Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I recently received a couple of interesting notes pertaining to a post I made over at regarding Emerging Church (EC).  They are from two youth ministers that I hold in high regard.  I'm grateful for their candor. 

The way "EC" explains Christianity is nothing like Lutheranism. I like to think that we would actually have a few truths (like the trinity) that are irrefutable..we can dialogue about other issues, but the EC seems to be more of a believe what ou want, hence "post" in front of everything, including christianity. Just thought i would pass that along. They want to bring people together by not actually believing in anything, I like to think that we stand for something.

I’ve been reading about the Emergent church for years now. I’ve read Tony Jones, Dan Kimball, Brian McLaren, et al along with numerous articles and posts. I’ve also looked at critiques of the Emergent church. Despite all of this I find myself to be very ambivalent about it. There are alot of things I’ve read that I say a hearty “Amen!”. I find much congruence with aspects of the Emergent conversation that matches our own Lutheran take on the gospel. But there is something that makes me uneasy and I don’t quite know what it is. Is it just my “Lutheraness” showing through or are there some fundamental issues at play here? Would love your thoughts.

These friends of mine speak to the fears and reservations held by a a significant portion of Lutherans (and other Christians?) about this new-fangled religious expression. 

Is this just the latest fad? Is the EC just a support group for cantankerous middle-aged white men who don't like to play by the rules? What is the Emerging Church? Is it different from Emergent Church? What are the principles of an Emerging Church? Is it a "program"? Is it a denomination? Is it just a group of people who can't handle the notion of absolute truth that are trying to poison young, influential post-moderns into a gnostic form of Christianity?

I think these are all legit questions - ones that should be discussed and embraced by people on all sides of the conversation.  Though I will not answer the aforementioned questions per se, I will offer some reflections on where I'm at with the EC conversation, a mere 4 months removed from my first major introduction...

* * * * * * 

My love affair with the Emerging Church has been like the genesis of a teenage dating relationship. When you're first introduced to the person, you tend to become infatuated. You want to spend every waking moment with your newfound love. You can't imagine life without the other person, because they're all you think about...all you talk to your friends about. Your thoughts surge light-years ahead to considering marriage, children, etc. You develop an unrealistic perspective of how that person can change the rest of your life.  

Perhaps you've been there before.  I know I have...

Once you get to this point, the relationship can go one of two either take step back and enter into reality of who that person is, or you just break-up.

On my way back from the Reclaiming Paul conference last October, I was ready to leave my denominational mother-ship, start my own church, and create a Mount Rushmore-esque homage to Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, and Phyllis Tickle. I was done with heirarchical structures, congregational constitutions, and synod guidelines.  I had found my "new church" - the Emerging Church (even though I didn't, and still don't, exactly know what that means.)  I was so enamored with the EC conversation that I quickly decided that it wasn't just the greatest thing in the history of the was the one thing that would make-or-break the future of denominational structures for all time.

Which was probably a bit silly.

So where does that leave me today?

I remain in love with and committed to the Church, most especially the portion of the Church that calls itself "emerging"...for two major reasons.

1. Eccuminism
I took a relatively lame Human Relations course in college, which was required for all education majors.  The one thing that made an impression on me, however, was this quote -- "our similarities bring us together, and our differences keep us together."  I think there's some truth to this; especially pertaining to the Church.  I am an eccumenically-minded person.  I believe Christians are called to be "one in Christ", but we spend more of our time dwelling on the handful of differences instead of rejoicing in the multitude of similarities.  Furthermore, when we engage people we disagree with in conversation, all parties grow in faith and knowledge.  The Emerging Church is by no means the first or only recent attempt at eccuminism...but I have appreciated the ways in which it has brought all kinds of Christians together for civil and respectful conversations about theology.

2. Merger of Past & Present
Asking someone to describe "emerging worship" is like naming all 23 flavors in Dr. Pepper by taking one sip.  The worship style is so contextual that it's difficult to discern larger trends.  It's liturgical, it's contemporary.  It's modern, it's ancient.  It's lay-led, it's clergy-inspired (and vice versa).  It's sacred, it's messy.  The worship services I've participated in have infused a sense of purpose and intentionality in every aspect of the service.  A kyrie and gloria may be taken from an old-school mass...followed by a litany written the night before by one of the church members.  The prayers of the people might sound more like a community support group than a series of eloquently prepared petitions...or it might not.  Songs might be sung a cappella or with a full rock band.  All is to say, the Emerging Church, particularly in worship, seeks to embrace the traditions / rituals / practices that unite us with Christians who have come before us...but are more than happy to bring in new expressions that have particular relevance to 21st century disciples.

* * * * * * * * 

I'm not sure where that leaves me at this point.  I guess I remain, for lack of a better phrase, cautiously optimistic about the renewal that the EC conversation will bring to the larger Church.  I think many of our church bodies could do Emerging Church kinds of things without having to slap a fancy new label on it...but, it seems, human nature occasionally requires new naming conventions to be applied to familiar ideals.  For example, there isn't anything that House For All: Sinners and Saints in Denver, CO is doing that Windsor Heights Lutheran Church in Des Moines, IA couldn't do.  Mainline, traditional, established churches aren't all that different from these wild new Emergent Churches.  I think we're all well-served to remember that the church has both permission and the obligation to always reform itself...and to not discount the work of the Holy Spirit in the meantime.


  1. Erik,
    This is a very thoughtful reflection on EC and its interrelatedness with what the majority of us are "comfortable" with. You hit it on the head when you said that the EC is, if nothing else, contextual. It's a lesson we all can learn for ministry. EC is NOT a "packaged next great thing" that we should all adopt, far from it. What we should adopt is the uber attentive nature to context, context, context. The biggest problem that faces the Lutherans of today (and most other mainline denominations) is a desire for sameness, but beyond that, an ignorance regarding the surrounding context for ministry. Even churches that have undergone extensive research and evaluation in a context, such as a mission start or hopefully an established congregation, miss the mark if they aren't in a continual process of renewal and investigation as to the intersection of God's Kingdom crashing in and the streets that run in front of the church buildings where they are planted. Churches, even EC's, need to perpetually wonder with God what it means to say "God's work, our hands" (credit to a great tag line by the ELCA).

    After spending a month in Seattle observing EC communities of all flavors, I'd say that the one thing that is certain for me is that I cannot get on board with all of them. For anyone to make an assertion based upon one experience or even upon reading a few books, may be to judge too broadly. Some of the churches I visited really dragged me into deeper conversation and reflection, while others were so far from my understanding of "church" that I could only shake my head and give credit to context for making them what they were.

    Now that I've co-opted your blog space instead of using my own, let me just add one more book for folks to read, it's brief but excellent (apologies if you've already recommended this book) - Emerging Ministry: Being Church Today by Nathan C.P. Frambach. It's a small paperback in the Lutheran Voices series.

    Thanks for the blogspace, Erik. Peace to you... Paul :o)

  2. Enjoyed the post Eric.
    The word ecumenism feels a little awkward to me but I appreciate your use of it and I suppose it works. I don’t know what it should be called but I enjoy the conversations with others from various denominations, backgrounds, worldviews, religions, the lack of one, etc. There's a lot there but I'll refrain. Well said on the worship element too. (What’s emerging worship? I usually answer yes and walk away.)

    The part I connected with is the infatuation, leave where you are and start something “emerging” some place else. I prefer how McLaren illustrates when he draws a circle, divides it into various denominations, then draws a thin second ring around the circle and describes that thin ring as emerging. Like so many, I do not want to see another denomination arise. We have had enough for quite some time now. And like so many, I’m drawn to the idea of combining the past and present, (and future). Too many underestimate some of the values of the postmodern age by only equating it with relativism.

    Looks like I’m starting to compete with Paul’s word count here. ;-) Let me finish by saying this. Among my biggest frustrations with where we are as a church is that we are holding to things that we don’t need to. It’s like we’re insisting on passing down our faith as if it were a ’67 Nova that we got from our dads and must pass it to our children. It’s a great car but there are other ones more suitable for today’s new driver. I think the emerging church discussion helps us in appreciating the Nova and the Prius.

  3. Thanks for the great feedback, gentlemen!

    Paul - I agree with you about Frambach's's excellent. A must-read for Protestants with questions / fears about the Emerging Church. Congrats on your Regional placement. Now the real fun begins!

    Tim - I appreciate your apprehension about the term "eccuminism", and it's a word that I don't use lightly. I believe the church is simultaneously moving closer to and away from true oneness in Christ. My experience at the Reclaiming Paul event was my first taste of how the Emerging Church conversation can strike a chord in such a wide array of denominations.


Thank you for taking the time to be a part of "koinonia"