OST is closed for business but its spirit survives on my blog.

emerging: listening, uniting, avoiding "-isms"

Andrew originally began a recent discussion with the comments…

we are beginning to see some sort of convergence between the emerging church and preterism. Virgil Vaduva, who is one of the editors at planetpreterist.com, has been contributing to discussions here, but he has also just published an interview with Brian McLaren which, in the spirit of a generous orthodoxy, tentatively explores the potential overlap between these two movements. I’d be especially interested to hear from people who think this is a move in the wrong direction - either for the emerging church or for preterism.

When Andrew originally asked this question, I was uncomfortable with the idea that emerging church and preterism might be considered to be converging, but couldn’t right away articulate why. Fascinated by the development of the thread and the “mud-slinging” tone it took on, I forgot about it. Today I remembered… since that thread has now been closed, for reasons unrelated to what I would like to say, I’ve begun with another post.

The simple observation that I want to make is that the emerging movement / conversation / church is defined principally in terms of people emerging out from something, primarily evangelicalism, but also, for many, the restricting limitations of the culture and traditions of charismatic and pentecostal church, and, for others, from Anglicanism, Catholicism, Orthodoxy, liberalism, conservatism et al. For that reason, uniting with any ‘ism’, any other movement, would be retrograde. That is not to say that people from every ‘ism’, from every kind of community, cannot join with the emerging movement / church / conversation. Quite the opposite is true.

I think the reason that Brian McLaren and his Generous Orthodoxy is a relatively (sic) defining idea for the emc (emerging movement, church or conversation, as you like) is because it invites us all into a shared, virtual theological space which is not defined by anyone, not even McLaren: it’s defined by whomever joins with, unites together in that space. Leaving aside the issue of limits, boundaries etc, for now, since there is not the same rush of Bhuddists, Hindus and Moslems as there are Christians into that space, the point is that this shared space offers the opportunity for community - for uniting around what we have in common.

And what is that? If we speak about Jesus that’s a good start… and we can perhaps gently find other elements with a degree of immediacy. But, in some ways, for a start the answer is “very little.” But that’s exactly what and why we are there exploring. Hence, at this juncture the important requirement is not to define the commonality of our belief systems, but to define - no to understand, with feeling and intuition, not definitions or mere rules - the basis upon which we want to relate. With this backdrop, I think the firm but thoughtful manner of Andrew’s intervention into the ‘Brian McLaren and Preterism’ thread has a clear and warranted justification. I’m not sure how long some of the combatents in that thread had taken to understand the unwritten rules of the OST site but to me there was no doubt some lines had been overstepped. But, as someone who has undoubtably been close those lines myself, in some of the exchanges I’ve been involved in, to say exactly where those lines are is not simple or clear - nor should it necessarily be.

A related controversy arose recently when members of both Catholic and Orthodox communities queried, on their own sites, the nature of the interactions on OST (see for example, ‘Jesus is God… yes & no!’). One comment in particular caught my eye when it suggested that, over here, we were all so “pleasant” to each other that it suggests we corporately suffered from a deep insecurity / insecurities and our parade of pleasantry was a thin mask for “real, tough, confrontational love” (my paraphrase). It was an interesting observation. I personally think there are other much better reasons for the polite and verbose forms of confrontation which tend to flavour OST exhanges and that is that many of us want to explore this “shared space” with others from different backgrounds and the common courtesy when exploring public spaces is to be aware of the offence that can easily be caused to other users of that space.

Exactly what the rules of common courtesy are though, are not as simply discovered as looking for a signpost at the local park “No ball games / don’t walk on the grass / no fouling” etc. The appropriate distance between you and the other families sitting around having a picnic on the beach - who sets that rule? And so on. In every public space the unwritten “rules” are discovered by respect, but also pushing the boundaries of respect sometimes, to provoke reaction, to stir the pot. There must be room for dissent, disagreement, discovery. The bet hamidrash method of study proposes nothing less and the echoes of it can be found at work here, within OST.

But the same principles need to have room found for them in any shared space. The ‘emc’, of course, is more than just internet forums and also more than just new congregations. It is a group of people, groups of people, communities, endeavouring to find ways of expressing community, to find ways of uniting around what they have in common. It is a journey, not a destination. That, simply put, is why every ‘ism’ needs to fade into personal and cultural backgrounds. Not only is it not polite to come riding into shared space with any intention to promote one’s own agenda still intact, but the wider point is that such misplaced enthusiasm disqualifies the personality or personalities involved from the vitality of being able to listen appropriately and effectively. And communities wherein effective listening is outgunned by talking can’t function in a healthy way.

Could that, perhaps, be one ground rule to which some communities, many emerging communities might want to abide:

Let every person be quick to listen, but slow to speak, slow to get angry.”?

shalom! - john

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Emerging Religion

Thank you John,

A very capable presentation indeed. Without going back into the details, there is warrant & need to see all perspectives, otherwise we create a new delusion & emerge from nothing.

But, now I want to ask a question.  I’ve heard this “movement” called the “Emergent Church”, but I want to make a few comments in light of this quote by you:

since there is not the same rush of Bhuddists, Hindus and Moslems as there are Christians into that space, the point is that this shared space offers the opportunity for community - for uniting around what we have in common.

Now, would it be accurate to use the term “church” when what it appears you are proposing moves beyond the scope of Christianity?  I understand, as westerners we often apply the term “church” even to cultures/religions that do not utilize the term. (example: a Muslim church) I also understand a general meaning of the term as “congregation”, which could easily apply to all the religions you listed.

But I’m still wondering if using the title “Emergent Church” is unfair to those examining the “movement” — for it may cause them to think it is merely an outgrowth of Christianity, whereas what you are proposing is a sort of an ecumenicism of all religions. An Emergent Religion.

It seems like this could cause more speficic troubles:

1. A potential participant (especially a Christian) could get involved with the Emergent movement & not realize it isn’t really solely a Christian focus.  But by the time they realized it, they could be too entrenched to extract themselves.

2. A Christian critic of Emergent could be falsely labeled by fellow Christians of being critical of a Christian organization, when clearly, Emergent goes beyond Christianity (or intends to), thus the initial criticism is valid & the response to the criticism would be invalid.

I understand that one of the hallmarks of the Emergent movement is purposely loosely defined “boundries”, but it just seems like even the label of the movement is misleading.

The term I’ve seen bandied in various posts is “post-evangelism”.  How are we to understand that? Are we to understand Emergent as being beyond spreading the message of Christ?  If that is the case, then is that yet another reason that it really isn’t a Christian movement/organization?

In contrast, Protestantism took on the label of “evangelical” to distinguish itself from Roman Catholicism, yet it is inaccurate to say Roman Catholicism doesn’t “evangelize” — thus Roman Catholicism remains well within the scope of Christianity.

If Emergent is post-evangelical, is it not then post-Christian?

Anyhow, thanks for the opportunity to ask these questions.  I hope I have not once again crossed the “boundaries” of this non-boundary movement. :-)


it's ecumenism, Jim, but not as we know it...

Hello Roderick

Interesting line of questioning… to which I give this personal response - I do not speak for a movement or a "church" - I merely offer my view - what I see from where I sit / stand / journey …

Firstly, I’ve no actual exposure to any congregations that use the moniker "emerging church" - it seems to me that the term is used on OST as a broad description of what I would see as a people movement; others describe it as a (wide-ranging) conversation (including books, websites, discussion groups etc.); for these sort of reasons I deliberately paranthesised my own moniker "ecm". I’m more interested in the culture developing around the various phenomena of ‘emc’, than in coming up with definitions - at this stage, at least. If people get to a congregational stage then that will produce it’s own dynamic.

Secondly, regarding the issue of ecumenicalism. My understanding is that ‘ecm’ would see itself as Christian. It was only when referring to a "shared space" for discussion and interaction - for encountering community - that I wanted to de-emhasise exclusion of people from other religions. I think it’s true that many within ecm are concerned to reach out and dialogue and build relationship (in a form of evangelism, for some; just relating to others) with people in other religions. I’m not aware of a strong pull away from a distinct Christian identitiy. It’s simply that Protestants and their descendants (and non-conformists) almost by definition are reacting against other Christians and their definition of vital Christianity. It’s that kind of "ism" development that many want to get away from - into a common exploratory space - to see the wood from the trees. 

I think it’s probably true that most of the people I’m familiar with on this site who identify with emc have not particularly diverted away from their roots very far, at least not as a result of emc - rather the diversion came first, and emc allowed them to discuss the nature of their journey second. But I may be quite wrong (as I say to my wife - "after all, I was once before") about the extent of that phenomena.

So, to recap, no, I’m not and I don’t think emc people in general are proposing a non-Christian ecumenism of all religions. I understand why you picked up on this, but my point was actually the opposite: "other religions" is an issue - but NOT a significant issue in the context of my comments about inhabiting this exploratory, common space. I hope that’s a bit clearer.

A potential participant (especially a Christian) could get involved with the Emergent movement & not realize it isn’t really solely a Christian focus.  But by the time they realized it, they could be too entrenched to extract themselves.

Again this is an understandable reaction. And no doubt some people may jump first and then think about what they’ve done later and find they are in over their heads (I have, in the past, felt that way, about my own involvement). However, the important thing to realise is that this is an exploratory space. A place to listen and to learn. To offer opinion and insight and to develop / rediscover / move on in your own (Christian) faith. At this stage, for most of us, (I think) the uniting around what we have in common is a very tentative unity within most emc "organisations" - at least as far as I’ve been able to tell. But again, I’m no authority - just a viewer from the boundary.

As for your comments about congregations / movement and the use of the term "church" alongside "emerging": that is a concern others have raised. Usually representatives of Christian streams that feel quite confident of what "church" is. Others are less certain about the precise boundary of the word itself. Personally, I like to think in terms of a "Christian or Messianic community"; whereas I use congregation to describe a specific gathering. Interestingly the Greek NT word for church, ‘ecclessia,’ was apparently the same word used within Acts to describe the "mob" which gathered (I think to threaten Paul etc), although most prefer to link it with the word used for civic decision-making assemblies. Others freak out altogether at any suggestion that it is not entirely obvious what "church" is and to think otherwise marks one out as … obnoxious or disdainful.

The idea of a "messianic community," for me makes a link with the historical narrative of scripture which describes the community of Israel and the "community of communities" which will join with it (Genesis 35.11, "company of gentiles / nations") through the New Covenant, which the Jewish Messiah Jesus inaugurates with his life, ministry and sacrificial death.

With respect to understanding how people’s faith develops, independently of "church as we know it" another link you (and others) might find interesting is this precis of James Fowler’s stages of faith, a theme which is also explored within the excellent book, Churchless Christianity, by Alan Jamieson, who looks in depth, in his doctoral thesis, at why most church-goers never progress beyond "stage three"… except as a result of a specific crisis, and at how the journey of faith works out for people who go through this crisis, many of whom "reconstruct" their faith is surprisingly vital ways as they "emerge" out the other side. I found deep and significant echoes of not only my own story but that of many others in that book and I highly recommend it for people who want to understand the "emerging" phenomena (although Jamieson hardly uses that name at all.)

Finally, you might like to read, "my personal hope for emergent community"

Hope some of that helps with your questioning… and your journey.


shalom! - john

New tenants in the house that modernity built

If Emergent is post-evangelical, is it not then post-Christian?

The emerging church would regard itself as ‘post-evangelical’ insofar as evangelicalism is seen as a movement committed to a core set of principles but deeply influenced in its thought and practice by modernism.

The emerging church is what happens when post-modern tenants move into a house most recently inhabited (if not actually built) by various forms of modern Christianity. The house looks pretty solid from the outside, but when you start pulling up floor boards and stripping off wallpaper, you find dry-rot, mangled wiring, leaky plumbing - and you begin to suspect that the building is structurally unsound. You could view the emerging conversation as a structural survey - and you can understand how that sort of undertaking might provoke a rather hostile and distrustful response from the established residents.

The emerging church, however - at least in my view - remains committed to the biblically defined project that began with the proclamation of ‘good news’ to Israel - the original vision for the house. In that sense it will regard itself as a deeply ‘evangelical’ movement.

But new tenants inevitably bring new ways of thinking and behaving; they will cause a disturbance; they will upset people; they will go exploring in cellars and closets that haven’t been opened in years; they will tear down curtains and throw open windows; they will discover passageways that lead to parts of the house that no one knew existed. They will also want to check that the foundations are sound because they have heard stories from outsiders that the house was built on the shifting sands of an ancient worldview and could collapse any minute.

Prising up the foundation

 You said:

"They will also want to check that the foundations are sound because they have heard stories from outsiders that the house was built on the shifting sands of an ancient worldview and could collapse any minute."

My concern is that along with our redecorating we might prise up the very foundation of the house, not so much because of rumors from outsiders but because "insiders" incite us to do so — They encourage us to doubt the foundation & everything else.  They almost revel in their liberty to doubt everything. (Just because we are under grace, shall we sin? Let is not be!)

The EC talks a lot about modernism vs post-modernism & many Christians new to the EC don’t seem to really understand what is actually being said.

  • Modern/Modernism/Modernist = Traditional
  • Post-Modern/Post-Modernism/Post-Modernist = Beyond traditional
  • Open Source Theology = Consensus belief system

How far beyond "traditional" can one move before they are not even recognized as still being Christian?  How much of the house can be altered before it no longer is a house?  What if your break out the windows to put in a waterslide (the entertainment "gospel")?  What if you bulldoze the garage & replace it with a huge safe (the prosperity "gospel")?  What if you rip out the living room & replace it with a buffet (the social "gospel")?

I may admire the notion of questioning some things that have gone before (we tried to do that with eschatology but were shut down here), but to tear everything out & set it on the front lawn, to pry up the floor board, to dig up the foundation will eventually lead to there being no house in which ANY resident could reside.

I wrote a brief article about this.

Please be careful.

In Christ, the immovable Cornerstone



Re: Prying up the foundation


you make some good, points, how far is too far? how far can one go with still being a christian?

 i think a question you need to ask yourself (as we all do) is, "what is a christian?"

is a christian someone who sticks to certain rules? what about someone who believes certain doctrins? what about someone in relationship with jesus christ? if you take any of these views then im sure there will be some people who would call themselves christian who wont be included, you may even agree with how they define themselves.

looking over your artcile and post it appears to me that you may have got the wrong impression of both this stie and the emerging church. the key element being that this site doesn’t speak for the emerging church, it is mearly the voice of some with in it. There are many who dont agree with what is said here, who would call themselves members of it, and there are those who would agree with what is said.

 i dont think that ost’s mission should be to get everyone to agree to a set of doctrins that have been discussed amoungst its members, i think that would denie the heart of why the site is here. instead it should be a place for people to explore theology, to hear arguments from all sides and with the help of the spirt, come to a conclusions that seams to them to be the most correct, due to the logic they use to define this.

does this mean that everyone will be right, no. however does this mean we shouldn’t do what we are doing? i would again argue no, we need to explore our faith, otherwise how can we truely say this is what we believe when instead we’ve had our heads in the sand ignoring all other options.

however as you have said this must be done with care! if i only look at one side of the argument then i might be blinded to the counter arguements that someone else can see! that is why i take great care in viewing anti-emerging blogs/websites etc, they show me things that i might have missed when reading a site such as this.

in your article you seam to almost blame the emerging church for the influx of universalism into preterists, i would more point to post-modernist thought that the emerging church. is it more likely that many of you group have heard of this movement and have then been "swayed" by its thoughts, or alternatively that they have been influence by the word around them (as everyone is to some extent) and have heard their friend who think that "everyone goes to heaven" or similar statements. i believe that universalism is a philosphical responce to such elements as views of god choosing to bless some with heaven, and cursing others with hell so the blessed can know how truely blessed they are, and similar views.

the emerging church is not a layed out body, it doesn’t have a leader (although some seem to believe that brian mclaren is), it doesn’t have a set list of beliefs, and it does not do things in certain ways. if any of these were true it would go against what the emerging church is! the emerging church is about reaching out to its community to tell it the love of christ. the big difference between the emerging church and any other christian is that this is done with the belief in post-modernism in society and responding accoridingly. therefor you could be a emerging evangelical, and emerging baptist, and emerging preterists etc. you could believe in hell and that all non believers go there, or you could believe that everyone goes to heaven, etc. however the fact that unites us all is the spread of the gospel of christ "becoming all things, to all people, so that by all means,i might save some" (1 corinthians 9 v22).

i hope that has cleared some things up, please correct me if i am miss repressenting your views, it is often done.

every blessing. chris

Prying up the foundation

Roderick, I’m afraid you may have misunderstood what Andrew meant by his house parable.  The shaky foundation the house is built on is not Christ, or the Bible, but rather modernity (which may or may not have anything to do with ‘the traditional’).  What is being doubted by ‘post-modern’ disciples is not so much the object of their faith, by rather the means by which the faith has, in previous times, been accomodated to the culture.  As the culture shifts, the errors of previous cultural assumptions are laid bare, and lest our faith be done away with as our transition away from the ‘modern’ continues, we find ways to express our (very real) faith (in the very real Jesus) in our emerging post-modern culture. 

One of the oversights of the article your wrote on your website is the assumption that ‘evangelical’ means ‘the gospel’.  While there is a clear etymological connection, what we mean by ‘post-evangelical’ is emphatically not ‘post-Gospel’.  Rather, out of dedication to the Gospel, we are attempting to disentangle it from the web of cultural evangelicalism.  It is the baggage of the worldview we are criticizing.  Not the gospel. 

Hope this clears up a few things.



Re: New tenants in the house that modernity built

This was only the story given by the new occupants of the house at the court hearing brought by the owners to secure their eviction.

According to the owners, the new occupants were squatters who had broken into the house in the owners’ temporary absence, and in the course of their occupation had comprehensively trashed it.

The owners assert that the house was in good decorative order before the break-in, and was structurally sound, good for many more years to come.

However, recognising the indigence of the squatters, the owners generously decided to let the squatters stay in the house, if together they could responsibly effect the necessary repairs, and enter into a fair tenancy agreement in which the legal and historical rights of the owners would be respected.

These rights would also include a corresponding recognition of the rights to natural justice of the squatters, that they might have a roof over their heads and a place to live in, in which they could bring up a growing family.


Re: emerging: listening, uniting, avoiding "-isms"

Interesting comments, John, that got me thinking.  I wonder how much the EMC is to be correlated with "cultural criticism"—with disciplined identification of elites and marginals, of power structures and oppressive systems, and with the uncomfortable realization that the church has tended to be on the side of the elites and benefiting from the oppression.  In the modern world, the church has tended to be political, with state churches and denominations that wield very real power.  (I’m not unaware of the role the church has played in other forms to break opression and empower the margins, but those stories are harder to find.)

Our ecclesiastical representatives have been clearly identified and labeled; our orthodox theologies explicit and wielded against our foes.  While Jesus may have been thinking and praying of unity as his time drew short, church hierarchies and doctrines have too often been tools of division and exclusion—appropriately but "also" (primarily?) inappropriately.

Here in OST there is less of a hierarchy, and most of those tools of exclusion are viewed with suspicion.  For we who are accustomed to being the elites, it may be disconcerting not to have the usual means of discursive control; I get frustrated when someone comes along and challenges beliefs or assumptions I am much accustomed to—especially when I know I’m right and they’re wrong.

I realize that as much as we’re fellow seekers here, we’re also pointers.  We’re trying to persuade one another—to be more open, to be more closed, to be more accepting, to be more excluding, to be more Biblical, to be more loving, to be more sensible, whatever.  And, reduced to persuasion more than coercion, we tend to be more pleasant.  We listen politely to one another, if only so that others will listen politely to us.  We engage each other in conversation, if just so they can hear our voice.

It would be a mistake to confuse listening with accepting, including with believing, questioning with rejecting, or courtesy with approval.  New power structures are being erected—based perhaps on eloquence or technological literacy or who one knows off-list.  However, until those structures crystallize (or fossilize), we all have the chance here to ask anything we like and say anything we like.  I wonder (not really)—who wouldn’t like that?

confusing babel

It would be a mistake to confuse listening with accepting, including with believing, questioning with rejecting, or courtesy with approval

I think this is an important point, Chris - part of the unwritten cultural patterns that emerge over time when genuinely healthy human interaction exists. I feel I only really began to understand these simple principles quite recently, quite late in life - but they are so liberating… without these principles being realised can any community properly flourish? I wonder.

shalom! - john

Re: emerging: listening, uniting, avoiding "-isms"

"For that reason, uniting with any ‘ism’, any other movement, would be
retrograde. That is not to say that people from every ‘ism’, from every
kind of community, cannot join with the emerging movement / church /
conversation. Quite the opposite is true."

John, I could not have said it myself better.  "isms" tend to be very well-structured and defined, something folks from emergent may not necessarily like, which is why it is highly unlikely an emergent to preterISM transition is even conceivable at all. I also see a very real and tangible move from preterism to the emergent thought vis-a-vis the internal struggles we see within our movement.  Preterists are simply tired of all the theological mud-slinging coming with modern Christianity and many of us are ready to move on into the theological space which Brian introduced us to a few years ago. 

Strangely enough though, I see the thirst for community and uniting going even beyond emergent itself.  I see Christians from all kinds of backgrounds with no connection to emergent saying: I want to live in the Kingdom, live as God would want us to live.   Talk about synthesizing A Generous Orthodoxy in a sentence; therefore this need is universal as far as I can see, bigger than you and me and emergent.

So the most troubling thing I see here John is the need some see for all of us to spell out in great detail what we believe so they can put us back into a box labeled in a certain way.  If we just broke out of that box, why would we allow someone to put us right back in?

maturing faith

To quote / paraphrase from an earlier post on a related note:

within the emerging movement / conversation / church we may be witnessing a broad theological, prophetic, social, practical and spiritual move towards a greater maturity in recognising and responding to the essential unity of the body of the messianic community of believers throughout all nations and indeed, all history

… if the global community of Jesus-followers is actually progressing, really, measurably, transformatively towards a greater maturity, then a renewed way of assessing people’s standing in regard to Jesus is required to emerge with it. Maturity tends to enlarge the capacity for acceptance, while simultaneously being able to maintain the tension that says, There are still boundary lines in respect of which we may find ourselves on different sides.

Thus it is not necessarily a matter of abandoning altogether our various doctrinal understandings and identities, but rather that we jettison the attitudes towards doctrine that allows a un-Christian spirit to manifest in place of the Spirit of Christ. … In essence it means that if the Spirit of Christ is not insisting upon strict doctrinal, creedal boundary lines as the measure and mode of fellowship, friendship, partnership, perhaps we shouldn’t either.

But then how do we reconcile our emerging generous spirituality with the need for doctrinal faithfulness and truthfulness as members of a Community called to be a the Pillar and Support of the Truth?

I believe it is correct to state that the root Greek word for both faith and truth are related fairly closely. The idea of a “community of the faithful,” as we sometimes here the church described, exposes this false dichotomy well. True faithfulness it turns out is neither to an intellectual doctrine alone, nor to a prescribed, visible church grouping. It is to a Person. It is to the Presence of the Spirit. A Presence which intends, in the fullness of time, to (once again) “fill all of creation.”

Such faithfulness as this certainly must work its way out in adherence to orthodoxy and ortho-praxy, but these beliefs and actions should essentially remain secondary to faithfulness to the very Person of Jesus, the Messiah, the Lord, the Eternal King and the Spirit with which He endues His Community.

I think / hope / prayer that this is one of the core values towards which the church is emerging, out of its modern incarnations, beyond its post-modern reactionism. It is the hope I have in my heart when I think of “emerging church.”

shalom! - john

Re: maturing faith

"True faithfulness it turns out is neither to an intellectual doctrine
alone, nor to a prescribed, visible church grouping. It is to a Person.
It is to the Presence of the Spirit. A Presence which intends, in the
fullness of time, to (once again) “fill all of creation.”"

Hah!  You have a way with words John.  Is this now what Christianity should be all about?  And interestingly enough (in the frame of this thread) that is what Preterism revolves around: realizing the living presence of God which permeates all things and reconciled all things to himself.

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