Who speaks for the Emerging Church?
October 16, 2008, 7:06 am
Filed under: emerging church

A couple of days ago, I sat with a couple of friends enjoying coffee and conversation.  All of us have been connected with the so-called emerging church at various levels for several years.  I’d drop their names here, but I don’t want to make the mistake trying to speak for them (for reasons that will become obvious in a minute) – let’s just say that they’re both fairly well known in this mini-movement, but not celebrities.  All of us have spent significant time with the celebrities, though.  We talked at length about where things are within this movement, how things got the way they are, and what we think needs to happen.

Later that day, for research and writing purposes, I began plowing through a book on the movement, written by one of the celebrities.  I didn’t read every word on every page, but did go through it thoroughly enough to take a couple pages worth of notes.  For a book that’s friendly to the movement and is written by one of its supposed leaders (self-appointed?), it was stunning in its lack of understanding, arrogance, and mean spirit.  Not to mention that it almost completely ignores the fact that the emerging church thing in the U.S. wasn’t even a twinkle in our eyes by the time things had been going on in the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere for ten years.  I won’t name the book here, so as not to be mean-spirited myself in blasting something I’ve not more thoroughly read, but let’s just say my review is not favorable.  Ironically, it makes some of the exact mistakes that books critical of the movement make.

With a nod to Howard Zinn, it made me want to suggest that the next book to be published should be “A People’s History of the Emerging Church.” 

Fortunately, this morning, I stumbled onto this article by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger in Fuller Theological Seminary’s journal, “Theology News & Notes” (HT: Jordon Cooper).  So much better.  No brainer – Gibss and Bolger’s book Emerging Churches is one of the best out there.

It is a mistake to think of “the emerging church” as a cohesive movement with authorized spokespersons . . . The church emerging is not a centrally organized, hierarchical organization, but more a spontaneous grass-roots phenomenon.

The great thing about grass-roots phenomena is that they don’t have spokesmen, and don’t need them.  Sure, some of the leaders become well known enough to be recognizable, and they write some books – that’s fine, as long as they don’t forget that it’s still about the self-organized movement and not about them, and that they don’t speak/write on behalf of everyone.  It’d be great if we could keep it that way.


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I think your perspective on the emergent church phenomenon is very accurate. There might be parallels between the “emergence” of the pentecostal and charismatic phenomenon(s) of the past generation. Part of the movement was a movement within the larger church, other parts of the movement were separatistic in attitude and orientation. When larger movements and/or denominations within that movement have reflected more on their history and choices (for example, the Assemblies of God and Vineyard USA etal) they have discovered ways in which they are similar along with seeing ways in which they are different (either complementary in difference or competitive in causes and mission perhaps). My view is that there is a very small group of self chosen emergent entrepreneurs who have published their stories and branded their missional ideas who think that they are the leaders but may or may not be for very long. People like Phyllis Tickle and Gibbs and Bolger and the people that are experiencing the emergent way of life and thought will help the movement sees its place in the larger church and culture. Also, besides the global Anglican emergent phenomenon, which preceeded the American movement by more than a deacde, there are some contemporary expressions within other faith communities (like reformed Judaism) that are interesting to note.

Comment by Larry Bourgeois

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