Oct 2005 Already sick of the ’emergent church’

Is it just me, or is the news that America’s latest guru on how-to-do-church, Brian McLaren, is to tour Australia next year kind of ironic?


McLaren (who has sharp things to say about how colonialism has distorted the church) is a figurehead in what is being called the emergent church movement, and it is a sure bet that some of us will be sick of the word ‘emergent’ sometime during 2006, or earlier – possibly by the end of this column.

It is a broad movement, ranging from people who tinker with the look and feel of church for the millennium generation, to those who rethink theology. 
The theology begins to look like something you’ve read before, somewhere. That theological polymath, Don Carson, has written the self-explanatory Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, which is on the bedside tables of our trendier clergy. McLaren seems to me like so-last-century-liberal in some of his theology.

But of course, this column is not concerned with weighty stuff, rather the frippery of emergent church.

They don’t like church-as-performance. Mega church is not mega for them. Instead, they want participation. Some stuff that looks like ritual, or structure. They want to devise Sunday themselves.

The studied informality of the seeker church looks artificial to post-boomers.  It is not surprising that what might work for baby boomers would not work for those who come after.

It will be interesting to note how flexible those of us who have changed things prove to be when it is our changes under challenge.

Not unusually for this pewsitter, I made a leap of logic a moment ago. I summarised Don Carson’s book as though he had done the conventional thing and listed what was wrong with this movement. Instead, he tries to have real engagement with it.

He recognises that it is multi-stranded in a post-modern way and is ready to commend any good stuff they do. 
Carson is much admired in Sydney. I think his approach to emergents, who may well be flirting with problematic ideas as well some ideas that are useful, is worth adopting.

This is a time when conservative evangelicalism could be outgoing and confident. That’s one benefit of the diocesan mission. Like Carson, we don’t have to be defensive in the negative sense of that word when we meet something new.

In short, I wish Southern Cross had thought of the title of McLaren’s book first. It’s calledGenerous Orthodoxy. It sums up what we should be and are at our best.

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