My friend Andrew Perriman author and theologian, runs a blog that anyone reflecting seriously on Church and theology should take a look at.
I was reminded to tell you again about him, after reading this piece on the Emerging Church. After having read so many taxonomies and critiques, that often tell more about the people making them than the Emerging Church Movement (ECM), Andrew's piece was refreshing. By that it seemed to resonate with my experience of the last 10 years, of what the movement is at its best.
One thing I am increasingly thinking, and prompted again Andrew's post, is that Emerging Church is misnomer, or at least the word 'Church' in that appellation is. By that I mean, as I read Andrew's descriptions, of how lacking 'ecclesiology' is. I'm sure Andrew would argue that the themes he highlights are part of the 'ecclesial' attentions of the Emerging Church.
But I think what many are taking issue with, about the ECM is the lack of any 'church' at all: concrete manifestations of new communities, that embody all those themes, with new christians in them. And communities that have an ecclesial awareness and theology for their ecclesiology.
If one things Evangelicals have been aware of for some time, at least those involved in ecclesiology is that Evangelicals have had little attention to ecclesiology and any understanding of Church theologically (for example see Evangelical Ecclesiology: Reality of Illusion?).
Given that most of the conscious Emerging Church, those who lay claim to that title, arose from Evangelical backgrounds, I think they/we have fallen foul of an existing Evangelical problem. In the already missional DNA of Evangelicals, a relaxed attitude to Ecclesiology was needed for radical mission. Unfortunately attention to missional context too much, leads to an ecclesiology that embodies the culture of the mission.
Reading Andrew's post, I saw that missional mapping, the delineation of the ECM as it has described and mapped the new landscape of our post-modern, post-material, post-foundationalist, globalised culture. Yet within that has the ECM perhaps rather fatally (and all the things we are passionate about are penultimate and flawed let's be honest about that, including my own ecclesiology), perpetuated a lack of ecclesial attention, or found what kind of ecclesiolgy is a recipe for the body of Christ this now well mapped new world. I'm aware that Andrew himself highlights how the ECM is a prophetic moment/movement rather than a new mode of Church.
Before you all jump on me, I think there are some 'ecclesial' turns. It's why many have moved into Anglicanism, looking for an ecclesiolgy, a 'Church' for their new attentions and convictions. Or the missional communities that many of my friends are part of. Then there is the post-ecclesial turn, a further move outside of any ecclesiology; a large number of disembodied, floating Christians, whose ecclesiology seems to have more in common with the mission of the culture we are in, than the mission of the Kingdom.
In that sense, perhaps the Emerging Church would be better called, Emerging Christianity? By that I betray my ecclesial convictions, that the Church is a thing in and of it self, a commitment to particularity, presence and a way of life with others. Within that I think there are immense possibilities for creative and missional engagement, but it's not a free for all pick and mix, download what I want when I need it, self creation.