Monday, June 08, 2009

The Emergent Backlash

I honestly haven't been paying much attention to the latest news regarding the emerging/emergent church/conversation lately. I keep up with a couple blogs and authors and I'm even Facebook friends with a few emergent guys. In fact, Facebook is probably the most direct way that I get any new information about what's happening in the movement.

My own lack of keeping up is perhaps appropriate, as a link to Tony Jones' newest blog post popped up on my Facebook page, entitlted Death of Emergent Round-Up. It seems as though a lot of others are losing interest, dropping out, becoming openly hostile, and so on.

I haven't read all of the entries that Jones cites, but I notice some themes within the several that I have read. First off, as best as I can tell, Emergent Village briefly made a run at having some kind of a board of directors, but that attempt was given up after a few months. In the fallout, posts like these have emerged, although similar sentiments were coming out before it happened as well.

The two main themes that I've noticed are actually quite paradoxical. One group seems to be complaining that we needed that national organization; that the emergent conversation needed to become more than just a conversation and focus itself a little more in order to truly change something about the American church. Thus, the loss of national leadership is a sign for this set of people that emergent is going to make no such difference.

Another group presents the opposite theme: Emergent Village and its affiliates, in attempting to organize and brand itself at a national level, is selling out and becoming as impotent and irrelevant as the church forms that it originally sought to transform. People in this group are feeling left out of the conversation more and more - like it has passed them by or that the conversation seems to be looking only for certain voices now.

I think that there are valid critiques in both themes, and since I haven't really been actively keeping up with a lot of this the past year or more I don't feel the need to chime in. I do think that this movement that I felt so energized by a few years ago has a lot of mileage left in it. I think that books and conferences and national organizing were never the real point, although they each have their place and serve potentially helpful purposes in this movement. But those things also lead to figureheads to which both proponents and critics alike can point and say, "That's what emergent is about." That's good for people who want this to have a more directed approach, but certainly a detriment for those who dream of something more far-reaching than taking on aspects of the very institutional forms that they wanted to leave to begin with.

I've always been selective in my own participation, and maybe that's the main reason why I don't feel the need to take a side here. I've appreciated some books and authors, and I was heavily into reading them at a point when I was going through some major deconstructive thought about church. That's what I always thought this movement was about: aiding people in thinking about church and theology in a new way - although, let's be honest, much of the theological piece has existed for decades and maybe centuries and emergent types affiliated with Evangelicalism are just now playing catch-up.

Regardless, I only ever found the national organization helpful when it encouraged local conversation such as the Akron-Canton Emergent Cohort (which, incidentally, is going through a low period itself, though not out of disillusionment with Emergent).

This point in the movement's life will be what it will be. I have no vested interest in a national identity. I just hope that the conversation continues, and that it produces a passion to enact the possible in people who find no place to thrive in traditional church.