What is ‘Emergent’?

I’m grateful for this discussion of the vocabulary of the Emergent Church from tallskinnykiwi (Let me guess. Is he tall? skinny? a kiwi? Nah! Too obvious.) It helps fill in my admittedly limited knowledge of the movement. Here’s a quote (but go and read the whole thing):

“Emergent”, as it is used in “emergent theory”, is a name given to the phenomena of how new organizational structures progress from low-level chaos to higher level sophistication without a hierarchical command structure. Emergent theory explains how birds change direction, how slime mould moves, how ant colonies are built and how Amazon.com knows so much about us. The process involves constant communication and feedback among the lowest level of organization, pattern recognition, local action affecting global behavior, and takes into consideration the element of unpredictability in a chaotic system. Solomon was wise in suggesting that we observe the ways of the ant and be wise (Proverbs 6:6) And the emerging church has been wise in allowing the vocabulary from emergent behavior to give a window of insight to the traditional church.

This is interesting. Others looking from the outside can give interesting viewpoints on how the church is developing and maybe see influences that the church itself is not aware of. I find the application of “emergent theory” to church kind of quirky but interesting.

The problem, I think, is the last sentence of the above quote. It seems that there is an attempt to give the idea of an emergent church a biblical basis (though I admit I may be making too much of this) by looking at the ant, as Solomon did. Ant colonies are chaotic systems which emerge. Solomon counsels looking to the ant. So churches should be chaotic systems which emerge.

Except Solomon was not talking about the system. He was addressing the question of a godly work ethic, or the lack of it. He was challenging slobs, layabouts, wasters. This verse is not adequate as a paradigm of the church. There needs to be something else.

I have to admit, though I am interested in the analysis of this movement from a scientific theoretical point of view, this whole approach screams alarm bells at me. If you can analyse a system in an a-spiritual, deterministic way without any reference to principles, should this not worry us? Perhaps there is more that can be said and I just don’t know about it.

I am concerned that the structure of such communities just evolves. It can’t. There are principles in the Bible that tell us how to organise.

It is bottom-up:

And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you.(I Thess 5:12, NKJV)

Those who work hard for the people of God get recognised by those people.

But it is also top-down:

Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. (Heb 13:17, NKJV)

Those who are over us in the Lord, get to rule and direct.

You see, there is a much better biblical paradigm for the church. Not ants in a chaotic colony, but sheep in a well shepherded flock. In this paradigm, instead of groping about, we get to go places where the Shepherd leads.

What is ‘Emergent’?

2 thoughts on “What is ‘Emergent’?

  1. Donna says:

    Stephen, your analysis is very helpful to me in solidifying the why behind my skepticism of the EC movement. Interestingly, those whom I have run across that are skeptical of EC are more likely to quote scripture than those who are adamantly defending it.

  2. Stephen says:

    Hi, glad it was helpful. Of course this is only one aspect of EC – it’s a big subject! – and my comments are exploratory. If you have comments on my “thinking out loud”, I’d be glad to read them.

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