Monday, December 26, 2005

Exploring the EM - Intro

The purpose of this paper is to briefly explore the contours of the Emerging Movement (EM), highlighting the historical features that have shaped its development, then assessing its strengths and critiquing its weaknesses. This will be a difficult task, because the movement is broad, nebulous, and hard to define – there are no “emergent” denominations; no creeds or confessions; there is not even a consensus (yet) among EM thinkers as to exactly what it means to be emergent. Instead, there is a great deal of dialogue and discussion, and while the movement may still be in very early stages, its prominence is increasing rapidly. It may be best to view it as an ongoing “conversation”1 between like minded Christians, about how the Christian church needs to change as it enters the 21st century. The coherence of the movement revolves around a commonality of methods or values (a “philosophy of dialogue”) more than a commonality of content.

All this to say, the EM is extremely difficult to describe, let alone critique. The complexity of the subject matter creates an obvious disadvantage for a short paper like this – because of time and space constraints, I will be forced to paint with broad brush strokes. This will make it easy for unsympathetic readers to disagree with any criticisms.2 To offset this, I merely acknowledge my limitations and attempt to be explicit as possible about the assumptions I am making. This is meant to be a friendly critique – I find much in the EM that resonates deeply; but there are some things that concern me gravely. This paper merely describes my own perspectives on the EM, as someone from the outside looking in.3 As such, I hope that even those who disagree with my conclusions will nevertheless find my comments useful to better understand how their vision is being heard. To me, one of the most appealing features of the EM is their openness to dialogue.

Surveying the EM landscape, Brian McLaren readily emerges as one of the major voices.4 Other key figures include Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, Andrew Jones, and Dan Kimball.5 D.A. Carson has mounted one of the most extensive critiques of the EM, focusing largely on epistemological problems which EM seems to inherit from postmodernism.6 Jeffrey Jue has also weighed in, pointing out problems with the way the EM periodizes history, improperly lumping the theological fruit of the Reformation into the basket of Enlightenment modernity.7 The conversation, it would seem, is quickly expanding. Consequently, I intend to focus most of my comments on the dialogue between McKnight, Carson, and Jue.8 I have chosen McKnight because he summarizes the EM well (sympathetically, yet not uncritically). Furthermore, he has interacted extensively with Carson's critique (as both friend and former colleague). In many ways he represents the most recent stages of the debate (he is current).

So what about the EM? What are emergents for? What are they against? What are they reacting to? And how do we assess the progress they have made thus far? These are the questions we wish to answer.

(note: if you want to see the footnotes, please refer to the full .pdf version)


At 5:48 AM, Anonymous Andrew Jones said...


thanks for your email

i am about to read your assessment - but before i do - i just want to say thanks for giving thought to this and taking a risk.

its a mammoth task - and such a small part of the emerging church exists in tangible form USA that it must be intimidating to take a shot.

Seems like you have focused in on USA and one particular EC group - that of Emergent Village which is understandable, given the numerous research and information available on that group.

now . . . to read.

At 7:45 AM, Blogger Christian said...

You are correct - I'm fairly focused in what I'm addressing right now. At the same time, I'm definitely interested in getting my arms around the bigger picture, but I'm trying to start w/ manageable bites...


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