The Emerging Church – Does Anyone Still Care?

This post is for all my readers who still care about the Emerging Church . . . I hope both of you enjoy it.

But seriously, folks, I’ve got some thoughts. Over the past few months, I’ve seen a number of blog posts, tweets, and Facebook status updates along the lines of “I used to affiliate with the emerging church, but I’m not so sure I do any more.” Granted, most of them are much more cleverly worded, but it would seem that the thrift stores in many U.S. cities will soon be receiving higher than normal donations of tea light holders, dark-rimmed glasses, English flat caps, and Celtic cross wall hangings. The bandwagon is getting a little lonely.

As someone who has run in these circles for over ten years now, and has at various times felt a bit of ambivalence about my own involvement, I can understand the sentiments out there. There are a number of reasons people would give as to why they’re just not that into the emerging church any more . . . I may do a separate post on this if it’s of interest to anyone out there (if so, drop me a comment).

Sorry to disappoint the naysayers, the cutting-edge hipsters, and the cynics out there, but I’m willing to go on record here and say that I’m not quite ready to give up on this thing just yet. Again, I could do some more posting on why that’s the case, later. What I would rather do for now, is direct your attention to a new book out called Remixing the Church, by Doug Gay. It’s the best book I’ve read on the topic for a few years.

In the introduction, Gay discusses his own ambivalence, but goes on to describe convincingly why the emerging church conversation still has something to offer. For those who aren’t familiar, Doug Gay is from Glasgow, and has been a part of the alt worship/emerging church scene for about twenty years, and co-edited the book Alternative Worship with Jonny Baker. Currently, he’s a lecturer at University of Glasgow. This book is highly readable, strongly academic, true to emerging church history, pastoral, and offers a theological pathway that makes sense.

American readers should note that Gay does write from a UK/Scottish perspective, but in my opinion, that’s a very good thing. Some emerging church histories have arrogantly neglected the fact that this movement took shape in the UK, New Zealand, and Australia long before it ever hit the radar in North America. It’s not a “we got here first” kind of perspective, though.

One thing that I think Gay does brilliantly is discuss many of the key issues/debates within the emerging church conversation without getting bogged down in fruitless controversies. Nor does he get overly excited about the wrong things. For example, it isn’t until the last chapter that he even mentions the names of some of the most prominent, recognizable leaders of the emerging church, and only then it’s to say that he wants to argue the merits of emerging church theology and ecclesiology on their own terms, rather than because so-and-so wrote about it. Like Phyllis Tickle’s excellent book a few years ago, Gay is successful in locating the emerging church within a broader historical and theological church history. He also gives several practical theology perspectives on missiology that are very helpful and could easily carry this conversation forward . . . that is, if anyone still cares.

Do you? I’d love some feedback on what you think.

 

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5 comments
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  1. I’m one of those Facebook statuses you mention.
    I’m not done with the emerging church conversation, per se. I’m done with the ecclesial deconstruction that some of the more vocal (and self-appointed) emerging church “leaders” got stuck on some years back. Bringing a postmodern ethic to bear on Christianity was–and still is–an important task. But often I found the conversation stuck in the “diminishing self” vortex, which led to a diminishing church vortex as well.
    From what you’re saying, Gay makes a move toward “so now what,” a move that is long overdue. Jason Clark attempts to do the same thing, one of the reasons I appreciate his writings.
    So, I’m all for carrying the conversation forward.

  2. Thanks for the thoughts Andy. As it turns out, I’ve heard a rumor that the good Mr. Clark is doing his own review of Doug Gay’s book for an academic journal. I’m not sure when it is set for publication. Soon enough, I imagine.

  3. Thanks for the kind words Steve… I hope the book is helpful in the conversation your side of the Atlantic…

  4. Hey Steve! Hope all is well in London. I envy you as one of my favorite years was living in London. — With your question about emerging church….I know for me, the same exact passion, thinking, desire to see next generations know Jesus is there just as vibrantly as before when the term “emerging” was happening in mainstream evangelicalism. But I don’t use the term anymore, basically because it became somewhat meaningless as it had so much confusion about it. But because I don’t use the terms, doesn’t mean what I was doing and passionate about isn’t still happening in the church I am part of or what I speak about etc.. I just don’t call it “emerging church” anymore. I also have been fascinated by watching what has happened to all the “emerging churches” over time too. Are the reproducing, planting or growing over time? Where does the theology flesh out in real life over time in making new disciples? That is my biggest question looking back 5 or 10 years in all this. Anyway, thanks for the post! Always enjoy reading your thoughts. – Dan

  5. I think the conversation is still worth having, but it needs to move forward more, and stop debating with the critics so much, and just live it.

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