Religion

Emergent

Many kind souls left comments on my query about Emergent, or the Emerging movement/church, and I am going to quote and respond here, hoping to further discussion in an attempt to gain understanding.

First of all, I think we have a problem in defining what we are defining. Some of your comments about worship suggest we’re just talking about a worship style, which I believe is better-described as “contemporary.” Some commenters seemed to be wondering if my critique of something I apparently find difficult to grasp is a hide-bound love for J.S. Bach and Hymns Ancient and Modern. And while I am exaggerating, my point is this: you can love the old and still appreciate the new. My objection to contemporary worship is not its lack of liturgy or the use of guitars in church. My objection is to music that I don’t personally find inspiring. If the music is not in-spiriting, it doesn’t feel like worship to me. And in that sense the overwhelming sound of the pipe organ, to someone who doesn’t care for it, is no different than the overwhelming sound of guitar and drums and keyboard to someone who doesn’t care for it. The overall effect is a noise so loud that the individual is drowned out completely. But perhaps that is the purpose—that we lose ourselves—and only musicians really care.

Emergent is not just a style of worship. Is it? Vineyard Christian Fellowship offers contemporary worship. Is that an Emergent/Emerging Church? I don’t think so. My impression, as we continue this discussion and I keep reading up on Emergent is that the leaders of the movement would like you to think they’re more liberal than the Vineyard Christian Fellowships of the world, but I’m not getting that message at all.

If Emergent is a movement, not just a style, then there must be some ecclesiology, which means an understanding of what it means to be the Church and the local church. Whether we gather by covenant, as the new church start meeting at Small Church has done, or you follow a Book of Order or Discipline, you need some understanding of what it means to be Christ’s Church, the Body of Christ. I think this means having a belief in the place of the marginalized, and in my belief that means including them. I’m not concerned if this is shocking to some. Given the number of people Jesus shocked by the company he kept, I understand my belief to be in good order.

Finally, Lorna wrote something I need to respond to directly.

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.

I have no idea if that is a charge that ought to be leveled at Emergent as a movement. But it probably ought to be leveled at me, if you’re into calling people heretics. I don’t know how God sorts things out, and we will all know at some point down the road. But I’m not going to condemn people in other cultures whose native faith is different than mine simply because a human being wrote a book about Jesus making certain claims on his behalf, putting those claims in his mouth.

I commend to anyone who is interested the work of Mark Heim, particularly the book Salvations.
Mark is a professor at Andover Newton Theological School. The two semesters I spent taking Systematic Theology with him were life-altering. He’s American Baptist and self-identifies as an Evangelical. This text treats the subject of religious pluralism, and while it’s not as catchy as Rick Warren or Joel Osteen, it’s the real thing.

20 thoughts on “Emergent”

  1. Well–speaking of it only as a worship style, most Emergent types I’ve met or read about would faint in horror at being equated with “Contemporary Worship” which what most emergent types see as exactly the praise chorus/worship band/overproduced/ overprofessionalized/unmoored from tradition 70’s and 80’s megachurch-generated worship style they are reacting strongly AGAINST.

  2. Okay, that’s what I’m trying to get a handle on, PCIT, because we don’t have any examples here. Aren’t they doing media and amplified music? I understand the part about being moored to the historical faith, or at least I think I do. But I’m not sure I understand the style part.

  3. I think I have been exposed to some bad emergent(not to be confused with eating bad shellfish). The people I have observed who self-labelled as Emergent were really, really deeply into praise choruses. And drums.
    (I will now out myself as someone who despises 99% of all praise choruses. Any song used in worship in which the primary word, repeated ad nauseum, is the first person pronoun is in my book idolatrous. And Jesus is *not* my boyfriend. So there.)
    Like I said in my comment to your first post, Songbird, I think I need to sit back and listen and learn more.

  4. My understanding about “emergent” is that it’s not a specific style of worship as much as there is a stress on experiencing God’s presence and blending a variety of traditions, styles, etc. I worshipped with Cedar Ridge during my sabbatical last year and found that one Sunday we might sing “traditional” hymns but with a Windham Hill beat and then we’d sing (what I would consider) dreadful “Jesus and me” music the next week. We affirmed our faith with the Nicene Creed one Sunday and the next Sunday did nothing resembling Constantinian worship. There were lots of choices. During communion, which was every Sunday, you could simply go up and take the bread/cup or on your way to bread/cup you might light a candle and pray on a kneeling bench or go to a corner and pray with a group asking God to help the people of Darfur or meet separately with an elder for private prayer or go write down a prayer for someone to pray for you later. There was an appreciation of ancient tools of worship: icons, stained glass, lots of candles. I found lots of leadership from women, and the congregation in general included a strangely wonderful mix of people — gay couples, bikers, men in suits, kids in jeans, etc. etc. Every Sunday I was there I saw at least one Presbyterian colleague who was also on sabbatical or vacation.
    Also — I also went to ANTS (’83). A rare Presbyterian in UCC/ABC land.

  5. Hey Songbird,
    I’m coming late to this conversation, but am enjoying catching up. I have a good experience of something like emergent, since I get to be at Monkfish Abbey sometimes. I know the national movement, if you can call it that, is pretty much a good old boys club. And they pissed me off when they ran Jen Lemen off the blogosphere. But locally, here’s my impressions:
    1. I’m not one of them, but there are lots of follks who have been damaged, deep and wide, by the institutional church and the people in it. If there is a way to reconnect those folks to the healing love of Jesus, unmediated by a lot of instituional/hierarchical crap, then that seems like a very good thing to me.
    2. I’m as thrilled as anyone about UCC renewal and the Still Speaking campaign, but the fact remains that mainline churches as we know them (at least here in the States) are on our way out. The numbers tell us that. The old way of being pastor, (which is, as far as I can tell, pretty much unsustainable without a full-time, unpaid associate also known as The Preacher’s Wife) is on its way out. Something new is being born by the Spirit, though. We have an opportunity to be part of that creation – and I think the gift of the emergent movement is that they give us a starting place for dialogue. “No thanks, guys. We definately dont want more business as usual. Here’s what WE see God doing….”
    3. I so often agree with you every single thing you say, that it’s positively embarrassing, but I do take issue with this: “If Emergent is a movement, not just a style, then there must be some ecclesiology…”
    I’m a big Jesus freak, and as far as I can tell, Jesus had zippo to say about ecclesiology. I think you CAN have a movement that is local, that is based on individuals and small communities working with the movement of the Spirit in a way that is both similar over large distances geographically, and also very unique and particular to their own place and time.
    4. RE worship. Personally, I’ve had meaningful worship experiences that are so varied, (although none, sadly, involving organ music – tee hee) that I know it’s possible for God to be felt in all kinds of worship contexts. It’s not so much about the technological bells and whistles, as about sitting quietly during worship prep and listening, listening, listening….

  6. With the disclaimer that I’ve never been to an “emergent” service and don’t really know any “emergent” Christians — all I know is what I read — I simply don’t see a lot of women or people of color or gay people in leadership roles. And it seems to be socially conservative The “emergent Church,” from where I sit, doesn’t look like me or sound like me. If the point is to reintegrate spiritual practices/disciplines and rituals of the Church catholic into contemporary churches — can’t you just do that?
    If anyone reading this does self-identify as an Emergent person: Is there a reason why a middle-aged gay woman more or less happy in a progressive, liturgical, sacramental mainline denomination, in a progressive parish where I have a lot of leadership responsibility including assisting, preaching, lectoring, etc., as needed, who tries to follow her own semi-Benedictine spiritual rule, whose sociopolitical viewpoints run middlin’ to lefty, should become Emergent? What would I be gaining, if anything? Is the Emergent Church even interested in someone like me?

  7. hi (sticking her head around the corner and little bit fearfully)
    I think what I wrote hurt you and I’m sorry. Or it may simply have touched a nerve, which isn’t good either!
    My understanding of the Gospel is that Jesus IS the (only) way to heaven. Wesley had a theology of prevenient grace which – as I understand it – means that those who never heard of Jesus Christ but had a relationship with God somehow will be saved, but I do not personally believe that that extends to those who do not bow down to God, or believe that He sent His son Jesus to die for our sins once they have heard the Good News for themselves. To me that is what salvation by faith rests on.
    I respect the right for my Buddhist friends (for example) to believe what they do, but I do not have the assurance that I will meet them in heaven. I love them, and pray for them, and I explain what I believe IN LOVE when they ask, but I’m not into forcing anyone to make a decision for Christ based on fear. It has to be based on love. So I won’t Bible bash, conversion has to be genuine for all of us.
    My fear with emergent is that it blurs these lines. There’s a tendancy for ‘anything goes’at least in some emergent circles.
    As believers we are all to live and preach the gospel in ways that people can accept, understand and relate to, and above all with love, but we cannot – or to be very specific I dare not – lose sight of the truth (as I understand it)
    It’s not (and will never be)about condemning or calling people heretics and I would never have called you that (to your face or behind you back for that matter but I think you know that) but I do believe it is a danger of the emergent movement to water down the truth. To be fair it’s not embraced by all – and there are other concerns about emergent that I have too – but the ‘all roads lead to heaven – it doesn’t matter what you believe – just be a good person’ line is something that I feel very uncomfortable with, because I don’t believe it’s what the Bible teaches us.
    On a lighter note (I think) it’s great to read Cheesehead’s comment “Any song used in worship in which the primary word, repeated ad nauseum, is the first person pronoun is in my book idolatrous. And Jesus is *not* my boyfriend. So there.” it made me laugh – a lot. I belong to a local church who seem to like these songs a bit too much, and I cringe at some of the I, I, I and yeah Jesus isn’t my boyfriend either – but He is the lover of my soul in a different way (grin)
    I’m sorry if I caused any offence here to anyone. Truthfully I was a really shocked to read my name in the middle of the post and as I said -stuck my head timidly around the commenter’s corner. So be gentle –please 🙂
    be blessed all of you.

  8. Lorna, I drew attention to your comment because I wanted to be transparent, not only to you but to others who may read this blog.
    There are Christians who do not share your soteriology, and I am one of them. I want to be very clear about that. Heresy is a divisive word, a schismatic word. I like to think that in the community of RevGalBlogPals we can generously agree to disagree on finer points of practice and theology. My ordination, your future ordination, would be heretical to some of our Ring members—in their own traditions. We’ve tried to build a community in which our understanding of the value of women in various forms of ministry transcends our particular denominations, our ordination status and even our gender.
    Jesus is my Way (and, yes, not my boyfriend). I hope my life, lived along the Way of Jesus, will be my testimony. I don’t believe that “being a nice person” is a substitute for living an authentic spiritual life, but I do believe that spiritual authenticity can take many forms, inclusing some of which I am not even aware. God created a world of diverse communities; I don’t believe it will be a healed world until we learn to celebrate not just our similarities but also our God-made differences.
    Which brings me back to Emergent. I’ve discovered today that a UCC church in Maine, an Open and Affirming church, seems to be Emerging/Emergent. I think it’s entirely possible that RevFun’s congregation is, too, although they may not know it. Their worship is Contemporary, and doesn’t employ the kinds of hands-on things I’m seeing in descriptions of Emergent. But their process of forming a church has absolutely been one of being together and discerning together and emerging together into a new creation.
    In Small Church’s worship, I use whatever the Spirit moves me to use from one week to the next. That might be drama, or a worship center that expresses the theme for the day. Is that oozing toward emerging?

  9. I think one thing that has happened with “Emergent Church” is that when some of their ideas began to ferment and percolate in the US, certain publishers saw an opportuity to brand a product and make a buck. Therefore, much of what is being published/produced with and Emergent label only reflects one slice of what is happening under the very broad tent of that rather diffuse movement–i.e. the slice that evangelical American culture brokers can live with.

  10. Jen, I get the feeling that by asking these questions, I’m setting myself up as the spokespastor for everything rigid and outmoded.
    It’s a bit depressing to hear that what I’ve only been doing for a few years is on its way out, to be replaced by something I am struggling to comprehend but have not seen, which is either progressive or orthodox, affirming or homophobic, and may or may not welcome the leadership of women.
    If the latter of those three are true, then what appears to be emerging is actually a regression. I’m not through thinking about this, but I continue to feel concerned. Is it the greatest thing, the way to move, a means to wider inclusivity? Or is it the wayback machine camouflaged with attractive upholstery?

  11. Hmm, the emerging people at the Berkeley seminary were far from conservative.
    I agree with the “branded” comment someone made earlier. I think there are a lot of movements in the church right now, which share some things in common with each other (candles, music, images) but differ in their theological orientation.

  12. I’m reading all this without much sense of what “emergent” means. I began reading blogs because I wanted to know about emergent worship.
    What does it say about something that one can point to it and say, “this may be it” but not say, This IS it.”?
    And, I do not like to be left out from believers.

  13. Hi Songbird,
    Oh, boy, that must have been the midnight talking. It’s not my intention AT ALL to be depressing. I think of you as being way out front in whatever the inclusive/affirmative/Spirit-led thing is that’s being created, that NONE of us can see or know or predict. But I think we’re getting a little taste of it from the RevGalPals – this new way of being church, I mean (or is it Church?).
    You, for example, just came back from that mission/lipstick visit which got started because of the internet! Which automatically makes you about the least rigid or outmoded pastor in my experience.
    All I’m trying to say is that so far the Emergent boys are naming something that is moving in all of our churches, and that we (aka – progressives ,women, gay folks) can also notice and start to shape. With God’s help, natch. And, if people in different movements say that God is telling us contradictory things – I’d say that’s pretty much par for the course and we just need to keep speaking our truth to the empires (and other E words) we encounter as lovingly as possible. And trust.
    Other thoughts: Can I worship in your church sometime? (maybe 2007 – I’ll be in Hartford in June… Which is at least the same TIME ZONE.)
    Write a poem using the following words
    oozing
    emergent
    emergency.
    Oh, wait. Maybe that alreay IS a poem…
    Warmly,
    Jennifer

  14. Jen, you’re welcome anytime, but if that’s when General Synod is, I’m hoping to be where you’ll be!
    And even if we don’t have a poem, we do have a pun.

  15. Songbird you wrote
    “I like to think that in the community of RevGalBlogPals we can generously agree to disagree on finer points of practice and theology … We’ve tried to build a community in which our understanding of the value of women in various forms of ministry transcends our particular denominations, our ordination status and even our gender.”
    I would say that that makes RevGals an emergent movement 🙂 (grin) In that we don’t allow our differences to pull us apart, but rather pull us closer to God.
    I apologise for my use of the word heresy.
    It’s not too long ago that I used the word rebuke and you explained that for you it’s a really strong and negative word. I hadn’t realised.
    I appreciate it that you are very transparent about the thoughts that are triggered in you by what I write and the words I use. I wouldn’t know otherwise! Thanks 🙂
    I admit I was also a bit shocked to find my name in your post, because unless I’d toodled over here as I did, I wouldn’t have known about it!
    There’s a lot of good discussion coming up here and I really appreciate that – learning to love the differences is a challenge for all of us, and in that respect Rev Gals has been good for all of us I think!
    You also wrote “I get the feeling that by asking these questions, I’m setting myself up as the spokespastor for everything rigid and outmoded. It’s a bit depressing to hear that what I’ve only been doing for a few years is on its way out, to be replaced by something I am struggling to comprehend but have not seen, which is either progressive or orthodox, affirming or homophobic, and may or may not welcome the leadership of women. ”
    That is a genuine fear. For many of us. I’ve heard the term fluid church used about emergent and I think it’s an apt one. It’s like trying to hold onto slippery soap somehow.
    I don’t know how it will all work out – how church as we know it will change – and what prejudices we will all have to recognise in ourselves and overcome – but I believe that IF this is from God, then we will see people’s faith become deeper and new people will be drawn into a relationship with Jesus – (and with each other as the body of Christ) and in my book – that can only be GOOD!
    be blessed

  16. Yeah, I was imagining some kind of flight that took me thru CbtS on the way from Seattle to Gen Synod, but I guess that’s probably not how it works….
    :b

  17. Yeah, I was imagining some kind of flight that took me thru CbtS on the way from Seattle to Gen Synod, but I guess that’s probably not how it works….
    :b

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