Re: What is the emerging Church?

April 24, 2007

This was ‘n mess-up. I posted a response to Roger, but somehow never posted it, just saved it, and then I lost that as well. So this is not what I wrote initially, although I’ll try and touch on some of the same points, I’m already influenced by some of his comments he made later on.

It’s has almost become common language to speak of the emerging church as an eccesiological conversation rather than a theologicalconversation (meaning that it’s about the way we are church, rather than what we believe). This is interesting, since when reading Brian Mclaren, you’ll often see theological questions pop up, and listening to Tony Jones last year I had the same experience.

But the theological part of the emerging church isn’t really unique to this conversation. Most of the theological ideas can be found in theology from the past few decades, although it hasn’t really filtered down to our churches and congregations.

The ecclesiological part seems to be more unique. But what exactly this ecclesiology would look like is difficult to define. Tony showed us a video last year about some emerging churches (can’t remember the name of the video), some of you might have seen it. Some congregations looked like rave-clubs, with lasers and music. What about One80? Is One80 an emerging church? Looks like they try to be church in their culture, trying to use technology to minister to youth. But for many of us One80 just looked like a typical evangelical church with a new look, which maybe it is. The type of ideas found with Brian Mclaren and Tony Jones, and type of example set out by Brian’s congregation and the Solomons Porch community (Doug Pagitt) seems to have become the major influences in South Africa. Small communities, non-hierarchical, importance of narratives, meeting in the round, conversations, that kind of thing.

Part of these ecclesiological ideas is a very strong emphasise on missional. No, more than that, missional is integral to these ideas. Today many choose to talk about emerging-missional church/communities. This is they type of language I find myself comfortable with as well, but there are some things I still think we need to consider.

The reason I say this, and may the denomination (yes, emerging is also described as post-denominational, but I’m still part of one) of which I’m a part of hear these fears: I hope that as the emerging conversation goes on in South Africa, and the Dutch Reformed Church, we will remember that integral to it is the fact that it’s a missional conversation. But it’s not going to happen automatically! It is possible that we forget it. I fear the result will be that we change our ecclesiologies, to fight the fact that our church is shrinking.

But I couldn’t say it better than the quote you gave : “Without the missional, emergent is just style. Without the emergent, missional pours the new wine backwards into old containers, and often without regard to context.”

Maybe reading some of my other thoughts will clear up some of these ideas. Especially why I believe that we should remember emerging to be a verb and not a noun. Just a thought Roger, you said way back then that ““Emergent US” is the official body of the emerging church in the States”, but I’d rather think that “Emergent US” is only the official body for a certain part ofthe emerging church conversation, although it may be the part which I’m most comfortable with.


19 Responses to “Re: What is the emerging Church?”

  1. Roger Saner Says:

    Thanks Cobus – this is a helpful post 🙂 We need more people like you – young theologians who are grappling with what it means to be church within your denomination.

    I don’t see the emerging conversation being either about theology or about ecclesiology – it’s both. Alan Hirsch gives an extremely helpful progression (and theology underlies the whole thing):

    Christology -> Missiology -> Ecclesiology

    So our starting point is our doctrine of Christ – who he is, what he did, what he calls us to, our response to him etc etc etc. Once we have our understanding and relationship with Christ we form our missiology – how we do (or don’t) interact with everybody else, and how we join in with God’s plan for the world (the missio dei). Only once we have these first two in place do we then progress to what church looks like on the ground in our context.

    Theology is vitally important! It gives us space to rethink and reframe our ideas and practice. If the emerging conversation is simply about “How do we do church better?” or “How do I bring more people to my church?” then this conversation will only be a footnote in history. See Pete Rollins answer to the last question in this interview:

    Some have claimed that the movement which you explore in your writing and religious community signals a New Reformation. Would you agree with this?

    There is a part of me which balks at the idea that the emergent movement signals a new Reformation simply because of the magnitude of the claim. In many ways this is a very fragile movement with disorganised and unworthy people like myself involved in its development. Yet I have slowly, and a little reluctantly, come to believe that the emergent movement does indeed offer the potential to be a significant part of a movement that is offering a new Reformation. However, I am well aware that there are many dangers ahead which may prevent it from fulfilling its calling, for instance the movement has become very popular in recent months and a whole industry seems to be growing out of it, an industry which revels in the outward form of the movement rather than the deep theoretical principles. The result of all this media hype may well mean that the emergent movement gains little more than a footnote in theological history as something which helped to influence the way that church looked rather than making up a significant chapter about how it reformed the entire way that the church operated. Watch this space.

  2. Steve Says:

    Postmodern, postdenominational?

    I’m wondering what a “postdenominational” church would look like. I suspect much like the denominational ones. We already have well over 10000 denominations in South Africa, each with its own ecclesiology. A few more won’t make much difference.

    But that, of course, is from our premodern, predenominational perspective 🙂

  3. cobus Says:

    A new reformation. I used to like to think that. But no, I don’t think any reformer can ever call himself part of a reformation. In hindsight people will look at our conversations, and deside whether this was really part of a reformation of the church, or a theological dead-end.
    I hope I was wrong about the theology thing, I hope you are right. Because I do think theology need to be part of the conversation, a central part. But still, many are emerging there ecclesiologies, without having an in-depth look at theology. This is just something I’m picking up on ground level. Maybe this links with the fact that it’s become a very popular thing to be called “emerging”.
    Theology: I think this refers to our thoughts about God, not “God the Father”, but God, and the way God is working.
    Sadly, I think for many the conversation is about “how to do church better”, this was part of the experience which led me to move my blog. Since I found my thoughts to be more than ecclesiology. Maybe I was wrong, I sincerely hope I was.
    When working on theology, I think the different parts of our theology is always in conversation with each other. Our Christology not only influence our Missiology, but also our Missiology influnce in Christology. And then Ecclesiology comes into play etc. It brings us to the question what systematic theology would look like in the emerging church. OK, I think it will be less systematic, and maybe the 12 classical categories would change a whole lot. But in the end we will keep on formulating our theology, but how? Tony Jones wrote some thoughts yesterday which might prove useful

  4. cobus Says:

    Maybe the thing is that when defining congregations by denomination, we tended to place them against each other. We also limited them to one tradition, that of the denomination. At least, to me it looks like what we have been doing.
    Maybe begin post-denominational will give a little more freedom of movement, learning from different traditions. Hopefully it will also decrease antagonism between congregations, but then again, maybe not.
    I fear, however, that it will give a key to some to ignore their tradition, while I think we need more and more to remember our 2000 (or is that 3000) year tradition. Just found some thoughts I posted a while ago, that might link up with this.

  5. Roger Saner Says:

    With regard to systematic theology, take a listen to the first two Emergent Village podcasts (or else get them from me next week at the camp). It’s a conversation between Tony Jones and Miroslav Volf – a sytematic theologian who talks about his approach to systematics.

    Thanks for the link to Tony Jones writing that “orthodoxy happens when human beings get together and practice it (talk about God, worship God, pray to God, write books about God, etc.). There’s no orthodoxy somewhere out there that one can point to and say, “See that? That’s orthodoxy. That’s what we’re trying to get to.”

  6. Roger Saner Says:

    You wrote:

    Just a thought Roger, you said way back then that ““Emergent US” is the official body of the emerging church in the States”, but I’d rather think that “Emergent US” is only the official body for a certain part ofthe emerging church conversation, although it may be the part which I’m most comfortable with.

    Yes, you’re quite right, Cobus! I wrote that as an outsider looking in on the emerging stuff in the States, and I thought it was all rather coordinated. Now I see there are many kinds of conversations happening with the emerging sphere but Emergent Village represents only a part (for instance, not the Rob Bell or Mark Driscoll parts).

  7. Roger Saner Says:

    Sorry for continuing to throw links at you, but here a great post about postmodern church: My postmodern manifesto.

  8. cobus Says:

    I also came to realize that only later on.
    Don’t worry about the links. I’ll get those podcasts from you at camp, have some problems downloading larger stuff from University computers. See my 🙂 from a few days ago, you might have read it.

  9. Steve Says:

    Hi Cobus,

    You referred to this discussion in a comment on my blog, so I hope you won’t mind if I butt in again, though probably with just more questions.

    Over the last few decades there have been big changes in Anglican and Roman Catholic ecclesiology. Somewhat smaller changes in Methodist ecclesiology. I don’t know about Dutch Reformed ecclesiology, but perhaps you can say at least what you have seen.

    What will emerge from all this is anybody’s guess, and in a sense that will be the emerging church, if your ecclesiology encompasses that.

    I get the impression, however, from what people are saying, that what most people call “emerging church” is actually emerging from American-style evangelicalism as it has emerged over the last couple of decades.

    What is the ecclesiology of those groups (in many cases, I think that would be the “old ecclesiology” I talked about in my post)?

    I haven’t studied it in detail, and so any attempt I make to describe it will be a sort of caricature, and also shaped by the prejudices of my own ecclesiology, but nevertheless, I’ll try.

    The ecclesiology is semi-congregational, in the sense that it sees the church primarily as the local congregation. But it differs from classic congregationalism in that “the pastor” is very much in charge. Or perhaps one should say “The Pastor”, because there is only one who is in charge. The Pastor then “grows” the church into a sort of super church, which then starts planting new congregations, and becomes another denomination, with The Pastor now functioning in some respects as a bishop, but in others more like the CEO of a successful company.

    A paradigm case in South Africa could be Ed Roebert of the Hatfield Baptist Church. Leader of a successful congregation, breaks away from his denomination to form his own. Actually probably 70% of the Zionist Churches in the country function in the same way, with a similar ecclesiology. The difference between Ed Roebert and the Zionists is that the Zionists have a much bigger helping of premodernity. But the American-style evangelical model is modern to the core. And it is not going to appeal much to the postmodern mind, even if you swap the old wooden pulpit for a perspex model, and instead of hard-backed chairs for the sidekicks make it look like the set of a TV chat show or a second-hand furniture showroom.

    If it’s going to evangelise the postmodern mind, something different is needed.

    Now that may be a caricature, but it’s the impression I get from eavesdropping on some of the postmodern conversations in the blogosphere, including this one.

    There, now I’ve described what I think the old ecclesiology is. But I’m on the sidelines in this particular thing, and I’d rather hear what it looks like to someone on the inside.

    But post-denominational? I don’t see it. premodern, modern or postmodern, the number of denominations never stops growing.

  10. cobus Says:

    I never mind people butting in. Leaving thoughts, or just saying hey (which I hope I’ll be able to do next Thursday).
    I like to see the emerging church as something happening everywhere people tries to find how to be church in this post-modern culture. Therefore we will find people joining in on the conversation which we won’t agree with at all, but we cannot decide who is emerging and who isn’t (although I’ll always have opinions on this, see my comment on steve’s blog).
    Emergent Village is just one part of the Emerging conversation, although it may be a major influence at the moment.
    Tony Jones once said that you can see where people come from in the emerging conversation. Brian Mclaren come from this form of evangelicalism which you described. I have an idea that Dan Kimball do as well. Tony is from a more mainline type church.
    But the important question. What about me? What about us? I’m Dutch Reformed. OK, the changes in the Dutch Reformed church basically went in two directions I think. The larger group followed the typical American mega-church idea, replaced the pulpit for a stage, many of these becoming more and more charismatic as well as fundamentalistic (I am really really sorry for using all these bad words, but it’s so difficult to explain without them, I hope whoever reads this won’t take offence). Then their was a small group of a very intelectual kind breaking away from some, what they, as well as the church, considered orthodox ideas, wanting some theological freedom. I’m not well clued up with what happened there. And them basically anything you can think of, you’ll find in the Dutch Reformed Church:-)
    When I start talking about emerging I think of a church that can break with being an “Afrikaner-church”, where church and culture lies so close to each other. Breaking with the church focused on maintaining this status quo for the Afrikaners. For me, this will be a church that take it’s mission in South Africa, with poverty and HIV, serious, very serious.
    I think I’ll start jotting down my thoughts after the camp. This should be a very good place to get them going.
    This is some of my very old thoughts on the emerging church, a full 8 months ago, that’s a loooong time:-). You can find them here and here, it touches on some of these same points.

  11. Kowie Says:

    Emerging church – why? What has started the movement to transform? The need to develop a (much needed) deeper relationship with Jesus Christ or a growing despair about dwindling mainline churchgoing numbers and with that a dwindling financial income and status? (I do not target specifics, but a tendancy).

    If the need to change is developing out of a need for deeper relationship with Jesus Christ – then go for it with all you have. We have to develop from a community religion to a personal relation religion. That does not mean that we must become inclusive and only live for ourselves, because if you follow The Way, Christ will kindles in you the flame to become involved in missionary, helping the poor, the Aids etc. Only – He will kindles it and lead the way.

    If the need is because of the image of the churches and what are the right things to do, then I am afraid, we are losing this battle before it started. Yes, we will also get to the helping of the poor and the Aids and all those wonderful campaigning trends – but in order to get people to come to my church (not God’s church).

    What we must ask is – what does Jesus Christ wants us to do? Some will say I am oversimplevying it and to be more realistic, but who is the head of the church? Who’s church is it? If Jesus Christ is the head of that church – ask Him – pray, pray and pray. If He is not the head of that church, well then get a committee of twenty going, have a conference or two and work out a plan. Simple is it? Perhaps too easy?
    Sorry – off the point again!
    Thanks for new persepsions and perpextives – I do like it.

  12. Kowie Says:

    Oh yes, I agree – we must emerge! But!!!! First we must decide why? And we must decide if we are going it our way or Christ’s way.

  13. cobus Says:

    Many have expressed there fears that emerging will just be a new fad, see for example some of Roger’s and some of my own comments.
    My experience of the conversation which I am part of is that these people really want to live in the way of Jesus.
    A lot of time have been spent on the Why of emerging. For myself, two reasons stand out at the moment. The one is that the church need to recognize our calling in this world, to become part of the solution of this world, and not just give people a better place to go after they die. The second being the fact that the church tend to be a dangerous place for those that ask questions, that differ from the general viewpoint, and we need to create environments where people can be free to think for themselves, to ask questions, even those that sometimes would be considered heresy.
    There is some serious changes needed in the church, that is why we are emerging.

  14. Kowie Says:

    I do agree with that – it is essential that the role of building a safe haven around the congregation and minister to the congregation have to expand outwards. We must carry the message out to reach as many as possible – on all levels. We must become a church of dissiples and not of listeners. I believe that every believer is a dissiple and that we must carry the Message into the workingplace, the streets, the hovels and lokasies. It is not only the job of the pastor, preacher, etc – they can coordinate, lead and equip. But it is every believer that must emerge from the cold silence and self-centredness.
    We must be able to talk, but remember the words of 1 Tim 1:4,5 and 2 Tim 2:23. Freedom to talk and reason about other viewpoints is ok, but it must never become a mainstay/reason for religion or a reason for emerging.Too many times this last point has been used by the devil (know some don’t believe in the existence of the devil, but I do) to bring division in churches and quarrel between brothers. Handle it with responsibility!

  15. cobus Says:

    Maybe we should try to formulate what exactly the difference of opinion is. This should help with a constructive conversation.
    I’m gonna try and summ up what I think I hear from you, you can differ from this if I understand you wrong. If you can do the same for me, we should be able to start formulating the differences. If there really is differences.
    What I understand is that you consider the personal relationship with God to be the most important? This you understand to be the spiritual relationship between an individual believer and God/Jesus?
    Thanx for the comments, we need more conversation, to help us understand each other better.

  16. Kowie Says:

    Yes, you are correct that I see the development of religion – the communion with God – as the most important issue. But that is only the one side of the argument. I see the restructuring of the church’s role and mission as the second priority – after the first pri issue has been laid as cornerstones. Let me clarify:
    * Religion is a traditional thing with most people – the going to church, the belonging to a certain denomination, the whole business (and yes, it has become a business in a lot of places)
    * We are doing the charity, mission, helping thing, but we are doing it because the church says so and sometimes because the Bible says so.
    * Church bosses (bosses – not leaders) have become businessmen and philosophers instead of apostles and herders – a generalising.
    ++++ I would like to see it as follows: Let me use some of Mark Tittley’s Commitment model’s terms – make sense to me:
    + There is not currently a push for the growth of the people (Christians) in the churches to grow. That means that most stay on the level of new convert /convert. They stay there and everybody is happy, because the people are coming to church. But the next 2 – 3 steps are the most important.
    + Churches must concentrate all effort on taking the new converts / converts to Believer – Worker – minister.
    + Once a Christian has reached the level of believer, he /she is on such a personal level with God that he wants to go out and make everybody a Christian. Use that.
    + On reaching the Christian maturity of worker, the person can’t wait to go out and help the world.
    + On reaching full maturity, people are ready to go out and become disciples in the workplace, become missionaries, work in slums, etc.
    ++++ Once a church has these in place, the church starts to reach out and bring in people, do missionary, help with poverty, etc. Reason why I say this is because the people (not doctrine) who do this must be burning for the love of Jesus. Only then will the walls between different denominations start to crumble and will there be a reaching out to each other.
    +++++ If you take away the walls before the love is established, people will leaving that church and just start another of the same.
    —- More later.

    I do think that we have the same issues in mind, but to me it seems as if you want to establish a new church model first. Welcome to differ.

    You said previously – or in another blog, that the church background of somebody plays a vital role in his view on priorities?

  17. cobus Says:

    I’m becoming more and more convinced that we cannot talk about what comes first and what comes second. When we start rethinking our theology, our ecclesiology should change. I don’t consider myself seeking for a new church model, simply trying to figure out how to approach theology today, and looking for a way to be church that would fit with my theology.
    Two words would be important for me in this. Missional and Communal.
    The church is called to the world.
    Our search for God always include other people. It could be a shared experience, of shared ideas. Direct of inderect.

  18. booreirty Says:

    Two new studies show why some people are more attractive for members of the opposite sex than others.

    The University of Florida, Florida State University found that physically attractive people almost instantly attract the attention of the interlocutor, sobesednitsy with them, literally, it is difficult to make eye. This conclusion was reached by a series of psychological experiments, which were determined by the people who believe in sending the first seconds after the acquaintance. Here, a curious feature: single, unmarried experimental preferred to look at the guys, beauty opposite sex, and family, people most often by representatives of their sex.

    The authors believe that this feature developed a behavior as a result of the evolution: a man trying to find a decent pair to acquire offspring. If this is resolved, he wondered potential rivals. Detailed information about this magazine will be published Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

    In turn, a joint study of the Rockefeller University, Rockefeller University and Duke University, Duke University in North Carolina revealed that women are perceived differently by men smell. During experiments studied the perception of women one of the ingredients of male pheromone-androstenona smell, which is contained in urine or sweat.

    The results were startling: women are part of this repugnant odor, and the other part is very attractive, resembling the smell of vanilla, and the third group have not felt any smell. The authors argue that the reason is that the differences in the receptor responsible for the olfactory system, from different people are different.

    It has long been proven that mammals (including human) odor is one way of attracting the attention of representatives of the opposite sex. A detailed article about the journal Nature will publish.

  19. DysfunctionalParrot Says:

    Given the current “randomness” of emergent doctrine, I can’t see how the movement will even exist in 5 years. Right now it is more of a youth movement than anything that sees the old guard as obsolete. Reminds me of the 60’s in a way.

    I’ve run into so many young people who were all over this, who got a little older and now would rather not talk about it.

    Don’t get me wrong, change is good. But not like this.

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