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Why I am still a friend of Emergent (even if we don’t talk that much anymore)

emergent village logo I posted about Andrew Jones’ decision on the weekend and I can respect what he is doing as he has been a person of his convictions and one has to do what one has to do.

He makes a pretty good case for leaving.

Also over is any official relationship I have left with one of those emerging church groups called Emergent Village. EV is a hard group to leave because its a flat structured organization and there is no one to inform that you are de-friending yourself, or getting de-friended, from this "generative friendship". Also hard because there are so many wonderful people still involved.

The EV website stated last year, "Those who started emergent were at the National ReEvaluation Forum in 1998; those who will take it into the next chapter will be at Christianity21." I wasn’t at Christianity21 but I have been watching as new theological emphases and sectarian attitudes towards church emerge (well described by Wikipedia’s North American Emergent Movement) and it is just not something that I can lend my name to or my time. In the early days, I joined the leadership of the Young Leaders group (that eventually became Emergent Village) because it was more about uniting churches around mission and equipping people to reach the next ‘postmodern’ generation. I hope they can shift it back again to its origins.

I remember cringing when I saw the Emergent Village stating "Those who started emergent were at the National ReEvaluation Forum in 1998; those who will take it into the next chapter will be at Christianity21." They were right in the fact that Emergent Inc was started back then but the emerging church was taking seed all over the world.  As far as the statement about Christianity21… well Tony and Doug had a conference had a conference to promote and I take that statement as nothing more than that.  Emergent Village’s desire to be a promotional commercial vehicle of a flavor of the emerging church in the United States was a flaw from the start but in the end I think it was a reflection of the entrepreneurial commercial context that seems to define the American church industry.  While emergent talked of this being a global conversation, they never realized how incredibly American they are.  In that way by Andrew saying that he won’t be using the language of Emergent Village and the emerging church may be a good one because while language is really important, the discussion of the emerging church has been more about language than it is has about incarnating the gospel for a long time.

You know what, I am okay with it.  I think that is the reason many of us gathered in Three Hills in the 90s, later some of us started Resonate and why the conversation in the U.K. and Europe is so incredibly different.  We all have our national contexts and it does shape our ideas of church and the Gospel.  While I am friends with many south of the border and I deeply appreciate them, I am also okay with them doing their thing and I’ll pipe in from the sidelines from time to time.

I guess what I struggle with is the idea of removing oneself from a conversation because in the end, you have given up on the conversation as a whole.  Maybe Andrew is correct but I think his ability and unique place as a global missionary is a voice that is needed in Emergent Village, even if the North American church doesn’t realize it.

Of course that for me not talking to the emerging church very much anymore, I think it is comes from the amount of pure crap that has been sent to me to review.  I just got a copy of Dwight Friesen’s new book, Thy Kingdom Connected and it may the only book of 2009 that I want to review and think more about.  A friend of mine used to say, “I’ll preach better when Max Lucado preaches better”.  I find myself feeling the same thing.  When the conversation (and books) becomes more compelling, I’ll start paying close attention again.

Update: January 10th – I am totally okay with accepting the fact that Emergent has always seemed too American because I am too Canadian.  If I can say that I find Emergent too American, it’s also fair to criticize me back so fair is fair.

Right now I am actually more happy with Emergent than I have been in years.  I think having Doug and Tony work (and I really hope they make money as well) as consultants and event organizers through JoPa is good while leaving Emergent to be an organic grassroots expression across the country.  I do agree with Mike Morrell’s comment that the next thing to figure out is the relationship between publishing and Emergent.

5 Comments

  1. ron cole says:

    Jordon, I guess that is what I love about Resonate. It’s local, national…and very grass roots, and conversational. With the (e)merger with youth specialties and zondervan, things shifted in a different direction. Emerging/ent became a label, a product, a plug and play program for the church. In a sense what they feared becoming…they became. The problem is when you finally package something for consumption, you finally get to the ” best before date.” Things get a little stale.
    A guy that has always, and still impresses me, is Spencer Burke. He really nurtures, and feeds the conversation with imagination…from scientists, philosophers, artists, ecologists. He gives me hope. I was wondering, what do you think would make the conversation more complelling.

  2. Steve K. says:

    Jordan,

    Thanks for this reflection — and for your ongoing friendship (despite the communication breakdown ;-)

    I just wanted to respond on a few of the things you said:

    “Tony and Doug had a conference had a conference to promote and I take that statement as nothing more than that.” — Thank you! I think Andrew took some promotional copy written and attributed to Doug and took that as an official statement from all of Emergent Village. Another lesson learned, I guess. You’ve got it right. Andrew got that one wrong, IMHO.

    “Emergent Village’s desire to be a promotional commercial vehicle of a flavor of the emerging church in the United States was a flaw from the start” — There’s been a lot of discussion about this in EV over recent months, and I think there’s a general consensus that not everything that’s come of the publishing partnerships of the past has been good. But I think, for a lot of us (myself included), a lot of good has come from those early decision — books that have challenged and inspired and sparked a lot of great thinking and conversation. So maybe it was “flawed,” but what isn’t?

    “While emergent talked of this being a global conversation, they never realized how incredibly American they are.” — Gosh, I hope that’s not true! But I’ll have to take your critique and really try to take it to heart. In my experience, there’s always been a consciousness about how culturally situated we are. Has everyone in Emergent always been sensitive to the broader global conversation? Certainly not. Perhaps there’s been too much of a focus on the U.S. context and not enough concern/interest/listening to the global voices.

    “… the discussion of the emerging church has been more about language than it is has about incarnating the gospel for a long time.” — I think this is the crux of the matter for Andrew and why this departure from his association/affiliation with EV sort of makes sense. Andrew said (in the comments on his blog) that he doesn’t see the emerging church movement as being “primarily a theological movement,” and a lot of the energy in Emergent has been toward creating space for theological reflection and asking questions and exploring ideas. So there’s this tension, as you describe, between “language” (the theological reflection) and “incarnating the gospel” (the doing of the stuff, the grassroots missional action).

    “Andrew is … a voice that is needed in Emergent Village, even if the North American church doesn’t realize it.” — I absolutely agree, and the irony is (as Mike Clawson put so eloquently in the comments on Andrew’s blog) we’ll still be listening to Andrew and crashing his parties, because many of us do recognize he’s an important voice in the conversation. That’s not really going to change.

    “When the conversation becomes more compelling, I’ll start paying close attention again.” — There’s plenty of compelling conversation out there, in a lot of places, all the time. At least, that’s been my experience. I don’t think the compelling conversation has really stopped, but I respect when folks like yourself pull back and settle in and re-invest your energy in other things.

    I know you’re doing some great missional work up there in the Great White North, Jordan. I hope you’re encouraged.

    Shalom,
    Steve K.

  3. Mike Morrell says:

    Hi Jordon,

    I really appreciate the grace and balance in your words here. I think that in some ways EV has become the victim of her own ‘brand’ and thus is hung by the caricature of it – a bunch of young hipster Christians talking a lot and doing little. On the ground it’s always looked different for me – Emergent cohorts in Atlanta and Raleigh have been the only local venues wherein I can discuss and enact my passions for knowing God via contemplative prayer, combating human trafficking, starting sustainable agriculture initiatives, and dreaming about the future. I might be able to find five different groups (not all of them with Christians) who would be interested in any one of those endeavors, but all five? It’s a rarity, and a gift I’m still grateful for.

    As Steve intimated, I think that some of the deepest soul-searching is going to be the relationship between e/Emergent and publishing. As someone who works in publishing, I’ve learned to see authors are ordinary people who don’t really make much money publishing (contrary to popular belief) and don’t get really famous doing so either (ditto). So I think it can be unfair to think of somebody getting rich and famous from their book deals about following Jesus among the margins – if that actually happened, I could see why it would be a severe affront to a conversation/movement founded on authenticity. But I also understand the shadow-side of this argument – just because writers haven’t gotten rich and/or famous from publishing, doesn’t mean they didn’t *want* to – it doesn’t mean ego *hasn’t* reared its ugly head. And we, like God, want to resist proud movements and shower grace on the humble ones. Amen and amen. But unlike God, I hope we can hold our judgment in abeyance unless we’re actually close personal friends with said authors whom we might otherwise judge were acting from egocentric motives.

    Eh – all that to say, I could care less what labels survive or die – I hope that people continue finding ways to explore ideas AND live them out – but I *am* concerned about some of the relational fallout that seems to be arising from declaring things dead and/or insisting they’re alive. // Lord, have mercy. //

    Finally, I hope that I haven’t been *too* responsible for the crap you’ve been sent to review! : (

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