Deeper, Safer, Richer: Emergence into Global Family

So my friend Wayne Jacobsen of The God Journey podcast (and co-publisher at Windblown Media, which you might’ve heard of ’cause of the runaway best-selling Trinitarian thriller The Shack) treated us with a visit yesterday, and Wayne is calling us to a fast from the ‘e-word’ in order to reach our truest ideals. Here’s what he said:

Mike, I think you missed my point in the questions I posed to you. There’s a difference, in my mind, between expressing your journey in ‘emerging ways’ and isolating that conversation as ‘Emergent.’ This term has moved way past describing emerging thinking on church life and has taken an identity as an organized group of people, identified spokespeople, and specific doctrine and agendas. Emergent is now a label that carries certain connotations and certainly some unfair accusations.

I don’t think you guys on the inside see that as clearly as folks do on the outside of it. It may not be what you wanted when you started this conversation, but what denomination ever began by a group of people trying to start one? I don’t think that’s evil, but unwittingly it creates an inside/outside environment and limits the conversation with others.My concern is with labels themselves. And you’re right, relational Christianity can just become another label, too, which is why I avoid using it when it takes on a life of its own. I just want my focus to be on Jesus, my fellowship to be broad among this incredibly diverse family, and to not help create or sustain movements that will over time just become another marginalized denomination to add to all the others.My hope is that some day we’ll just be a family, without needing to find any identity in labels. And we’ll get to have a deeper, richer conversation among the manifold expressions of church life that God gives breath to. My concern is only that labels limit that conversation rather than foster it. If you don’t believe me, just see how willing the ‘emergent folks’ would be to give up the term…Blessings, Bro! Always love your stuff and the freedom to crash hearts and heads without risking the friendship.

With love,


Wayne! Oh, I’m glad you saw my initial posts–I was going to alert you, but it’s been crazy moving around here (barely time to write the entries!). Thank you for taking the time to say all this; I think if anyone is, you’d be a helpful someone to offer some gentle corrective to ‘the conversation’ and how it inhabits or inhibits relationships in God’s ever-expanding kingdom.

Did I miss your point? Hmm. I may indeed have; I’m just not sure who you’re talking about. Besides maybe Tony Jones (happy 40th) or Doug Pagitt, can you name any Emergent Village folks? Most of ’em or rather low-key, and Tony & Doug are obnoxious in a good way. (did I just say that in print?) But point taken that emergent now carries a particular ‘taste’ in many people’s mouths, and not a very pleasant one among her most vocal critics.

You mention ’emergent’ as having an agenda, and I agree that there is one. The tragical irony of it all is that the agenda is fostering hospitable place for respectful dialogue regardless of differences, so that there is no ‘insider-outsider’ conception. And I’d say that this worked beautifully until around 2005 when Christian and mainstream media began taking notice, alerting people who didn’t want to converse and indeed thought that this theological hospitality was a dangerous thing. In recent years our ‘enemies’ have defined us too much, which might seriously jeopardize the value of the descriptor.

As to your concern with labels themselves–I’m with you almost all the way on that one. Have you ever read Wendell Berry’s essay In Distrust of Movements ? A great little piece; on distributed, incidentally, in 2004 I think by Brian McLaren when some people ceased referring to an emerging ‘conversation’ and started referring to it as a ‘movement.’ I think Mr. Berry’s points (and yours) are to be heeded.

And yet when you say “I just want my focus to be on Jesus,” I have a split reaction. In my heart of hearts I say “Oh yes, me too”–and mean it, just as you mean it (and live it out quite compellingly). But the other part of me is reminded of the first century situation in Corinth, where the “Just Jesus” folks were every bit as labeled and movemented as any of the other factions–maybe even more so because they were blinded to it by a false assurance that they were ‘just about Jesus’!

You know me, Wayne; I’ve been around the house church/simple church/relational Christianity/’outside the camp’ scene for 10 years now–several years longer than my reflecting on postmodernity’s interactions with faith, the mood and probing that gradually became known as ’emerging church.’ Well, in the outside-the-camp land, folks blast what they call “the institutional church” or “the IC” with aplomb–’cause they thank God they’re not that. While there are some lovely people in this stream that I call dear friends to this very day, I can’t help but see their desire to be “just about Jesus and the pristine simplicity of Scripture and divine revelation” as a modernist impulse to escape history and retreat to some kind of ‘objectivity’ that is above the messy situatedness and contingency of life. But there is no escape. I have green eyes and am 6-foot-2 and kinda overweight and I was born in Georgia. I like sci-fi and comic books and have a wonderful wife and little girl. Amid my journey into God I was Baptist then Pentecostal then Presbyterian. These days I’m way more permeable spiritually but I can still accurately describe myself as practicing apprenticeship to Jesus in a house church community context, asking questions of God, friends and reality along similar lines as those involved in a conversation we see as indicative of a kind of emergence occurring on a global scale. Try as I might seek to transcend the particulars of my life, I cannot. We are all contextual people, historically situated in a particular time and place, with proclivities that can indeed be summed up from time to time. It grates on enlightenment Western individualism, but I’m not all that original. And so sociologists can sum us up, Wayne—you and me both. We may as well enjoy it.

But I agree with your heart, brother, that we as friends and followers of the risen Jesus shouldn’t seek to sum up or size up, ever. Why eat from the Tree of Judgement (aka ‘Knowledge of Good and Evil’) when you can dine on life itself? I yearn to be more like a family with this great conglomeration we call the cosmos. I want deeper, richer, safer conversation—and not just conversation, dammit, but bold new creative, loving action! So if we need to be (I cannot help but snicker as I write this) post-emergent in order to evolve into this, then so be it.

So let me take you up on your challenge, Wayne: No “e-word” for the next 30 days on this here blog (my own commented replies to this post notwithstanding). Last time I checked I don’t have a green “e” tattooed on my forehead, and I’d be quite fine forgoing it as a source of identity and comfort. Let’s see if the fast will last!

7 Responses to Deeper, Safer, Richer: Emergence into Global Family

  1. Johnny April 2, 2008 at 3:43 pm #

    Hey Mike, I posting from work…

    I haven’t dropped out of our conversation (wait. does that make me emergent now? Tee Hee)…but there is only so much time in a day.

    Titles, words, labels, etc…
    They can all be helpful in communication.
    For instance, one we all know is that Jesus was labeled the “Messiah” and “Lord”. I am called a “maintenance man”, etc.
    (I know this is all very elementary, but I am just trying to make a point).

    I think communication and conversation is very important.
    Questions need to be asked, and answers need to be given.
    Statements need to be made.
    Many things are simply held in tension, and certainly relationships need to be built and/or understood.
    Sometimes it’s just good to talk and enjoy the conversation.

    To me, it all depends on where one “is at”, and what the Lord is saying to them at the time that matters.

    The most important thing for me right now is what the Lord is speaking to me personally.
    “Enough talk. There is too much work to do. Be quiet and do your work, it will speak louder than anything you have to say anyway”.

    This isn’t a ‘rebuke’ against conversation, it’s an exhortation, for me, to be about may Fathers buisness which consequently curtails many uneccesary things.

    The neat thing, for me, is that this resonates very much with what I find in scripture as well (James, in particular. I LOVE that letter!!), which, to me, carries alot of weight.
    Peace, and I hope to see or converse with you soon.

  2. jc April 4, 2008 at 4:39 am #

    i think many folks these days are trying to change the status quo. we’re tired of the same. no one wants the old. people want something fresh and new. ’emergent’ is, for some, simply a means by which to explore and be free (expressing new things and exploring new ideas). on the other hand, for others, it’s the same old shoe box with new wrapping (a white elephant gift)…and when the receiver opens it, they find themselves disappointed.

    i personally would like to drink from new rivers that i’d like to see spring forth from above and below. fresh is good. but of course vintage, is even better. 🙂

  3. Steve K. April 8, 2008 at 4:11 am #

    I knew I should’ve checked with you before I posted about “The Shack” over on the Emergent Village blog! D’oh!

    I’ve just added an update with a link to this here post. Thanks for this and for articulating some good thoughts on the value of the “emergent” label.


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