Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Disarming, visionary, thoughtful. Those are the words I would use to describe Brian McLaren after sitting next to him at dinner last night and listening to him speak later at Viva Books. He’s a prominent and controversial face of a conversation/movement within the Christian church (and quickly expanding outside of it) called Emergent—and the author of several books that I very much resonated with when I read them last year.

The goals and vision of Emergent are diverse and wide-ranging, but one thing the people in the Emergent conversation seem to have in common is their desire to see the church (that is, the body of people who proclaim Christ) achieve its potential and purpose as the instrument through which God demonstrates His love and grace to the entire world. Some people pursue this aim through the formation of new “churches” that look nothing like the “institutional church” or the “seeker sensitive” church—but are more like intentional communities that embrace a form of monasticism characterized by contemporary forms of chastity, poverty, and obedience. Others pursue this aim by developing “new” forms of worship that are experiential and contemplative within existing church structures. Others are drawn to the idea of the “missional church”, a concept widely embraced by the Emergent conversation and seek to bring this intentional outward focus into their communities. And still others see the Emergent conversation as an opportunity to dialogue with and learn from different streams within the Christian faith (Orthodox, Anabaptist, Catholic, Calvinist, etc) in order to increase unity in the body of Christ across the liberal/conservative divide that often polarizes people these days.

Even as I try to encapsulate what I have learned about Emergent over the last year, I confess my inability to paint a complete landscape of this “thing”, whatever it is. I think the quality that cuts across the Emergent folks I know is the willingness to ask questions. For some, asking questions is dangerous, for we all like certainty. Yet there is very little that is truly certain in the world or in our faith. (That is, after all, why it is called faith.) There is a real sense of appreciation for mystery among the folks I know in the Emergent realm, and I am grateful for what I have learned from them because of their approach to ambiguity and devotion to knowing and following Christ, wherever He leads.