More on the emergent conversation

I was asked recently for my view of what’s happening in the emergent/emergence conversation in North America. Here’s a very short overview, from my perspective.
The conversation continues to grow, not by creating a new slice of the pie, but by seasoning nearly all sectors of the pie. Even where the word “emergent” is not used, ideas from emergence leaders are being considered and adopted, leading to new experimentation and openness.
Influence in the Roman Catholic world is still relatively small, but growing numbers of Catholic scholars and leaders are listening, reading, and engaging, from lay people to (yes) the Vatican. Catholic influence on the emergence community continues to be strong, especially through the spiritual practices of the monastic and contemplative traditions.
Much of the Mainline Protestant world has opened its arms wide to the emergent conversation, from bishops to parachurch organizations to denominational leaders to local pastors to grass-roots activists. A few years down the road, I think Mainline engagement will become even more overt and significant, but already most Mainline Protestant denominations are experimenting with creative new approaches to church planting and worship/liturgy renewal. Key next steps may include the creation of a national, trans-denominational campus ministry, collaborative and transdenominational church planting and “branding,” new approaches to theological and ministry education, and the development of a new genre of progressive Christian worship music.
The Evangelical community has, by and large, decided to double down against LGBT inclusion and equality, and because many emergence leaders see equality as a natural and unavoidable expression of the gospel, their voices have been marginalized by prominent gatekeepers. But beneath the surface, influence continues to expand, especially among young Evangelicals and those uncomfortable with the marriage between American Evangelicalism and the Religious Right. Along with LGBT equality, surprising numbers of Evangelicals are quietly but consistently moving towards greater concern for the full equality for women, the environment, racial and interfaith reconciliation, the elimination of torture, peacemaking, poverty reduction, and related issues. And theologically, they are eager to engage with questions that have been suppressed – including rethinking penal substitutionary atonement theory, biblical inerrancy and interpretation, and the violence of God. For practical reasons, it will often be best, in the short run at least, for these conversations to happen without association with the term “emergence.”
I am pleased to see how the center of gravity for emergence continues to be among reflective practitioners … not among theorists divorced from the local church, and not among pragmatists uninterested in theology, but among people who see theology and praxis as inextricably connected. With that center, there is room for a wide range of people – from those exploring the outer reaches of process theology and radical theology, to those concentrating on urban farming and community/parish missionality.
As the first wave of emergence leaders move through their forties and fifties, it’s exciting to see a new wave of 20-something and 30-something emergence leaders arise. They are coming of age when emergence thinking is not some radical fringe phenomenon, but rather an option and resource that is a natural part of the Christian landscape. They are fiercely committed to expanding the racial and gender diversity of the conversation, to emphasizing the skills of community organizing and movement building, and to making room for Catholics, Mainline Protestants, Evangelicals, and others to work together for the common good.
My hope is that in the US and globally, the emergence conversation will continue in its current path – a both/and approach of collaborating with existing institutions while at the same time creating new spaces and structures when necessary to nurture and support what is trying to be born in and among us.
I am pleased to see that a set of shared, long-term commitments is coalescing – along the lines of those expressed in the Mesa Document.

❖ We believe in Jesus and the good news of the reign, commonwealth, or ecosystem of God, and we seek for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven by focusing on love – love for God and neighbor, for outsider and enemy.
❖ We seek to know, serve, and join the poor in the struggle for justice and freedom … through advocacy, relationships, and action.
❖ We seek to honor, interpret, and apply the Bible in fresh and healing ways, aware of the damaging ways the Bible has been used in the past.
❖ We seek to reconnect with the earth, understand the harm human beings are doing to it, and discover more responsible, regenerative ways of life in it.
❖ We seek the common good, locally and globally, through churches of many diverse forms, contexts, and traditions, and we imagine fresh ways for churches to form Christlike people and join God in the healing of the world.
❖ We build inclusive partnerships across gaps between the powerful and vulnerable – including disparities based on wealth, gender, race and ethnic identity, education, religion, sexuality, age, politics, and physical ability.
❖ We engage conflict at all levels of human society with the creative and nonviolent wisdom of peacemaking.
❖ We propose new ways of encountering the other in today’s pluralistic world and we collaborate with other religious and secular groups in alliances for the common good.
❖ We host safe space for constructive theological conversation, seeking to root our practice in theological reflection and seeking to express our reflection in practical action.
❖ We value the arts for their unique role in nurturing, challenging, and transforming our humanity.
❖ We emphasize spiritual and relational practices to strengthen our inner life with God and our relationships with one another.

Again, this overview is from my perspective, which is limited but based on a lot of travel, correspondence, and relationships. I’ll be interested to see where others would add, subtract, or differ.