Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Emerging Chart

Hello friends.

So I have been wanting to post this for awhile, but have been limited due to my html deficiencies. I am reading An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, a great book by the way, which is a collection of essays from around the emergent world. One particular essay is written by Tim Conder called "The Existing Church/Emerging Church Matrix: Collision, Credibility, Missional Collaboration, and Generative Friendship." As the title suggests, Tim is talking about the ways in which the emerging church and the existing church can work together and communicate. In the chapter, Tim has created a fantastic chart to encapsulate the differences between these two organisms he is comparing. I have tried with little success to recreate that chart in html form for you here. The result is too big to fit on my page (and there are some other issues as well. I welcome html advice). Suffice it to say, I am left to articulate the chart in mere words, imprecisely placed (what's the point, right?). So, here goes (ho hum).

The chart has two columns, labeled Existing/Modern and Emergent/Postmodern, followed by rows representing a number of categories. Here it is, and hopefully it makes some shadow of sense.

Existing/Modern VS Emergent/Postmodern.
Ethics: abstract/absolute/transcendent vs corporate/contextual
Epistemology: abstract/absolute/transcendent vs corporate/contextual
Theology: systematic/propositional vs narrative/missional
Gospel: eternal salvation vs present reign of God in this world
Mission: defined by personal, spiritual needs vs defined by God's redemptive agenda
Biblical Interpretation: propositional/dependent on theological systems vs contextual/narrative
Leadership:positional/hierarchical vs relational egalitarian
Spiritual Formation: linear/cognitive/personal vs nonlinear/holistic/communal
Basis of Community Formation: boundaries formed by doctrine/confession vs boundaries shaped by ethical and missional commitments

I'm not sure about you, but I think better when I have a visual, an organized framework to help me mentally absorb info. Does it help you? What are your responses to the chart? Would you agree with Tim's assessment?

Here are my responses:

1. The first one, ethics, is bound to make fundamentalists squirm. To suggest that ethics are anything other than absolute and never changing is heresy to some. However, it is undeniable that at least some (most?) ethics are contextual or corporate. Jesus even hints at this when talking of the early church ("binding and loosing" is thought to mean allow or disallow, "when two or three gather in my name" is in the context of church discipline, and these suggest that the early Christians are contextually and communally deciding the ethics of their community). Now this can certainly get dangerous if taken to an extreme, but let us not make it say something it is not or jump to extreme conclusions.

2. Spiritual Formation as communal is also a breath of fresh air as I've noticed it in the emerging church. I spent my first years as a Christian in the largely individualistic evangelical "community." I am a fan of "sharing faith" with others in community, and I'm glad to see that becoming stressed more and more. By the way, I think the small groups movement in evangelicalism is, at least in part, a longing of Christians to be less individual and more communal. However, to truly transform, some major shifts in how evangelicals view spiritual formation need to happen.

3. I love the Basis of Community Formation. Emergents embrace the reality that we cannot agree on all of the minor (or even the major) points of theology. But, perhaps we can all agree in certain elements of practice (i.e. social justice, reducing poverty, communion, prayer, mission etc.).


Earl Barnett said...

Nick - I think better with pictures as well, so thank you.

I hate to be the guy who comes along and says this, but I think the chart needs clarification. The distinctions between modern and 'post-modern' seem to fit well, but I'm reluctant to embrace the 'existing' and 'emergent' aspects. The 'emergent' church has been firmly established as a contemporary ideological movement within Christianity, and there are many forms of emergence aside from 'post-modern' expressions.

It seems unfair to label all emergents as 'post-modern' because not all who are emerging have forsaken the concept of transcendent truth.

But all of that aside, I think the chart works well to display the differences between the last 200 years of church and the form of church on the horizon.


Nick said...

Hi Earl. Thanks for reading and commenting.

I'm reluctant to embrace the 'existing' and 'emergent' aspects. The 'emergent' church has been firmly established as a contemporary ideological movement within Christianity

Giving you some background on Tim Conder could help show why he uses those terms. He was a youth pastor in an existing evangelical congregation, and he ended up planting an emerging church as a plant of that one, with some uncomfortability from the "existing" church. so, at least in Tim's context, they were existing vs emerging.

It is true that the emerging church are established, as it was about 10 years ago when this conversation started.

there are many forms of emergence aside from 'post-modern' expressions.

Not according to Tony Jones, the national director of Emergent village. He talks of how the emergent conversation and postmodernity were connected from the beginning. this phenomenon we are discussing is closely tied with postmodernity, though that is not to say all emerging folks are 100% postmodern, just that they are closely connected.

It seems unfair to label all emergents as 'post-modern' because not all who are emerging have forsaken the concept of transcendent truth.

This is a common misconception about postmodernity. It isn't that postmoderns deny truth (or even absolute truth), just that they think about truth differently. Perhaps this would be a good future blog post.

Thanks Earl!

Anonymous said...

"Sit down here next to me in this little restaurant and ask me if Christianity (my version of it, yours, the Pope's, whoever's) is orthodox, meaning true, and here's my honest answer: a little, but not yet. Assuming by Christianity you mean the Christian understanding of the world and God, Christian opinions on soul, text, and culture... I'd have to say that we probably have a couple of things right, but a lot of things wrong, and even more sprints before is unseen and unimagined." (italics in the original) A Generous Orthodoxy, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 2004, p. 296."

This guy makes me nervous!

Earl Barnett said...


your explanation of the background of the terms used is very helpful.

I'm not sure that just because the movement was rooted in postmodernism that it will be tied to it forever.

Postmodernity is a tricky issue. I agree and disagree all at the same time. I think it would make for a good post/discussion.