what is emergent?
Yesterday I participated in one of the most promising North American emergent-type events I have seen in some time. Karen Ward and the Church of the Apostles sponsored “mission shaped church: a learning party.” A couple of things that were promising to me about the event were: the age of the participants (average age maybe in their 50′s), and the fact that the group was dominated by non-evangelicals. All six presenters were asked to give three minutes to respond to: “what is emergent?” Here’s my response:
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Emergent might be the ecclesial equivalent to Miester Eckhardt’s statement “I pray to God that I might be rid of Him.”
Emergent is in many ways in pursuit of churchless churches: living self-organizing networked communities of Christ-followers leveling traditional hierarchies as they incarnate Divine relationality, integrating text, soul and culture in such radically indigenous ways that one church might barely recognize another church. These Christ-communities are reflective of the very interpenetrating and interanimating relationality of the Holy Trinity.
“It is the business of the future to be dangerous,” said Alfred North Whitehead. Emergent as a movement is in a liminal space standing between worlds, pursuing a third-way, transcending terms like liberal/conservative, or Protestant/Catholic, republican/democrat, modern/postmodern, etc. Emergent is dangerous and so D. A. Carson, Chuck Colson and others are wise to be asking hard questions of the influencers of this movement for the potential for chaos is great.
Having said that, we also know that one of the first principles of quantum physics is that “life exists at the edge of Chaos”; real life, abundant life at the very edge of chaos. There is little doubt that emergent may lead to chaos and uncertainty, which we as Christians understand in part as the cross. And so, in a time like ours when Western churches appear to be failing and our structures are facing their own deaths there is an invitation to the edge of chaos. Emergent may be one such invitation.