Thoughts on Emergence

by Bo Sanders

I have been following Daniel’s reports from the Emergent Village meeting with great interest.  I am very appreciative of his perspective and the care that he took to fill-in those of us who could not be there.   Dan Lowe asks some questions on the most recent post and I started to type out some thoughts but quickly realized that it was too much for the little ‘comment’ box!   Here are some of my thoughts on the subject – I hope that you will jump in with your reflections, objections, questions and responses.

Just in way of introduction: in the past I have been an emergent type who has come to care more deeply about contextual theology and non- Imperial approaches than about the philosophical arguments that originally brought me to the emerging conversation.

Dan asks: Thank you for your thoughts and reflections on the conference. It was extremely insightful and maybe a little hopeful. I have a couple of questions, though… My assumptions are that the “Emergent conversation” originates in a Western context.

The Emergent movement actually started outside the U.S. and is still quite vibrant in Australia – New Zealand, Germany, and other post-Christian countries. When the U.S. gets ahold of almost anything it tends to begin to dominate the market and co-opt it. This is a complaint that I have heard in other places of the world – that the U.S. book publishing industry, marketing campaigns and TV/Radio power is overwhelming for a little movement that is , at its core, a conversation. 

Dan: When the “Emergent conversation” is had within other cultures, is this because other cultures have brought it into their own contexts or has it been brought in by others? If so, how is it shaping, or being shaped by, that cultural context?

Because it is an intentionally decentralized mentality and a fringe critique at this point, I do not see the Emergent conversation as Imperial. Keep in mind that it is not A single thing, it is not a denomination, or a brand. It is an approach. So it is very unorganized and not capable of enforcing any type of conformity or control. Emergence is a term borrowed from science and is best thought of as how plants grow up from the ground – they emerge. So emergent conversation comes up from locations and concerns arise from communities. It is ‘organic’ in that sense.

Dan: Is the “Emergent conversation” itself becoming a colonizing thought, in that it is spreading around the world, specifically Brazil and parts of Africa? I think this relates to the first question a bit.

I think that it is fair to say that the Emergent movement is a post-Christendom concern, and that is why – in my opinion – is has not as yet taken off in Asia, Africa, and Latin America in the same way. There is a different ‘conversations’ going on there (as you know).

Dan: How are others “seeing” the “Emergent conversation?” Is it on a level playing field with the contributions that others (specifically the marginalized) are making, or is it seen as somehow superior? Does it sit “around the table” or does it take its place in the middle of the table?

It is tough to say how it shares power. a) It is so young b) it is not one thing and c) it is decentralized … so I don’t know if it ‘comes to the table’ in the same way that groups have in the past. It is a fringe approach so I am hopeful that it comes with humility BUT it is based primarily in post-christendom contexts so I am always nervous about the leftover mentalities.

I am hopeful on this point! There does seem to be a VERY different way of approaching the Bible, of viewing the church, of behaving in Christ, and of participating in community. I , as a white person, am very very hopeful that this is actualy a move toward a different way of thinking and being. God knows we need it.


I would really look forward to your (or anyone else’s) response!

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2 Responses to Thoughts on Emergence

  1. Mark Smith says:

    I like the emphasis that being emergent is an approach. As to it being international and not North American resonates with the contextual approach also being international. It is sad in a way that we have to tag clearly Biblical ministry concepts with new names or they are passed over. Finding a ‘new way’ of doing ministry is only going back to ministering from a heart of love and rediscovery….or you might say redefining the clear Biblical truths that are eternal It is like chipping off the calcification of tradition and ‘this is the way we have always done it’.

  2. anita hensley says:

    -uhm…. your assumptions are correct Daniel. emergent did originate in the western world or at least amoung those who are western in thought. it sure as heck wasn’t the Maori in New Zealand who came up with it. Europe last time i checked was labeled as western. and yes, it is being brought into the indigenous movement from the outside kinda like “a colonizing thought”

    -as a label- emergent is no longer really used or prefered by those who started it some 15-20 yrs ago. see for a humerous look.

    -it seems to have been force served at several indigenous tables that i am aware of and consequently many are eating elsewhere. those who have served it up have distanced themselves from the marginalized and are caught up in head wars with the dominant culture church and the rest of us are dealing with the problems of people who are wondering who they are. ie walking alongside young people who believe that their culture holds the key to salvation when their culture has become so corrupted by poverty, addictions, broken families, gangsta violent lifestyle, incestuous encroachment, entitlement mentality… that they have to conjure up an idealized version of their culture in their heads… and that still leaves them depressed, addicted, violent, broken wanderers. Maybe if they had the luxury of traveling the world on their platinum card they too could sit at tables and talk emergent.
    a tired of the bs, but hopeful in Christ, former emergent from the 15 years ago when it was new, walker alongside of broken ones.

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