The buzz word these days in religious circles is the "Emergent Church," a religious movement often linked to Brian McLaren. McLaren is probably the best known proponent, but not the only major spokesperson. There seems to be another movement, with a similar name, that is linked to people like Marcus Borg. This other movement is sometimes referred to as the "Emerging Christian Way." In many ways these two movements are very different, and yet they have similarities.
Since I just finished reading McLaren's A New Kind of Christian (Jossey-Bass, 2001), I want to make some comments about it and the movement that it speaks for. But before I do that I want to insert this quote from a promo for the book: The Emerging Christian Way: Thoughts, Stories, and Wisdom for a faith of Transformation (Copperhouse Books, 2006). I've not yet read this book, but I think it's worth mentioning in connection with the Emergent tradition.
This emerging movement or paradigm - which is really about reclaiming the ancient wisdom of Christian tradition - represents for millions of people a "new" way of being Christian. As scholars have begun to articulate, it is a Christianity that focuses not on literalism, or convention, or charity, or even "beliefs," but rather on transformation of both the individual and society. The result is a Christianity that lives and breathes in our contemporary world.
Now back to McLaren. I realize that A New Kind of Christian, isn't a recent publication, but I just read it. I was going to read a more recent book, but was told to read this first, and that's what I've done. In this book, McLaren sets out a vision of what Emergent Christianity could be/is to be. He uses fiction to carry the story--kind of a narrative theology. Now having read the book, I can say that McClaren won't be mistaken for John Irving or even Michael Crichton, but I understand why he chose to use this format.
What I think both of these movements have in common is a sense that the church is in a period of transition. In his book, McClaren speaks at some length -- through the person of Neo Oliver, a high school science teacher and former pastor with a degree in the philosophy of science -- about post-modernism. The recipient of this information is a pastor who is on the verge of leaving the ministry because his faith doesn't seem to make sense anymore.
With Postmodernism being the the crux of the issue, McLaren (Neo) suggests that liberal and conservative forms of Christianity are stuck in an evidentialist modernist form of Christianity, but the future lies with a post modern Christianity, a Christianity that is centered in Jesus Christ, but allowing considerable freedom. This is a form of evangelicalism (and Emergent Christianity is distinctly Evangelical) that is open to evolution, isn't concerned so much about literalism or inerrancy, is concerned about sharing the gospel but is open to how God might speak through and use other religious traditions. Salvation is about more than simply getting into heaven -- in the book the mentor figure, Neo makes reference to the story of the redemption of the servant of Tash in C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle.
In The Heart of Christianity, Marcus Borg puts the emphasis on transformation as the core value of Christian faith. We are transformed because of our encounter with God through Jesus. Borg is a panentheist, McLaren is likely not, but I believe that McLaren would be of one mind with Borg on this point -- transformation. As I pointed out in my reviews of James W. Thompson's book Pastoral Ministry according to Paul -- transformation is Paul's core value as well. Maybe there is convergence here!
I'm planning to continue reading on into McLaren's Generous Orthodoxy so that I can get a better sense of what this Emergent Movement is all about. I can tell that postmodernism is a key point, but so is Lesslie Newbingin's missional theology. It is, therefore, postmodern but with an outward focus on transforming the world. There's more to come, so stay tuned. I invite you to chime in and add your thoughts, especially if you come from either of these two traditions.