Steve Gee, at his new typepad address, has just written a brief piece expressing some of his frustrations with the whole emerging church thingy.
I can really understand what he writes – and share most of those frustrations. One of my fears is that in ten years time (or 5, even!) we'll all look back and see that we've not actually achieved all that much at all and the new kids on the block will be the post-post-emerging churchers ('cos let's face it, in 2 years there'll be a post-emerging church movement).
However, I'm not quite as pessimistic as Steve in defining what the emerging church is at the moment. Steve talks of those who are pissed-off with Church as we know it and those who are trying to be cool and trendy without any real theological reflection. Though I could easily teach Steve a thing or two about cynicism (being a Grandmaster of that lethal art), I have to differ with him on this one.
Here's another article (that originally appeared in Christianity and Renewal) that seeks to articulate some of the "tribes" within the Emerging Church. It talks about bottom-up and top-down approaches to this issue.
The top-down folks are "a more mainstream section of the emerging church. Prompted by the 'groundswell' of 20s and 30s who have drifted away from church, it represents the response of established mainstream denominations and their efforts at becoming culturally relevant.
And it's this group who are responsible for over-using the phrase emerging church. While the bottom-up emerging church is not 'emerging' from anything -- because it's already part of the emerging culture, mainstream churches enter what to them is a new and alien culture. In this sense they are more consciously "emerging" and keener to label their activities as such."
The Bottom-up guys are: "driven by a desire among 20s and 30s to create spiritual homes appropriate to their culture. They are not faking anything in that sense – trying to be seeker-sensitive or culturally-aware. They’re just trying to be true to themselves."
But the most helpful by far is this offering by Stephen Shields. Stephen writes:
I suggest that many emerging faith communities have in common one of two primary characteristics and sometimes both: they’re speaking-out or they’re speaking-in.
speaking-out: They are either "constrained", to use Darby’s wonderful translation of 2 Cor. 5:14, by love of Jesus to translate spiritualities into a language that the folks in their postmodern community can understand (think jew to jew, greek to greek ).
and/or speaking-in: Similarly, these or other spiritual communities are moved by their love of our Lord to evangelize their fellow Christians to understand that perhaps they’ve been duped by modernity into believing that they’ll grow to love God and others more merely by information transfer or program or structure or rote or whatever. Speakers-in want to convince everyone that spiritual formation is much more organic and dynamic than that.
I like that approach and - though it could be argued that it's a little over positive - it helps me to keep believing in this thing of ours. And the rest of the article, which is well worth reading, gives me grace towards those in a different place or going in a different direction to me. At the end of teh day, they may be emerging from something different, for different reasons and they may be purposefully choosing not to emerge as far or in the same way as me.
What I'm really saying is that I need something like this approach to keep my cyncism in check!