Saturday, 1 January 2011

Emergent Christianity

Happy new year everyone! As I am writing this I am quite sick and have a headache, but not because of partying too hard - no. I've been sick since Christmas and still haven't managed to shake it off. SUCH a shame.

Anyway, today I've just been resting by sitting around reading this book* I borrowed from work. It's a fascinating book about Emergent Christianity in the United States. I'd never heard of this group before so I was interested to learn what they stood for and I've got to say, some of it sounds very familiar to things we've covered at 12:two (my church) or eerily similar to conclusions I have come to personally after participating in (almost aggressively pluralistic) online communities.

The book contains 20 "dispatches" scattered throughout the book. These more-or-less summarise the movement. I'm going to type them out so I can see them all together:
  1. Emergents find little importance in the discrete differences between the various flavours of Christianity. Instead, they practice a generous orthodoxy that appreciates the contributions of all Christian movements.
  2. Emergents reject the politics and theologies of left versus right. Seeing both sides as a remnant of modernity, they ook forward to a more complex reality.
  3. The gospel is like lava: no matter how much crust has formed over it, it will always find a weak point and burst through.
  4. The emergent phenomenon began in the late 1990s when a group of Christian leaders began a conversation about how postmodernism was affecting the faith.
  5. The emergent movement is not exclusively North American; it is growing around the globe
  6. Emergents see God's activity in all aspects of culture and reject the sacred-secular divide.
  7. Emergents believe that an envelope of friendship and reconciliation must surround all debates about doctrine and dogma.
  8. Emergents find the biblical call to community more compelling than the democratic call to individual rights. The challenge lies in being faithful to both sides.
  9. The emergent movement is robustly theological; the conviction is that theology and practice are inextricably related, and each invariably informs the other.
  10. Emergents believe that theology is local, conversational, and temporary. To be faithful to the theological giants of the past, emergents endeavour to continue their theological dialogue.
  11. Emergents believe that awareness of our relative position - to God, to one another, and to history - breeds Biblical humility, not relativistic apathy.
  12. Emergents embrace the whole Bible, the glory and the pathos.
  13. Emergents believe that truth, like God, cannot be definitively articulated by finite human beings.
  14. Emergents embrace paradox, especially those that are core components of the Christian story.
  15. Emergents hold to a hope-filled eschatology: it was good news when Jesus came the first time, and it will be good news when he returns.
  16. Emergents believe that church should function more like an open-source network and less like a hierarchy or a bureaucracy.
  17. Emergents start new churches to save their own faith, not necessarily as an outreach strategy.
  18. Emergents firmly hold that God's Spirit - not their own efforts - is responsible for good in the world. The human task is to cooperate with God in what God is already doing.
  19. Emergents downplay - or outright reject - the difference between clergy and laity.
  20. Emergents believe that church should be just as beautiful and messy as life.
Um, that was rather a lot longer than I thought it would be, but there you go. It's given me a lot to think over. In high school I did a unit of philosophy as part of my history studies. The unit mostly concerned postmodernism and my teacher had a very dim view of it. Without ultimate, immovable, capital-T Truth, she implied, Christianity was impossible. But ever since then I've found that applying Christian theology to postmodern philosophy has only deepened my insight, not lessened it. It was pretty cool to see that articulated so clearly here.

I had more I was going to write, but that giant list is intimidating me and I fear you'll never read anything I ever write ever again if I continue. I'll leave the rest of this post for another night.

*The New Christians by Tony Jones


  1. Very interesting stuff.

    I've found that 'Emergent Christianity' is a very broad term that encompasses many different shades of belief and practice, and so when you talk about 'The Emergent Church' to one person, they may have a completely different idea of what/who you're talking about than with someone else. (Kind of like the Church of England really - some CofE churches are very lively and Spirit-focussed, some are evangelical, some are exceedingly liberal, some are simply an excuse for religious tradition and ritual. Often needs clarification of what type of CofE church you go to!) This list of points helps to identify what you're actually referring to!

    My parents were involved for a few years in an emergent church community; they and a group of friends started up a community after a whole lot of political/relational mess in our previous church. They were definitely focussed on your point 16, that "Emergents believe that church should function more like an open-source network and less like a hierarchy or a bureaucracy." They also were focussed on a contemplative style of worship and meeting together, a lot of links with Celtic traditions etc. Quite a lot of them were also really passionate about social justice.

    Their group wasn't as centred around postmodernism or particular theological beliefs. I guess you might say that their way of doing Emergent church was more about style rather than their theological standpoint? But that said, the two are linked.

    Anyway, over time the group kind of fizzled out for many different reasons, and people ended up joining other churches or Christian groups. I think it was great for those people at that time - they needed a place to do church differently and "save their own faith" after a lot of them had been badly hurt by traditional church and church politics/hierarchy.

    We should talk about this some time!

    P.S. Are you going to be in the UK in August? If you are, I think you should go to Greenbelt ( I think you'd love it.

  2. I need to read this book/find out if there's anything like this in my area. Reading your blog, it seems like your faith follows the same lines as mine, and most of those points are definitely things I can get behind. I wanted to say that one of them particularly hit home, but then I realized that I couldn't actually say that because so many of them were like "YES! Exactly! Why does no one ever say that?!"

    You, sir, need to feel better and get well soon! What's the fun of being young if you're ill during the holidays? Although I guess the holidays are technically over now... Darn. Well, here's to a bigger and better new year!