“Love it or hate it, it can’t be ignored,” Jones says about the Emergent church movement (XIX). Whether or not you agree, it is impossible to deny that there is a movement that is taking the church world by storm. Tony Jones writes about a group of pastor-theologians who were looking for some identity. Like every good organization, they needed a name. After being called the “Young Leaders Network,” the “Theological Working Group,” and the “Terranova Project,” they settled on calling themselves “emergent” (Jones XVII).
Emergent has many meanings, including some definitions that Jones cited from The Random House Dictionary of the English Language. Emergent is “coming into view or notice,” “emerging; rising from a surrounding surface or liquid,” “arising casually or unexpectedly,” or “calling for immediate action” (Jones XVII.) They decided the name fit perfectly after someone came to them at a conference and said, “[…] when a forester enters a forest to determine that forest’s health, […] she gets on her hands and knees and examines what’s growing, what’s emerging on the forest floor. That’s how she can gauge the well-being on the forest” (Jones XVII). When one looks at the American church today, it can be seen that some old institutions look at the health of the “old-growth” and “prune their branches,” but then, they miss what is happening at the forest floor—at the roots (Jones XVII). That is where the Emergent church steps in, with the proverbial gardening gloves in tow and they get on their hands and knees to explore what is happening at the roots of the new generation.
After all, this is a generation where we make our food in instant microwaves. We communicate through instant text messages. We write about our lives in our blogs so people can instantly read everything about us. This is a generation with “disaffection with politics.” This is a “deep and complex” generation, as Jones writes. The Emergent church sees the “cracks in the foundation of mainline and evangelical Christianity.” Despite the “ecclesial elites” attempting to “spray herbicide of the emergent growth,” the Emergent church continues to grow “like a weed—a lot of difference weeds,” writes Tony Jones (XVII).
Brian D. McLaren once said, “Either Christianity itself is flawed, failing, [or] untrue, or our modern, Western, commercialized, industrial-strength version of it is in need of a fresh look, a serious revision.” Members of the Emergent church movement are trying to do just that—look at Christianity from a fresh perspective. They are attempting to take off the rose-colored glasses that have been worn by many leaders in old-institutional churches. It is about realizing that in the same way this generation is different that our grandparent’s generation, the way we are influenced by church is different than how our parents were involved in church. Times are changing and the Emergent church members do not want the church be left behind.
Despite the changing times, there are some things that are nothing new. Tony Jones writes, “Since the Gospel writers penned their witnesses to the faith, theologians have argued about how we talk about God, who Jesus is, and how humans relate to God. And since the earliest Christians […] followers of Jesus have found new and innovative ways to orient their lives, collectively and individually” (XIX). Sometimes people are afraid to question the church. Sometimes people get too busy trying to figure out “how to do church.” Sometimes people get stuck in the day in and day out “Christian” life. The Emergent church is calling for something radically different. They are saying that questions are all right. Since the Emergent church is “rising from the modern, American church of the twentieth century,” they are taking what started in the American church and turning it on its head. They are calling for change. They are calling for a movement—a movement that is emergent in nature. They are calling for people to rethink the church that they were told by their parents to attend. This is how our modern generation does church.