Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Am I Emerging? (chapter one)

What does "emerging" mean?

This is probably the first question that needs to be answered before the original question, "are you (Joel) one of those emerging church guys?" It's a tough question to answer because "emerging" has become one of those Christian buzzwords that have a plethora of definitions depending on who you're talking with. defines emerging as such:

1. to come forth into view or notice, as from concealment or obscurity: eg. a ghost emerging from the grave; a ship emerging from the fog.
2. to rise or come forth from or as if from water or other liquid.
3. to come up or arise, as a question or difficulty.
4. to come into existence; develop.
5. to rise, as from an inferior or unfortunate state or condition.

Emergent Village, a friendship of Christian leaders, defines themselves in similar terms, especially "arising," "evolving," and "crossing a boundary."

In the introduction to his book, The Emerging Church, Dan Kimball speaks of the emerging church as more of a mindset rather than a model, as defining success by being missional (another Christian buzzword).

Mark Driscoll--pastor of Mars Hill in Seattle--helps clarify some differences between emerging and emergent in this short video clip from a Desiring God conference.

Dan Kimball has a long post about stereotyping the emerging church and some of the dangers therein.

Clearly, it is somewhat hard to define exactly what it means to be emerging. Here are some themes I have noticed from wrestling with the definitions:

Missional - People associated with the emerging church focus on the mission Jesus has given us in Matthew 28 to make disciples, teaching them about His commands, seeking justice, and focusing on the kingdom in our midst.

Postmodern - This other buzzword in our culture comes up quite a bit. The emerging church seems to be associated with how to follow Jesus and "do" church in a postmodern secular Western culture. This mostly applies to methodologies and practices, but there are also emerging theologies that are shaping entire Christian belief systems. Postmodern could also refer to those with a postmodern paradigm (as opposed to a modern paradigm), which affects how they view the world.

Dialogue - Over and over, those deemed "emerging" seem to really enjoy conversation. There is a high value on honest questions, wrestling with faith, and seeking truth. While this can be mislabeled as "wishy-washy" or "rebellious," I see it more as authenticity and reminiscent of Jacob struggling with God.

Diversity - After reading Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches and attending the Emergence conference in Seattle earlier this year, it is difficult to create stereotypes that every emerging church falls under. There is a wide variety of theologies, practices, and values in these different church leaders. This is true of Christianity in general--there are liberal, conservative, modern, postmodern, male, female, young, old, and many other labels in God's kingdom.

Process - There is a sense of developing, evolving, growing, changing, moving, changing, maturing in descriptions of emerging. This is because culture around us is doing likewise. On the other hand...

Vintage - There is also a sense of being rooted in Scripture, in the early church, and in Jesus' teachings. I like the term "vintage" because it connotes something of value in our past brought into the present in order to shape the future.

Please understand, I don't want to make blanket statements of the emerging church. The above themes are just that: themes I have noticed in reading books, studying theology, listening to sermons and lessons, and having conversations with a diversity of Christians.

What words come to your mind when you think "emerging church?"


  1. Nice post. I've been wondering about these things lately too.
    Some other words that come to mind besides the ones you mention are "journey" and "story" or "narrative". I guess these fall under the process and post-modern categories.

  2. I've been really stoked for you to write about this! And especially since this Sunday...Brian and I went to Coram and I noticed a bunch of Multnomah Music Students there that had never been before. I went over and said hello and asked if they were just visiting and what brought them to Coram. They informed me that they were working on a project for a class where they had to visit several different kinds of worship services. Thus far, they had attended a Catholic service, an Episcopal service, and now they had come to Coram to witness an "Emerging Church" service. My response was, "oh, i didn't know that's what we were!"

    The themes you listed make a lot of sense, and if that's what being emerging means...I'm all for it! But sadly, my stereotype tends to be that emerging church kids are the ones that while they're really great at youth ministry and meeting the younger generations where they're at, they also have no respect for authority and are more concerned with their "Freedom in Christ," than they are with integrity or offending those around them. I'm guessing that view is probably a product of four years of living on campus at Multnomah.

    I think I just tend to shy away from any labels at all...I just want people to know that I love Jesus, and that I believe what the Bible says, and that I'm trying to figure out what that means for everyday life.

    Anyway, your blog was really helpful and I'm looking forward to reading more.

    Wow, I miss you guys a lot today. I'm glad to see you're doing so well. :)