the battle of terminology – emerging and emergent

June 10, 2008

Seems like we are at it again. What’s the relation between emerging and emergent? Scot McKnight and Andrew Jones talks about it, and David Dunbar wrote the article which started it again. A while ago Dan Kimball pointed to the article by Micheal Patton in which he also tried to address this question using some cute diagrams. He in the end wrote something like six posts on this, and it had hundreds of comments on different blogs, also a lot on McKnights blog. Might do us good to remember that conversation.

Let me start out by putting this into it’s most simple form. Now, I could be wrong, but I think what’s happening is something in this line: emerging is accepted as being closer to evangelicalism than emergent. Emergents madden evangelicals more than the emerging people. Somewhere along the line the liberals are taken into the equation, because the emergents, and some emerging ones as well, describe their own attempt as finding the middle ground between the conservatives and the liberals (different labels are used for the two sides of the supposed debate, see an earlier post here). OK, and to do it justice, there is also strong voices fighting against the division, saying that the whole conversation should be held under one banner.

OK, I know this is an absolute oversimplification of the argument. But some things need be said, and I hope this summary illustrate this. The conversation is still argued mainly from the relation to evangelicalism; the relation to a certain conservative ideal of the past, or to fundamentalism. Which is closer and which is further away. The debate between emerging and emergent thus seem to me to be quite similar to the debates that have been raging all over the centuries of the church between different theological positions. Furthermore, we need to notice that the conversation is still ongoing, and many voices influence both “sides” of the conversation.

In South Africa something of this can be seen on the Emerging Africa site, which was first called Emergent Africa, but the name has changes somewhere along the line. Our own church has gotten different people to speak, from Jones to Hirsch. Everything running under any of these labels seem to be called emerging (Afrikaans: ontluikend), and accepted basically uncritically as similar. The deep running differances between them is never discussed. Could this be partly why the emerging conversation seems to be such a unifying factor? Linking people from Moreletta Park, by many considered to be the headqaurters of the evangelical tradition in the Dutch Reformed Church, and the UP theological faculty, by others considered the headquarters of the “liberal thought” in the Dutch Reformed Church, and even supporters of the NHN.

The work of someone like Nelus Niemandt seem to also point in this direction. Although you won’t easily find him using the work of people like Borg or Crossan, and being critical about people like Spangenberg, he would use the work of someone like Mclaren (who use both Borg and Crossan) in an almost uncritical fashion. Is this simply because Mclaren is considered part of the emerging conversation, which Niemandt like?

All this said, I think the emerging conversation could provide protestant Christianity with an amazing gift if it’s able to keep the conversation going without ignoring the differences. If a model for being together without necessarily agreeing can be provided within protestant circles, this might be the ultimate proof of churches who can navigate the postmodern world.


3 Responses to “the battle of terminology – emerging and emergent”

  1. Roger Saner Says:

    That’s interesting – never seen/heard McLaren referencing Borg or Crossan – was it in his new book?

    Also, I’ll admit to muddying the waters by calling the website “Emergent Africa” – because at that time I didn’t see a distinction between the two terms (and neither Tony Jones or Brian McLaren questioned it). Later on I found out that “Emergent” means “Emergent Village” which is one of many streams in the American emerging church conversation, which itself is part of the global emerging church conversation.

  2. cobus Says:

    In Everything must Change
    I’ve been thinking of writing a serious response to the way Mclaren handles his historical Jesus ever since reading it, but never gotten around to it.

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