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What is Emerging?

2010 April 19

About a decade ago I recall as a volunteer youth leader at my church sitting in the leader’s training session one evening. This was the time when the youth pastor and pastor would walk us volunteers through the lesson we were to lead the students through each night. The topic for that week was something about basics of the Christian faith and we were to discuss with the kids what exactly theology was. The correct answer we were supposed to give was something about systematic theology using Wayne Grudem’s system as the best example. Somewhat naively I asked, “so why don’t we want the kids to know about all the other ways people do theology?” I was met with blank stares and was told that systematic theology is the only sort of theology there is. I responded, “but what about the Christians in other cultures who don’t think in the same patterns as Westerners who prefer more narrative approaches to theology?” to which I was told, “that stuff isn’t real theology, systematic theology is all that these students will ever need to know about.”

While I might still have that conversation in various churches these days, I feel that something has begun to shift in the church since that time. Our globalized world has forced a new understanding of how we conceive of our faith to emerge. It is harder to deliberately ignore the diversity of voices speaking into this thing we call Christianity. While some might still proclaim the other to be wrong simply for being other, it is impossible to deny that the other exists. This isn’t about being open minded or being politically correct, it is simply a necessary reaction to the nature of the world we live in. Other theologies, other voices, other ways of reading scripture exist (other always being relative to one’s vantage point). We are too interconnected to ignore them or pretend they don’t matter. They are simply part of the air we breathe as Christians which is becoming increasingly impossible to not acknowledge.

I am reminded of how my exasperated professor dealt with my rather obstinate historical research methods class in college. A few of the students had dismissed his attempts to teach them differing approaches to how people approach historical research as supportive of revisionist history (and therefore evil). They desperately wanted to cling to the notion that the “God Blessed America” version of history they believed was in fact the only true version of history – any attempts to tell the stories from the margins of women or minorities were simply revisionist corruptions. So the professor had us read a study that detailed the various ways the history of Williamsburg has been presented to tourists over time. Depending on what was going on in the world at the time, the historical story as it was told by the reenactors varied tremendously over the years. Each version had an agenda and portrayed American colonialism in a way that shored up that agenda. It was difficult for the students who were insisting that the very hero-centric pro-God version taught under the influence of 1950’s anti-communism was the real history to continue to bang that drum when the evidence of how history is manipulated by the teller was laid out so blatantly before their eyes.

The world has been blatantly thrust in front of our eyes, and even the church can no longer resist this emerging consciousness. What stories get told and whose theology gets privileged can no longer be determined out of ignorance. In our interconnected world, the voices of womanist and feminist theologians, the cries of the liberation and postcolonial theologies, and the narrative understandings of scripture that focus on exile, family, and oppression are accessible to even the average Christian. The church is far bigger than some of us might have once believed, we just had to be forced to open our eyes and see it. While this might seem a tad patronizing to those outside the American church system (I can see them rolling their eyes at our elation of our delayed “discovery” of the other), I for one am grateful for this emerging sensibility in the church (even if it is long overdue). Coming face to face with the diversity in our unity might not imply immediate acceptance or respect or understanding, but it pushes us outside of ourselves. Seeing a slightly clearer picture of the world as it is forces us to acknowledge and often wrestle with what we see.

Call it interconnectedness, or globalization, or simply awareness of our neighbor, the church is emerging or perhaps converging upon itself. What gives me hope when I consider what is emerging in the church is that the conversation pushes us into this converging community. And when we are in community, when we start to actually know our neighbors, is when we can start to live out the call to love our neighbors.

This entry is part of a Synchroblog on “What is Emerging?” in the church today. Here’s a list of other contributions to this conversation. I’ll add more as they are posted – feel free to write your own post and send me the link!

Pam Hogeweide compares the emerging church movement to a game of ping pong.
Sarah-Ji comments that the emerging questions people are asking are far bigger than any defined movement.
Sharon Brown writes about using labels as an excuse.
Peter Walker reflects on how the emerging church conversation helped him recognize his power and privlege as a white male.
Dave Huth posts a on new ways to talk about religion.
Kathy Escobar finds hope in seeing a spirit of love in action emerging in the church.
Nadia Bolz-Weber reflects on the the beautiful things she sees emerging in her church community.
Chad Holtz writes on our Our Emerging Jewishness.
Julie Kennedy describes her organic entry into the emerging church and reflects on moving forward with a new public face.
Dave Brown comments on the emerging church and swarm theory.
Danielle Shroyer reflects on what is emerging in the church.
Brian Merritt offers his pros and cons of the emerging church.
Julie Clawson is grateful for emerging globalized Christianity.
Susan Philips points out that emergence happens as G-d redeems our shattered realities.
Mike Clawson reflects on the non-western voices that brought him to the emerging conversation.
Jake Bouma suggest that what is emerging is a collapse into simplicity.
Liz Dyer believes a chastened epistemology is a valuable characteristic emerging out of the church today.
Rachel Held Evans writes on what is changing in the church.
Tia Lynn Lecorchick describes the emerging movement as a wood between worlds (from The Magician’s Nephew).
Amy Moffitt shares her journey towards a theology of humility.
Travis Mamone comments on the need for the emerging church to rely on the word of God.
Sa Say reflects on the the prick of doubt.
David Henson lists what he sees as what is emerging in the church.
Angela Harms writes in in defense of emergent.
Wendy Gritter asks how we can listening to the voices from the margins.
Bruce Epperly comments on the largeness of spirit of emerging spirituality.
Linda Jamentz reflects on listening to the voices from the margins in church.
Lisa Bain Carlton hopes that our emerging conversation can respond humbly to our moment in time.
Christine Sine asks how far are we willing to be transformed.
Lori Allen Wilson reflects on what is emerging in the younger generations.
Cynthia Norris Clack sees love emerging in the church.
Bob Fisher lists the values emerging in his faith community
Mihee Kim-Kort writes of the conversions and conversations she sees around her.
Ann Catherine Pittman believes that what is emerging in the church is inclusivity.
Matthew Gallion describes how emergence is spread thin across the whole church.
Phil Snider offers guarded praise of emergent.


33 Responses leave one →
  1. April 19, 2010

    Great post, Julie. I agree, the rest of the world looking in is no doubt rolling their eyes, wondering what took us so long to wake up to something that has always been around. That same theme is what I address on my post for today’s synchroblog about our emerging “jewishness”

  2. April 19, 2010

    amen my sister. it’s so much, for me, about seeing that interconnectedness and breathing into it and learning from it … not always comfortably … but beautifully … sounds like jesus …

  3. April 19, 2010

    Great post. It is exciting for us and threatening to some. I can’t wait to hear what is next. It gives me great hope that there are leaders like you who are leading the rest of us into the future. Peace.

  4. April 19, 2010

    Great piece, as always.

  5. April 19, 2010

    great post – the reality is we are not “emerging” – we have emerged. the shift is not coming, it came and we are in the middle of it – and systematic theology is not the reality [sorry to my systematic theology prof, tom oden]

  6. April 19, 2010

    Thank you! I try explaining it, now I can just refer people to your post. 😉 Sadly, I know several people who still attend churches like the one you mentioned ten years ago. It is harder to ignore but some people just turn the music up and say la-la-la…

  7. April 20, 2010

    I do not deny the church needs to do what has been described in this post. It is critical for the future of the church.

    But is it anything new?

  8. April 20, 2010

    I dunno Julie. One thing I’ve found exasperating over the years has been the decidely American-centric flavour of much of the Emerging Church conversation. I won’t name any names, but I direct you to the “movement origin” stories of any number of prominant authors as just one example. No doubt the conversation has broadened the horizens of many but it could have been so much more I think. At least that’s what I had hoped earlier on. Maybe it’s laid some seeds, but I’m yet to see them germinate in a way that’s significant enough for me.

  9. April 20, 2010

    Ryan at Sojo has summarized some of the conversation:

    Thanks, Ryan! Thanks everyone who wrote, read, prayed, listened and shared

  10. Alex Beaube permalink
    April 20, 2010

    Bishop Will Willimon recently wrote this in his weekly message to the N. Alabama Conference…

    “The pastoral ministry in mainline Protestantism will need to find a theological way through the intellectual death of theological liberalism (“Progressive Christianity”) and the cultural compromises of traditional evangelicalism (the IRD and evangelical Protestantism’s alliance with the political right).”

    I was interested in is assertion that progressive Christianity is dead…However, I think it is alive and kicking especially in the blogosphere…if you have a minute maybe you could tell me what you think he meant by that…Statement…

  11. April 21, 2010


    While we’re at it with origins, maybe the UK could take credit for John Nelson Darby and all the premillenial nonsense that has been rampant in America for the past 100 years. If we’re going to talk about origins equalling ownership, let’s do good with the bad.

    No one denies TEC’s global origins. But each iteration is contextual. Isn’t that the point of the movement?

  12. April 21, 2010

    “progressive Christianity”

    Is neither.

  13. April 21, 2010

    Blogger Tall Skinny Kiwi has some great posts about the whiteliness or non-whiteliness of the ECM. Here’s a link, be sure to scroll down for he has a variety of posts, each insightful about different aspects of this discussion….

    Julie, good on you for inviting this discussion in your corner of the blogosphere. I actually don’t have much of an opinion on it which is why I compared it to a game of Ping Pong.

    @Ken, nicely restrained remark while making your point.

  14. April 21, 2010

    I wrote about three reasons here…

  15. April 21, 2010

    Hey Pam, nice to see you again. :-)

  16. April 22, 2010

    This is a great post and it highlights the pressing need for communities in which people who are disenchanted with cerebral, legalistic and institutional models of Christianity can gather and share their stories. Emerging Church is far from dead!

  17. April 23, 2010

    Gorgeous and inspiring! thank you for hosting.

  18. April 9, 2013

    I don’t leave a response, but after browsing through a few of the comments on What is Emerging? | onehandclapping. I actually do have a couple of questions for you if it’s allright. Is it just me or do some of these comments come across like they are coming from brain dead individuals? 😛 And, if you are writing at other sites, I’d like to keep up with you. Could you make a list of every one of your public pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

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