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Continued Emergence: 3 predictions, 3 Exhortations and 3 Signs of Hope

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : February 26, 2008

time.jpgEditor’s Note: This was originally published on The Next Wave in their special 10th Anniversary Edition. Yes, I know I’m breaking my own rule not to republish articles, but since readers of the Next Wave rarely leave feedback, I wanted to republish it here.

Our universe is billions of years old. Humanity is tens of thousands of years old. The Pentateuch was written a few thousand years ago. Christianity is a mere two thousand years old. Compared to the full measure of time, Christian history isn’t even a speedbump on the cosmic timeline. But those of us who follow Jesus Christ believe that speedbump to be of profound importance. In fact, the 30 years that comprise the earthly life of Christ are the most important years in all of human history—certainly more important than the following 1,978 years that follow.

The 1,978 years that follow the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, have filled with thousands of Christian movements—from Franciscan spirituality to the Crusades, from Methodism to Mormonism. Most of the movements in Church history remain obscure and irrelevant. Few left a lasting impact; and whether their impact has been helpful or harmful is open to debate.

In the 10 years that the Next-Wave has been online, we’ve seen the emerging church movement come of age. What began a decade ago as an agitated stirring has become a bona fide movement—though it is more accurate to say “movements.” The ecclesiological shifts of the past decade hardly fall under one umbrella.

Ten years ago, few Christians had ever heard of Brian McLaren or Rob Bell or Tony Jones or Doug Pagitt. The kindred missional movement was still primarily academic. But Christian leaders around the world (primarily in North America, the UK, and Australia) began to wonder if there was something wrong in Christendom. In fact, many began to wonder if were moving past Christendom, just like our brothers and sisters in Europe had done. At roughly the same time, people began to ask serious questions about the way we were doing church, the nature of truth, and about the Gospel.

In the United States, we mistakenly interpreted this questioning as a symptom of “Generation X.” But it didn’t take long for some to realize that it was much more than a generational issue; a shift was happening.

This shift didn’t start with the writings of one person or in the conspiracies of a few…it was the natural (or supernatural) emergence of a new thing. It was a shift whose time has come. Shift happens.

In the past ten years, we’ve seen a few pockets of the movement gain prominence. In the United States, groups like Emergent Village or Allelon have come to the forefront in movement. And this has perhaps encouraged some to believe that the emerging/missional movements are more monolithic than they are.

And I’m convinced that, in the next few years, we will see the diverse expressions of the emerging church/missional movement(s) come into their own.

Three Predictions

In the next few years, we’ll see growing diversity in the emerging church. It is something that many of us have been actively pursuing, and I believe we’re beginning to see the fruit of that pursuit. In this vein, here are three predictions for the near future of the movement(s):

  1. Emergent Village will get competition. Maybe the word “competition” isn’t right, but groups similar to Emergent Village will not only “emerge” but gain increasing attention. Already, there are emerging groups that emphasize a fresh take on a particular tradition like Anglimergent, Submergent, Presbymergent etc. In the future, we’ll see a growth in regional and ethnic expressions.
  2. New Monasticism will grow, and become increasingly controversial. The New Monasticism is the intense little sister of the emerging church movement. For most Christians, the new monasticism has flown under the radar. Currently, it has few spokespeople, though it continues to attract people across the country. The controversy among evangelicals will be comparable to the controversy in the early years of the Catholic Worker Movement.
  3. After a brief period of calm, the “New Fundamentalism” will gain new traction. In the near future, sites like Pyromaniacs and Christian Research Net will lose readership. Fewer people will pay attention to critiques from people like D.A. Carson and John MacArthur. After all, the fundamentalists have come out against movements before, but eventually become sidelined. This happened with neo-evangelicalism in the early 1900s and the charismatic movement.

However, after a brief cease-fire, controversy will become stronger than ever. Why? Because it is just a matter of time before an active gay or lesbian pastor draws controversy in emerging church circles, and I guarantee that a significant number of emerging church leaders will stand in support of that pastor. When that happens, controversy will erupt.

Three Exhortations

Ok, I’ve done the “predictive” part of the prophet’s job description. Now I’d like to do the exhortative part. Here are some words of caution/encouragement for those of us involved in the emerging/missional movement(s):

  1. Engage Pentecostalism. The developing world is the future of Christianity. For the most part, the dominant expression of Christianity in the developing world is Pentecostalism. Few things seem to scare educated white yuppies (of which there is a glut in the emerging church) like Pentecostalism. We need to give Pneumatology serious thought. And we need to figure out how to support and submit to the growing number of brothers and sisters moving into our neighborhoods.
  2. Nurture Diversity. We’ve come a long way in this area, but we need to do more. We need to encourage our sisters to take on roles of leadership. We must seek the wisdom of other cultures. We’ve talked about this a lot. But now we need to make sacrifices to move forward.

    Five years ago, I had a conversation with Ed Stetzer about church planting. He said that it is best to start a church homogeneously and then seek diversity after you’ve become established. Although most of us resist this sort of thinking, we affirm it with our actions.

  3. Resist Consumerism. Consumerism casts a large shadow in the American Empire. Consumer culture disciples us into the sort of people who put too much importance in our own autonomy. It shapes us into the sorts of people who will gather in a local bar and drop 25 bucks a piece as we discuss the need for change in the Church. Let’s face it—there is a reason that people often dismiss emerging Christians as affluent urban hipsters with IPods.

Three Signs of Hope

If you notice a hint of frustration in my writing, let me assure you: I have hope in greater measure. I’m happy to be a part of the great-but-all-too-messy thing that the Spirit of God is doing in our world today. It is a good time to be following Jesus Christ. God has raised up a generation of leaders who love the Church enough to call her into a better way. In this spirit, I offer three encouraging trends that I pray will continue and deepen:

  1. The New Monasticism is playing an important role in the emerging conversation. The New Monasticism is growing and becoming increasingly diverse. Old School Monasticism was never monolithic, so why should we expect homogeneity with the New Monasticism? Older groups are deepening in their practices. New groups are emerging with creativity and passion. I believe the New Monasticism helps remind us all—especially those of us in the emerging church—what our faith is all about.
  2. Regional expressions are becoming more important. I’ve shared my concerns about the centralizing of the movement before. I’m pleased that the emerging/missional church has shifted away from centralization towards regionalization. There are a number of reasons for this (the lack of a large Emergent Convention, the growth of Emergent Cohorts, the growing number of competent leaders throughout the country, the growth in diversity of the movement). This is a very good trend—I hope and pray that it continues.
  3. Fewer denominations are ignoring the emerging church. Sure, a lot of their attention is of the help-us-learn-how-to-be-hip-so-that-we-don’t-lose-our-young-people variety. Much of it, however, is thoughtful engagement of the sorts of ideas that the emerging church has been grappling with for the past ten years. And as they learn from the emerging church, our movement is losing some of its anti-denominational edge. I am hopeful that meaningful cross-pollination is possible.

The future belongs to God. We only have the present, and the lessons of the past. Several emerging church blogs are born every day. New books are getting published detailing how the emerging church helps us walk in the Way of Jesus or explaining why it is a first step on the road to hell. As critics line up to take shots at the emerging church and its most visible leaders, it is easy to get distracted with controversy. Even in emerging circles, there is conflict over words and ideas that, though sometimes helpful, often distract us from the important things. All of the controversy and noise will pass away. Will we be remembered as a movement that passionately embraced the way of Jesus?

Mark Van Steenwyk is the editor of JesusManifesto.com. He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He lives in South Minneapolis with his wife (Amy), son (Jonas) and some of their friends.


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Viewing 4 Comments

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    Great point about exhortation #1, Mark. We in the Western world are so cerebral and thought-full regarding emerging ideas and values. We've intellectualized things so much that we risk being something less than Trinitarian . . . do we really believe in the Holy Spirit? The Pentecostal world in the global South does.
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    • v
    Your exhortations are spot on.

    As a closeted charismatic I resonate with hope toward number one. I was introduced to the emerging/postmodern conversation through the Assemblies of God, many of whom were talking about it with enthusiasm. To them, postmoderns were perceived as very into mystical, experiential, and phenomenological spirituality -- something which they as Pentecostals rather thought of themselves as having the corner of the market on! Yet finding such a stale absence of the rippling beauty of (tempered) charismatic Christianity in the emerging church since then has been quite the discouragement.

    And your third exhortation -- bingo, and ouch! While there is definitely a place for "well lubricated" late night Inkling-inspired theologizing and scheming, I've gulped in irony at spending $20 in a week on yuppie-wanting-to-be-a-hippie living self-baptized as "vital discipling and leadership times". That "in the world and not of it" line is so damn hard to walk.

    Feeling suddenly lead to talk more about such things with the local body...
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    I, too, really resonated with the Pentacostalism hope. The vast majority of the Christians abroad I have met fall into this or the broader charismatic tag; read the book Churchquake if you'd like to find why so many of the churches across the world are tapping into this.

    I am curious as to why there hasn't been as much of this in the emergent church; I would think the best way to critique those who have made a joke of the Holy Spirit in Pentacostalism would be to truly heal the sick, raise the dead and cast out demons.
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    • v
    I'd like to try to identify the lack of proper pneumatology in Emergent as derivative of its mainline roots. I could be wrong, but?
    Sojo's involvement has put social action through the state at the center of the emergent discussion, and I would prefer that this be the dividing line, rather than homosexuality, which is just unoriginal.
    Mainliners despise the Spirit, because acknowledgement of His role in directing believers to good works places limitations on the role of the state in enforcing good works among citizens. It also makes Christians uniquely responsible for responding to perceived needs. It says not only that we can do what Jesus did, but that we a responsible for doing so, even if it leads to persecution, or rejection by man. Mainline denominations have acceptance by man and the state at the center of their platforms, and emergent does the same.

    Convoluted thoughts, but perhaps there's something valuable there.
    Nathanael Snow

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