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Apr 11, 2006


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Rodger Sellers

I think you're on to something here. Gotta think on it more. (Besides I'm still thinking about weddings and stuff! You're way faster than I am here!)



Well writen piece. As a Catholic ,I see the EE movement as changing the course of Protestantism towards an eventual reunification with Mother Church.

Michael Kruse

Is it that I an "on to something" or just "on something"? *grin* You certainly are uniquely qualified to address these issues.

As to writing posts, some of us (like you) do the work of the church while others of us write about it. *grin*

Michael Kruse

Thanks Timothy! Actually, we all will be united one day. It is just unclear wether it is this side of Jesus return or not. *grin*

Kirk Moore

What do you think of the mostly mainline terminology of "Practicing Congregations" as the mainline version of "Emerging Congregations" or "Emergent" Do you think "Practicing Congregation" is another description of "ME"?

Michael Kruse

Hi Kirk. I only recent learned of "Practicing Congregations." Your comment prompted me to go check out their website which I have now added a link to under my "Emergent Links" section.

Yes, I do think PC is one stream of the church that is emerging but I can't say how much PC people and Emergent people are in conversation with each other. Rodger or anyone else out there have any take on this?

Are you connected with PC Kirk? Love to hear more of your thoughts.

will spotts

Mike, this is an excellent synopsis. (Meaning, of course, that you put into words something I've been observing and having trouble "grasping".)

I generally regard the goals / ideals of emergents as positive, but I have struggled with the (to my perception) strong leftward bent in the realm of politics. Considering Christianity mostly apolitical, I'm very uncomfortable with the politics of the religious right and the religious left. Being a Presbyterian, the religious left is a more pronounced problem . . . but you account for that very well in the Emergent Evangelical camp -- they're reacting as much to an abuse as those of us coming from the mainline perspective are. We've been beat over the head with so-called "social justice" issues (many (not all) of which strike members as both immoral and counter-biblical); they've been swamped with "religious right" issues (many (not all) of which are equally biblically unsustainable).

Michael Kruse

Thanks Will. It is good to hear that others are connecting with what I have described here. Still not sure what to do about it but it helps me to at least be able to name the problem.

BTW, glad to see you are back on the web. We missed you.


A very good synopsis, I'd say. But I think there are some concepts missing from this discussion as well:

I come from an ME background: PCUSA elder in a mega-church (4,000+ members). We are in the midst of the worst of the "left" and the "right": we are trapped in a denomination run by very "left" leadership, and our people/practices seem to reflect the worst of the "right".

My own participation in the Emerging conversation comes from strong desire to get out of the "culture wars" altogether. I’m very tired of having every idea being judged only on how it will allow us to beat the tar out of the other side. Enough, already! Stop the bickering!

What if we just spent some time thinking about Jesus, talking about Jesus, and (especially!) listening to Jesus? From what I can tell, He would make everyone who delights in the culture wars very upset. From his words, it's not clear that he would endorse invading Iraq or teaching intelligent design. But it's also not clear that he would embrace "re-imagining God" or support indian-hispanic-african-latin-american "rights".

So some of us want to talk about Jesus, and think about an ecclesiology that allows us to follow Him. Without the baggage from the culture wars, whichever side we used to be on.

BTW: the minimalist approach to the emerging conversation allow us to view it as a discussion of policy positions. Some of us are being transformed by it, and we are thinking about the concepts of pastors, and institutionalized churches, and 10,000-person sanctuaries, and our neighbor. What if all of this, from the left or the right, is not what Jesus intended?

That's the emerging conversation I want to be part of: What was Jesus interested in?

Rodger Sellers

I think David and I are probably both coming from and headed in the same direction here. (Something I’ll get to at the end.)

Some thoughts:

“An evangelical and ex-evangelical phenomenon… begun to spread beyond evangelical circles.” Mike’s on target here: Looking backwards in time, there has seemed to be a sense of “insider / outsider” within the “conversation.” Even as late as 2004, I spent time in conversations and at conventions where there still were those lingering comments about ME’s as “them” bandied about. (It still happens in some areas, and the emergence of Emergent (no pun intended) as a more clearly defined "group" could potentially exacerbate that.) Yet in the larger EC I don’t hear that anywhere as often now, mainly due to the fact that there are many of us who own this as “our conversation also.” (Go figure: When Doug Pagitt stops making “Presbyterian” jokes in seminars you know there’s a growing acceptance of ME participation! Perhaps due to the fact that so many emergent churches are now worshiping in former PCUSA space?)

“Fully 2/3’s raised their hands.” Sure: we might be late coming into the conversation but we’re discovering our own church / culture / etc. to be broken also. I don’t know if some EE’s sense the growing ME presence in the conversation to be a type of co-opting or not but think it’s potentially a healthy thing. (McLaren sure seems to accept this and see it as potentially positive.)

The challenges ME’s bring to the emergent conversation are also positives, IMO. We’re coming to this from a different starting point than EE’s are but I’m more interested in the intersection / overlapping, and the potential for where do we all go from here? (This very much relates to what DSR is talking about above.) Is there a sense of a re-awakening of ecumenical thought / community from folks coming from past cultures that treated one another as anathema? Or perhaps this relates to the culture wars we’ve been fighting for so long over labels that perhaps weren’t as worth fighting over as we thought? The differing contextual starting points behind many of us now immersed in this growing conversation aren’t really as important to me as what lies ahead. (Historically significant to all of us and fascinating / interesting historically but that all takes second place in my thinking.)

I’m hoping that the sense of convergence we’re beginning to see is both a challenge and a hope. EE’s are coming from a different theological starting place to an appreciation of many things we ME’s have long taken for granted. (When someone shares with me their excitement of “discovering” Walter Bruggemann, I almost laugh: We’ve “had him” for 30 years.) ME’s are coming to territory that EE’s have long felt comfortable in: We’re actually re-discovering how to talk passionately about Jesus without having to sound like something off of bad cable TV.

In a sense, we need each other. The convergence / looking ahead has all the possibility of a healthy gestalt that the artificial / modern “labels” kept us all from embracing. (E.G. “Is this Liberal? Is that too Fundamentalist? Are they Right Wing? What about those Left Wingers?” I wonder if some of what Will’s talking about fits here?) Perhaps all the easy and stark distinctions are yet more marks of a different divide: Modern / Postmodern? (That’s WAY to simplistic but it points me to a reframing of contexts that many of us are working through regardless of our starting points.)

Mike’s right: We’re all realizing that it’s broken. “It” just may be broken in different ways and for different reasons due to where we’re coming from. (Again I hit this theme: Let’s move FORWARD – make a few mistakes here and there – I don’t really care if we get some of “it” wrong at first and have to backtrack / correct / seek forgiveness, etc. – and am not sure God does as much as we (some) might think, and see what grows around us.)

Sure, there are some things that EE’s are bringing to the table that are old hat to us and vice versa, but let’s not forget that for many of us there’s still a whole lot of deconstruction going on. How to have this be a healthy process where we lead from strengths and follow others in our weaknesses is a key – and perhaps one of the hardest things involved! I’m a bit skittish when it comes to trying to “outline” too many of these things in nice, neat packages – like using the term “orthodox” and “ME” side by side. I think the tendency to let “reframing” slide into re-defining, thus re-compartmentalizing is awfully easy. (Then again, I’m perfectly willing to live in larger amounts of ambiguity than some.)

As to the Practicing Congregations stuff – it’s brand new to me and I’ve just briefly scanned the website. Seems some of the same language is being used as in the EC – some of the Ancient / Future type stuff Weber promotes, and a fair amount of deconstruction / reframing. I really like the idea of talking about “vitality” as opposed to “success” and think these are important factors that we need to continually beat ourselves over the head with. (We’re still so attached to “numbers” as the ONE indicator of success that I sometimes want to scream.) I do wonder as I read about this “project” heading towards publication of a book for “mainline protestants” – It seems to have a lot of “marker" language about “us” involved – makes me ask is it an “in house” version of the emergent conversation to run totally on a parallel track? Why is there no instance of seeking input from all the EC churches that are already doing what they are looking into? For goodness sake, agree with them theologically not, Vintage Faith, Jacob’s Well, Solomon’s Porch, Cedar Ridge, etc. already have years under their belt! Why assume there’s nothing to learn from “outside the box” of mainline Protestantism? This strikes me, at first reading, as more of the same: Modernity meant everyone having their own little sandbox as opposed to learning how to all play in a bigger, more diverse (dare I say it?), more vital one.

Which brings me back to coinciding with David and Timothy above. My hope is to see us all, from across the board spiritually, theologically, politically, etc. look at the present convergence and begin to ask how we can move forward together?

Michael Kruse

Excellent comments, Dave. Thanks.

"So some of us want to talk about Jesus, and think about an ecclesiology that allows us to follow Him. Without the baggage from the culture wars, whichever side we used to be on."

Sign me up!

"Some of us are being transformed by it, and we are thinking about the concepts of pastors, and institutionalized churches, and 10,000-person sanctuaries, and our neighbor. What if all of this, from the left or the right, is not what Jesus intended?"

Excellent question but don't ask to loudly. It might imply we would have to change!

"What was Jesus interested in"

Even better question!

Michael Kruse

Thanks for these great insights Roger! I especially like your exhortation to move forward. What I have been finding is number of "communication wrecks" in conversations and trying to figure out how better to aviod them. The only reason for looking book is to more effectively go forward.

As I noted in the post, I was oversimplifying and your post (as well as others) helps give more texture. Your observation about modern vs postmodern is helpful too. I had thoughts on this that I did not include for sake of brevity. Maybe I will say more in a later post.Also, I too have sensed a widening of the conversation that is including more mainline perspectives at least in what I am reading.

Thanks for a very thoughtful response!

Matt Overton

I guess I will be the mainliner to say that I think we need to ask why the interest in Emergent among mainliners. I am a student at a PCUSA seminary and I will say that probably 90% of the students that go to the Emergent cohorts from this seminary tend to be on the more conservative side of the spectrum. All of them also tend to be white.
My point is that I think that the many of the mainliners that are interested in Emergent are mainliners that went Evangelical during some point in their lives, but never find it fully satisfying and so they went back to the mainline. They, like all of us, are still looking for something that's missing from the church life and so Emergent appeals to them greatly.
Also, while Emergent may be doing some new things, theologically speaking alot of it seems like pretty old news to many mainliners. It may not be, but I have heard that stated by many mainliners. To us, beyond the worship forms there really doesn't seem to be very much that is progressive about the whole endeavor. So, its very easy for mainliners to slip right in to many of the broad strokes of Emergent's emerging theology(s).

Michael Kruse

"I am a student at a PCUSA seminary and I will say that probably 90% of the students that go to the Emergent cohorts from this seminary tend to be on the more conservative side of the spectrum."

Fascinating observation. I am probably a generation ahead of you. I have met many in their late thirties and older who are intrigued with emergent because they came out of more evangelical settings into mainline settings but have never quite fully embraced it. The don't feel fully at home in either world. Thanks for your perspective, Matt.

Matt Overton

I guess the point that I was trying to get across was that just because they are mainline, doesn't mean they aren't evangelicals. Once again, our categories and classifications fall short of the realities that we describe.

Michael Kruse

Gotcha Matt. There have always been evangeliecals in mainline denoms but then their are evangelicals who have come from denoms/congregations that are evangelical.

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