Spiritual Research Network

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Emerging Church - Part 1 by Gary Gilley

The Emerging Church - Part 1
by Gary Gilley
(April 2006 - Volume 12, Issue 4)

The emergent church is a rather slippery name for a rather slippery movement. By slippery, I mean that the movement is so new (originated in the late 1990s), so fragmented, so varied, that nailing it down is like nailing the proverbial Jell-O to the wall. There are no official leaders[1] or headquarters;[2] some have said that there are thousands of expressions yet only a few churches have sold out to the concept; and even those claiming the name can’t agree on what is going on.[3] Brian McLaren, the closest thing to a spokesperson for the movement so far states:

Right now Emergent is a conversation, not a movement. We don’t have a program. We don’t have a model. I think we must begin as a conversation, then grow as a friendship, and see if a movement comes of it.[4]

Having said this, there is still much common ground that can be identified. The name “emerging church” speaks of a church which is, guess what, emerging from something. This means, it is coming out of the more traditional understanding of the church and emerging into a postmodern expression. What it will actually become is still a matter of speculation, but its adherents see it as a postmodern church for a postmodern culture. Of course, even this gets tricky because the prefix “post” has become all too trendy. We hear not only of post-modern, but also of post-Christian, post-Protestant, post-analytical, post-liberal, post-conservative, post-everything. The problem with “post” is that it describes what you are not much better than it describes what you are. If you are no longer modern or Christian or liberal or conservative, what are you? McLaren believes that defining postmodern is premature[5] – we don’t yet know what form it will take, so defining the postmodern church is even more problematic. Emergent church leaders do not all agree on where the church goes from here but they all believe that it must go somewhere, for they believe the modern church cannot connect with the postmodern mind. How this fleshes out will be dealt with later in our study; for now we can say the emergent church is a movement chasing a culture.
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