Emerging Church Streams On

What is the future of the Emerging Church? Has it broken up into various streams and done its dash? — Nah! I say those streams are a mark of maturity, and “Emerging Church” does have something special that makes it a valuable asset to the worldwide church into the future!

Mark Sayers’ analysis of emerging church streams, is pretty good. Read the blogpost here. http://marksayers.wordpress.com/2009/03/25/the-emerging-missional-church-fractures-into-mini-movements/

Neo-Anabaptists: Some have called this movement the new monastics… This movement tends to be pacifist, favours incarnational living amongst the urban poor, and has a strong distrust of power, sees contemporary Western Culture and Society as being controlled by “Empire” and thus favours an approach of prophetic action by small grassroots Christian communities. I would also place in this group the growing Christian-Anarchist movement in Australia and New Zealand. This group tends also to be strongly influenced by the Catholic Worker Movement started by Dorothy Day. A key leader in this movement would be Shane Claibourne. Key books The Irresistible Revolution. The New Conspirators by Tom Sine.

Neo- Calvinists: This group puts an emerging spin on classic Calvinism. This group views reformed theology as way out of the morally relevatist mess created by postmodernity. Whereas traditional Reformed theology viewed gifts of the spirit with suspicion, the new calvinism tends to have a charismatic edge… a high emphasis on mission, and thus have begun a number of church planting efforts. Key Leaders in this movement, Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller.

Neo-Missiologists: … However whereas church growth was influenced by the mechanistic leadership, marketing and organising techniques of the corporate world, the new missiologists borrow instead from the organic models found in nature. Building on the work of Christian Schwarz this group favours small simple highly reproducible forms of church. This group is also highly influenced by the missiology of Leslie Newbiggin and Paul Hiebert and favours an incarnational mode of church, that is not ‘attractional’ but rather missional. This group also borrows some of its eccleisiology from House Church theorists and practitioners such as Robert Banks and Wolfgang Simson. Thus many label this movement ‘missional’. Key leaders Neil Cole and Wolfgang Simpson and Frank Viola. Key books the Forgotten Ways, Pagan Christianity and The Organic Church.

Neo-Clapham’s: … influenced by the ideas of William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect. Whilst this movement is technically not concerend with ‘church’, one cannot underestimate its effect upon the contemporary church, and the lives of christian young adults… Whereas the Neo-Anabaptists tend to favour an approach which is local, grassroots and suspicious of larger institutions, the Neo-Clapham’s take an approach that is global, large scale and campaign driven. In contrast to the Neo-Anabaptist’s, this group are less suspicious of power and thus work closely or within corporations, governments, the Entertainment industry, NGO’s and denominations. Much of the energy of the Neo-Clapham’s can be found in various movements such as Make Poverty History, Fair Trade, Human Trafficking, Blood Chocolate, and so on. Key Leaders Jim Wallis, Tim Costello, Bono, Steve Chalke, David Batstone.

Digital Pentecostals: This movement is a recent development within Pentecostalism in the West, specifically developing out of Australia. While Pentecostalism classically was defined by outward expressions of response to the Holy Spirit, the digital pentecostals create experiential spaces through cutting edge media and technologies in which participants can respond to the Holy Spirit. This group attempt to reach out to postmodern culture by creating large church worship experiences which are highly experiential and tech savvy thus being attractive to postmodern tech savvy, experiential Gen Y’s. Many Digital Pentecostals has eschewed the ‘prosperity theology’ of their parents and instead are highly influenced by or part of the Neo-Clapham movement. In many ways this the second generation of Gen Y kids who have come of age being influenced by Hillsong. Key Leaders Joel Houston, Judah Smith. This group would not have ever seen itself as part of the emerging missional journey at any stage, but never the less is an interesting response to post-Christian culture.

Neo-Liberals:   Many who began in the Emerging Church have taken the journey further and embraced a kind of 2oth century liberalism with an emerging spin. In an attempt to reject what was seen as the cultural captivity of evangelicalism, many have questioned a number of key components of evangelical life and theology and found themselves swimming in for want of a better term ’soft liberalism’. Whereas traditional liberalism was born out of an attempt to create a theology that fit with modern sensibilities, the Ne-liberals find themselves creating a new theology in response to the post-modern context.Interestingly this group seems to be finding more and more in common with mainline liberal Churches in the United States than they do with Evangelicals. Critics would place some of the voices within the ‘Emergent” camp here.

Blenders: This group would have placed themselves in the emerging church camp five years ago, but in response to the move away from evangelical theology by many of their former travellers (the Neo-Liberals)  they have re-affirmed their commitment to evangelical theology. This group also seems to be questioning some of the assumptions of the Neo-Missiologists and are attempting to blend a missional approach, whilst still affirming some elements of the attractional mode of church, hence the term blenders.Key leaders Erwin McManus, Dan Kimball.

I concur with the streams he mentions, I observed similar streams in 2004 for Lausanne in Pataya. Decades ago, Richard Foster observed different streams in the mainstream church, and streaming has been occurring since the days of Paul, Peter, & Apollos.

What contributions have the emerging versions of streams made?

  • They have freshened up the mainstream church, like a garden fork, turning over the hardened ground of underlying assumptions. Refreshed theology (especially Christology, missiology, and ecclesiology) by peeling back to essentials and clarifying the cultural aspects to keep or leave.
  • They simplified the work of church. Emerging from the grassroots cause re-evaluation of how much money is really needed to ‘do church,’ how much time is spent on programs, a swing back to intentional  relationships, more wholistic discipleship, especially moving from making consumers to contributers,
  • They empowered new church plants by people who would not have done so before. And in the hardened, post-Christendom West, no less!
  • A lot of efforts and experiments in how to do faith in all of life beyond the church, and local community engagement &  development. It was less talk and more action out in the real world.

What of the future of these start-ups?
After all, despite their prophetic effect on the mainstream church, many of these groups have faded away as quickly as they bloomed. Is that it? Was the emerging church just a prophetic voice for a time, influencing the mainstream, and then returning to it? (If so that’s pretty impressive in itself. It’s what Martin Luther wanted to do with his Wittenburg Door theses, not trigger a major rift.) But let’s not write off the Emerging Church just yet.

Let’s not forget that such spontaneous, low-structure groups have always been around. Jesus started that way, the early church, the persecuted church, started that way. When Constantine tied the state and church together, the Desert Fathers withdrew to the low-structure way demanding more than mere declaration. Through-out the history of the church, such groups have existed. The Copts, Celts, the Dissenters, through to modern missions. There have always been these churchforms outside the mainstream institutions. The Emerging Church was the latest western expression of this, and was phenomenal because it emerged so spontaneously and widely, across the Western world.

Some predicted the start-ups would go the way of the mainstream, get buildings and become institutions. But by-and-large they haven’t. They continue in spontaneous comings and goings, or flare-ups & downs, like flames of a fire. Some might say they are less worthwhile because of this flickering.

  • “They have less longevity, so can’t be taken seriously.” But I say they have more sensitivity and adaptability to their environment, and don’t linger on after they are dead, but die to self to rise again in another more relevant form.
  • “They are less easy to attend, they don’t allow people to be spectators.” I say that’s a good thing (as long as they allow room for healing). They tend to create more contributers than consumers.
  • “They are flakey, unreliable.” I say they are hard to kill, as they rely on nothing but the internal resources from God (Spirit, Word, deed), rather than external elements you can remove (buildings, funds, staff.) In persecuted parts of the world, such are the only forms that flourish.
  • “They are a flash in the pan.” I say the mainstream church has much to gain from receptive, relational connections with those of us in emerging churches, by learning from what we are good at.

The monika, “Emerging churches” has a new resonance for me these days. It no longer means merely about the emergence of a new phenomena, but names a phenomena of churches emerging when needed, and submerging when not, looking for the next time and place to emerge again.

In this way, the Emerging Church is streaming onward.