Monday, June 8, 2009

Are We Dead Yet?

There's been a LOT of hubbub around the death of emergent. Is it real?

Everyone probably knows this started with Nick Feidler talking about the great disappointment. As someone who has been in the conversation for a while (although in the closet), but new to being involved, I can't say I see what everyone's talking about.

But there are points. How do we grow? How do we go beyond a conversation and into action?

Maybe this is the next point to what we were talking about as our introductions a few weeks ago, why are you here. Maybe a better question is, where is it going?

I think what Nick's counterpart, Josh, said is really key. The emergent church is dead because the church is dead. Or, at least some forms of it. But it's the deep communities, the fellowship, the groups of people living Christ out in the world and working together to understand more and more what that means. That is thriving, and I think the emergent conversation has done a lot to facilitate that.

Any thoughts? Let's hash it out in the comments!


maventheavenger aka jamie said...

I haven't really read all the posts, but the while thing seems to be a lack of patience to me. These things take time. The church didn't become an institution overnight.

Sarah said...

Really intriguing articles - thanks for posting these, Josh! I actually share a lot of the disappointment with the emerging movement that these guys are voicing. Although Jamie's right - it takes time - it's true that Emergent has famously struggled to be anything more than just a conversation. We like to get together and talk about God, talk about community, talk about love. But if all we do is talk, we haven't gotten anywhere except perhaps a little more articulate!

On the other hand, I've definitely had some really positive paradigm shifts in my own life because of emergent friends/authors/communities (i.e. you guys!) so I'm not ready to give up yet! =)

Ron said...

Phyllis Tickle made a comment at a conference some of us attended that the emergent "movement" has only just begun the next 100 to 150 years that are spent "defining" what we stand for. Her perspective is that historically these things come in 500 year cycles. The first 100 years are spent chipping away at the current authority (in this case, Protestantism and the Bible). The next 100 to 150 are spent figuring out where we get our authority (first authority came from the church and Rome, then the Reformation shifted authority to the Bible, and her guess is that for "emergence Christianity" one possibility is "the community").

The depressing part is that the next 250 years or so are spent killing people who don't agree with us. Hopefully we find a way to avoid that.

So according to her, we've barely begun. There's no way we can be dead yet.

Jimbo said...

To me it seems strange that some are lamenting that the Emergent is dying. Maybe it is because we are coming in late compared to others, but for me it feels like its only just begun.
There are two other things I find strange in this post:
- The lamenting of leaders. I find personally that there is an abundance of leaders to listen to (and many good blogs to read). One of my personal reasons for leaving the IC was its requirement for definition of leadership. I find not having any iconic leaders to follow refreshing.
- The lamenting of lack of direction. I hear that, but feel that has alot to do with where we currently are at (like Ron was saying).
Sometimes, I get tired of the conversation too. And I wonder if we don't need to keep trying to integrate some practice along with the conversation. In addition to serving others, I wonder where some of those practices like praying together, communion, reading/studying scripture fit in?
I don't know. Another gem from Phylis Tickle, was the idea that we are in cleaning out the attic phase going thru and tossing those things that don't work any more and maybe rediscovering some old treasures that had been lost there.

Thorn-67 said...

For scores of people the emerging conversation is a new and fresh conversation...or a conversation that they hope and dream of having but have yet to find a safe place to do so...or the language to do it with. It makes me sad that people are willing to make such grave predictions/pronouncements so soon. I would surmise that emerging folk are NOT just talking...but engaging in lifestyles that are much more congruent with the “way of Jesus”...than their previous lives inside the institution ever were. This is true for me.

Anyhow...I particularly liked this excerpt from a post by Jim Marks (who also blogs @ in response to Nick Feidler~
"If you think two millennia of church crystallization could be over turned in 10 years you’re not optimistic you’re pie eyed.
This work is going to take a long, long time. It is going to be slow. It is meeting a great deal of resistance and it takes time to construct a response to the resistance that remains true to the intent and it takes time to help that resistance see the err of its ways.
This movement -should- be de-centralized and without leadership. The internet has proven that peer-based network structures are infinitely more powerful than mainframe-terminal structures. The church has been a mainframe-terminal structure for 20centuries. This is clearly a big part of the problem.
I think much of what I see in the emerging conversation is a desperate attempt to -avoid- becoming a movement. Movements need manifestos and consist of people who are in and people who are out. I think this conversation wants to be a ground swell, not a movement."

Yard said...

I am floored at the wisdom in this group. I feel increasingly lucky to have you all: to be in a group willing to constantly search for the sweet spot between impatient (perfectly said Jamie) and stagnant (the critique of the EC) is to have a group after God's heart. And I believe there is much of this going on around the world, in and out of churches, whether aligned with the name emergent or not.

Josh - thanks so much for posting. Every time we try and grasp what this thing "is", we find there is so much flying around about the movement that she's hard to get a handle on. Could this be because she's moving fast, intangible, unpredictable? Or could we say nebulous? Like a wind, maybe. Dare I say Pnuema, Spirit?

...and if the Holy Spirit is truly moving (again in and out of what we think is 'emergent' - who cares about the name/label), would any of us be so pretentious as to say we fully understand what she is doing, or that we could predict her next move? I would feel blasphemous doing so, wouldn't you?

And yet this is a clear indicator that people are still wanting idols (iconic leaders - very well put Jim). So many people want to be or to follow the next big thing. They want to be the next Bell or McClaren. Or they want to have "success" at playing church so bad that they're willing to crush other forms of expression. They make bold and idiotic claims that they can predict the future. Let them predict, I don't care.

As you all have said, there is MUCH hope here, and I also feel that we have merely begun.

If the EC is dead or dying, and you honestly think you can define that, fine. But are we dead? HA!!! I feel like I just woke up! Let me rub some sleep out of my eyes for a second, will ya? Maybe catch some breakfast?

Thorn-67 said...

This is posted on behalf of the lovely Debbie...who is having password 'issues' (o: BTW...Great thoughts Debbie...

Hummmm... I am in agreement with Jamie. Patience is required here. We have the advantage of instant information, instant access, instant almost everything except... well, except instant change. Rather painful at times.
I actually read Feidler's post last week and found this statement rather interesting. "Maybe we decided we didn’t need another de-centralized conversation, we just wanted to act."

I don't know Feidler so I can't speak to his experiences but, I can speak about my own and how this relates to the emergent conversation. First comes thought, then conversation and then action. There are other steps beyond action and each step involves additional thought and conversation. For some the distance from thought to action is longer than for others.

This is why it is important for the emergent conversation to be held/heard amongst groups... a cohort like ours. The continuing conversation prods some to increase their pace while it encourages others to slow down a bit. Elementary I know but true.

EmDes moved rather quickly towards action and I sense we, as a group, want to act more often. Interesting enough I believe almost everyone attending EmDes is, in their own way, acting. Serving & being likes Jesus in quiet ways within our daily lives.

Feidler wrote a thoughtful blog. And I like EmDes. Thanks Josh for posting!

Matt said...

What has struck me most about this argument is some of the harsh accusations being thrown around. It has made me sad to be honest. It's easy to dismiss comments made on a blog from an obvious closed minded source, but very difficult to process an argument between people you respect over what I feel is fairly petty stuff.
I have always liked referring to Emergent as a conversation. If we try to organize it than we risk becoming another denomination which is so UN-Emergent.

Josh Brown’s stated:
“To this day The Tall Skinny Kiwi and his converted U-Haul, my friends the Hendersons and D10s and their house church, the Sharps and their traveling music, the Samsons and their projects, the Bronsinks and their intentional living . . . these are the models that have inspired me to become a better man, a better father, a better friend. These people are where the life is. Where the hope is. Where the inspiration is.”

I don’t know any of these people, but I’m pretty sure we all know people like them. We are all part of something bigger. The Kingdom of God is played out by individuals and small groups around the world every day, and most of these people don’t consider themselves Emergent and might not consider themselves Christian. Personally I don’t need a label to validate me or my actions.
Hopefully that makes sense. I probably shouldn’t post after working an 11 hour shift.

Joshua Seek said...

Wow! It's awesome to see so much positive. I think a huge part of this is in what Ron said. These things take time. There are a lot of people that wanted things to be what they were never intended to be. What makes it even harder is how do you measure a group of people that doesn't seek to build a structure, plant a claim on a plot of land, grow excessively, create authorities, and defend itself. Emergent groups, mostly, do not have direct leadership, organizational structure, apologists, or a bank account. So how does one measure success in a group like that?

For us, it's in the relationships. It's in things that are not measurable. Is emergent dead? Certainly, in the forms which it never tried to be. But we're still alive.

I'd really like to think more about what it means to move beyond chipping away at the old structure.

Alexis said...

A thing only truly dies when everyone has stopped believing in it and gives up.

It is frustrating to see a movement not move as fast as say, Civil Rights appeared to in our history texts. Something to keep in mind is that even those movements which appeared to happen quickly took decades to come to full fruition. Like comments before this, things take time, but that doesn't mean that we can't catalyze things into action. It doesn't mean that this time isn't ripe!

I'm thinking of all the revolutionary movements in the 20th century and before, not only in the church but of political and economic persuasions, as sources for inspiration. We can draw comfort from these things because of all the wonders that came from them (all with a bit of love, vision, writing, and conversation).

Granted, we're not at war against a government in the strict sense of the word like so many activists in Burma say. Having a clear force to fight against often will move people to hard and fast points and causes a type of inertia which is difficult to stop. It should be remembered that despite not having an enemy or a repressive dictator, this conversation/movement is a type of fight over God and Christianity...

Maybe this is a "Reclamation" of Christ and the promise of the new covenant...and reclaiming anything is hard work. For a little while things will be shaky. People will be considered heretics or thorns. Those who become disillusioned will fall by the wayside.

Things like this always start out as a whisper and become a roaring cacophony by the end. It is this last that we must hold on to, the vision of where we will be.

Without it... well, you get the idea. ;-)