What pops into your head when you hear the term Emergent Church?
Most likely you are like me, and the first thought is, “The what, now?” Honestly, it is a relatively new movement, only gaining momentum in the last ten years or so. Better men/women than me will give a more full description of what the Emerging or Emergent Church is, but for the purposes of this article, I will say it is basically the Church’s (or portions of the Church) response to a society that no longer thinks modernistically. The problem is that the Gospel thrives within an absolutist modern mindset, but withers unprepared in the onslaught of a postmodern take. The Emerging/ent Church is attempt at an answer to this.
Put simply there are two major area where this movement has sought change, methodology, and theology. Many contemporary theologians have discussed and critiqued the changes in theology that the Emergent Church, in particular, has introduced. These I wish to sidestep for the purposes of this piece. I want to look at the methods with which the Emerging/ent Church has implemented. While many of a more conservative nature may react somewhat to the Emergent Church taking a more postmodern view of interpretation of Scripture, we cannot ignore the drive to change how we do Christianity.
Theology should never be compromised, methodology should always be compromised.
It cannot be denied that the Emerging Church has begun to answer a question that must be answered and address by the church. If we seek to maintain the modern status quo, and refuse to change our methods, we will become outdated and ineffective. This is a day and age where preaching life change from a pulpit will not reach a seeker like it did 50-75 years ago. Standing on that corner, handing tracts out to perfect strangers will get you dirty looks. One of the Emerging Church’s main points is what they like to call ‘Missional Living’, which seems to be an amped up and focused version of friendship evangelism. They emphasize the importance of establishing the trust and friendship with someone long before presenting them with your faith. I grew up among Native American people where the gospel would fall on deaf ears as long as they didn’t trust you, and trust was years in the making. There was no need to shake the dust off of our feet as I realized they weren’t rejecting the message, they were rejecting the messenger. How could they, or any postmodern person, believe in an exclusivist faith pattern, when the person telling them means next to nothing to them. The Emerging Church movement has recognized this and seeks to affect change within this church to work with this. Through service, friendship and love we will reach those seekers that would never listen to a preacher, or tract.
What we as conservative Evangelicals need to begin doing is embrace what we can of the Emerging Church, making it our own, and pursuing this postmodern method of showing the world Jesus. I encourage perhaps that maybe we should shelf the theological issue for now and address some of their methodological changes. Learn about their drive for Authenticity, how they live out their Non-legalistic Conduct, the building of their Unstructured Ecclesiology, their artsy forms of Creative Spirituality, their presentation of Conversation/Dialogue. Honestly, there are many aspects of the Emerging Church Movement that beg to be studied, and offer many things that need to be implemented. Read Rob Bell, definitely read Mark Driscoll, read Brian McClaren, and even take a chance on Donald Miller, as he has much to offer on the subject as well.
Perhaps we should take what they are doing right, instead of rejecting what they may be doing wrong. Just a thought.
Reminder: This was written 7 years ago, and each of the people mentioned in this article have continued to evolve since then. Take that with a grain of salt.