Monday, May 12, 2008

the emerging church is protean

Yesterday Terry Mattingly referenced his ongoing confusion with what precisely is denoted by the term "emerging church" His GetReligion post was prompted by an interview that Brian McLaren gave with the Associated Press' National Religion Reporter Rachel Zoll.

I just wanted to make one observation. The cognitive dissonance to which Mattingly implicitly refers is not surprising considering the breadth of theologies - even theological methodologies - represented in the broad emerging church conversation.

In fact, I think even in the interview that Brian did reference the varied voices within the emerging church when Zoll asked:

"What are the weaknesses of the movement?"

Brian responded:

"A: Nobody had a master strategy for this. That creates weaknesses as well as strengths. It means you don't have anybody calling the shots and it means that things happen in a somewhat haphazard way. And I think there's a huge range of responses. ... Among evangelicals you have people who are not doing any theological rethinking at all. The theology that they inherited, they're staying with 100 percent. They're trying to do sort of methodological innovation (in styles of worship). And my personal feeling is that's great. Those'll be steps in a good direction... I'm not a purist about anything. I think it's all good. We're all trying to stumble along and take some steps in the right direction. Others of us are asking theological questions and that's always messy" (emphasis mine).

With this comment, Brian seems to be referring to those whom Ed Stetzer styles Reconstructionists in his influential Understanding the Emerging Church.

Those who might wish to dig a bit further into the differences that exist within the broad emerging church conversation can hardly do better than to read DJ Chuang's excellent many kinds of emerging church where he aggregates some of the more popular emerging church taxonomies.

A failure to appreciate the theological diversity within the movement itself would precipitate a significant degree of confusion and I don't believe that either Brian or anyone at Emergent would claim the position of spokesperson for a monolithic emerging church, despite Mattingly's reference to Brian as "the key figure." (And I'm not questioning that Brian has been a key figure in the history of the movement).

I think that perhaps the main common denominator of all stripes of emergers is a dissatisfaction with the status quo of the current institutional church and some degree of appreciation of the impact that modernity has had on her.

I know Emergent's Tony Jones has opined that the emerging church/emergent church distinction is an inside baseball conversation, but when the protean nature of the conversation isn't appreciated (or, at least, referenced), a significant degree of confusion is understandable.

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