The future of the Church in the West Doesn’t Lie in the Emerging Church Movement

I came across an interesting conversation on Prodigal Kiwi(s) entitled, The future of the Church in the West Doesn’t Lie in the Emerging Church Movement". See Pt I and Pt II.

It was prompted by a sound bite from Mark Pierson and followed up with comments from Alan Hirsch amongst others.

Alan said,

"Thought I'd throw my comment in the mix. If the movement Mark is referring to is the one that is most interested in issues of spirituality and theology in the postmodern situation, I agree. Like the postmodern phenomenonon of which it is a part, it is a passing cultural phase. BUT, if Mark is refering to what we (Forge) call the Emerging Missional Movement (emphasis on missional), or what David Barret calls the Neo-Apostolic Movement/s, I couldn't agree less. If we place the EMC within the broader worldwide movement/s happening (including China) then I believe we are seeing the future of the Church in the West. I just don't think the Christendom paradigm can pull it off…and the vast majority of contemporary churches operate squarely in this out-moded paradigm. The missional one is the future of the church. And it is happening!"

A few points I'd make in passing are:

  • I think many of the subsequent commentators seem to have missed the point in Alan Hirsch's distinction between the Emerging Church Movement and the Emerging Missional Movement. Is there a difference? You betcha. And personally I identify with the later much more than the former, particularly since Emergent-US seems to be rapidly englobing the ECM. To my mind, many emerging church projects in general and Emergent-US projects in particular, seem just as extractional / attractional in their approach as the average establishment church, just with more trendy services. A truely missional approach, that leaves the 'if we build it, they will come' model behind and embraces a 'we will come to you' model, is radically different. Services are not the leading edge of it. The leading edge lies outside of church space altogether. So lets not minimise the paradigm shift involved, hmm.
  • I think it would have been helpful if Alan had distinguished more carefully between postmodernism (no hyphen) and post-modernism (with hyphen). I agree with him and that postmodernism as a philosophical phenomenon is a passing phase, but draw attention to the fact that post-modernity (i.e. beyond modernity – wherever that takes us) is a much broader cultural phenomenon and not to be confused with pontifications about metanarratives. In all honesty, I think many emerging church leaders miss this so its a pity Alan didn't elaborate further. But Alan's basic premise is clear – mission in the West is more than just engaging with postmodernism – and I agree 100%. Even today, much of the spirituality you find in popular culture is not postmodern, in the philosophical sence, at all. If anyone begs to differ, I invite you to chat with a Neo-Pagan online about the wheel of the year and then tell me in all honesty that they're not interested in metanarratives. I believe there is a real risk that in the rush to jump on the Emerging Church bandwagon, many leaders may miss some of the deeper mission imperitives of our times.

So to wrap this up, I agree with Alan that the Christendom model is failing us in the West and that we should look to the missionary approaches of our siblings in China and beyond. Why is there such a disconnect between Emerging Churches and the Global Missionary Movement? In so far as the Emerging Church fails to deconstruct the Christendom model, it isn't the future. But it could be. I only hope.

One thought on “The future of the Church in the West Doesn’t Lie in the Emerging Church Movement

  1. Hi Matt-
    found you through Phil Johnson’s blog. Your writing is a blessing.
    The scene in the US is very different than the UK or down your way, from what I understand. It’s a huge mix of many flavors of Protestant Christendom. There are indeed churches that have not grasped the paradigm shift and are only interested in the trappings, thinking to attract younger, “postmodern” people to their Sunday event. Unfortunately, when these eventually do not have the desired effect, they are bound to write off “emerging church” as shallow, ineffective, etc.
    However, the group at Emergent (some confusion with the -ent/-ing thing, I know) and many others not a part of Emergent are indeed paying attention to the paradigm shift, to the missiologic implications and to honestly engaging pagans or anyone else post-modern out there- groping toward the light, getting their bearings, trying to be people, and find ways of relating and announcing the good news (and that concept is undergoing some re-working too), that are lovingly appropriate to the world and times in which we actually live. Right now, this group is essentially being ignored or misunderstood by the first group.
    There is another group of Christians, with which you are probably familiar- the very “conservative”, very atonement-theory/sytemtatic theology-dependent types, who at present have moved beyond criticism of group 2 to vilification. There are yet others on whose radar screen the whole issue has not even appeared.
    The heterogeneous, individualistic nature of “church” in the US presents us with interesting challenges and opportunities… It is indeed a liminal, fragile moment. God have mercy on us all.
    Dana Ames


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