This morning my wife commented on my last post saying that I hadn’t really answered our friend’s question, at least not as comprehensive as I ought to. She actually wrote a list with questions and issues that I’ve left out! (I do appreciate a careful reader). In my defense, it was late when I wrote the post. And in all fairness she right, I didn’t say much about what Emergent is.  I’ll try to redeem myself now. 

To read what Emergent Village says about themselves in their own words (which is always a good thing), have a look at their website.

The roots of Emergent goes back to the 1990’s and the Young Leaders Network (which came out of the Leadership Network). YLN hosted a series of conferences dealing with how to reach Generation X,  later the focus shifted from generational issues to shifts in culture and postmodernity. These conferences gathered quite large groups of people who were dealing with similar kinds of questions and issues. People such as Dan Kimball, Andrew Jones, Chris Seay and Mark Driscoll were involved at an early point and Brian McLaren, Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt joined around 1997/1998. In 1999 the name changed to the Terra Nova Theological Project. By 2001 the group was disbanded and the collaboration with the Leadership Network was terminated, partly due to some theological differences. 

Some within the old group continued to meet, write and speak together as friends (McLaren, Seay, Tony Jones, Pagitt, Kimball, Andrew Jones…) and the same year in 2001 Emergent was formed. As far as I understand the name wasn’t chosen with the term “emerging church” in mind, rather they were inspired by something called Emergent Theory. Andrew Jones explains this as 

a name given to the phenomena of how new organizational structures progress from low-level chaos to higher level sophistication without a hierarchical command structure. Emergent theory explains how birds change direction, how slime mould moves, how ant colonies are built and how knows so much about us. The process involves constant communication and feedback among the lowest level of organization, pattern recognition, local action affecting global behavior, and takes into consideration the element of unpredictability in a chaotic system.

Its unfortunate that the terms are so similar and it has led to quite a lot of confusion.

Well, anyway, the network grew, books (a lot of books) were published, blogs started, conferences were held and Emergent has now grown into an international networks with links all over the world. Emergent has contributed in significant ways to Emerging Church and the conversation wouldn’t be the same without it. But again, Emergent and Emerging Church isn’t the same thing. I’ve read somewhere the following, or something like it: people part of Emergent are all part of Emerging Church, but not all part of Emerging Church are part of Emergent.

I’ve personally been blessed by some of the things that have come out of Emergent, particularly McLaren’s books and in my opinion Emergent have been given too much bad press, mostly from evangelical/conservative circles. Much has been unfounded or ill informed, but some have been justified. People part of Emergent has long claimed that new times need new theologies, and there’s been and still is – in my opinion – a high focus on theological revision within this network, at least in comparison to Emerging Church in other parts of the world. This, understandably, has caused some tension and given Christians and churches of evangelical/conservative inclinations the jitters. The sad thing is that much of the critique has been – as I wrote earlier – quite ill informed and delivered in somewhat less than humble and constructive ways. Its also important to keep in mind that although I say that Emergent is one voice within the conversation, the network is made of a great number of people with a number of varying  theological convictions. Emergent isn’t a homogenous group of people and the best thing is to let each person speak for themselves. 

As Emergent and Emerging Church at many times are equated as one and the same, the critique of Emergent also affects people part of the wider conversation. In the end people part of Emerging Church finds themselves in situations where they are forced to defend positions or opinions that are not their own, which is both unfair and in the end quite tiring. For some the term Emerging Church has become such a liability that they no longer use the term.

Also, some of you who read the last post might interpret what I wrote as “Emergent has undermined the Emerging Church conversation” – this is far from what I wanted to say. What I meant was that the confusion combined with the (to some extent ill informed) critique has undermined the conversation, for the reasons explained above.

Well, I really need to stop now. This ended up being quite a long post… Any opinions, insights or comments on this issues is greatly appreciated.