Reflection

Emerging As a Value

As I consider the word emerging, I am much more comfortable with it as a value than I am with it as a movement. Now I know how these things get named. Truth is that unlike the Reformation the name “emerging” didn’t come about in quite the same organic manner. Someone somewhere came up with it as a branding exercise. But I happen to think that they got this one very right.

I found the following four definitions for the word emerging at Dictionary.com:

  1. To rise from or as if from immersion.
  2. To come forth from obscurity.
  3. To become evident.
  4. To come into existence.

We will come back to those definitions in a minute. It seems to me that one of the things at stake in the emerging church discussion is the standard by which we will define ourselves. For many, they cannot fathom a standard which is not discoverable through a foundational analysis of scripture. In other words, Peter preached, so we preach. But, even if we assume we are to follow this principle solely, conforming to it may be impossible. Consider these words of NT Wright from The Challenge of Jesus:

“…we believe the Bible, so we had better discover all the things in it to which our traditions, including our ‘protestant’ or ‘evangelical’ traditions, which have supposed themselves to be ‘biblical’ but are demonstrably not, have made us blind.”

Many have gone so far as to say that the emerging church is wholly different than the Great Reformation in that the emerging church is merely a response to a cultural problematic while the Reformation was exclusively a response to a departure from scripture. To me this is a view that is naïve both in terms of history and the working of God. Consider, as author and lecturer Tony Jones has pointed out, Luther’s commentaries written in German. Did the nobility not speak Latin, as was the common language for ecclesiastical texts of the day? Clearly they did. Luther understood that in order to effect change in the organized body of God’s people, he needed to do something new among more than just the leaders.

Look to the prophetic work of Christ. Did he come to the leaders? (Hopefully you read that as a rhetorical question).

Now, let’s return to the definitions of our word “emerging”. All four have one thing in common – they all speak of something new. And isn’t that what God always does – bring about new things in each new era? Unfortunately, for too many, emerging is no more than its expression within a particular ecclesiastical setting. Rather than believing that God does new things, rather than believing that God can break into our present in prophetic ways, many hold fast to the forms by which they define themselves as God’s people and see the emerging church as a form which they choose not to accept.

Let’s return to preaching to examine this thought. Many pastors define themselves by their ability to stand up and speak brilliant words for 20-45 minutes each week. What if the prophetic voice of God is saying that it is time for a new form? What if there is a truly theological movement away from pastor as “big dog” and toward the empowering of each believer to be a part of the learning community? This will require that each pastor/priest/bishop, etc redefine who they are as God’s servants. This is about more than candles and incense.

I stress this because it seems to me that emerging is something that can and should happen apart from any organized movement. In this way, the emerging work of God will occur everywhere it can – in new church plants, in traditional denominational settings, and everywhere in between. To me this is what’s at stake. And to me, that is the reason we need to embody emerging as a value rather than embrace it as a movement. To quote one friend, “Movements end. Values endure.”

Will Samson divides his time as the Managing Consultant for a technology firm in Washington, DC and the teaching pastor for a church plant in the Baltimore, MD area. He is married to novelist Lisa Samson with whom he has three children (Tyler, Jake and Gwynnie) and three cats (Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Billie Holiday). Oh yeah, and he likes Jazz.