The Common Good

The Emerging Church Brand: The Good, the Bad, and the Messy

[Read more of this blog conversation in response to the Sojourners magazine article "Is the 'Emerging Church' for Whites Only?"]

First, I want to say I do not want to discourage those who have found renewed hope in Jesus and the Church through "emerging church" conversations and circles. And I am fully aware that there are all sorts of "emerging church" conversations happening, especially overseas, and some promising new signs of hope such as the indigenous (First Nation) youth movement that embraces the language of "emergence." There are lovely things happening inside and outside of the great "emergence."

If you are unfamiliar with the language of "emerging church," it has become a very confusing trend within the contemporary renewal happening in the Church. A decade or so ago, a bunch of young, mostly white evangelicals started seeing similar conversations beginning to spark all over the place about the reshaping of evangelicalism, the rethinking of missions, and reimagining what it really means to be the church. Language of "the emerging church" connected many of the dots, which remained primarily white evangelical men, many of whom had great ideas and led vibrant communities and organizations. Nonetheless it has always been evident that this is not the whole conversation or renewal happening in the church -- and the fact that the dozens of books and cover stories done on the "emerging church" hailed mostly faces of white men shows the many forces of colonialism, privilege, and all the other principalities and powers that still threaten to hold our faith captive. Entire movements of hip-hop church and missional communities overseas and indigenous movements of first nation Christians have also been stirring up all over the world, though they do not get the same air time or book deals.

Eventually, books and brands began identifying as "emerging church" or "emergent." So it got a little messy. In my opinion, "the movement" became a bit narcissistic, and often became little more than theological masturbation: feels good but doesn't give birth to much. It's one thing to talk about theology. It's another thing to talk about talking about theology. There is some sloppy theology out there. Some "emerging church" folks have repeated some of the mistakes of fundamentalism (only with more tattoos), and others have repeated the mistakes of liberalism (only with more wit). Meanwhile, there are many folks who seem to know exactly what "emerging church" is and think it is the anti-Christ. However, neither of these, I am convinced, represents the silent majority of young evangelicals of all colors of skin who love Jesus with all that they are and are not willing to use our faith as simply a ticket to heaven and ignore the hells of the world around us. There is a new evangelicalism that loves Jesus and wants to change the world.

While there are many voices who self-identify as "emerging church" or "emergent" whom I consider close friends and refreshing voices in the church, there are also folks who identify as such whose beliefs and practices, or lack thereof, I find very problematic. On the flip side, I also have many friends who deliberately do not identify as "emergent" or have never heard of emergent whom I find to be beautiful, brilliant voices in the church

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