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Jul 26, 2010


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I don't think I'd use the word "comical" at all... Not when I think of some EC folks I know and see how incredibly far they have "pushed their boundaries." Some incredibly brave and faithful seeking is dismissed in what seems to be a disingenuous way. "We" just say "They're becoming like us." And once we can co-opt - and dismiss - that journey into our stasis then we don't have to change at all... And thus, the same rut holds us... for how much longer?

Michael W. Kruse

Fair enough, Rodger. My intention was not to minimize the journey many are on. Rather I'm pointing to some, who because this is all new to them, believe themselves to be heralding something utterly unique and they are dismissive of all who say otherwise. Here I'm thinking of some(by no means all) ECM folks outside the Mainlines.

But I think I hear you saying something else that also concerns me. Conscious or not, I think there is an attempt to co-opt ECM by many in the Mainline camp. The question is whether there is something bigger afoot with ECM than this. I think there is and that it can't be co-opted.


OK... I'll buy this. I've personally had to sort of swallow my first thought with some folks on this. (Ironically in quite a few conversations that happened in your neck of the woods at the former Roanoke Pres. church!) This wide-eyed, "Have we found something awesome." I get that - and agree with you. It was just that my first read of Landon's words were pretty smug, snide, and hugely condescending - not something helpful I think.

And the other side is perhaps this ongoing tendency we all have to try to "shrink wrap" anything "new" so that it can be fit into any of our already existing systems? Don't know if that's what you are getting at or not, but it does happen. Maybe it's two sides of something that we want to be a coin, but keeps turning out to be a multi-faceted thing - we just try to reduce it to two dimensions when it actually is something like 256? 512? Etc. (That whole concept is what, IMO, Spencer Burke and McLaren were bringing to the conversation (God, did I just use THAT word???) some years ago.

I just keep trying to remember what "we" can gain from "them." (As much as I hate the "otherness" we keep (some of us) trying to interject into the discussion. And don't think that happens when we tend to dismiss with things like "Don't talk to US about Bruggemann - we've had him for 40 years... etc.) Smacks of an arrogance we (still) need to deal with. Disappointing to Landon going there.

will spotts

"The question is whether there is something bigger afoot with ECM than this. I think there is and that it can't be co-opted." MK

"But 'emergence' in general (a la Tickle): This is nothing short of our age's Reformation. ..." LW

Michael - I don't mean to put words in your mouth, but if I'm hearing you rightly, you and Landon Whittset are saying something very similar. Is that correct?

If that is the case, what do you view as the actual change.

To me, many writings of emergent 'leaders' had the ring of repackaging mainline progressivism for an ancestrally evangelical audience. There were other factors, certainly, but I haven't seen anything new. Yes, many in EC would not like the perceived traditional / uncreative nature of mainline worship. But I'm still missing significant differences - substantive rather than stylistic.

So I'm asking - what do you see to be the actual transformation - if, I read correctly as agreeing with Whittset's comment?

Michael W. Kruse

"... this ongoing tendency we all have to try to "shrink wrap" anything "new" so that it can be fit into any of our already existing systems?"

Bingo. I can't speak for Landon but I do get a sense from some Mainline ECM folks that the future of the church is a basically a more fluid adaptive church that embraces Mainline sensibilities on theology and politics. There may be an expression of the church that looks like this but I doubt its preeminence. What will the church look like? I can't say but I suspect it will retain some of the past but become something we can't yet anticipate.

I'll also add that Landon is great guy. I can't be certain but I expect his apparent dismissive statement may be to the ECM post-Evangelical folks outside the Mainline who are so enamored with seeing themselves as the bleeding edge. If so, he and I share a common annoyance.

Michael W. Kruse

Will, since I don't know specifically what Landon has in mind, I can't address him directly, but he raises Tickle. I like Tickle in the broad sweep but I think her anticipations of what some of the future specifics looks like are more like a wish-fulfillment of Mainline progressive values.

For instance, she has said we are entering a post-capitalism era. I couldn't disagree more. Capitalism has never been a static entity and it will morph but I expect we are only on the threshold of truly global capitalism. Based on neo-Malthusian influences many progressives believe capitalism must collapse.

So my differentiation would be that I think I hear Landon saying ... certainly I hear others saying ... that this new reformation results in something most progressive Mainliners will relish from a theological and political vantage point.

I'm saying with Tickle that I agree something momentous is afoot but the "new norm" maybe something than most of us expect ... that may indeed be departures from Evangelicalism and Mainline sensibilities.

will spotts

I also saw the wish fulfillment element in Tickle. I also found her analysis interesting while flawed. (For instance, she starts out by positing essentially very abrupt re-orientations, but when that doesn't quite work, they end up taking centuries when all is said and done.)

The two questions (or one observation and a question) I have are these: do you see a great difference between what will emerge and the emerging / ent conversation / movement? I believe the result that would relished by mainline (and freelance) progressivists would be what they see as the outgrowth of the EC rather than of any genuine paradigm shift. (And yes, I'm fighting off waves of nausea at actually using the phrase "paradigm shift".)

My second question for you is this: if you differentiate between the two (i.e. EC and the emergence) what do you see as the genuine transformation? (No, I'm not expecting you to predict the future - but I am wondering what type of transition you are talking about.

Totally off-topic, but have the mainline progressive EC fans noticed that most of EC literature doesn't actually take into account the rest of the world? (Sure, it pays lip service in its progressive attitudes toward the rest of the world, but the conversation partners are all from basically the same background / mindset.) I'm fairly certain any massive shift (of the kind Tickle mentions) would have to incorporate the whole of the Christianity not just the EC subset.


Interesting to read this article with my British eyes, where there is not as clear a distinction between 'evangelicals' and 'mainliners', because many (but by no means all, of course) evangelicals have stayed within the historic denominations. That leads me to a couple of observations:

1. Yes, the first time I read McLaren ('The Church on the Other Side') I thought his view of mission was no different from liberal Christianity. Plenty of other EC trends look like liberalism in a postmodern bath.

2. However, for the same reason I would query your friend's labelling of N T Wright as a 'mainliner'. Yes, he is an Anglican bishop, but for all his New Perspective credentials he is generally recognised as an evangelical theologian. Hence his alignment with the moderate evangelical Anglican group Fulcrum (http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/).


I stumbled into this conversation and find it interesting.

I understand where some of this feeling is coming from. As an Episcopalian, a friend of mine, after reading Brian McLaren's Finding our Way Again said that the author had seemed to have just discovered the Morning Office and Anglican tradition. I think many can echo similar sympathies. But I think we may miss a genuine opportunity if we believe emergence is merely a fad or an evangelical shift toward us. Phyllis Tickle does give us good insight on this.

One push back I have for Will is that Tickle consistently rejects the notion of suddenness in transformation: the entire Rummage Sale analogy is built on slow shifts in attitude as a result of a multitude of changing circumstances.

It seems that it would be useful for this conversation to reflect on what Tickle says about the ways the church reorients itself in response to its present Rummage Sale. Perhaps the experience of emergence for Mainliners may be similar to the Roman response to the Reformation. It seems that some of the biggest changes in store for us are not merely a reinvigorated worship, but serious shifts in ecclesiology--an area that the Evangelicals are not in the same place on to begin with.

I guess my main argument is that for all of the theological similarity, there are significant effects on mainline denominations coming in areas of worship, structure, and overhead.

Drew Downs+

Travis Greene

"And it really borders on comical to listen to some emerging church types describe the profound new reality that is emerging when in fact they are describing what Mainliners have been saying for decades. It is new and emerging to them only because their horizons have been so small."

Well, children are comical too, when they discover stuff about the world, but we don't stifle them with a smug tone about how it's no big deal and we've seen it all before.

And anyway, nobody really claims "Aha! This is all new and we've discovered it because we're great". Most of my journey into the emerging world has involved rediscovery and reappropriation of tradition and the wider and historical church world, quite consciously.

You are really only talking about where the emerging and mainline worlds meet. It shouldn't be surprising that those folks are very mainline! People more in the intersection of emerging and evangelical worlds look more evangelical. That's not surprising either. And you can't just look at people who claim the label, which is actually very very few.

What annoys me is that when you bring up emerging ideas, you inevitably get some Lutheran or Eastern Orthodox person talking down to you about how you should just become whatever they are, since they already do all those things. Well, great. I'm glad to have them along for the ride, but it doesn't mean there is nothing distinctive about the emerging church synthesis. I think there are huge areas like ecclesiology and hermeneutics where the EC can make huge contributions to the wider church. Which is all it wants to do.


Travis, I included a critical operative word: "some." If folks are exploring how the church is emerging I would hope they would become exposed to Mainline world and find things useful in it.

But let me give you on example of a table conversation I had awhile back with a group of post-Evangelical (non-Mainline) emerging Christians. The conversation wondered into economic issues. I said a few things about economic development in emerging nations. One of the participants ... a leader in a large ECM congregation ... was immediately dismissive, lecturing me on how I needed to broaden my horizons and read Gustavo Gutierrez and Robert McAfee Brown. He went to extol the Liberation theology he had discovered with great enthusiasm.

I have read these authors ... 20-25 years ago while the guy was in kindergarten! I've meet Brown and heard him live on more than one occasion. But the fact that this stuff had been around for decades and that people in Mainlines have been wrestling with it, and therefore might have an informed perspective on this stuff never seemed to occur to him. This is not an infrequent occurrence.

It is this stuff I'm referring to and I know other Mainliners share common experiences.

"And anyway, nobody really claims "Aha! This is all new and we've discovered it because we're great"."

I beg to differ. It is not everyone and it isn't all the time, but it is an element of the ECM.


Will, Big and Drew. I have to catch a flight. I'll chime in later today.

Matt Ferguson

I am amazed at the number of positive comments here about liberal/progressive theology whether in the mainline denominations or the the EMC. Doesn't anyone here see how they both are dying parts of a church that is growing in the world? I would think those in the EMC would shutter to think of themselves as basically a new version of the mainline liberal view (which they are in many ways) because they see the death in that movement.

Michael W. Kruse

Will, I don't think I can give a satisfactory answer. I don't profess to be an expert.

Both Mainline Christianity and Evangelicalism carry considerable Enlightenment baggage. That paradigm (dooh!) is under great pressure. I think we are going to see greater influence from the Church outside the West. I think within the West we may see elements of the Orthodox branch of Christianity, with its notion of theosis and appreciation for mystery (versus Scottish common sense approaches or reliance on higher critical methods.) I think it is possible that instead of having just Protestants and Pentecostals, RCs, and Orthos, we may have five or six large manifestations of the church.

I think the ECM actually began as European phenom but the USA has put its own stamp on it. I use "emerging church" to describe a more ethereal reshapping that is underway. The formation truly is emergent. But Emergent, if we are referring to the Emergent Village type expression (and there is good stuff here) I think we are looking at something more toward intelligent design, contrary to the label.

I think Tickle et al do see the change as encompassing the world. What makes me uneasy is that I think I detect at times a ethnocentric sentiment. While, yes, the West will be influenced by other streams of Christianity, Christianity is basically going to evolve into something very sympatico with Mainline sensibilities on theology and social engagement. I'm not so convinced and I'm definitely not saying it will look like past Evangelical engagement.

Matthew Johnstone

Of course, one of the awesome things about being a Christian is our hope in resurrection. The Mainline may be dying, but those of us aboard it have faith (especially in the PC(USA)), that God can and will be present with the faithful of all ages. Our responsibility is to discern, together, a way forward, always Reformed, always being reformed, according to God's revealed word.

Awesome thoughts, team. Keep 'em coming.

Michael W. Kruse

All good points. I've debated in my own mind whether some of this is less postmodernism and more hyper-modernism taking individualism to its bitter end.

N.T. Wright is a hard one to label, isn't he?

And I think your point about Mainliners vs. Evangelical being an American phenom is important. I think global Christianity is likely to push this American debate to the periphery in the coming years.

Michael W. Kruse

"Perhaps the experience of emergence for Mainliners may be similar to the Roman response to the Reformation. "

Interesting analogy, Drew. That is a framing worth some serious thought.


I just have to chime in to Matt - how wonderfully refreshing it is to see someone mention Ecclessia Reformata, Semper Reformanda - and to see it actually transformed into passive voice!

It's a personal rant but I get SO TIRED of seeing it translated "Always Reforming." So nice to see this!~

Matt Ferguson

Of course I believe in God ability to resurrect the dead----but not of the unfaithful which is what liberal / progressive / emergent (most of it) is. Yet here I read of praise for it as if it is the way forward while it is the way to continued decline and death. I used to wonder what lemmings thought as they rushed with their group off the cliff----now I know. Just read folks in liberal / progressive / emc places and you hear their words as they continue to head to the cliff----all the while God calls them to new life through faithfulness to Him, which means faithfulness to His Word. The Church (greater church) is growing and flourishing in the world---even in the U.S. if folks would get their eyes off the own little world (like the PCUSA) and see.

Landon Whitsitt

Quite the little conversation going on here...

I'm not intending to jump into the meat of the conversation. My interview takes care of my thoughts, I think. I just wanted to say that I think it's unfortunate that my comment was read as smug, snide, and condescending.

I'll leave the psychoanalyzing to others, but I know that I love our church and its history and tradition even though I think it needs to move itself forward. That tension for me is very real and so I am very quick to defend our little piece of the Body of Christ.

There was a implicit understanding in Tammeus' questions (which I don't think he intended at all), namely the idea of one entity being able to "teach" the other. Laying aside all the good theory that we all learn from one another, etc., I was intent to make clear that the mainline church (in general) is not deficient and in need of anything. The God I confess has promised to gather all that we need to make a go of this thing called church, and I believe that to the core of my being.

My words about Breuggemann were not an assumption that someone can't have a new thought about him, but simply an observation that (at least theologically) I'm not finding much coming out of the ECM that my seminary profs haven't been teaching for years (social justice, praxis, contemplative prayer, historical/critical reading of scripture, liberation, etc.). That was honestly a shock to me as I was told that seminary was a dead institution and would hijack and ruin my faith.

I suppose we can play word games and point out that not everyone involved in the emergent church movement thinks the same way about X, and that's fine. However, I think if we're honest, the "bad press" given to the mainline church by several prominent writers and speakers connected to the ECM filters down.

There you go - my 2 cents. Thanks for taking the time to engage my thoughts for a while.



Landon wrote: "I was intent to make clear that the mainline church (in general) is not deficient and in need of anything."

Wow... Did you REALLY mean that?

land on

Yes, that's what I meant.

I'm not feeling so hot about the direction this thread is going. Why don't you find me on Facebook or something so that, if you want to, we can have a conversation out of the public view. I tried to find you, but I couldn't.


Wow. I'm way late on this one, but that's how I roll.

I think Emerging is actually a different thing, and not just a different way of relating. Emerging seems a direct expression of Postmodernist Christianity. Metanarratives have failed, there is no definite right praxis or orthodoxy, every viewpoint is equally valid. I mostly dislike the Emergence, but I have to respect it as something "other" and in a pretty big way. They're Christian, so we share a lot of vocabulary, but they have a completely different relationship to all the elements of Christianity.


One issue really concerns me in all this. Do you really think ECM is Politically Progressive in addressing the culture and simply a mirror of conservative SBC Tribolism ?? (not sure what that really means but it sure sounds cool !) Not sure there's much truth in it however.

Didn't really think most really cared about ECM these days (apparently I'm wrong based upon the comments) as it means so much to so few in different ways it's like getting you arms around jello...fun to play with, tast good, but it can be very messy...

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