With everyone writing obituaries and whatnot for the emerging church movement, and with myself coming across more and more as a critic, I feel a personal push towards taking a time-out to recollect some positives and praise for a movement, that while mixed, and in many ways losing momentum and splintering, has been significant for me in my journey.
1. My initial intro to the emerging church movement came in a seminar with (yes, believe it or not) Doug Pagitt and Mark Driscoll together. On a personal level, at a low point in my life and faith, feeling burnt out and burned, they talked about a postmodern (hey! Remember that word??) approach to faith that was more about Jesus than institution, and more about life in the way of Jesus that made a difference in the world and less about a focus on getting people over the goal-line of decision and their rears into heaven. All of that resonated with me deeply. Brian McLaren's books The Church on the Other Side and More Ready Than You Realize, Len Sweet's Postmodern Pilgrims, an Origins conference with Erwin McManus (and many of his books)... all of these kept my vision and heart for faith and church together even while I worked out on a personal level some things I needed to get sorted that threatened to shipwreck me. And even though now I find myself more often than not pushing back against BOTH Driscoll and Pagitt from my tiny speck of middle ground, I'm eternally grateful that at just the right time, God allowed our paths to cross.
2. On a theological level, whether they were ever really connected with the emerging church or not, people like Todd Hunter and Dallas Willard, Rob Bell and Ruth Haley Barton all became introduced to me through the EC. And they have all had profound impacts on my thinking about God and faith. Todd Hunter gave me an expanded view of the Gospel and the Kingdom that continues to shape me today- and he did it at various Emerging Churchy type things like the Emergent Convention (remember those??) and Off the Map. Rob Bell, while cool and all, and inability to boil down the Gospel to 140 characters aside (I kid, I kid), proved to be a game-changer for me, mainly by introducing me to William Webb and the redemptive hermeneutic, something that has been massively forming for me. His simple explanation of Webb's take on the redemptive arc in Scripture set in motion for me a internal movement that led me to a completely different view of women in leadership and has shaped Evergreen for the better.
3. On a pastoral/church level, the emerging church conversation broadened my ecclesiastical horizons and helped me to see God at work in all kinds of expressions of Church. But even more so, it gave me the freedom to think outside the boundary lines I had previously limited myself to in terms of what Church could and should be. It introduced me to ideas of a more organic approach, helped shape my thinking on flattened leadership structures and, in a sense, gave me "permission" to try something as crazy as church in a pub.
4. On a missional level, it's largely been through the emerging church that I've been turned on to voices in the missional stream of thinking, like Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, voices which continue to shape my way of thinking and orientation in the world and which continue to challenge, stretch and even confound and frustrate me- all good things and sorely needed.
5. Finally, I credit the emerging church movement/impulse with a renewed emphasis in my own heart, in my city, and in the American church in general towards justice and the poor. If you think the emerging church has just been all talk, and no practical good in the world, you haven't had your eyes open for the last ten years. The amount of influence the emerging church has wielded in terms of getting the sleeping giant of the American church off its rear and into the game in terms of helping the poor both locally and globally has been WAY out of proportion to its size and influence in other areas (though it has had influence in other areas). While the biggest churches in America ten years ago were hosting conferences on how to grow your church even bigger, today they host conferences about, push people towards and resource (for example) the fight against AIDS in Africa, clean water around the world and more. Ten years ago much of evangelicalism in the West had its head in the sand in regards to global poverty and today the landscape looks very different. And while a concern for justice and the poor didn't originate with the emerging church, I think a renewed consciousness about and concern for the poor among can largely be credited to the "prophetic" emerging voices of people like Shane Claiborne and feeling the pressure of all these small emerging communities (some of which have grown into big, city-impacting churches like Imago Dei) that were getting it done in ways that their more-established and better-resourced churches weren't.
All in all, I'm grateful for the impact of the Emerging Church on my life- while I feel like we've grown apart in some ways (I just need to see other movements... really, it's not you, it's me. Okay, it is kind of you), and while I feel like there's some significant tares in amongst all the wheat there, for today, I'm choosing to see and be thankful for the good.