Wither Emergent?

There has been some interesting blog chatter over the fizzling of Emergent, the organization that promotes the wholesale embrace of postmodernism within Christianity. Here’s a guy who had some high hopes expressing disappointment:

My friends and I believed that there was a massive tide of change coming. We believed that everything was going to change. We found more and more people reading books by McLaren or others and we thought the interactions with these books would change the world. We knew that there would be this new kind of Christian. We believed that Christianity was on the cusp of evolution.

And then there are those that are disappointed with the disappointed:

So those of us who are part of this thing called emergent – who are passionate about this call to live in the kingdom of God and thrive on this conversation are wondering what do do [sic]. We already experienced the droves of deserters who left because emergent doesn’t 1. hate women like they hate women, 2. hate gays like they hate gays, or 3. believe in a certain type of hatred of God towards Jesus on the cross (or all of the above). Then there are all you guys who paved the way for this conversation to even exist saying that you are disappointed that new people joined and spoiled your fun.

Anyone who has observed it from the beginning should not be surprised that it has become fragmented. Because it began with the intentions to organize itself without a centralized leadership and was committed to an egalitarian view of authority (no one has any!) it should not come as a shock that it lost its way—whatever that was.

The problem with “third way” avenues is that they never know how to reconcile people who really disagree over some substantial truth claims. Emergent started out as the kind of network that welcomed anyone and valued the virtue of “conversation” with any viewpoint. For a little while it seemed interesting. But it became clear rather quickly that there really wasn’t anything to talk about when things started to look like an old fashion brawl between liberals and conservatives.

I admit I was somewhat intrigued with the idea of Emergent when it all got started. But I never thought that Brian McLaren would be the midwife of a birth of progress in Christianity. There are only a couple of names in the history of Christianity that could claim to be that, and if there is anyone living today that might represent the face of change in Christianity they are probably African or Chinese.

For more on the death of Emergent and the “emerging church” see Patton.

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5 thoughts on “Wither Emergent?

  1. I disagree slightly. Church movements thrive on balance on grace. The emergent movement was initially appealing because it rejected the practice of Christianity that does not allow for grace. It was a movement that could incorporate a Marc Driscoll, a Brian McLaren, or a GCM church leader.

    Imbuing a new movement with egalitarian ideals is noble, and even desirable. Those seeking a new way to engage Christ are, by definition, leaders in a certain sense. Inevitable, a more tangible leadership structure will emerge (no pun intended) from within the church.

    Usually, this happens under the watchful eye of the congregation. Leaders are men and women who, time and time again, demonstrate that they are willing to make difficult choices for God. Eventually, these early leaders will come to define the movement.

    This is where the Emergent church got off base. The ascedancy of leaders, whether literal or defacto, has been tied to book sales and internet popularity. Suffice to say, those are low accountability zones.

    So Brian McLaren can write a book about how we ought to live like the medieval church or whatever, even though he lives in suburban Maryland and does book tours. There is no sharpening, because nobody within the movement is qualified to sharpen, by definition, and McLaren is hostile to criticism from a church he fancies himself to have left behind.

    Worse, those forums tend to accrue favor to those who possess the strongest opinions. See Julie (her nickname should be “Yikes!”) Clawson’s quote above. It is unlikely that these people are so belligerent in real life, but their ministry is the written word.

    As such, those who have gravitated to the emergent church are those who think “yes, everything must change, and other Christians hate gays harder than I do.”

    Voices of moderation are marginalized. Who wants to buy a book entitled “Some Things Should Change, but it’s Not Too Bad”? Political leanings are elevated to the level of doctrine, since the two party system is an easy conduit for volumes of strong opinion.

    Ordinarily, a movement would look to leaders to right the ship. But these leaders are incapable. They lack wisdom. A book deal can turn a profit, and lead to speaking gigs, but it can’t change hearts.

  2. The emerging movement promised to bring something new to the table, and it didn’t. I share your sentiments that it welcomed many different voices at first and allowed for a very unique setting for grace, but if anyone really believed legions of people interacting with Brian McLaren’s books was going “to change the world” disappointment shouldn’t be that surprising.

  3. There are a lot of things I like about the emergent church movement (and of course some things I disagree with). What I think the emergent church did best was emphasize grace. I think we all have a tendency to be too legalistic in our views. And naturally that legalism seems to target other people’s sins and not so much our own. But the biggest problem with grace is that it can become it’s own form of legalism. As Kevin pointed out, how does “iron sharpen iron” if no one can point out sins?

    I find this to be one of the miracles of who God is, his perfect balance between unwavering grace and unrelenting truth. Because the bottom line is, you can’t have grace without truth. Without truth you are just ignoring a problem and hoping it goes away.

  4. Exactly. The emergent movement has endeavored to supplant truth with grace. But grace is a function of truth. If Christ doesn’t die for us on the cross, then there is no such thing as grace. If there is no truth, there is no redemption.

    Little wonder, then, that the movement is beginning to reject the notion of substitutionary atonement.

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