrated what concerns me. It’s his point-of-view on answering people who ask about his church’s stand on homosexuality. He suggests we table the discussion for five years and just be pastoral. (I’m paraphrasing, admittedly.) This makes conservative commenters rabid, and makes this progressive reader say, “Eh. What is it I’m supposed to like about this?” The comments devolve into screeds about Jesus coming to fulfill the law and the prophets, which clearly includes considering homosexual acts to be an abomination. Umm, how about all the other things in Leviticus? Not so interested in those? Thought not.
    I don’t find anything particularly forward-moving about a “movement” that doesn’t want to admit to having a view on the inclusion of GLBT people. Because, seriously, that does matter to me. And the only thing worse than being polarized by the question is sitting around singing a song and hoping the whole thing will resolve itself while you’re not looking.

  10. No expert here, but I did quite a lot of looking into the movement last year. My impressions are similar to yours. What I liked was the movement’s talk against church systems that make it difficult for folks to be honest or real about their lives at church. What I found really hard to swallow is the lack of definition or substance.

  11. And might I add, this line is a gem: “And the only thing worse than being polarized by the question is sitting around singing a song and hoping the whole thing will resolve itself while you’re not looking.” Thanks for letting the matter of GLBT inclusion be important to you.

  12. Granted my experience is limited, but this January I spent 11 days in Seattle at Church of the Apostles, led by Karen Ward (mentioned above by Kathryn, I believe). While she doesn’t fit a lot of the stereotypes mentioned in the blog you linked, there are some things on that list she enjoys. However, my time spent there was well spent! Some of the worship looked like the pictures, but the theological meat was there. It was planned and led by a caring group of individuals who are connected to the community that gathered, and also part of the community outside the church. While they used things that are considered “hip” and “cool” to get their message across, it was for exactly that – to get their message across. We also went to Portland and visited The Bridge, which didn’t fit very many of those stereotypes. It was led by a married couple (albeit white), who did have some piercings and tattoos and dreadlocks. However, they said something like 30% of the people worshipping with them were homeless. Their worship service wasn’t pretty, but it was emotional and you could definitely feel the Spirit alive and moving among them as they belted out the words, jumped around, and banged out a rhythm on anything they could get their hands on.
    Seeing it done well, in both instances, I consider myself ’emergent.’ Granted, I fit a lot of those stereotypes listed, as well, but so do most of the people around my age and younger. I think, at it’s heart, that the Emerging Church is striving to be relevant to a people that need to hear about the amazing grace of God, and if they have to use the tools and methods of the culture to do so, then good for them. And it is hard to pin down exactly what emergent means, because it means so many different things to different people.
    That was not helpful at all, was it?

  13. Mark, that’s very helpful, actually. My problem is not at all with using the tools and methods of the culture (even though I like a good dose of Bach, myself!). Lots of great hymns are based on folk songs and bar tunes, after all.
    Keep it coming, friends.

  14. There’s an emergent church near the university where I teach. A lot of our students have been attending it lately.
    It scares me. Not because it’s different, nor because it’s so self-consciously hip and modern. Rather, it’s because the church itself seems to be the focus instead of God. Students don’t rave about how their faith is growing; rather, they gush about what a neat place their church is.
    One of my smartest students attended this church for a year or so. She finally left because, as she put it, she wasn’t ready to settle for the first guy who happened to propose. Her friends were trying to tell her that at age 24, she was rather OLD to be single still!
    Then, too, this emergent church has a dislike of feminism or of women in positions of pastoral leadership. For that reason alone I’d never set foot in the place.
    A few years ago this church tried to ingratiate the university by holding Bible studies on college campuses. When they were told to leave, they rented space right across the street…and sent nasty letters to the newspaper editor.
    So perhaps I’ve just seen an ugly side of ONE emergent church, but I’m not exactly motivated to look at any otheres right now.

  15. read all this with interest. a lot of interest!
    I wonder if in someways emergent is different in the US than in europe? We aren’t keen on white men hogging leadership here it seems, and we work in a different way.
    I’d say emergent church is in someways grassroots. It’s reaching out to those who have been disillusioned by mainstream church – and giving space for expression of worship (music, art, – by that I mean own music and art – and experiencing God ourselves in many ways. There’s an emphasis on community too – not in tracts and outreach but by lowering the thresholds between the communities and also the understanding that we can take God out there in the way we relate to non Christians!
    emergent isn’t purely middle class (it’s ordinary people where they are, often with the colour and gender issues not being an issue at all) that’s long overdue IMHO
    It’s about being comfortable in church (sofa instead of C15th pews) and feeling safe enough to find out about God on your terms.
    There is something very appealing about it – though it’s not without danger. Does it lead to the belief that all faiths are equal and that belief in Jesus Christ is only one way to heaven. If it does, then it’s heresy and people will be lead astray. But I think that all churches could make room for emergent – not in the main service because it doesn’t fit in the way we often do church – but emergent can bridge the gap and bring new peopel and more life back into the fold.
    Yes it uses multimedia more and I think the pipe organ very seldom, but I think that’s partly because of the ages of the people involved. and also the background.
    White men in suits will always highjack a move of God. They will fail spectacularly in the long run, because grassroots includes minorities or those who have been pushed aside – and when they are stirred by God anything is possible ๐Ÿ™‚
    It’s all good – but it can make us feel uneasy. I think the important thing is to know our personal calling but also be open to God changing the way we see and do church!
    Amen ? (grin)
    PS read Taylor’s the out of bounds church.

  16. terminaldegree -your experiences sounded horrid ๐Ÿ™ Sorry to hear it
    I think there’s alwyas a danger of any church being the focus instead of God and our relationship with Him. Wish I could say otherwise, but I think even our local church suffers from that ๐Ÿ™
    Why was it that they weren’t allowed to do Bible study at the uni though may I ask? (not that that’s the main issue here, just that I’m interested how things work elsewhere.

  17. Songbird, about a year ago, I had the same questions that you have raised about emergent. So I did the research, read the right books (I think), read the blogs, and tried to get all the info I could find.
    Everything I saw indicated to me that Emergent is no different from any other evangelical worshiping community. They speak in code, do not embrace true diversity — meaning, they don’t have any time for feminists or the GLBT community.
    As far as I can tell, this is the same narrow, white guy church that it has always been, set to music you can dance to.

  18. My observation is that Emergent IS different in the UK and Europe than it is in North America for the simple reason that Evangelicalism is different in each place. In the US where Evangelicals are more likely to be joined at the hip with right wing politics, the Emergent movement reflects that anti gay/anti feminist agenda. Overseas where this is much less the case, Emergent churches are more open and inclusive. That’s why I’m more drawn to Alt. worship/emergent stuff coming from the other side of the pond than the stuff that’s being generated stateside.

  19. See… I think one’s opinion of emergent is impacted by their experience. My first real, physical encounter was with Church of the Apostles. The pastor there is Karen Ward, an African-American woman. There was a fairly equal balance, I thought, of male and female leadership. They were extremely welcoming of glbt people. They were very dedicated to fostering a community of openness and inclusion, where it is ok to doubt and struggle and question. On the other hand, while we were there, we went to see another “emerging” church where the pastor was a white male, the band was all male (except for the three background singers), and it was basically let’s sing some cool music for a while, then stop and drink some coffee, and then come back together to listen to Mr Pastor Man tell a sermon where he includes some jokes.
    Granted, Karen will be the first to tell you that she jives with the emergent church on the other side of the pond much more than she does with a lot of her colleagues in the states… but she is proof that when emergent is done right, it can be pretty amazing.

  20. I think it’s important to note, though, that Church of The Apostles is affiliated with two denominations that already include women and one that includes gay folks. It’s emergent AND denominational (Lutheran and Episcopal) which changes its responsibilities somewhat, from an unaffiliated church.

  21. Lorna–there were concerns on campus about Biblical interpretation and theology. (It’s a Christian university.) The Bible study leader has no formal religious training and thinks women should not be allowed in the pulpit or in “authority” over men. That’s NOT what the uni teaches. The pastor based his decision on Genesis 2:19 – since man “named” woman, that gave him authority over her like a parent over a child. And then there’s the idea that the woman sinned first, and the man took responsibility for it. Pretty sloppy interpretation, and that didn’t go over well.
    I’ve heard this guy talk. He’s fast, glib, sarcastic, and authoritative, and the “cult of personality” runs strong at his church. The students eat it up. If you don’t listen carefully (or aren’t too familiar with scripture), his interpretations seems to make sense. Scary.
    Oh, and then there’s that being saved through childbirth thing. (Gah!)
    And finally, the kids seemed to believe that if others disagreed with their pastor’s viewpoints, that was “proof” that the person disagreeing had “weak faith.”
    Anyhow, that was my introduction to the “emerging church.” It was one that didn’t make me want a second look. ๐Ÿ™

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