Those who are familiar with Fields of Grace and who know me would know how I yearn for a more intentional, missional and incarnational Christianity, one that focuses on the dominion of God as revealed through Jesus, and one that is not held hostage to a black-and-white/us-and-them mindset.
In a nutshell, this is what draws me to Emergent. (I have capitalised the ‘e’ to distinguish the Emergent Movement in particular rather than the idea of ’emergence.’)
While I possibly don’t see or understand everything about God, the Bible, and theology the same way you do, I have no reason to believe that the perspective I enjoy is in any substantial way different than any pre-enlightenment Christian. I give this type of Christian a historical place since it was the advent of the so-called enlightenment that brought to the world the gift that is modernism.
Modernism introduced that systematic approach that has been so beneficial to Science and Mathematics, yet so damaging to spirituality and faith. In trying to define God and the teachings of his inspired Book, the modernist has pigeonholed the Divine into human-sized pieces, bound in systematic theologies, apologetics, and volumes of Biblical reference.
The Emergent Movement, largely positioned within and beyond post-modern thought, frees theology from the confines of predetermined structures, church-dictated dogma and hardened conclusions, allowing for a more dynamic, free and interpretatively-diverse experience of God and his kingdom. Acceptance of all who want to join the conversation regardless of their faith or lack of faith is what I find most appealing–and Christ-like–in the Movement.
Scot McKnight has been a long time friend and critic of the Emergent Movement in the USA. He has written several articles about it and counts as his friends many within its loosely-defined cohorts. Paraphrasing his work, vanguardchurch.com has defined Emergent Christianity this way:
What is the Emerging Church? Praxis.
The Emerging Movement is a summons or an invitation for the Church to live like followers of Jesus in everything they say, do, and think. The Emerging Movement seeks to model that in its emphasis on relationships as the core of the work of God in the world today. One of the reasons so many are frustrated with the Emerging Movement’s definition is found here: it is a movement concerned with praxis and not simply theology. If the older fashion was to define others by their theology, the Emerging Movement wants to be defined by its behavior. This is a dramatic challenge to the Church.
What is the Emerging Church? Protest.
First, it protests too much tom-fakery in traditional churches.
Second, it denounces the divisions in the Church.
Third, it sees cock-sure certainty as a cancer.
Fourth, it refuses to separate action from articulation. If the older evangelical generation found doctrinal statements the chief way of setting up boundaries, the Emerging Movement wants to see one’s articulation expressed by one’s action.
Fifth, it wants individualism absorbed into incorporation: that is, the Emerging Movement encourages personal redemption but solo-Christianity is not what Jesus wants. He wants to form communities of faith not individual Christians.
Sixth, the Emerging Movement’s mindset is against marketing the gospel.
Seventh, the Emerging Movement despises the idea that Church is what takes place on Sunday Morning…the work of the Church is what occurs during the week as the local community of faith performs the gospel.
Eighth, the Emerging Movement rejects the hierarchy and pyramid structure of many churches. Authority is in God — Father, Son, Spirit — and not in the pastor or the elders or the board of deacons.
Ninth, the social gospel cannot be separated from the spiritual gospel. The Emerging Movement combines the Liberal social gospel with the Evangelical spiritual gospel and comes up with something that is neither Liberal nor Evangelical.
Tenth, the Emerging Movement wants to be Worldly. Not in the Johannine sense or in the Pauline sense, but in the Kingdom sense: it knows that God is working to restore the entire creation into an expression of his glory and so it summons everyone to participate in the grant work of God to restore and redeem.
(If you want to read more about this from McKnight’s own blog (Jesus Creed), click here.)
There are many other characteristics of Emergent Christians, but I find there is not a one-size-fits-all definition. Because of the diversity it embraces, emerging/emergent Christians come in all shapes, sizes, styles, and religious conviction. One person may embrace 4 or 5 of these somehow-determined traits, and still consider themselves an emerging Christian.
The overiding attitude is in fact one of setting aside what was and looking for ways to engage and be engaged with one another in meaningful, kingdom- and God-centered conversations, together with all the questions, doubts, rethinking and change that this entails. It’s definitely a challenge. Anything that requires personal change is. But I find a great sense of togetherness on the journey with like minded friends–both in my local area and online. It has been such a rewarding journey so far, full of surprises, conflict, interesting conversations, and deeply spiritual moments that take my breath away.
And that’s what I find most irresistible about Emergent.