I needed a good belly laugh and it seems Apologetics Index has come up with the goods.
This afternoon I was directed to an article by David Kowalski entitled "Appropriate Response to the Emerging Church Movement" and the bemused remarks of Brother Maynard. I wont try and top his response but I will add an additional point of bemusement over this comment:
"Some emergents distinguish between “the emergent church” and “the emerging church.” This seems to be an unnecessarily fine distinction that confuses those studying the movement from the outside. D. A. Carson uses “emergent” and “emerging” as synonyms, and it seems wise to follow his lead."
LOL. This is akin to saying the finer points of distinction between Paganism and Wicca are completely irrelevant and that it doesn’t matter what adherents say themselves, that counter-cultists should have veto over the language. So now we know – Emergent is whatever Carson says it is. Ooops Carson sounds post-modern!
Ahh, it is good to know that we're cutting edge heretics. Wouldn't want to be pedestrian ones would we now!
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hi cutting edge heretic!… LOL
Now that was interesting.
Perhaps you could help with the answer to a question I asked in my own blog Notes from underground: A Blog for the Emerging Church a few months ago.
I also asked in a few other places, and didn’t get many clear answers. So of those of us who have just heard of emergent/emerging church and have never managed to find a definition, it would be good if you could make the differences clear.
One of the places where I tried asking about it was a missiological forum Christianity and society, but most people there had never heard of it.
On a technical academic level you might find it profitable to read the special issue of The International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church, volume 6, number 1 March 2006. That edition was exclusively dedicated to essays about the Emerging Church, and the editor of that particular editionwas John Drane. The technical difficulties of defining and using these words are well captured in John Drane’s introduction to the issue. Several of the essayists have written about their own experiments in England and New Zealand, or have articles by those who have observed experiments in Ireland, and allied essays about “church exiles” who have an affinity with these phenomena. You can obtain access to this edition for a subscriber’s fee on-line (or order a printed copy) via
The difficulty you allude to is that those who have affinity with these terms do not seem to agree among themselves. In phenomenological (not theological) terms this is somewhat parallel to reaching a consensus among seekers (and similarly among academics) on how to define “New Age”.
In some respects the word Emerging Church has been used as a self-referential term by Christians who identify with the mood and experiences of life that are currently called postmodern. The important affinities that Christians in the Emerging Church have are an interest in urban missions that focus on postmodernity. These Christians emphasise forming new church gatherings or communities that are keenly tuned into the pop cultural interests of younger people within postmodernity.
Another element, particularly among those who compose blogs, is that they will indicate “emerging church” is a “conversation” on-line (as well as in books and conferences) about experiences and experiments in missions, community formation, experiments in different or even eclectic styles of worship (sometimes called alternative worship).
Some emerging church experiments are independent of existing Protestant denominations, while others may be intentional projects that come under the sponsoring canopy of a particular denomination (so an emerging congregation might be sponsored by a Methodist synod or a Baptist Assembly, or be an extension of a local Anglican congregation).
The word “emerging” can carry the nuance of “emerging culture”, which simply offers another label for those cultural trends that might be referred to in other contexts under the words “globalisation” and “postmodernity”. If a new culture is “emerging” out of “modernity”, then the emerging church represents those experiments in ecclesiology and missiology that likewise emerge out of the collapse of modernity and the rise of “postmodernity” and “globalisation”.
Another nuance, which is not mutually exclusive from the previous point, is that quite a few people in the UK, USA, NZ, Australian settings also see themselves as emerging out from underneath their inherited denominational backgrounds, especially emerging out of evangelicalism. So some people who identify with the Emerging Church will also say they are “post-evangelical” (a term that gained currency in the mid 1990s in a text by Dave Tomlinson in the UK).
The word “emergent” seems to be favoured somewhat in the USA (even though many in the US use “emerging” as their label). Emergent is self-consciously used by an on-line forum called Emergent Village in the USA.
There is at present much general discussion in Emerging and Emergent newtorks about alternative worship (which can involve mix and match of Christian Celtic, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican elements of liturgy, contemplative exercises, labyrinths, alongside of multimedia presentations of music, symbols, art etc). It also involves discussions about open source theology rather than a specific creedal statement of faith; it involves discussion about creativity in missions, contextualisation theories in missions and especially in praxis. Some are speaking about a new form of monasticism which looks for some inspiration from the desert and medieval monastics, but is also reshaped for urban contexts (and without vows of celibacy for instance).
As those who have identified themselves with these terms will no doubt say, the above is partly true but the phenomena is so diverse that one cannot find a satisfactory and all-encompassing definition that sits well with everyone.
Indeed if you peer at a recent entry from the blog of “Emergent Kiwi” you will find that he questions whether it is time to drop the word “emerging” altogether.
Matt, I’m sure, will make his own reply.
Yes, to clarify my original analogy – Emergent is to Emerging Church what Wicca is to Paganism – its a specific sub-movement within a broader polymorphous movement.
Or, to risk this being mistaken for a denominational discussion, Emergent is Emerging Church what the Baptists are to Protestantism. It’s ok to identify the Emergent crowd with the broader Emerging Church, but saying everyone in the Emerging Church conversation are members of Emergent is just as silly as saying all Protestants are Baptists.
Emergent may be the most prominant voice within the Emerging Church conversation but it does not speak for all of us. Certainly not for me. Nor do they claim such a voice. In fact they’ve actively disclaimed it.
I wonder if the problem is that traditional Christians are so used to centralised institutionalised approaches to religion that they feel compelled to project institutionalised assumptions onto movements like this just to cope with the phenomena.
I saw the same happen with the New Age movement. Christian apologists projected all sorts of conspiracy theories onto the New Age because it ‘just had to’ have central organisers somewhere. If they weren’t overt, they had to be covert! Only later did it dawn on them that this was a grass roots phenomenon, organised from the bottom up.
Now bottom up organisation is not something new. Scientists observe it all the time, in flocks of birds, in stock exchanges, in earthquakes, in the internet. They refer to as ’emergence’ and this is largely what inspired the name of this movement.
The important point here is that people have to stop looking for a central organising body. That was one of Carson’s big mistakes. He unilaterally nominated Emergent-US as THE representative of Emerging Church without actually asking anybody how they felt about that. I actually value serious critiques, I just don’t take Carson’s as one of them.
Actually, I should add that Fuzz Kitto is the sole official representative of Emergent in Australia. Thus 99.9% of the Emerging Church down under has no direct association with Emergent. This gives you an idea of just how off base Carson’s critique is for us when he casually equates the two.
Forge is the far bigger player in our context. I’ve met newbies at EC conferences here, who know all about Mike Frost, who’ve had to ask me “Who is Brian McLaren?” Emergent has important voices within its ranks, but they’re not the only ones in the global scene. The conversation is far bigger than the US.
Yet there’s lots of us who aren’t part of Forge either. We all network with one another but we should not be confused with one another. Emergent and Forge are merely important nodes within the broader Emerging Church network.
But don’t just take my word for it. Read some other voices. Here’s just one:
I’m honored that my article has stirred so much response. Your comments have touched on the most difficult issue I faced in writing the article. In popular usage outside of the movement “emergent” and “emerging” are essentially synonymous, but the terms do have different nuances to some within the movement. In my article I noted that my choice to follow Carson’s lead was motivated by the thought that making the distinction may prove confusing to outsiders trying to understand the movement. I plan to revise the article in the near future (whenever schedules [mine and the people at the website’s] permit. I think at least some mention of how important it is to some who identify with EC to distinguish between the two terms should have been made, and I understand your comments to that effect. I encourage you all to read the rest of the article. I am open to intelligent criticism. http://www.apologeticsindex.org/290-emerging-church
Oh, by the way, the title of the article is “Postmodernism and the Emerging Church Movement.” “Appropriate Response to the Emerging Church” is the title of the first section. It seems a lot of people are getting that wrong. I guess the way its posted must be a little confusing
I appreciate your openness to revising the article. I acknowledge that the terms ‘emergent’ and ‘emerging church’ are indeed virtually synonymous in some quarters of the US, where the Village people are more dominant than elsewhere, and that Brian and friends aren’t doing any of us a favour by muddying the waters over nomenclature. I am really only asking a more global perspective on the global conversation and that the movement be understood in its diversity.
Being a former New Ager myself I also appreciate a number of the concerns of the apologetics community over our experimentations and do not dismiss your questioning nearly as lightly as some within the Emerging Church. Contextualization is a process of risky negotiation and risky negotiation requires reality checks and balances. I only lament that the critiques I have seen so far fall so widely of the mark. If they were more constructive and informed they could actually be really useful. To the extent that you are willing to explore that I wish you well.
There are many critiques I could raise in return, however I think the biggy which overarches them all is my charge against the apologetics community of indulgence in ‘gentile circumcision’ or what the world missions community refers to as ‘cultural imperialism’. I recently raised that on this blog in a satirical fashion but don’t let my occasional flippancy distract you from the seriousness with which I take this issue. Inherited traditions are invariably a mix of theological essentials and cultural accommodations. Where we seem to loose sight of the essentials the apologetics community is justified in raising concerns over syncretism. But equally, where these essentials are not sufficiently differentiated from the cultural accommodations of tradition I believe we are equally justified in pushing back against cultural imperialism masquerading as a defence of universal (read: cross-cultural) truth.
For example, I have seen some vitriolic attacks by apologists against the emerging church for our use of candles, labelling it demonic even, yet I fail to see where lamp stands were outlawed by the New Testament church or where fluorescent tubing is identified as being intrinsically more holy. I could say the same of apologetic arguments which conflate all meditation disciplines with the mantra meditation practices of the Maharishi Yogi but would prefer to leave that for a later day. What I want to explore here though is whether, just as the apostles Paul and Peter resolved the gentile circumcision controversy by agreeing on some core essentials, and letting the gentiles otherwise worship as gentiles, whether we can also agree on some core essentials and let post-moderns otherwise worship as post-moderns and moderns as moderns. This ultimately comes down to a debate over what is most essential to the gospel and what is most peripheral to the gospel.
I think we are on the same page, actually. I hope you don’t think any of the criticisms in my article were directed at any non-essentials (although of course we could disagree on what constitutes essentials). As long as what I believe to be essential doctrines and morals are upheld, I have no problem with contextualization. I have emailed some emerging sites asking for help in making any necessary changes to my article. I have had a very pleasant dialogue with one individual in particular. In the mean time, I do stand by my article in what it essentially asserts, in spite of any fine tuning it may need. There is a place on the article itself (bottom of the first page) where you can provide me with feedback. I know the kind of criticisms you are referring to that are unfair and I side with you against those. Nevertheless, as must be clear, I do have major reservations about much of the teaching I have read by emergent authors. Thanks for your response. I welcome your input on the website.
I submitted some revisions of my article to the Apologetics Index site. Anton Hein is swamped at this time and I don’t think he is in the best of health, so I don’t know how long it will take for the changes to materialize on the website. Thanks for your input.