Monday, April 30, 2007

Emergent and Emerging

The term "emergent" has become an important descriptor of a growing movement, largely within Evangelicalism. It is rooted in a post-modern reading of reality, it seeks to be open to new ideas and directions, recognizes the place of doubt, and recognizes the importance of tradition.
There is another term out there. It's similar but isn't as well known. It's "emerging" Christianity. It is a term used by and connected to Marcus Borg. In his newest book Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary, (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006) -- which is an Academy of Parish Clergy 10 Best Book -- Borg describes what emerging Christianity is. Now, I'll be reviewing the book on this blog and for APC, but I want to lay out this definition.
This movement is found in mainline Protestant churches and according to Borg:

It is a "neotraditional" form of Christianity. Both the prefix and the noun are important. Neo" recognizes that it's recent, new; we haven't seen exactly this form before. "Traditional" recognizes that it's not simply new; rather, it is a reclaiming, a retrieval, a recovery, a "seeing again" of the most central elements of the Christian tradition. (Borg, Jesus, pp. 298-299).

As I'll point out in the review, Borg is keen on the importance of both "memory" and "metaphor." Tradition is a carrier of both the memories and the metaphors of faith, but as he is also keen to point out, they must be reexamined and reinterpreted if they're to be reclaimed by the contemporary church.
Borg is very complementary toward "emergent" Christianity and has appeared with Brian McLaren. Although there are significant differences, there seem to be significant points of contact between these two movements. Some, like me, find themselves positioned in between, hopefully able to benefit from the conversation with both.
I'll be posting more here about this and other thoughts from Borg's interesting and important book.


DaNutz said...


I also find myself between these movements. I picture both these "movements" as the same phenomenon of Christianity evolving as it makes 2 important changes: A) embracing science as a friend not a foe and B) reclaiming an authentic faith by removing the fingerprints of the initial reaction to modernity.

I think you are right that this phenomenon takes 2 shapes because it effects both Evangelical and Mainline Christians. The process is very much the same but the people are different.

Dennis said...

It's very interesting, to say the least. I have one foot in each of these worlds, having an "Evangelical" background and a mainline foreground. My little congregation is composed of folks who largely fit the descriptions of "Emergent," while I, as pastor, identify with an "Emerging" Christianity similar to what Borg describes.

I have long been frustrated by the trends within "Evangelicalism" (not to mention the appropriation of the word "Evangelical" by a particular segment of the Church) towards theological and political homogeneity. It's a relief that conservative Christianity isn't synonymous with fundamentalism, as evidenced by the "Emergent" movement's newly kindled interest in environmental stewardship and social justice. The more the church rationalizes its misanthropy under the guise of believing the Bible, the less credibility it will have with the surrounding culture; the doctrine.

The mainline churches have their problems, too: there's not much left of personal religious experience as the immanent God who touches individual hearts and lives gives way to the transcendent God who has more interest in "communities" than individuals and who never intervenes in history. It looks to me as though the "Emerging" movement reminds us of the crucial balance between immanence and transcendence, and that God is Spirit, and we must worship God in spirit and in truth.

It seems to me that both factions (evangelicals and mainliners) have lost important bits of themselves and will have to find them again in order to thrive. I think these movements (emerging and emergent) are an effort of the system to right itself, and as such, they are finally helpful. They'll push and prod their respective factions into a rethinking and redefining phase from which a more healthy and effective church can emerge. These will be the effective and attractive forces within each wing of the church, and--here's a startling thought--they'll actually be able to talk with each other in ways that the "Evangelicals" and "Mainliners" haven't been able to do in decades.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...


What is interesting is to see Marcus Borg and Brian McLaren appearing together (often in the company of Diana Butler Bass). That they are in conversation bodes well for a convergence of ideas. Borg seems very taken with much of Emergent Christianity, and McLaren gave a nice blurb for "The Last Week." All in all -- good things our happening!