From the Editor: The Emerging Church: Critiques and Appreciations
If you’re not already aware that the Emerging Church is a varied, multi-faceted, even confusing phenomenon, you will be by the time you’ve read the essays in this issue. Just keeping the names straight can be a challenge. “Emerging” is apparently not identical to “Emergent”—the first is a broader term that refers to a worldwide ferment among Christian churches, while the second names a particular strand of that phenomenon, best known in North America. (Brian McLaren is its most popular writer and unofficial spokesman.) It’s possible to be “emerging” but not “emergent.” Indeed, some emergers are quite critical of emergents.
A related phenomenon is the missional church. As the name suggests, being missionally focused is essential to the identity of such communities of faith. A church can be emerging, emergent, and missional, or emerging and missional, but not just emergent and missional or just plain missional. If your church is missional in the way that two contributors to this issue define the term, you’re part of the Emerging Church.
New Monastics are considered part of the same Emerging “conversation.” They are Christians who live in community, usually in impoverished urban neighborhoods, practicing simplicity, contemplation, and friendship. As far as I can tell, New Monastics are also missionally focused. Its members are on speaking terms with missionals and emergers, sometimes complimenting each other in their books.
“Postconservative evangelicalism” (not directly addressed by any of our contributors) is yet another important thread in the Emerging fabric. It has connections to the Emergent variety of Emerging Church, but seems to have a less direct relation to missionals or to New Monastics.
This is just the North American picture. To include what’s happening around the globe under the Emerging umbrella would blur matters even further.
The essays in these pages seek to clarify some issues raised by the North American Emerging Church. In his probing essay, Paul Doerksen trains his sights on Brian McLaren’s understanding of what the church should be and finds it wanting in significant ways. Alan Stucky offers an appreciative reading of the Emerging Church, suggesting that it has enough features in common with early Anabaptism that emergers and contemporary Anabaptists have things to teach each other. Budding scholars Travis Barbour and Nicholas Toews examine some philosophical assumptions of the Emergent Church. They conclude that internal contradictions and misunderstandings of the very concept of “emergence” threaten the movement’s long-term viability. Tim Neufeld examines the missional church idea and proposes that Mennonite Brethren should have a natural affinity for missional church thinking. In the same spirit, Cory Seibel looks at the unique challenges facing an urban congregation that seeks to love its neighbors, stressing the importance of spiritual disciplines to the missional vitality of such churches. Len Hjalmarson reflects deeply on the Metro Community experience in Kelowna, B.C., where monastic practices and theology guide work and play in a poor urban neighborhood. And in our Ministry Compass column, Rick Bartlett gives us a very personal account of his experience with Emerging Christianity and explains why he believes Mennonite Brethren should be among the first to give it a fair hearing.
We hope these papers will, at the very least, encourage civil conversation between Emerging Church enthusiasts and those among us who are skeptical. The articles, however, will barely give readers a sense of the breadth and depth of the Emerging Church phenomenon. For those interested in reading further on the topic, our Recommended Reading section provides a bibliography of books and articles published in the last ten years or so by Emerging writers of various persuasions or by their critics.
Far from the Emerging Church theme is an autobiographical essay by the remarkable Arthur J. Wiebe, entrepreneur and president of Fresno Pacific College from 1960–1975. In Book Reviews, we review two “emerging” books, several historical works, a festschrift for René Girard, a youth ministry book, and—for the first time I believe—a graphic novel. Also in this issue is our annual Current Research bibliography.