Emerging vs. Emergent?

Brian McLaren interviewed by Chris Stoddard of RUN.

Brian, what’s your current thinking regarding ‘emerging church’?

You know, it’s funny – I try and stay out of all that discussion about ‘emerging’ versus ‘emergent’. There’s nothing that bores me more than people trying to get brand control and all that sort of thing.

I’ll tell you the best term I like – I like to talk about a conversation rather than another division or model or slice of church. To me what’s really exciting is the idea of a conversation that takes place amongst different kinds of people – when you get liberals and conservatives and evangelicals and charismatics, global north and global south, white people and people of colour… when you get those people talking together you get much more interesting outcomes that when it just people creating narrower and narrower slices so they only talk about how to perfect their own form of church – that to me is deadly boring. I bless people who want to do it, I just don’t want to be part of it.

A friend of mine has a great term –instead of ‘emerging church’ she talks about ‘the church that is emerging’. So for me, the exciting conversation takes place in parts of the Catholic Church that are emerging, in parts of the evangelical, in the institutional and the non-institutional… When we can all embrace and be interested in one-another’s success – that’s when it gets good.

Do you see the gulf widening or contracting between what is generally referred to as emerging church and established church?

I see a couple of things happening. Where I am it’s narrowing. This is very true of The States – the mainline protestant churches are opening their arms to say ‘Let’s talk about this’, and the Roman Catholic Church too – we have our first big event of Catholics gathering with some Protestants to talk about what’s emerging. I’ve been so amazed at these discussions – and this another whole other subject… but a lot of this has also been approached by Jewish Rabbis who talk about their part in this whole thing. We’ve had some amazing discussions.

Meanwhile there are other people who are trying to cut and divide. One of the reasons they’re doing this is because there’s always a critical extreme wing of the Church – they criticise anybody who is different. And so what happens is you’ve got the extremists on one side and then you’ve got others who are quite innovative on the other side, and then in the middle people are always forced to criticise the people to their left so they’ll seem legitimate to the people to their right.

I see a lot that going on and it’s too bad, but it’s nothing new. We’ll get over it.

So where do you see the Church being in 5 years time?

You know, I think the safest answer is more of the same – that means more of the same kind of good things that are happening, and more of the less sanguine things that are happening. But you know – it’s amazing, when I’m in the UK, what’s going on in the Church of England with the Fresh Expressions movement which is being picked up by the Church of Scotland, being picked up by the Church of Norway… this is qualitatively different mood. When the centre of the institution says ‘We’re in trouble and we need to create space for innovation’, that’s a really good sign to me.

So I’m very hopeful – I see a lot of very good signs.

So fast-forward a hundred years…! You and I will be long gone for starters…

Shall I tell you what I hope will be the case? I hope when people hear the word Christian they’ll think of something completely different than what they currently think. I hope they’ll think ‘This is the community that forms Christ-like people’. That’s not what people think of now.

One of things we’ll be thinking about with RUN in 2009 is releasing the missional imagination and what that means and what it takes. What are your initial thoughts on that?

It’s a great slogan and great goal. The book I wrote last year – Everything Must Change, you know we have all these global problems and crisis’ and we don’t have the solutions to them. We don’t have a source of energy that doesn’t add to our carbon footprint – we need imagination to deal with that. Right now we’re in this huge economic crisis – we don’t have the solutions to a lot of these problems in our economy. We need the imagination.

Imagination is, I think, a major part of what we mean when we talk about being created in the image of God. The image of God is imaginative – God is a creator. That to me is so beautiful because it means inspiring the imagination for new kinds of creativity, new forms of godliness – creativity is a kind of godliness.

Then the idea of the missional imagination – how can we use our imagination, not just to make more money or get bigger institutions, but how can we use our imaginations powered by the Spirit for God’s mission in the world to be furthered. That’s an exciting thought.

So here we are – it’s December, just before Christmas, 2009 on the horizon… What are your hopes and dreams for 2009?

Well first I hope I can catch up before the end of the year – I feel like I’m still in June or July it’s all happening so fast! Can I speak as an American? I feel that we’re at a great turning point in our country. We just had an election and what I’m hopeful for is that we can take a new direction in my country.

As well, I think we all feel as never before that we’re stuck in global crisis – economic crisis, environmental crisis, crisis of terrorism which is largely a crisis of Christians and Muslims and Jews – the three monotheistic religions that don’t understand each other and fear each other and increasingly hate each other. There are spiritual solutions at the root of all these problems – I would be so happy in 2009 if more and more of us saw that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is very relevant to these problems. A year from now if we saw these as part of our faith, then that would be a good thing.