The "Emerging Church" Conversation: A Movement and a Religious Expression in Western Christianity.
The aim of this article is to describe the common traits of a phenomenon called "Emerging Church" conversation (ECC). (1) I will discuss its strengths and weaknesses in relation to innovative religious expression in Western Christianity, especially mainline Protestantism. (2) This article draws on the publications of prominent "conversation starters" in the US and Great Britain and on empirical research done on ECC communities. (3) The arguments are based on several insights from empirical studies about ECC communities, groups, and networks. (4) Methodologically, the approach is phenomenological. By assessing and interpreting the relevant literature, I will argue that the ECC is a form of individualized religious expression.
The three following aspects will help narrow down the research object.
First, the ECC can be divided into three historic phases. Although I will draw upon inputs from all three historic phases of the ECC (the first phase lasting throughout the 1990s), I will emphasizes inputs from the second (1999-2010) and third historic phases (after 2009/2010) up until the current state of research (2017). (5) This is because, for a start, it was only through Karen Ward's introducing the term "emerging church" in 1999 that the entire phenomenon gained identity and consequently marked the second historic phase. Also, it is worth mentioning that the ECC only obtained its influence, efficiency, and good publicity after 1999. Third, it is only since the second half of the second historic phase that the core themes of the discourse emerged (in contrast to other movements like "fresh expressions of church" or "missional church"). (6)
Second, three streams in the ECC (relevants, reconstructionists, revisionists) can be correlated within the already described historic phases. Ed Stetzer is the US-American evangelical missional theologian who suggests three streams in the ECC. He proposes to contextualize the protagonists' behaviour and comprehension. (7) Furthermore, he discusses how the gospel is embedded in and related to the respective contexts. Hence, Stetzer subdivides protagonists, groups, and communities into three streams. (8) As a result, a theological spectrum within the ECC becomes apparent. I consider each of the three streams below.
Ed Stetzer assesses that the so-called Relevants fundamentally do not hold a rebellious attitude toward the evangelical mindset but are in fact seeking a new form of expression for their religious orientation. "The churches of the 'relevants' are not filled with the angry white children of evangelical megachurches. They are, instead, intentionally reaching into their communities... and proclaiming a faithful biblically-centered Gospel there." (9) Robert Doornenbal portrays the connection between this stream and postmodern humanity as "'relevants' minister to postmoderns," meaning that "the relevants" serve postmodern people within their context. (10)
The gospel should be translated into local contexts without compromise. At the same time, they continue to stay obligated to the Christian faith as they have gotten to know it. Dan Kimball describes the matter as follows: "[W]e must rethink leadership, church structure, the role of a pastor, spiritual formation, how community is lived out, how evangelism is done, how we express our worship, etc. It's not just about what we do in the worship service, but about everything." Similarly, Doornenbal notes that "for reconstructionists the implications of postmodernity do not alter the gospel message, but they do have consequences for church and mission. Reconstructionists such as Frost and Hirsch seek to thoroughly contextualize the church, making it indigenous to its culture, while rediscovering its nature as a missionary movement." (12) Doornenbal envisions this stream as "'reconstructionists' minister with postmoderns." (13)
Revisionism entails the review, the challenging, the reassessment, and the reinterpretation of previous valid religious perceptions, positions, and forms of communitization. Issues such as the concept of church, the understanding of atonement, the kingdom of God theology, etc., are critically questioned and, for the sake of postmodern conditions, newly interpreted. (14) Ed Stetzer adds, "Revisionists are questioning (and in some cases denying) issues like the nature of the substitutionary atonement, the reality of hell, the complementarian nature of gender, and the nature of the Gospel itself." (15) Doornenbal pictures this stream as "revisionists minister as postmoderns" (Figure l). (16)
The third aspect is that, on the basis of the published literature and the frequency of the presence of various ECC protagonists, it can be argued that the three streams had three distinct significations within the three historic phases. We can see an emphasis on the Relevants and the Reconstructionists during the first (until 1999) and the second historic phase (until 2009/2010). Revisionists only appear to emerge at the end of the second phase. One could also say that the corresponding protagonists migrate from the second to the third stream, whereas the Reconstructionists entirely lose influence after 2009/10. By the third historic phase, the stream of the Relevants is barely present any longer. (17) Not only a lack of publications during the first phase but also alienations and "resignations" from the ECC have contributed to their decline. In addition to all of that, it can be clearly observed that Relevants as well as Revisionists have become more and more polarized up to the third historic phase. (18)
In conclusion, the majority of the main protagonists of the ECC after 2009/2010 pertain to the third stream, the Revisionists. Therefore, the core examination, in terms of content and questions, in this article is focused on the third stream. (19) Representatives of the Relevants stream either left the discourse by the end of the second historic phase or moved toward a different stream of the ECC.
Background and Context of the ECC
The ECC first appeared as an interdenominational phenomenon, (20) however predominantly within the Protestant context, on the religious landscape. It specifically emerged in the 1990s in the US and Great Britain (both regions, however, clearly follow their own historical developments). (21)
The spark of this phenomenon was rooted in the perception, shared by mostly Evangelical protagonists of "Gen X," (22) that prevalent concepts of congregational conduct and experienced/practised Christianity would not be adequate for people who are shaped by postmodernism. Prominent protagonists within this ECC consider themselves as interlocutors, instigators, and "conversation starters." (23)
The ECC attains its substantive focus through movements of detachment and disentanglement of previous religious convictions and practices. According to the US-American ethnologist James Bielo, the ECC signals a change in American Christianity: "To conclude ... I will say this: I find it no exaggeration to suggest that Emerging Christianity has become the most vocal, serious, and intense 'conversation' for American Christians since the Religious Right's rise to prominence beginning in the late 1970s." (24)
The appearance of the ECC within the Anglo-American context is embedded in the religious landscapes of the recent decades. This certainly includes the decrease in membership of the mainline churches in the US as well as in Great Britain since the 1960s, the withdrawal and loss of significance of the Christian religion in general, (25) changes within Anglo-American evangelicalism, and the exodus of established, organized Christian communities and churches in Western societies. (26) What is being expressed is a protest against a widespread form of evangelicalism that especially emerged within the context of the megachurch movement in the US and Great Britain. The protest is specifically directed against hierarchical structures of congregational life, what is perceived as a narrow moral code of conduct, and/or unsatisfying answers to life's questions. (27)
Sociologists of religion Gladys Ganiel and Gerardo Marti emphasize that the ECC is a result of a number of societal, cultural, and religious upheavals in Western societies. They state, "The ECM [Emerging Church Movement] is a distinct response to the wider social, political, economic, and religious forces that have shaped modernity in the West." (28) The origin of the ECC is in some sense a special type of Christian orientation in the form of a network of discussions that cannot be easily integrated into already existing traditional denominations, groups, or communities. (29) By the help of digital information and communication technologies, it operates as a "network of friends." (30) Predominantly, the ECC gained influence among evangelical Christians and evolved to a "populist religious impulse," (31) according to Travis Cooper.
Protagonists within the ECC understand the phenomenon to be a "conversation." In other words, it sees itself as a network of communication for friends, which is built up by selective encounters (e.g., conferences, blogs) and organized in groups and communities. (32) The groups and communities serve the purpose of discussing questions that deal with the challenges and the relevance of the Christian faith as well as congregational conduct. Moreover, the protagonists engage with religious identity formation, especially with respect to the boundaries and detachment from previous religious orientation in these postmodern times.
On the one hand, one can argue that the emergence of digital communication and information technologies definitely contributed to the increase of influence of the ECC since the end of the 1990s. It has even spread into continental Europe. On the other hand, these technologies have shaped the ECC both in its debates (for instance, as a place of creating community) and with respect to how it perceives itself as a conversation - offline as well as online. (33) Fundamentally, one can observe a rather positive basic attitude towards digital communication and information technologies throughout all its streams and historic phases. (34) Katharine Moody provides two reasons: First, these communities tend to be technologically proficient and comfortable with a variety of media in their communal and individual lives. They are very quick to apply and/or adapt new technologies, articulating them within a discourse that constructs these technologies as apposite for religion and spirituality. Second, the internet is vital for the emergence and development of ECC communities. (35) The ECC welcomes the internet along with online forms of communication as it considers them promising means of postmodern communication. (36) In this way, real encounters and online discourses are used in parallel with or in addition to each other. (37)
The ECC: A Movement and a Religious Orientation
Generally speaking, the ECC can be understood as a "social phenomenon of transition" (Durchgangsphanomen) within the scope of a movement. According to Eberhard Hauschildt and Uta Pohl-Patalong,
The term of the social movement describes a correlation between individuals and/or groups that are united by an interest to see change take place. However, they do not have to be further connected via specification of roles that would structure them with each other since that would provide a highly symbolic integration (with an accordingly emotional connection) ... In this case single, charismatic individuals could end up becoming focal points. (38)
On the one hand, this can be shown for the ECC. (39) On the other hand, the ECC can be described as a religious orientation itself, as Ganiel and Marti stress.
We... define Emerging Christians in terms of sharing a religious orientation built on a continual practice of deconstruction. We characterize the ECM [Emerging Church Movement] as an institutionalizing structure, made up of a package of beliefs, practices, and identities that are continually deconstructed and reframed by the religious institutional entrepreneurs who drive the movement and seek to resist its institutionalization. As such, the ECM is best seen as a mix of both reactive and proactive elements, vying for the passion and attention of Christians and nonbelievers. Emerging Christians react primarily against conservative/evangelical/fundamentalist Protestantism but also against other forms of traditional Christianity that they have experienced as stifling or inauthentic. At the same time, they proactively appropriate practices from a range of Christian traditions to nourish their individual spirituality and to enhance their life together as communities. (40)
To gain a better understanding of the ECC as a movement: on the one hand, James Smith first coined the term "Emerging Church" in 2005 by talking about a "growing sensibility." In fact, he mendons the term "postmodern sensibility" instead of "denomination," which is integral to this movement. (41) On the other hand, Flores highlights that the ECC is a "mood, generative conversation, dialogue, phenomenon, even as a friendship amongst its church leaders that share common features." (42)
There is sufficient reason to speak of a unifying debate.
Foremost, the survey by the sociologists Ganiel and Marti (2014) should be mentioned, as their dataset cover 1,771 individuals and is thus the most extensive study/survey of ECC community building. (43) Ganiel and Marti detected that the majority of the protagonists in ECC communities are aged between 18 and 35. (44) Of the interviewees, 54.5 percent are female, despite the male dominance in representative positions in the ECC disputes. In general, then, ECC communities predominantly consist of people aged between 18 and 35. The educational level of ECC protagonists is rather high, with the majority coming from the Anglo-American territory. (45) On the basis of the demographic data, it becomes clear that ECC communities focus on the above-described ethnic, age, and education segment. Consequently, they are also referred to as niche communities (within the context of Christian groups and communities in the US). (46)
One common strand of the movement is that the majority of the participants have a Christian background. This shows the shift in the understanding of religious orientation and Christian identity. Empirical data show that mainly individuals with former religious biographies are part of the ECC, whereas the ECC is to a lesser degree attractive to individuals without religious background (Figure 2).
Ganiel and Marti observed that the majority of the interviewees originated in mainline Protestantism (30.7 percent); 28.5 percent of the interviewed protagonists had an evangelical background; 13.5 percent of the interviewees hase an independent/non-denominational past; 12.6 percent of the interviewees have their roots in the Roman Catholic church; 9.2 percent come from an agnostic/atheistic/non-religious background; and only 3.4 percent feel close/connected to the Pentecostal tradition. (47)
Systematizing the ECC
Although there are similarities with respect to content as well as organizational structure, there are no consistently held convictions with respect to content and practices. It is safe to say, however, that there are conversational issues including theological motifs, determining attitudes, themes, and dynamics that can result in distinct convictions.
Figure 2. ECC Protagonists originate from the following traditions (according to Ganiel und Marti). [Colour figure can be viewed at wileyonlinelibrarv.com] mainline Protestantism 30.7 evangelical 28.5 independent/non-denominational 13.5 Catholic 12.6 agnostic/atheist/non religious 9.2 charismatic 3.4 other 2.1 Note: Table made from pie chart.
A literary analysis of the six main transatlantic studies concerning ECC communities facilitates a clustering of the mentioned motifs. (48) The findings are supported by US-American as well as British primary literature. (49) As far as the overarching theme is concerned, it can be noted that the ECC deals with religious identity formation. (50) ECC protagonists engage with their religious self-concept, with particular attention to religiously biographical dynamics of disentanglement and resistance. The clarification of religious alignment can be summed up through five motifs.
Motif I: The change of religious orientation
ECC protagonists tend to address the change of their religious orientation. Some of them have abandoned a religious community (and have therefore become "de-churched"). In that case, some have often changed the religious community (and, by extension, denomination), while others have stayed within their community. Within the ECC, authors and protagonists openly and publicly address the changes of their religious orientation. In doing so, they indicate distinct experiences that they have made in contrast to their previous convictions, religious practices, and congregational structures. It is worthwhile to follow up on these given directions, especially, as the crucial turning moment of the entire ECC ends up being the clarification of the religious self-concept. Brian McLaren goes so far as to call the insecurities of the Christian identity within a multi-religious world a "conflicted religious identity syndrome" (CRIS). He explains, "Many of us haven't gone as far as quitting Christianity, but we too show signs of CRIS when we compulsively add adjectives in front of the noun Christian... We might fill the blank with a single, simple adjective like 'progressive' or 'emergent' or... 'bad.'" (51)
Motif II: The significance of community
Relationality, be it in a physical or a virtual sense, plays an essential role. Local communities predominantly display group sizes between 20 and 70 people, which resemble cell groups or house churches.
The building of such communities is relatively young in regard to their time of origin. They are often limited in time and occasionally unstable. Protagonists create communities of interest that show socio-demographic along with religio-biographical parallels. They exist as independent entities or within already existing churches--just as "hyphenateds." (52) They are supposed to either be designed to be a long-term community or meant to build a temporary community both online and offline. One can clearly identify different types of community arrangements: neo-monastic communities, virtual forms of organization, "third space" communities, or also selective community-building in the context of festivals. These types exist mostly as autonomous and independent, and are individually chosen or founded by the protagonists.
An interesting conceptual stereotype that has made its way into the collective subconscious of the ECC is the identification of institutions with certain norms. These norms include control, submission, theological, and contextual rigidity, along with self-reference. For instance, institutionalization should be avoided by limiting the placement of full-time workers or by the prevention of routines. (53) There is a conscious avoidance as well as a lack of mechanisms that would enhance the development of the organization. The forming ECC communities see themselves as pluralistic communities with a bricolage-like usage of religious practices from different Christian and non-Christian traditions observable. They are decentralized, anti-institutional, and pluralistic. (54) They allow intensively experienced relationships and, at the same time, a high degree of subjective alignment and individuality ("cooperative egoism"). They have lower barriers of participation. Individuality, for example, manifests itself either morally or hermeneutically, which, within the online discourse, is coined as the "networked individualism." (55)
Motif III: Theological themes and strategies
A process of clarification is taking place regarding the ECC protagonists' religious self-concept as they deal with their own theological traditions and convictions. As to content, theological themes dominate, such as present and transformative concepts of the "kingdom of God," the negotiation of inequitable structures, the preservation of creation, and the humanization and restoration of the world. ECC Christians believe that it is their duty to contribute to this transformation, be it through their conduct or through their community building. Theological discourse is to be understood as a "journey," temporarily limited, experience-oriented, autobiographic, valid pro tempore, participatory, counter-conversational, and pluralistic. ECC theological thinking seeks to emerge out of experience, whereas propositional and dogmatic accesses are dismissed. The idea is that theological positions are not codified for them to become doctrines, but should remain open for interpretation within the dialogic community. Starting points are biographic experiences, questions of context, a radical subjective alignment, and deconversion processes. Hence, theological discourses reveal a certain amount of "language trouble." As a consequence, protagonists refrain from verbal commitments and prefer creative bricolages of concepts and affirmation. Therefore, the goal for protagonists is to overcome dualisms (e.g., secular and sacred). They prefer a spirituality that is nurtured throughout life and they actually turn against approaches of megachurches, as those are accused of operationalizing religious experience.
Motif IV: "Contexts" in the ECC
ECC protagonists are eager to resolve their relationship to different contexts (the world, the church, neighbourhood, Christianity). They intensely engage with discourses that discuss questions about modernism and postmodernism, talk about religious organizations, Christianity, and, eventually, socio-political and environmental responsibilities for our planet. These contexts are being conversed about under the umbrella of the crisis. As they intend to break through the sacred-secular-dualism, ECC protagonists orient their religious alignment toward the world. That also proves their strong connection to the world, the context, and the neighbourhood.
Motif V: The emphasis of values, attitudes, and practices
Within the process of clarifying religious alignment, it can be noted that values, attitudes, and practices come to the fore that are being discussed in a compressed way. The terms "dialogue" and "inclusion" signify values and attitudes that are supposed to provide the protagonists with alignment (instead of a dogmatic purpose). The terms "spirituality" and "authenticity" point out a self-reflecting, autonomous subject that seeks to create its own religious alignment. The code "authentic" can be interpreted as a religious movement of search and an assurance of identity. Moreover, "authenticity" becomes the touchstone for religious alignment, just as much for individual spiritual expression as it is for common practice and involvements around the world.
At the same time, there are protagonists that criticize religious consumption behaviour as parts of evangelicalism (i.e., disapproval of "mega-church" and "church growth" influence). These people strive to road-test religious practices by establishing places to try them out. For ECC Christians, creativity and eagerness to experiment play a significant part when it comes to spiritual forms of expression. They mould their Christianity individually, self-sufficiently, self-reliantly, and, at the same time, dialogically. Spiritual activities, spiritual living, and worship services are important.
The question arises about what "useful faith" (which is an expression of subjective congruency) is and how it comes into play. It is a rediscovery of traditional liturgic forms of expression. A starting point along with a place of refuge of the liturgic approaches are the authentic experiences of the individuals. Participatory and action-oriented approaches, innovation as well as the application of technical resources, and pledges of the present culture dominate the spiritual forms of expression. What it all boils down to is that it becomes evident that eclecticism prevails. A this-worldliness of Christian existence is being emphasized. Acting rightly and experienced faith play leading parts. The following quote provokingly highlights this: "I am a practicing Christian but not a believing Christian." (56) The true indicator of Christian existence is not simply the acceptance of certain convictions of faith as being true; rather, it is the conduct of a life that is lived in accordance with the values of the kingdom of God.
Discussing Religious Identity Formation
Three particular topics that emerge from the ECC are worth discussing: first, the role of the ECC as a safe haven; second, religious identity formation and doubt; and third, the ECC as a place for religious transformation and innovation.
The ECC as a safe haven?
The ECC is often described by its protagonists as a "safe haven" that they, in times of religious uncertainty, are navigating into. The online discourses appear to reach the same results, as Teusner proves. (57) In the ECC, a position can be discerned that not only perceives the doubt and the insecurities of individuals, but also appreciates them in a rather positive way--especially the insecurities that are related to intellectual, emotional, and moral issues. These are then used as a means of expanding the practices of the community. Content-wise, this happens when theological questions and doubt do not demand quicker answers and when there are no conscious equalizations made. However, on the positive side of things, it is precisely due to these shortcomings that the ECC protagonists become empowered to look for solutions and clarification. This process calls forth a pastoral response. An active subject is being emphasized within the ECC. This subject desires to synchronize shaky convictions and practices by adding autobiographical as well as cultural conditions and demands.
It is surprising to see what creative and self-determined ways some protagonists embark upon within the concrete situation in which they find themselves they find themselves in their commitment to the communities they are building. Active and self-determining protagonists emerge within the ECC that, for instance, try out spiritual forms of expression by using visual, haptic, and other modes of expression that target the senses.
Another example is their seeking encounters and interaction with "the other"; they open space/places for interpretation and they create religious identity. Innovative processes are the logical result. They occur in various ways, just as church services, social forms, theological discourses, etc. Unfortunately, though, what the ECC still misses is continuity. Essential elements of these processes of negotiation are bricolage in nature, deconstructing, having an action orientation, and using forms of speech such as irony, narrative, etc. Nonetheless, there are structural similarities between the evoked "post"-identity ("post-denominational," "post-evangelical," etc.) and a post-Christian spirituality. (58)
ECC protagonists integrate contradictions; interconfessional thinking and practice; early Christian, as well as elements from a non-Christian inventory; technical communication; information technologies, etc. Furthermore, they inquire after their utility and relevance for their own religious identity formation. (59) Authenticity rises to become the seal of approval and, at the same time, a concept that functions as a container.
The pressure for immediacy (spirituality), hypertextuality in relation to resources (content, technique, material, location), and dialogic-discursive processes, along with participatory forms, are implemented in a relational way. These mentioned elements can be interpreted as either "networked individualism" or "cooperative selfishness."
A further valid argument concerns the consideration of the safe haven that deserves criticism: It refers to the formulated claim and assertion to be on a journey of faith that requires critical questioning. As welcoming as it is to connect doubting people who happen to be in similar life situations, it is worth thinking about the claim made by the systematic theologian Rosenau from Kiel, Germany, when it comes to putting people who experience distance from God together with people who experience nearness to God. (60) People who doubt should be supported by people who know how to speak the language of assurance and nearness to God in order not to lose the plausibility to experience God. Jorg Frey underlines this statement by referring to the prominent passage from John 20, declaring that "The faith of the first disciples continuously emerges... owing to the testimony of another one who has a personal encounter with Jesus which displays a concurrence of a testimony together with a personal encounter of hearing and seeing.
Religious identity and dealing with doubt
ECC protagonists give space to express doubt and deal with questions and uncertainties. The propagated changes of religious identity are communicated in a positive manner in the ECC, as one can see through terms like "post-evangelical," "emerging Christianity," and "new Christians." These terms propose that ECC protagonists have an advantage of self-reflection and spiritual growth compared to evangelical Christians. It seems as if doubting is a necessary ingredient for protagonists in the ECC.
Herein lies a problem: Doubt is not only to be supported for the purpose of doubt as a method, but has also to be exposed in view of the jeopardy of one's faith. Interestingly enough, in previous convictions of the ECC, doubt was considered a virtue of thoughtful people. It was also celebrated as a "fortunate" religious advancement. In this respect, following Peter L. Berger and Anton Zijderveld, confessional Christian existence is stigmatized as "suspicious" and Christians are advised to "praise doubt." (62)
However, the theological purpose of doubt cannot and should not endorse this approach. From a Lutheran point of view, the assurance of faith, even if it remains fragmented in this life, is the hope of Christian existence. Consequently, neither subjective arbitrariness nor a glorification of doubt is appropriate--especially as you cannot entirely trust the capability of the subject (as proposed in Lutheran theological anthropology). Lastly, what it comes down to is that humans remains hidden and foreign to themselves and are dependent on being recognized and seen by God. Although the religious subject needs to be appreciated in their autonomy and self-reliance, they have been intended by God, and the dignity of freedom is granted to them by God or in the relationship with God.
Within the ECC, the negative dimensions of doubt are being ignored. Aspects such as Luther's warning to get into a "disputare de Deo" or the pain of doubt (a doubt that is grounded in our very existence) are not being addressed. The risk of losing one's faith does not play any role within the ECC. It is surprising that the theological purpose of doubt as temptation is not addressed as a fruitful intellectual aid for interpretation of one's experience. Moreover, many prominent protagonists support a removal of doubt in faith (i.e., a higher synthesis). This is referred to, for example, as maturation or growth in faith. (63) Such viewpoints are associated with a relativizing of previous theological convictions and practices, and they lead, within a revisionist stream, to religious-pluralistic interpretations of the Christian faith. One can, for instance, clearly observe this in the divergent understandings of the uniqueness of the Christian faith and its truth claims.
ECC as a place for religious transformation and innovation
In this article, the ECC is seen as a locus of religious change and thus has an impact on church change processes. The following explanation provides a helpful description of where those changes take place. Dutch practical theologian Stefan Paas describes locations in which church changes take place. These locations are places where innovation occurs, and Paas uses three motifs to describe them. He calls these motifs "biotopes of renewal": (1) "Free Havens," (2) "Laboratories," (3) "Incubators." (64)
"Free Havens" are located far away from places of control, where a group of people, participatory and unlimited in terms of regulations and external control, experiment with their ideas. Havens are important places of refuge and safety. Therein the crucial elements are commitment and optimism regarding an improvement of the circumstances. It is an "unregulated, countercultural place of mild anarchy," (65) according to Paas. Moreover, he sees parallels to the Christian tradition and adds that "non-conformist festivals" are places of innovation just like the "Greenbelt" festival in England. (66)
"Laboratories" are places where people having various ideas and convictions come together. "In laboratories creative people from different backgrounds work together to solve shared problems. In contrast with so-called free havens, innovations in laboratories emerge not so much from an almost obsessive commitment to a limited number of practices or convictions in a protected area, but from a purposeful widening of horizons that result in greater complexity but also in surprising new perspectives." (67) In laboratories, the goal is to enable innovations. This would happen through the "cross-fertilization between very different people who share some values, and who recognize each other as partners in a common quest." (68)
"Incubators" are dependent on a "parent" organization and external resources (in contrast to the previous examples). Established religious structures organize room for innovation around the margins of the organization in order to bring forth "programmed innovation." (69) Fresh expressions of church would be an example of an incubator.
As far as the typology is concerned, it can be said that following the end of the second historic phase (after 2010) and the dominance of the revisionist stream, the ECC would have the most resonance with the motif of the "free havens." According to Paas--and comparably described by Henk de Roest with the term "marginal ecclesiologies"--the building of ECC communities definitely has the potential for innovations, too. Henk de Roest's study describes communities that are found at the margin of mainline churches. Both Paas and Henk de Roest say that, in times of religious turmoil, such ecclesial communities would have space in established churches in order to question the "mainstream" --either despite or because of their anti-clerical as well as anti-institutional attitude. (71) In this regard, the building of ECC communities has huge potential for innovation.
Concluding Remarks: Further Thoughts on the Relevance of the ECC
Whether the ECC can be considered as a "viable post-Christendom future" (72) will remain unanswered and will have to continue being discussed. Though the movement has become less present, many discourses, protagonists, and networks have diffused into the religious landscape (e.g., into the organized religious segment of the "hyphenates" or other movements like fresh expressions of church).
As a version of experienced religiosity/lived religion, the ECC displays diverse challenges for practical theology. This implies questions of liquid social forms and liquefied religious identity formation and questions of connections between individuality and sociality, just as much as essential questions about changes of religious alignment and the associated formation of faith.
Within the theological evaluation of the ECC, it becomes evident that the mentioned theological concepts are one-sidedly resolved. For instance, when it comes to the understanding of doubt, a personal commitment to a confessional/denominational existence cannot simply be dismissed. Further, the identified necessity of an active development of religious orientation through doubt must be carefully and accurately noted--for the Christian faith is fides adventitia and it settles in verbum externum. Moreover, it offers thereby the promise of a personal identity that relieves the individual of an existential burden. Lastly, the risk of doubt needs to be mentioned. On the one hand, doubt applies where a higher synthesis of faith and doubt are pursued. On the other hand, it is theologically not justified to sacralize doubts.
Patrick Todjeras is the vice-director of the Research Institute for Evangelism and Church Development, University of Greifswald, Germany.
(1) This article is based on the research and insights of the author's PhD thesis (Patrick Todjeras, "Emerging Church" --Ein DekonversirerKonversationsraum: Eine Praktisch-Theologiscbe Untersucbung uber Ein Anglo-Amerikanisches Phanomen Gelebter Religiositat, PhD Diss (Universitat Greifswald, 2019)).
(2) The author of this article writes from the perspective of a Lutheran theologian living in Germany.
(3) This includes Rob Bell, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Spencer Burke, Shane Claiborne, Rachel Held Evans, Alan Hirsch, Tony Jones, Dan Kimball, Scot McKnight, Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, and Leonard Sweet. Contributions by other exponents are added whenever they seem helpful for further understanding. This focus also shows the limitations of this article. The British context refers to the following authors: Kester Brewin, Steve Chalke, lan Mobsby, Peter Rollins, and Dave Tomlinson. This article includes approaches by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost, referring to their understanding of ECC. See Todjeras, Dekonversiver Konversationsraum, 8-18.
(4) This article mainly uses the results of the following publications on protagonists and communities of the ECC: Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2005); Robert B. Whitesel, Inside the Organic Church: learning from 12 Emerging Congregations (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006); James S. Bielo, Emerging Evangelicals: Faith, Modernity, and the Desire for Authenticity (New York: New York University Press, 2011); Tony Jones, The Church Is Flat: A Relational Ecclesiology of the Emerging Church Movement (Minneapolis: The JoPa Group, 2011); Josh Packard, The Emerging Church: Religion at the Margins (Boulder, London: FirstForumPress, 2012); Gladys Ganiel and Gerardo Marti, The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). For a detailed conclusion of these results, see Todjeras, Dekonversiver Konversationsraum, 216-42.
(5) See Jones, The Church Is Flat, 44-50. First, we must notice that the historical development of the US ECC and the UK ECC must be differentiated. The division into three parts is helpful for the explanation of the US ECC, but not as helpful for the UK ECC.
(6) Besides the term "emerging church," there are also numerous other terms used in the ECC, especially during the second and third historic phase: "emergent Christianity," "Emerging Christianity" (Ganiel and Marti, Deconstructed Church), "emergence Christianity" (Phyllis Tickle, Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2012]), "emerging evangelicals" (Bielo, Emerging Evangelicals), "the church: emerging" (Doug Gay, Remixing the Church: Towards an Emerging Ecclesiology [London: SCM Press, 2011]) or "emerging church milieu" (Katharine Sarah Moody, "Researching Theo (B) Logy: Emerging Christian Communities and the Internet," in Exploring Religion and the Sacred in a Media Age [Burlington: Ashgate, 2009], 237-51).
However, the majority of these terms do not find decisive prevalence. Further terminology that is found in the ECC, though sparsely prevalent, is "deep church" (Jim Belcher, Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional [Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 2009]), "emerging missional church" (Eddie Gibbs, Churchmorph: How Megatrends Are Reshaping Christian Communities [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2009]), "intelligent church" (Steve Chalke, Intelligent Church: A Journey Towards Christ-Centred Community [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2006)), "organic church" (Neil Cole, Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005]), and "liquid church" (Pete Ward, Liquid Church |Carlisle: Paternoster, 2002]). These terms intend to give special voice to a specific idea of church by the adjective used in each case.
(7) Ed Stetzer's classification is found useful and therefore is quoted in many studies. Ed Stetzer, "Understanding the Emerging Church," 10 January 2006, https://www.crosswalk.com/church/pastors-or-leadership/first-person-understanding-the-emerging-church-1372534.html. See, e.g., Robert Doornenbal, Crossroads: An Exploration of the Emerging-Missional Conversation with a Special Focus on: "Missional Leadership" and Its Challenges for Theological Education (Delft: Eburon Academic, 2012), 41-48.
(8) Stetzer, "Understanding the Emerging Church."
(10) Doornenbal, Missional Leadership, 41.
(11) Kimball, Emerging Church, 86.
(12) Doornenbal, Missional Leadership, 95.
(13) Ibid., 43; Robert Doornenbal says, "In the reconstructionist stream, often informal, missional incarnational, and organic church forms, such as house churches, are proposed."
(14) In an exemplary manner, Burke and Taylor say, "At this point in our history, I believe God is to be questioned as much as obeyed, created again and not simply worshipped. Our views must be continually revised, reconsidered, and debated." (Spencer Burke and Taylor Barry, A Heretic's Guide to Eternity (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006), xxii.)
(15) Stetzer, "Understanding the Emerging Church."
(16) Doornenbal: "In America, revisionists are particularly found within ECC Village-circles" (Doornenbal, Missional Leadership, 45).
(17) These are also known as "younger evangelicals" or "hipster Christians," who positioned themselves apart from the ECC.
(18) For more detailed information, see Doornenbal, Missional Leadership, 47-48.
(19) Doornenbal says, "Clearly the revisionist stream is the most controversial substream of the Emerging Church Movement, especially among American evangelicals who are averse to what they perceive to be liberalism." Ibid., 48. Jim Belcher explains the special interest in the Reconstructionists and Revisionists by the strong contrast they build compared to the US evangelicals. "These two camps have received the most pushback from the traditional church. (The relevants have the most in common with the traditional church, at least theologically.) Influenced by Anabaptist and Mennonite sources, the reconstructionists' biggest challenge to the traditional church lies in the area of ecclesiology and community. The revisionists' epistemology, influenced by postmodernism, challenges the church's stance toward culture and its proclamation of the good news" (Belcher, Deep Church, 47).
(20) Cronshaw describes the Conversation as "global, cross-denominational movement that claim they are expressing new forms" (Darren Cronshaw, "The Shaping of Public Theology in Emerging Churches," Australian Journal of Mission Studies 3:1 , 16-22, at 16). Due to the inhomogeneity of the several traditions in the ECC, the term "Emerging Conversation" can usually be found in the literature.
(21) John Drane is one of the first to describe the ECC as a transnational movement that is going around in the Anglophone world (John Drane, "Editorial: The Emerging Church," International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church 6:1 , 3-11). "Emergent Village" was mentioned in the US "Handbook of Denominations." See Tickle, Emergence Christianity, 113-14.
(22) Therefore referring to those who were born between 1961 and 1980. See Richard W. Flory and Donald E. Miller, Gen X Religion (London: Routledge, 2000), 3.
(23) Teusner, Emerging Church Bloggers, 167.
(24) James S. Bielo, "The 'Emerging Church' in America: Notes on the Interaction of Christianities," Religion 39:3 (2009), 219-32, at 221. Many Christian communities, denominations, and authors assured the importance of the conversation. Andrew Crouch, "The Emergent Mystique," Christianity Today, 36-41, 1 November 2004. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/november/12.36.htrnl. See Ganiel and Marti, Deconstructed Church, 5.
(25) "For American religion, this cleavage has become increasingly apparent as a new basis of differentiation not only between, but also within, major religious bodies... At present, the two sides seem to be deeply divided, comprising almost separate religious communities whose difference have become far more important than those associated with denominational traditions." Robert Wuthnow, The Reconstructuring of American Religion (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988), 316.
(26) "West" refers to all those countries in which the Christian tradition and churches used to play an important role in society. In this article this is mainly Western Europe (especially the UK) and the US (but also Canada, New Zealand, and Australia).
(27) Andrew Perriman savs that the ECC consists of voices of protest that can also mean that "Christians have simply opted out of organized church altogether" (Andrew Perriman, Otherways [Lulu.com., 2007], 10).
(28) Gladys Ganiel and Gerardo Marti, "Northern Ireland, America and the Emerging Church Movement: Exploring the Significance of Peter Rollins and the Ikon Collective," Journal of the Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religions 1:1 (2014), 26-47, at 28.
(29) The Conversation was started by evangelicals from the US and UK. By this, it also symbolized another change in the US evangelicals' community since the 1990s. Due to changes in society (often stated as "postmodernity"), the question of the revelance of Christian faith and community becomes more urgent for evangelical communities. Soon the ECC became important also for other Christian denominations, confessions, and communities. Henk de Roest savs about the ECC: "It is a Christian answer to a culture in which the close bonds between the individual and one single institution, i. e. one church, one party, one company, one marriage, are gone. Emerging belongs to a culture in which mobility and selectivity widen the horizon" (Henk de Roest, "Ecclesiologies at the Margin," in The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church, ed. Gerard Mannion and Lewis S. Mudge, 251-72 [London: Roudedge, 2008], 261).
(30) It was described this way by the platform "Emergent Village," www.emergenrvillage.com/about.
(31) See Travis Warren Cooper, "The Invention of the Emerging Church Movement," in The Religious Studies Project, 10 October 2014, http://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/2014/10/10/the-invention-of-the-emerging-churchmovement-by-travis-cooper.
(32) The ECC therefore often meets in smaller local communities that share similar interests. At the same time, the conversation often communicates via conferences, articles, or online publications, internet platforms, blogs, etc.
(33) See, for example, Paul Emerson Teusner, Emerging Church Bloggers in Australia: Prophets, Priests and Rulers in God's Virtual World, PhD Diss, RMIT University, 2010.
(34) This can also be seen in the ECC's activity on websites, blogs, podcasts, etc.
(35) Moody, Researching Theo, 239.
(36) See Leonard Sweet, Soul Tsunami: Sink or Swim in New Millenium Culture (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1999), 21); Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2003), 52, 75. Moody, in a research study about the importance of the Internet for the conversation, said: "the Internet provides a global space for encouragement, experiment, inspiration and challenge between and beyond these geographically dispersed communities. Through it, the communities can become 'glocal'" (Moody, Researching Theo, 239).
(37) This shows how the ECC wants to use the Internet as "a supplement to, rather than a substitute for offline religious life" (Stewart M. Hoover, Clark Schofield, and Lee Rainie, "Faith Online," Pew Internet & American Life Project, 7 April 2004, www.pewinternet.org/files/old-media/Files/Reports/2004/PIP_Faith_Online_2004.pdf.pdf.). Publications often show the combination of online and offline activities, e.g., blog posts are being printed or books are being discussed in blogs.
(38) Eberhard Hauschildt and Uta Pohl-Patalong, Kirche, Lehrbuch Praktische Theologie (Gutersloh: Gutersloher Verlagshaus, 2013), 144. The authors say: "The character of the movement is very likely in the context of modern society, in which individuals meet in groups of shared interests to change society according to their convictions. Movements are signs of occurring problems that are not seen as relevant by the current institutions and organisations. The bigger the problem and the bigger the unwillingness of the responsible leaders to react on it, the stronger the movement and the more people join it." Also striking for the term "movement," according to Rademacher: "Movement always means a group of people like a mobilised network which tries to change society using different strategies... Movements all together are not an organization. It is hard to set their boundaries, their authority is often informal and not centralized. They don't have formal members, but people who join as well as activists as well as people who sympathize with it" (Stefan Rademacher, "'Makler': Akteure Der Esoterik-Kultur Als Einflussfaktoren Auf Neue Religiose Gemeinschaften," in Fluide Religion: Neue Religiose Bewegungen Im Wandel, Theoretische Und Empirische Systematisierungen, ed. Dorothea Luddeckens and Rafael Walthert (Bielefeld, 2010), 119-48, at 121).
(39) Packard, Resisting Institutionalization.
(40) Ganiel and Marti, Deconstructed Church, 25-26.
(41) James K. A. Smith, "Emerging Church: A Guide for the Perplexed," Reformed Worship 77 (2005), 40-41, at 40.
(42) Aaron O. Flores, An Exploration of the Emerging Church in the United States: The Missiological Intent and Potential Implications for the Future, PhD Diss., Vanguard University, 2005. See also Wollschleger, who talks about a "subcultural identity" (Wollschleger, Off the Map). The ECC protagonist Kimball talks about a "mindset" that the participant of the conversation needs to sort out (Dan Kimball, "The Emerging Church and Missional Theology," in Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches: Five Perspectives, ed. Robert Webber, John Burke, Dan Kimball, Doug Pagitt, Karen M. Ward, and Mark Driscoll [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2007], 81-116, at 14).
(43) Ganiel and Marti, Deconstructed Church, 204-206. It is both striking and confirming that there is a high degree of similarity between various surveys concerning the age range, gender ratio, level of education, and marital status (Todjeras, Dekonversiver Konversationsraum, 223-33).
(44) Ibid., 23.
(45) The high educational standard and the high percentage of people in their mid-30s might lead to the assumption that many of those people are single. Ganiel and Marti falsify that. About a third of the ECC protagonists state that they have children.
(46) Josh Packard used the term "niche" to make that point. Despite the fact that he has little data to support this viewpoint, he claims that ECC communities are a suitable fit for certain demographic groups. Other studies also show this "niche community" in a much more convincing way (Packard, Resisting Institutionalization, 145-50).
(47) This shows that the ECC communities that Ganiel and Marti looked at consisted only of a few people who could be called "unchurched." The same can be seen in the results of Cronshaw's research on the Australian ECC communities. He says, "For instance, the four emerging churches are not reaching as many unchurched people as their ideals suggest" (Cronshaw, Shaping of Public Theology, 289). One weakness of this survey is that it does not show whether the interviewed had been members before. For more information on the problems of surveys on religious self-image and membership, see Ganiel and Marti, Deconstructed Church, 42.
(48) See Todjeras, Dekonversiver Konversationsraum, 247-77.
(49) See, for a detailed analysis, ibid., 278-431.
(50) Katharine Moody stresses, "In active conversation with emerging cultures, emerging Christian communities are critical of Christianity's capitulations to modernism and explore Christian identity, theology and community in shifting paradigms" (Katharine Sarah Moody, "I Hate Your Church; What I Want Is My Kingdom': Emerging Spiritualities in the UK Emerging Church Milieu," The Expository Times 121:10 , 495-503, 238).
(51) Brian D. McLaren, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2012), 15.
(52) ECC communities can be found in many Christian denominations, both in the US and in the UK. In the ECC there is no label that would clearly identify what is to be called "emerging," so in the LIS there are many titles that show the mingling of the ECC and another denomination: "Presbymergent," "Luthermergent," "Methomergent," "Reformergent," "Anglomergent," "Cathlomergent," and "Baptimergent." Dan Kimball commented in 2007: "There are Baptist emerging churches as well as Episcopalian, Reformed, nondenominational, and many others. Many emerging churches would be considered conservative and many others would be considered liberal" (Kimball, Emerging Church, 83). See Phil Snider (ed.), The Hyphenateds: How Emergence Christianity Is Re-Traditioning Mainline Practices (St Louis, Mo.: Chalice Press, 2011); David Rathel, Baptists and the Emerging Church Movement. A Baptistic Assessment of Four Themes of Emerging Church Ecclesiology (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2014). "Hybrid-Emergent Groups Identity Labels Extend beyond Protestant Denominational Traditions, Evidenced by Catholic Emergent Groups, Jewish-Emergent Groups, Muslim-Emergent Groups and a Queermergent Group" (Lloyd Chia, Emerging Faith Boundaries. Bridge-Building, Inclusion, and the Emerging Church Movement in America, PhD Diss., University of Missouri-Columbia, 2010, 206).
(53) Josh Packard, "Resisting Institutionalization: Religious Professionals in the Emerging Church," Sociological Inquiry 81:1 (2011), 3-33.
(54) Ganiel and Marti, Deconstructed Church.
(56) Alan Jones, Reimagining Christianity: Reconnect Your Spirit without Disconnecting Your Mind (Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley, 2004), 16.
(57) Teusner says, "These statements about mission and evangelism cast a light on the nature of emerging church blogging, as sites not designed to rally the troops, or convert people to their way of thinking. Instead, these blogs host confessions that their experience of Christianity is not all they have wanted it to be, and that the world they know is not the same world their churches think it is" (Teusner, Emerging Church Bloggers, 122).
(58) Adam Possamai, "Alternative Spiritualities and the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism," Culture and Religion 4:1 (2003), 31-45, at 40.
(59) Taylor states that as an important reference of faith, it is less likely to focus on whether someone is eschatologically saved rather than focusing on the aspect of personal identity. Taylor stresses the meaning of a culture of authenticity which means that "everyone of us has their own original way of being human." He goes on to say: "If I don't stay true to myself, I miss the meaning of my life; I miss what it means to be human for me personally" (Charles Taylor, Das Unbehagen an Der Moderne [Frankfurt am Main: 1995]). See, for more, Charles Taylor, Ein Sakulares Zeitalter (Frankfurt am Main: 2009).
(60) Hartmut Rosenau, Ich glaube - Hilf Meinem Unglauben (Munster: LIT Verlag, 2005), 132.
(61) Jorg Frey, "Der 'Zweifelnde' Thomas (Joh 20, 24-29) Im Spiegel seiner Rezeptionsgeschichte," Hermeneutische Blatter 1:2 , 5-32, at 29). The only exception is Philip who, as Frey says, was called by Jesus directly (John 1:43).
(62) Peter L. Berger and Anton Zijderveld, Lob Des Zweifels (Freiburg: 2010), 127.
(63) Brian D. McLaren, Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words (New York: Harper Collins, 2011); Burke and Taylor, Heretic's Guide; Peter Rollins, The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction (New York: Howard Books, 2013).
(64) Stefan Paas, Church Planting in the Secular West: Learning from the European Experience (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2016), 224-40.
(65) Ibid., 226.
(66) Ibid., 226-27.
(67) Ibid., 229-30.
(68) Ibid., 230.
(69) Paas, Church Planting, 223.
(70) Gay even talks about the exodus out of dysfunctional ecclesiologies: "This journey has been understood as a form of 'exodus' of escape from a dysfunctional ecclesial space, which had been experienced variously but negatively as a place of confinement, prejudice, ignorance or banality" (Gay, Remixing, 95).
(71) De Roest, Ecclesiologies at the Margin, 260.
(72) Perriman, Otherways.
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|Publication:||International Review of Mission|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2019|
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