Has the Emerging Church begun to recede? I say yes, and here are five reasons why.
1. The Emerging Church does little evangelism.
Surely the Emerging Church is not the only segment of Christianity that fails in the evangelistic task. So I’m not throwing stones here. I am merely pointing out that which some Emerging leaders (Scot McKnight, Dan Kimball and others) have been saying for a long time. The Emerging Church isn’t making many converts.
What the Emerging Church has succeeded at is reaching young, disgruntled Christians who are fed up with the problems in traditional evangelicalism.
Another issue that affects evangelism is the lack of clarity and focus regarding the nature of salvation. With traditional doctrines such as the exclusivity of Jesus Christ and the existence of hell being questioned (and, in some quarters, outright denied), evangelism is no longer a priority. Saved… from what? Saved… by whom?
2. Some Emerging leaders have embraced a disturbing lack of clarity on key doctrinal and social issues.
The unchurched twenty-somethings that I meet and talk to want answers. They don’t get excited about how Christian theology is mysterious. They are not impressed with people who talk about how “they don’t have the answers” and just want to “journey” with them and ask questions.
Some Christian twenty-somethings are a different story. Reacting against the narrow, cookie-cutter, Sunday-School answers they have been fed in evangelical circles, some Christians enjoy the embrace of mystery and the idea that no one has all the answers.
But most of the non-Christians that I meet with (and most of the Christians I minister to as well) want to do business with serious theological issues, like Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do Christians believe that Jesus is the only way to God? How can a good God send people to hell? Isn’t it intolerant to proselytize? They don’t want to hear pontifications on how “these are complex questions… maybe we can search together and eventually find some answers.” They want to know what Christians believe.
In a world of gray, black-and-white answers are not a turn-0ff to unbelievers. They are appealing if explained with grace and love.
Some Emerging leaders consistently refrain from speaking out on important moral and theological questions of our day. Asking for a moratorium on making pronouncements the Bible has already made may sound humble and gentle, but in reality, it leaves people struggling with sin and guilt without a clear word from God.
3. Many who initially intrigued by the Emerging conversation are now distancing themselves from Emerging theology.
The whole “missional” movement is a case in point. Here you have young, hip pastors in their thirties who might be called “postmodern” in their style of worship, but who no longer want to the baggage of theological liberalism that the term “Emerging” is beginning to connote.
When dozens of successful pastors/writers/bloggers who were initially intrigued with the Emerging Church begin shedding the name and throwing off the baggage, it’s a clear sign that the conversation is ending (or at least becoming more narrow in its tendency toward liberalism).
4. Some aspects of the Emerging Church look faddish and fleeting.
The Emerging Church is about contextualization and practice. How do we contextualize the gospel for a postmodern world?
Unfortunately, some Emerging Churches look like the continuation of the Seeker movement, even as they decry the Seeker-focused mindset. Incense, candles, icons. These aspects of worship might be helpful for ministry to postmodernists somewhere. They would look silly in rural Tennessee. Contextualization does not always look the same, something the Emerging Church conversation affirms in theory, but often ignores in practice.
Now that the Emerging Church is becoming known a “style of worship” or a “way of doing church for young people,” the movement has moved out of the realm of contextualization and has joined the evangelical faddishness it once protested.
Think of Jesus Movement of the 1970’s. Replace Vietnam with Iraq, beards with goatees, and contemporary music with liturgy. (I’m overstating my case here, but you get my drift.)
5. Evangelicalism is beginning to address the good questions raised by the Emerging movement.
The Emerging Church is a protest movement and some of the protests have been good and necessary. As I’ve written before about fundamentalism, movements that find their identity in protesting usually find smaller and more insignificant things to protest about.
Now that evangelicalism has begun listening to the Emerging Church’s concerns about ecclesiology, Kingdom theology, incarnational spirituality, ancient rituals, etc., we are beginning to see the best that Emerging has to offer being incorporated into the larger stream of evangelicalism. As that happens more and more over the next few years, the Emerging Church as a movement will be more and more unnecessary.
Is the Emerging Church gone? No. Not yet.
Has its influence begun to wane? Yes.
Is the movement on the wrong track? Many of the leaders have deconstructed orthodox Christianity so much that there is no foundation on which to build. That’s a problem. And that’s why so many are jumping off the Emerging bandwagon.
The early Emerging leaders saw that traditional evangelicalism looks a lot like the Titanic, slowly taking on water and sinking towards irrelevancy. So the leaders shot up some flares and boarded a life-raft. Unfortunately, the life-raft seems to have more holes in it than does the big ship. Let’s hope the conversation ends before the boat sinks with people on it.
Has it accomplished anything good? Yes. Perhaps that’s the best news of all. We’re seeing the receding of a movement that has served its purpose – reawakening evangelicals to the necessity of the Church and the importance of being the Church to the world.