Beyond the Emerging Church: The End and the Beginning of a Movement
The “Tipping Point”
Something real and reliable matters! For when the ship starts sinking, everyone reaches for the life preservers.
Leading thinkers agree we live in a time of explosive change, epic metamorphosis, perhaps the most precipitous moment in planetary history. During this century alone, we’ll see—at today’s rate—on the order of 20,000 years of change. And, the next viable human community will differ decidedly from what we’ve called “civilization.” [ 3]
Warnings like these can’t be brushed aside! The very future of faith depends on emerging church leaders “getting it.” And they have only a few years—25 is a conservative guess—to get it right.
If they fail, we all fail.
Alarmingly, we’ve already reached the “tipping point” between the failure and the success of the “emerging church movement.” We’ve already moved into lands where even our best maps no longer work. And, we’ve already faced inescapable history and risked unredeemable errors.
Trapped in “Glass Houses”
It wasn’t always that way.
The early emerging church movement responded to the signs of the times: the sober warnings of a post-Christendom reality. In the beginning, its diverse and innovative leaders were neither “rebels” nor “heretics.” They were, instead, a fragile and fluid, transparent and pristine “emergence” within the church. They envisioned a more “relevant” God, a more “real” God, a more “personal” God within the “official” God. They focused on alternative worship for younger generations—but with the goal of making these generations part of the church again. . . .
. . . they had hoped!
Tragically, many emerging leaders got burned by the pseudo-sacred realities of today’s church. They discovered a church either totally out of touch with the world or totally in touch with the world—a world the Lord of History had already left behind. They found longestablished leaders in positions of power holding stubbornly to where God had been at the expense of where God was going. And they found hidden hierarchies ignoring a future world in order to pacify a past sanity.
This proved too much frustration for those who were already frustrated. It required too much care for those who already cared. So, in the middle of the night, the movement crossed a forbidden boundary, and—perhaps unintentionally—became a source of controversy, a target of criticism.
With many critics, the “emerging church” implied trauma and chaos. The movement seemed far-out and foreign, counter-cultural and conspiratorial. And, by most doctrines, it sounded even “dangerous.” One well-known group, for example, has been called “off base at best and heretical at worst.”
Incredibly, though, many emerging church leaders have become their worst enemy. They have polarized differences with the church and proclaimed entirely unnecessary offences. Indeed, when traditional Christendom leaders finally hear what’s being said, they’ll call it “scandalous.”
The movement is also embarrassingly self-contradictory, doing the very things it despises, embracing the very things it rejects, and making the very mistakes it pins on others.
How can the nascent leaders of the future be so naive? Those leaders who yearn most for renewal actually obstruct it! They have unwittingly created labels that the world now uses to silence them.
They have trapped themselves in “glass houses.”
An Apology and a Wake-Up Call
It’s worrying when a movement this young becomes the target of criticism.
Will the “emerging church” really emerge? Or, will it become an infamous oxymoron—“submerging” rather than “emerging”? We wonder, after all, if it will become a mere blip on the radar of time?—a stylish fad for the disaffected few?—a rapture for nerds?—a grace for geeks? . . . And, we wonder if we’re just repeating past mistakes?
Is the movement “deja vu all over again”?
I’m a member of the emerging church. In fact, I was a member of renewal movements several years before the term “emerging church” was invented. In other words, I’ve had plenty of time to make plenty of mistakes. This book is an apology for those mistakes and a wakeup call for my friends in the emerging church movement.
Obviously, it’s too early to nail down final definitions for this movement, but I know what I know and I write what I see. The leaders of the movement may deny what I see, but what they do—or rather, what they say they do—hides an embarrassing whitewash of wishful thinking.
We still need an emerging church movement. We still need a prophetic vision for the church. So let us fervently believe this movement is yet to emerge. Let us humbly concede we’re capable of confessing our hidden biases. And, let us profoundly yearn for the miracles of His hope rather than the manipulations of our hope.
|Endnotes 1. Thomas Berry, Mitchell Stevens, Ray Kurzweil, Steven Johnson, Henry Kissinger, Alvin Toffler, and many others.|
2. Ray Kurzweil in PC Magazine, September 4, 2001, p. 151, 153.
3. Thomas Berry, quoted in Gene Marshall, Fresh Wineskins for the Christian Breakthrough: Fragments of Visionary Brooding on the Sociological Future of Christianity, (Realistic Living Press, Bonham, TX, 1999) p. 50.
4. The approximate watershed moment predicted by futurists of “Technological Singularity.” See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Technological_singularity
5. Peter Walker and Tyler Clark, “Missing the Point?” Relevant Magazine, Issue 21, July-August, 2006, pp 70-74.