December 27, 2003

Postponing the defining moment

Cleave asks some hard questions about what makes a church "emergent" over at PoMoMuSiNgS. The example forcing many in the emergent conversation to move toward defining the paradigm is Mars Hill Church in Seattle, which is (perhaps) the postmodern expression of the Christian tradition that birthed me: conservative baptistic. What struck me most about Cleave's post and the readers' comments (read both here) was not the answers that were offered but the various ways the question was formulated in the minds of those who are asking:

"...so is there no room for what MH is doing?"

"Can you be an emerging church and have such a limited view of (issue X)?"

"Jesus said we will know them by their fruit, what fruit is this church, brother or sister, line of thinking, etc. producing?"

"Is a new generation being reached with the gospel? That's the test..."


There seem to be two levels of thinking on the issue. For some, "emergent" is defined by issues of style--rockabilly worship, a prayer labryinth, bluejeans in the (nonexistent) pulpit, and Scripture readings from The Message. Others are seeking to define on a deeper level, seeking to draw theological or philosophical boundaries around the "emergent movement." But to me, even fundamental questions like, "Is 'emergent' about form or substance," or, "Is 'emergent' a theology or a method of engagement,'" miss the point entirely. Cleave would seem to agree, replying to those who commented on his orignal post, "Even the very question of this entry 'Is Mars Hill an emerging church?' is a very modern approach -- stemming from the desire to classify and box in certain churches."

The very nature of something that is emerging is that you can't see all of it, that it remains to be seen what it will actually be when it emerges--and that it therefore defies definition. When the Church-That-Is-Becoming becomes the Church-That-Is, we'll have a better idea of what it was back at the turn of the millennium. Until then, it strikes me as premature at best and downright foolish at worst to try and define it.

Edit: I wonder if this is a helpful question: "Is there a difference between 'postmodern expressions of Church' and 'emerging church?'"

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