(Some words that come to mind...
hip. artsy. social justice/gospel. organic. indie music. missional. grassroots. relationship. velvet elvis. community. tony jones. hippie. candles. theology. dialogical sermons. art. food & good wine. shaping of things to come. lots of meals together. mars hill. intentional community. context. yuppie. tradition. non-traditional. questions, lots of them. alan hirsch. exploration. emergent village. brian mclaren. culture. blue like jazz. experience. green. intellectual. creative. sensory. dialogue. rob bell. mark driscoll. generous orthodoxy.
...when I think "emerging" or "emergent" church)
Many people simply classify the emerging (or emergent) church as those who were unhappy with their previous traditional churches, gathering around to complain about the state of the more fundamental church. It sure seems that way many times, and many times that is true, but sometimes it is not. Some genuinely want to contextualize (speaking the language of the immediate context/culture) the gospel to reach those otherwise not reached by the good news, while still upholding scriptural truths (this would be more descriptive of the emerging church), while some want to go beyond that and become more inclusive of the different denominations/sects of Christianity (including Orthodoxy and Catholicism - this would be more descriptive of the “emergent” church). From now on in this post, I will use "emerging" and "emergent" differently, in accordance with those descriptions.
What first drew me into the emerging church was the whole “missional” aspect. I liked the idea that the church body spent intentionally spent time within the community to reach the people of the community, and were constantly donating their time, effort, finances, and talent to reach the needy (spiritually, physically, emotionally needy), essentially “doing missions” locally, as well as internationally. This was in contrast to a church I had attended for most of my life (at the time), which was constantly seeking to draw people into the church, instead of being the hands and feet of Christ to those outside the church.
Another thing that drew me in was the appreciation for the arts. I had grown tired of people in the church settling for mediocre sound and visuals, just because it had a “Christian” label. And not only that, but this emerging church had its own artists and musicians who shared their work with everyone else in the body.
Of course, I liked the candles and the ambiance on Sunday mornings, the emphasis on sharing meals together and all that. Always a plus in my book. Plus, I enjoyed hanging around people who asked questions, were not afraid of drinking a bit of wine or beer, and generally looked cool. Perhaps not the best of motives, but let’s call it icing on the cake, shall we?
Emerging churches are basically known for the above, whilst, for the most part, remaining pretty orthodox in doctrine (Reformed, Baptist). Mars Hill Church, founded by Mark Driscoll, is doctrinally sound while still remaining culturally relevant in its immediate context (to a point...see my thoughts toward the end). There are even churches that fall in the “in between” category of emerging/emergent. Pastor Mark has a nifty little video to help explain it better than I can.
The emergent churches are similar, but their doctrine is more liberal, they are more “post-modern” in feel, have a loathing for anything systematic, and they tend to be more pluralistic and extremely integrative. Brian McLaren’s book A Generous Orthodoxy would help you understand that a little better (you may come away from that book more confused...ha!). The long subtitle reads: Why I am a missional + evangelical + post/protestant + liberal/conservative + mystical/poetic + biblical + charismatic/contemplative + fundamentliast/calvinist + anabaptist/anglican + methodist + catholic + green + incarnational + depressed-yet-hopeful + emergent + unfinished Christian. Mark Driscoll used to be part of The Emergent Village (McLaren is one of the founders, I believe, or even the main founder), but then later chose not to associate himself with them, as they begun to stray away from essential foundational doctrine (such as the inspiration of scripture, and the sovereignty of God).
Just for the record, I see nothing wrong with diminishing the number of labels people tend to use, and I think that’s one of McLaren’s main goals. He probably wouldn’t advocate the usage of the emergent/emerging labels. But once you get to the nitty gritty of essential doctrinal differences, it’s simply impossible to combine them all and have a happy, universal church faithful to scripture. It’s dangerous to think that Baptists can be Catholics, too. Mark Driscoll used to be part of The Emergent Village (McLaren is one of the founders, I believe, or even the main founder), but then later chose not to associate himself with them, as they begun to stray away from essential foundational doctrine (such as the inspiration of scripture, and the sovereignty of God).
So, some closing thoughts. I don’t thing anything is wrong with contextualization in general. I’m all for the missional and contextual and the community aspects of the emerging church, but it’s often too easy overemphasize contextualization and use it as an excuse to participate in cultural activities that would be contrary to scripture, or as an excuse not to pursue holiness. Discernment is always in order, yes? It’s also interesting that the word “missional” has just recently (within the past ten years or so) become a buzzword among the Christian circle. Shouldn’t all Christians strive to be “missional”? And what about the community thing? Shouldn’t all believers seek community? We are family, after all.
There you go, curious friends. That’s my take on the ol’ trend. I’m by no means an expert, so feel free to add your thoughts if you think mine incomplete, and please watch Pastor Mark’s video on the different streams of the emerging church - it’s quite helpful and concise.