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Emergent Church Overview – Is the EC Unraveling?

There are indications in early 2010 that the EC movement is beginning to unravel a bit.   For example, consider a couple recent blog entries that speak to this, described in an ironic fashion:

“Today, at 12:33pm, while most of you were having lunch, the Emerging Church was taken off of life support.

“The Emerging Church was not around long enough to be declared alive, so the announcement of its death comes with an apathetic “ho-hum” for many of you.  But it is true.  Stop the “What is the Emerging Church?” seminars. Edit the “Beware of Brian McLaren Sermons.” And don’t even entertain starting an Emerging blog.  As far as I can see, the Emerging Church is dead at 15.” (ref)

Later on, the author gives some rationale for its “death”:

“The Emerging church refused to stand up for anything. As the old song goes, “You have to stand for something or you will fall for anything.” The Emerging Church fell. It ran out of fuel. It called on everyone to leave their base and fly with them. Many of us came along for the ride. The problem is they never did land anywhere. They just flew and flew. They wanted to wait five or ten years to decide who they were. In the meantime, the fuel ran out. They did land and it was (mostly) not on friendly ground. From there they definitively cried out against Evangelical orthodoxy kicking us in the most sensitive areas: Abortion, Atonement, Justification, Assurance – and then there was the attempted burial of our belief that homosexuality was a sin. Oh, did I mention the attacks on Hell and the Exclusivity of Christ? They quickly moved from an insightful teen who might have some good things to say to a crowd of disconnected enemies on the attack.” (ref)

Or consider the following from a posting on theooze.com:

“MINNEAPOLIS — The Emerging Church, the controversial Christian movement that inspired many to plant churches, leave behind their faith and question authority, died in her sleep Thursday following a short illness. She was 21 (according to some sources).

 “Mrs. [Emerging] Church was the “reason for the failure of many church institutions and the paved the road to Hell with good intentions”, according to critic Ken Silva. While she has many enemies in established and institutional churches, many of whom were distant relatives, according to supporters, Mrs. Church was instrumental in the advent of many advances in the Christian church, including facial hair, tattoos, fair trade coffee, candles, couches in sanctuaries, distortion pedals, Rated R movie discussions, clove cigarettes and cigars, beer and use of Macs, as well as the advancement of women’s issues, conversations about sexuality, environmentalism, anti-foundationalism, social justice and the demise of the Republican party’s stranglehold on young Christians.” (ref)

One could not have found such postings in 2005, I’m guessing.

To some degree, perhaps because of all the “push-back” from the traditional church, some may have decided to drop the labels “emerging” and “emergent”, move underground to continue their journey with less attention from their critics.   In other cases, there have been apparently tactical moves, such as Tony Jones stepping down as the director of the Emergent Village organization.  This from Christianity Today article of Dec. 18, 2008:

“As one-time leaders of the emergent movement have recently distanced themselves from the term, the network itself dropped its organizational leader. The decision of Emergent Village’s board of directors to eliminate its national coordinator position marked the latest sign that the movement is either decentralizing or disintegrating.

“Board members said they eliminated Tony Jones’s position October 31 in order to reclaim the Village’s founding purpose as an “egalitarian social-networking organization.” “We are gifting the power of Emergent back to the people at the grassroots level of the conversation,” said Jones. (ref)

One somewhat emergent pastor recently told me that while the overall EC movement is “losing steam”, there are some important “new things” happening.  Details forthcoming, I’m sure.

What is certain is that the EC landscape is not static, and it is still receiving a great deal of attention at Christian colleges and universities, seminaries and on the internet, as well as at churches that proclaim themselves to be “emergent”.  If a turnaround is to happen, it may well need to arise to some degree from the largely voiceless laity, especially as they might begin to demand at a minimum the presence of more orthodox and traditional viewpoints on campus and in the pulpit.  And in the case of clear heresy, the withdrawal of support if these problems are not dealt with, be they a pastor, faculty member, institutional president or other persons in positions of exposure and influence who have veered into patently doctrine-unfriendly stances.

In the meantime, there is the issue of how to minister to the victims of doctrinal and practice abuse.  To understand their pain and to reassure them that the faith once passed down to them — but attacked by some in the EC – is still the truth, and can be completely relied upon.  There is almost total silence on this issue in books, videos and the blogosphere.

At the same time, care must be taken not to hinder or destroy advances in understanding and ministering to the post-modern culture that have been developed by the doctrine-friendly stream of the EC.  Simply having the label “Emergent” or “Emerging” is not sufficient to condemn: one must be careful to look below the surface, and determine as the Bereans whether or not what is being disseminated is in or out of the faith.  This needed discernment can only happen as a result of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God informing our thoughts, emotions and spiritual eyes.

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