Emerging or submerging

In my little corner of the world there are some folks who think the emerging church is the next best threat to Christianity.  I say the next best threat because there are some people who care far more about what they find wrong in everything else than their own issues. It is funny how so many people are so threatened by this insidious emerging church movement when so many of the people personally familiar with it are discussing its demise.

I stopped using the term “emerging” because it had too much baggage.  Starting about 5 years ago the prominent authors started to receive a lot of criticism.  From what I could tell most of it was unfair and that was unfortunate.  All the garbage criticism from groups that would write off 90% of Christian denominations made it that much more difficult to hear the completely fair criticism.  Some people in the movement took the fair criticism to heart and others just saw one more group picking on their friends.  From my vantage point it was the day when Forge posted their statement that officially acknowledged some legitimate criticisms by one author that the fault lines came in to view.  

It was clear from the beginning I felt some distance between myself and what was come from Emergent.  While they seemed to try to avoid institutionalizing they certainly didn’t avoid commercializing what they were doing with books and conferences.  That isn’t necessarily all bad, but when one book started to sound like another and none of them had a durable enduring quality to them I started to think this whole phenomenon had little substance aside from the critique it presented.  I started to wonder why I would want to listen to some guy with a regular church that has couches instead of pews.  Some prominent figures seemed to scowl at modest criticisms.  The new kind of Christianity purposed seemed to be more of a reaction to a particular brand of American evangelicalism than a careful rethinking of the Christian faith in the 21st century.  As things developed I became less comfortable with the movement.

I think a lot of church leaders that seek to extend their influence beyond their own locality are often tempted to become the big fish in a small pond.  While many the emerging stream have avoided the temptations of institutionalization they haven’t done so well at resisting the temptation of fame and notoriety.  One author told people to fight commercialism by buying copies of his book and give them away.  Another publisher sent me an email saying we had to further the simple church revolution by buying more of a certain book on amazon so it could be ranked higher.   One has to wonder whether these people read their own PR.

Has everything emerged that was going to emerge?  I think the missional church movement has some good points but it isn’t what people are making it out to be.  In the realm of conventional church leadership “missional” truly is the next fad.  Church after church is taking what they already do and branding it as missional and they think they are making a big change.  It seems much easier to change a mission statement than the church.  I’m not saying there aren’t truly missional churches out there, but the kind of changes that the missional church purposes require more than an a reorientation of church, they require a reorientation of the Christian life.  It is a cost most Christians aren’t willing to pay. 

In the end I think the advent of the emerging church will mark the time when we realized something was very wrong in church.  Beyond that the jury is still out.

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