Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Emerging Church ... a summary of what I have learned so far.

Sometimes I get so interested in a topic that I forget that all I have to do is write a short essay about it. My assignment on the emerging church (or the EM, for Emerging Movement) last year was such a topic. And, since it seems that the EM is a popular blog topic I thought I’d share a bit of what I learned, for what it’s worth. If you want a more thorough discussion, read my complete essay.

Characteristics of the EM

  • It is a movement of protest: the EM stems from dissatisfaction with the way church is practiced (spiritual isolationism, marketing the gospel, divisions, etc). It is also a movement away from abstract theology. McKnight states that “The EM is driven by a reaction to […] theology that is often abstract, systematic, and rooted in logic and reason.”
  • It is a movement largely driven not by theological reform, but by a change in focus with an emphasis on praxis: As McKnight writes on his blog, “the Emerging Movement operates with a praxis and orthodoxy model rather than an orthodoxy model: in other words, it believes that orthodoxy is practiced […] as much as it is articulated” (
  • The movement embraces an ecumenical focus: McKnight writes, “The EM prefers global theological affirmations and the classical creeds rather than denominationally shaped theological creeds” (
  • The movement is closely tied to culture and to postmodernism. Much of this centers around the age-old question of epistemology. Truth is not denied, yet the means of understanding such truth and the extent to which it can be found is more deeply questioned. There is also a significant emphasis on the importance of experience. Without further study, I would flounder in a more in-depth analysis of the relationship between post-modernity and the emergent church. Suffice it to say, one can’t really understand the EM without attempting to understand some of the complexities of post-modernism.

In Conclusion…

The EM is for me both an exciting and scary thing. McLaren says of his vision for the movement, “It’s not about the church meeting your needs, it’s about you joining the mission of God’s people to meet the world’s needs” ( This is an inspiring vision. The movement as a whole does seem to carry with it the tremendous possibility of renewal, of bringing discouraged Christians together in a more authentically practiced Christianity. It is a movement driven by and focused on the church; that excites me.

Yet it seems appropriate to also include a word of caution. The movement is both trendy and intellectual, two things that can be tempting. It could allow us to feel that we are using our intellects to do something, to feel good about the way we practice our faith without really being open to the unexpected ways in which God works. No one movement can ‘fix’ the church. Much of the time we have to work with what we’ve got; it’s clear that God hasn’t given up working in many ordinary churches across North America – could we possibly loose more than we gain by abandoning these churches?

I am very interested in this 'movement' and would welcome your comments and insight.

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