Making sense of the emerging church movement
If you’ve been somewhat bewildered, as I have, by all the talk about this emerging church thing, here’s yet another classification of the multiple mini-movements linked to the overall theme. Hat-tip to Matt Stone for the link.
To summarise, there are:
- Neo- Calvinists
- Digital Pentecostals
Matt Stone is in Australia, and Mark Sayers (who originated the list) is apparently also in Australia, and so it is an Oz-centred list. Perhaps that’s why I find it so hard to fit any of the people I’ve met who are interested in the emerging church into any of those categories.
In the list there seem to be a lot of “neo-” labels, and that seems to me something one should be careful about. “Neoliberalism”, for example, is usually associated with the ideology that lies behind the economic policies of Ronald Reagan and Maggie Thatcher — privatisation, globalisation, structural adjustment programmes and the like, which have brought such disaster to Africa. It’s difficult enough to have to differentiate between the different liberalisms (political, theological, economic etc) without having to differentiate between different neoliberalisms as well.
In South Africa there seems to be a different pattern to the emerging church movement. There seems to be some neo-Calvinism (in Mark Sayers’s sense), where one would expect it, in the Church of England in South Africa, and possibly among some Calvinistic Baptists, but the emerging people in the traditionally Calvinist denominations, like the Dutch Reformed Churches, seem to regard regard neo-Calvinism as the thing that got us into the mess they are trying to climb out of. Neo-Calvinism is associated with Abraham Kuijper, a Dutch theologian and politician of a century ago, and Herman Dooyeweerd, whose thought was twisted by some Reformed theologians in South Africa to back up the now-discredited ideology of Christian Nationalism, which in turn backed the apartheid policy.
So it seems to me that Neo-Calvinism is the very thing that some South African emerging church people are reacting against (if any of them are reading this, and disagree with this assessment, I hope they will put me right).
If there’s a different stream, there may be some who are reacting against the consumerist mentality of the neopentcostal megachurches, and who are looking for something more relational, where there is more community. And a third stream might be those looking for spirituality rather than religion. None of these seem to really fit the Oz pattern outlined by Mark Sayers and Matt Stone. And then there are people like Brian McLaren, who I thought was beginning to make a few nods in the direction of historical Orthodoxy, even if not really accepting it, but others seem to disagree. But then I’m not sure what the writer of that blog means by “historic orthodoxy” — I suspect it is very different from what I would regard as historic Orthodoxy.
So perhaps what passes for “emerging” differs in many more ways than are outlined above, taking very different forms in different countries. And it still concerns me that in South Africa it seems to be largely white.