We had a great discussion last night at up/rooted.west as we discussed the three major streams of the emerging church, as well as many other streams that are feeding in to the conversation. About 14 of our gathered at Giordanos in Glen Ellyn and feasted on deep dish pizza as we talked about worship, ministry and theology (among other things).
I spent much of the time explaining my model for understanding the emerging church movement (which I describe in more detail here). Essentially I describe three streams (borrowed, in part, from Ed Stetzer): the Relevants, the Reconstructionists, and the Re-Envisionists.
Relevants are primarily concerned with how we can make the church and the gospel more relevant to a postmodern culture. The focus is often on worship styles and interacting with pop culture. Key influencers have been people like Dan Kimball and Bob Webber - and they have helped lead emerging churches in to being very experimental, creative, artistic, and willing to reclaim ancient and liturgical worship practices as well.
Reconstructionists are more concerned with how to do church as a whole, not just the worship service. They are questioning the traditional methods and structures of institutional Christianity. Some, like Eddie Gibbs, seem more interested in reforming the current system; while others like Doug Pagitt are reinventing a whole new system. And on the far edge there are a lot of anti-institutional folks like Spencer Burke who want to disconnect from the system altogether. Watchwords of this stream are "organic", "authentic", "incarnational", and "holistic".
Re-Envisionists, in contrast to the previous two streams, aren't just interested in rethinking the methods, they want to rethink the message as well. This stream is focused on theological dialogue, and many are rediscovering a fuller gospel of the Kingdom of God. Missional church theology underlies much of this re-thinking, as does a generously orthodox approach that seeks to appreciate the diversity between different traditions of the Christian faith. Much of the theology of this stream has been pioneered by people like Lesslie Newbign and NT Wright, and has been popularized by Brian McLaren.
As I outlined these three basic streams, I was careful to point out that emerging people exist in some, and sometimes all of these streams, but there is no litmus test for how emerging one has to be to be included in the conversation - because it is, at heart, a conversation.
As we talked, many people in the group raised excellent questions: Do emerging Christians care about evangelism? (yes, but not in the way it's typically been practiced over the past half-century) What about the global church? (see Amahoro.info) What about ethnic diversity? (It's as much of a challenge for the emerging church as any other part of Christianity these days) Is the goal to reform existing churches or to start new emerging churches? (yes... both/and) What about women in the emerging church? (see EmergingWomen.us) Etc... We probably could have kept talking for a lot longer (and some did), but we cut off the conversation at 9pm so that people from further away could get home (we had visitors from as far away as Rockford and Homewood - near the Indiana border - in the other direction!) Thanks to everyone who contributed to the discussion!
Next month's up/rooted gathering will be a joint one (west-north-south) at Northern Seminary in Lombard on Monday, April 23 at 7pm. We will be hearing from Annie Gill-Bloyer from the ONE Campaign and Bread for the World. She'll be teaching us about global poverty and what we can do about it. This will be a very important gathering and I hope you will all plan to attend! We want to make a big deal about this one, and we could really use your help getting the word out, so please tell people at your churches, in your neighborhoods, at work, etc. Anyone is welcome... you don't have to be especially "emergent" to care about ending poverty. In a few weeks I'll send out a .pdf poster that you can put up at your local coffee shop too.
Thanks, see you then!
P.S. Don't forget that up/rooted.north is meeting tomorrow (Wednesday) night at 7pm at Northern Seminary to recap and discuss Brian McLaren's lectures there from earlier in the day.