A Reflection on Emergent/Emerging and Cool

This ‘reflection’ is coming from the outside of the emergent/emerging/whatever movement – or whatever they are calling themselves now. I feel like I am friendly with it – or rather, I’m friendly with people who call themselves Emergent or Emerging, and that’s enough for me.

(And as an aside, God help you if you ask someone to define what exactly it is. Definitions are not the strong suit here at all.)

But periodically I hear something, or see something, or read something about Emergent/Emerging/Whatever (henceforth abbreviated EEW πŸ™‚ and I’ve noticed a few consistent trends. One of the main ones is that EEW is…consistently trendy. Now, I say this, once again, as an outsider – this time, to trendiness. I don’t know what cool is, I don’t really know how one would go about becoming cool because I have never been cool. In fact, a large achievement as I’ve gotten older is putting to a slow death my desire to be cool. But that’s another blog post. I do, however, think I know when someone is trying very, very hard to be cool, and I see a lot of that with EEW.

Now, I understand we need to reach out to the young whippersnappers with their iPods
and their identical glasses frames. (I marvel at the fact that whippersnapper doesn’t activate the spell-checker…but iPod does) On the other hand, it also often reminds me of advice that you sometimes get in youth ministry – very well-meaning I assume – which amounts to “make sure you get the cool kids to come to your youth group.”

I think that there is at least a danger here of EEW becoming “No, look, we’re cool too! Look how cool Christianity is! And so edgy! Cool and edgy – how can you resist!?”

Now, as I said, I have no idea what cool is, but I’m pretty sure Christianity isn’t it. I guess you could say sometimes edgy. So is the cool packaging? Or am i missing something?

9 thoughts on “A Reflection on Emergent/Emerging and Cool

  1. Interesting thoughts, lets try this on for size. The primary community where I worship would be classified as emergentesque by almost everyone EXCEPT the hardcore emergent folks. Why, becaue we are in a close connection/partnership with a larger PCUSA church. You and I may not be able to define it, but there are certainly people who can.


  2. The problem with many is the conflation of culturally “relevant” with an idea of “postmodern” as a culturally relevant term. the behavior is decidedly postmodern, but the intent behind the action is not really a good estimation of what postmodernism is. Can we actually “be” postmoderns at all? I would say no. That’s not what it is. It’s that issue that I am trying to help clarify in my own unspecial and not postmodern way.


  3. These are important questions, Doug, and I love your sensitivity to the “odd kid out.”To me the EEW’s “trendiness” seems similar to any attempt to make church more friendly to some segment of the culture around it. In this case it’s the smart, techie, artsy, eclectic, unchurched crowd. An important strategy for evangelism, for sure. And with the same potential pitfalls as any attempt to make church more friendly to culture–the church needs to work out how much it can change without losing its heart, and the church needs to pay attention to which of its time-honored traditions it doesn’t need anymore. (Especially since so many of those traditions are remnants of previous attempts to make the church more relevant to some culture around it.)I think the EEW church is doing great in that regard.I notice that a lot of EEW people/groups tend to use the “outsider” talk for *themselves,* perhaps ignoring the fact that they may be creating outsiders too. However, if you look at different kinds of churches, the EEWs are hardly the only ones who do that.Relatedly, the search for trendiness obscures the EEW goal of authenticity. It’s hard to be real if you’re trying to get people to like you all the time. But again, that’s not unique to the EEWs. Most pastors, especially, tend to be people-pleasers and peacemakers, which makes it hard to be authentic if we’re trying to decide whether to reveal something that could be unpopular or stir up conflict.The only thing that does drive me up the wall is the EEW investment in creating “star” celebrities. I can’t figure out why that’s so important, esp. given the stated goals of collaboration. And, if overturning hierarchies etc. is so important, why are all the star celebrities white males over 40?But that said, I think the EEW could easily give up its celebrity-creation, and still have a church movement congruent with the existing EEW mission and vision.


  4. Heather:I do think that EEW is collectively outside the mainstream…of the shrinking mainline denominations. I think that EEW is very deeply planted at the core of modern American culture. So the result is perhaps a weird inside/outside hybrid. At Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, the EEW crowd is right there at the pinnacle of our culture with the Bobos. In a Presbyterian worship service, they are on the periphery. A weird place to be, no doubt.Given the choice, I’d rather be in an EEW church than a 50s-traditional church, but I’m not sure I really fit in either.Where’s the church movement for Dungeon Masters and drama geeks who attend gaming and Sci-Fi/F conventions and salivate for season 4 of Battlestar Galactica? That’s where I need to be πŸ™‚


  5. You also make the good point about authenticity. I don’t want to imply that there isn’t a lot of really cool stuff going on in EEW that is deeply rooted in the Gospel. Quite the opposite. I think its a good movement (or whatever it is – they don’t like being called a movement πŸ™‚ that has a lot of important things to say, that is doing a lot of important things as well.I also read a lot about the over-40 male issue in EEW. In fact, I can’t think of any female EEW celebrities. So if we’re overturning tradition here, I nominate patriarchy for the chopping-block.Maybe part of the problem is – our culture is still quite unequal, so part of being “relevant” might mean you absorb some of that. I mean, CEOs and CFOs and most politicians are also white males over 40…


  6. So, I’ve had such a weird experience with this all of this… I’m not cool. I’m a pastor of an intergenerational, traditional, progressive congregation. And yet, somehow, I’ve found myself in the middle of this EEW conversation.I’m just hoping that it’s fluid enough right now that the movement can expand. We’ll see.


  7. This issue of *star* power in emergentesque circles and all that has a lot to do with the publishing world (popular names get attached to sell books first and for-most) than it does with the actuality of the movement (and yes, even I one who self-identifies with it thinks its a movement). But back to the *star* thing. There are a fewer *stars* that aren’t over 40 white males. But the actual organization (< HREF="http://www.emergentvillage.org/" REL="nofollow">emergent<>) does come from theological and denominational backgrounds that only recognized the white male types. All that to say, there are *star* types of the movement. Read books like “Flirting with Monasticism” by Karen Sloan or “Christianity for the Rest of Us” by Diana Butler Bass or even the likes of Anne Lamott or Sara Miles. On top of those women, there are Heather Dirk-Davidoff, Nanette Sawyer, Carla Barnhill, Sherry Maddock, Sally Morgenthaler, and Deborah Loyd who all wrote chapters in “An Emergent Manifesto of Hope.”Yes, its easy to see the emergent movement by the top 5 or so names that are always floated around that do fit the category but they aren’t the only ones. And even they are trying to include the voices of others who don’t get recognized.


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