January 22, 2010
5 Things to Love About the Emerging Church
Bob Hyatt's eulogy for a departed movement.
With everyone writing obituaries for the Emerging Church movement, I feel the need to take a timeout to remember some positives about the movement. Although the Emerging Church has been mixed, and in many ways lost momentum and splintered, it was a significant part of my journey. Here are five things I loved about the Emerging Church.
1. On a personal level: My initial intro to the Emerging Church movement came in a seminar with (yes, believe it or not) Doug Pagitt and Mark Driscoll…together. At a low point in my life and faith, feeling burned and burned out, they talked about a postmodern (hey! remember that word??) approach to faith that was more about Jesus than institution; more about life in the way of Jesus that made a difference in the world, and less about getting people over the goal-line of decision and their rears into heaven. All of that resonated with me deeply.
I was working through all sorts of things that threatened to shipwreck me. But during that time books like Brian McLaren's The Church on the Other Side and More Ready Than You Realize, Len Sweet's Postmodern Pilgrims, an Origins conference with Erwin McManus (and many of his books), all of these kept my vision and heart for faith and the church from falling apart. And even though I now find myself pushing back against both Driscoll and Pagitt from my tiny speck of ground in the middle, I'm eternally grateful that at just the right time God allowed our paths to cross.
2. On a theological level: Whether they were ever really connected with the Emerging Church or not, people like Todd Hunter, Dallas Willard, Rob Bell, and Ruth Haley Barton were all introduced to me through the EC. And they have all had a profound impact on my thinking about God and faith. Todd Hunter gave me an expanded view of the Gospel and the Kingdom that continues to shape me today—and he did it at various Emerging Church type gatherings. Rob Bell, while cool and all, proved to be a game-changer for me. He introduced me to William Webb and the redemptive hermeneutic. His simple explanation of Webb's take on the redemptive arc in Scripture set in motion an internal movement that led me to a completely different view of women in leadership and has shaped Evergreen for the better.
3. On a pastoral/church level: The Emerging Church conversation broadened my ecclesiastical horizons and helped me to see God at work in all kinds of expressions of Church. But even more so, it gave me the freedom to think outside the boundary lines I had previously limited myself to regarding what Church could and should be. It introduced me to a more organic approach, shaped my thinking about flattened leadership structures and, in a sense, gave me "permission" to try something as crazy as church in a pub.
4. On a missional level: It's largely been through the Emerging Church that I've been turned on to voices in the missional stream of thinking. Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch are voices that continue to shape my way of thinking and my orientation in the world and they continue to challenge, stretch, and even confound and frustrate me- all good things that are sorely needed.
5. On a social level: I credit the Emerging Church movement with a renewed emphasis in my own heart, in my city, and in the American church in general towards justice and the poor. If you think the Emerging Church has been all talk and has done no practical good in the world, you haven't had your eyes open for the last ten years. The amount of influence the Emerging Church has wielded in getting the sleeping giant of the American church off its rear to help the poor both locally and globally has been WAY out of proportion to its size and influence in other areas.
Ten years ago the biggest churches in America were hosting conferences on how to grow your church even bigger. Today they host conferences about pushing people and resource into the fight against AIDS in Africa, clean water around the world, and more. Ten years ago much of evangelicalism in the West had its head in the sand regarding global poverty, but today the landscape looks very different. And while a concern for justice and the poor didn't originate with the Emerging Church, I think a renewed consciousness about these issues can largely be credited to "prophetic" voices in the Emerging Church, and to feeling the pressure of all these small emerging communities (some of which have grown into big, city-impacting churches like Imago Dei) that were getting it done in ways that more-established and better-resourced churches weren't.
All in all, I'm grateful for the impact of the Emerging Church on my life. While I feel like we've grown apart in some ways (Sorry, EC, I just need to see other movements. Really, it's not you, it's me. Okay, it is kind of you), and while I feel like there's some significant tares amongst all the emerging wheat in the movement, for today I'm choosing to see and be thankful for the good.