We spent the weekend with a stimulating house guest, Kevin Ward from Knox College in Dunedin, New Zealand. Like us, Kevin has an interest in emerging church, and in his inaugural lecture asked the question whether some of the emerging movements could really qualify as being ‘church’. To find his answers to that question, go here. So no prizes for guessing what the conversation has been about for the past 48 hours. It was the sort of conversation that is more about comparing notes than anything else, because the three of us are pretty much on the same page on all this, which could probably be described as being encouraging of emerging church, combined with big questions about some of the groups that think they are ’emerging’ – and the underlying question ”what are they emerging from?’ Too many such groups are still emerging from dissatisfaction and anger with traditional church, which inevitably clouds the agenda and turns something that could have missional potential into what easily becomes a forum for grumbling about past hurts (real or imaginary), and an over-concern with individual’s own agendas and opinions. Of course, there will always need to be a space for people with issues – but that is a therapy space, not a missional space! Which is the crucial difference between ‘real’ emerging church, and those who are only playing at it and adopting the terminology because it seems to be trendy. The only sort of emergence that is authentic is that which comes from a spiritual encounter with gospel, culture, and the values of the Kingdom. Once that engagement is lost, then however worthy other concerns might be, they are going to struggle to be regarded as authentically church (or even Christian) in any deeply rooted way. We were also reminded again of the importance of being theologically grounded in any reflection on what church might be for the 21st century.
That’s not the first time we’ve said all that, of course. But thanks to Kevin’s visit and conversations we have seen a few new angles on it. And, of course, had our insights (or prejudices, according to some) affirmed. But then, isn’t that what friends are for?