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I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Let's imagine a creative future with God and each other together. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Monday, May 12, 2008

What do we mean by "emerging" church?

In some ways this question is reminiscent of an Oxford Philosophy don of the mid-Twentieth century, but I'm finding it has some traction as a real question these days..."Emerging" seems to imply a process, a movement of some kind. Notice though that the movement (and surely movement is a pun, if not the most applicable description of everything that is the "emergent church") seems to be toward something, namely church. Emerging, like any good gerund, describes a kind of church...But what if you don't know what church is? Does "Emerging" give any clues to that?
Here we have something, at least if "emerging" is truly descriptive of church...What we have is a church that has as its key characteristic not an ethnicity (e.g., the Greek church); nor a theological tradition (e.g., the Methodist church); nor, even a theological motive (e.g., the Four-Square Gospel church); and not even, contrary to many hopes and dreams, a community value (e.g., Community church). Rather, the characteristic these groups adhere to is growing, emerging, processing...which brings to mind some interesting theological questions.
First, we can dispense with "emerging" as a synonym for "innovative." Congregations that do "emerging" things (candlelight services with coffee, for example) are not emergent congregations, bur rather innovative traditional ones.
To be "emerging" seems to imply that--at some level--everything you are today, everything you are doing today--will be different, gone, and maybe even forgotten tomorrow. The "emerging" congregation is the zenith of the temporal church. There's nothing built into the idea of "emerging" that speaks to eternity other than continuous "emerging." (Perhaps this is what Friedrich Nietzsche was hinting at--in a completely different context--with the idea of eternal recurrence?) Of course, if such a notion is true in an eternal sense, then the church has always been "emerging," and all those who have sought to stop the process at some point are going against the very nature of God.
Because-- and here is the kicker, that both the "emerging" church and "traditional" church have to deal with: at some level there is a deep and intricate relationship between the church and the life and being of God. The "emerging" church argues God is continually in process (and Alfred North Whitehead cheers!), while the traditional church argues God does not change much, if at all. Scripture seems pretty clear that God desires church this side of the eschaton (the last day of time as we know it--your theology lesson for the day!) We cannot dispense with church, no matter how much we want to, but what kind do we have? For this, we can thank the "emerging" church leaders and people for bringing to light an important discussion: does God change or not?
All other questions seem pretty tame compared to that one.

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