Emergence Christianity: Is Emergent a Conversation or a Movement?

Emergence-ChristianityA panorama shot of Emergence Christianity ’13: Memphis

For as long as I’ve been involved with Emergent, we’ve always struggled to identify what exactly “Emergent” is. 10 years ago, when I was at the very first Emergent Convention in San Diego, it was a discussion that seemed to be never ending. Eventually, people involved got tired of having the same conversation over and over, but whenever we held “onramp” discussions or others joined the conversation, the first thing people wanted to know was “what is Emergent?”

Whenever pressed for an answer, the common response for years has been that we are a conversation; a conversation among friends. Emergent has always been very interested in generative friendships (talked about here), and really, that’s how the whole thing got started. It was a group of friends who found themselves in similar situations in their lives, asking similar questions and looking for new answers.

10 years later…it’s still a question that gets asked, but now there are even more names for what’s happening:

  • What’s Emergent Village?
  • What’s the emerging church?
  • Is the emerging church different than the emergent church?
  • What’s this emergence Christianity that Phyllis Tickle talks about?
  • Can Presbyterians be emerging?
  • Is Presbymergent part of emergent, emerging or emergence Christianity?

And now there are others who are asking whether it’s time for…whatever it is we call this new thing…to stop being just a conversation, and step up into being a movement, which many people are already claiming it is. I heard many folks this past week, including Phyllis Tickle, say that this emergence Christianity is in fact a movement.

From my own experience, I’ve been thinking of Emergent/Emerging/Emergence a little differently. I would suggest that Emergent is a host who provides space for conversations and friendships. Perhaps that’s not radical enough, but it’s been very important in my own faith and ministry formation. The friends I’ve met through Emergent have challenged me, supported me, pushed my thinking, helped me be more creative and even tried to ordain me online.

So many of us involved in the emerging church do come from different backgrounds and are doing ministry in a variety of different denominational/non-denominational/other groups. So for me, it’s been important for Emergent to be the place that people come to have the conversations about the future of the church. We establish the relationships, friendship and connections that foster creativity within us, so that we can go back to our contexts and be the future of the church.

I’m not against emergence Christianity becoming a movement, or admitting that it already has a history of movement within the greater church. But I do hope the emerging church continues to be a host of these conversations, knowing that more and more people are continually drawn to the emergent church (both for its ecclesiology and theology), and continue to be interested in finding ways to adapt it to their local contexts.


  1. donald says

    Adam, I’ve followed your post, off and on, since your seminary days. I am a progressive Christian formed by a reformed/calvinistic seminary education. I didn’t know I was progressive until I started following your posts.
    I continue to find Emergence e’tal, to be a conversation. Within some tight-knit circles, the word, movement, might be a clarion call; but in reality, it is still a conversation. A very much needed, ongoing conversation; but a conversation none-the-less.
    The word I’m looking for is traction. It seems we’re still trying to find “traction” to take us from emergent conversation to emergent movement. Most of my emergent evangelizing is met with a yawn.
    In the meantime, it seems, at least to me, that “convergence” is absorbing “emergence.” Perhaps that is as it should be.
    Still, I’m looking for traction that is evidenced by more than the exceptions that prove the rule.
    I’ll continue to do what I sense is my part, but my expectations far exceed the reality.

  2. says

    Adam, it certainly feels like a conversation. But I was moved by Phyllis’ comparison to the birth of Protestantism. The different expressions of emergence seem like the generative moments in early Protestantism in which Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc. were proclaiming something new–something that would be codified by the nation states into denominationalism decades later. That really struck a chord with me. And as an Episcopalian, her reference in other places to the question “what if Anglicanism had allowed space for Methodism?” seems like an apt one for us. Will the institutional church leave space for this movement, as it forms even more broadly? History makes those moments seem much more organized than I’m sure they were.

  3. says

    Recently, much that exists as ’emergent’ seems to have become more of a curiosity rather than a conversation or a movement. The ‘new’ movement is what folks are calling the ‘nones’. Their rapid numerical growth and influence seems to have sidelined ’emergent’. Why? I think because ’emergent’ tried to hard to remain within religious tradition while the culture of our young people has been overwhelmingly moving in an opposite direction. In other words, what is truly ’emerging’ in our culture is not what has been called the ’emergent church’, but a new humanism that is beyond religion as we’ve ever known it to be. If we keep looking ‘back’ to the ancient practices while the ‘nones’ are looking at the here and now in order to move forward, the ‘past’ will absorb and neuter the ’emergent/emerging church’. Rather than trying to find its place by capturing the old, the emerging church needs to think outside the box of the past.

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