The Emergent Manifesto (A Quick Review)

I finally finished this: An Emergent Manifesto of Hope (ed. by Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones).  As you may know from earlier posts, I’m about as Emergent as a dead stick.  At the same time, the “movement” fascinates me, and is something I as a pastor want to know something about.  Also, to be sure, the movement makes some good points.  I’ll acknowledge that despite my deep disagreement with much of the theology and piety of the Emergent movement, some things I read by them are helpful.  But instead of discussing Emergent (smarter guys have done it already quite well), I’ll give a few comments on the aforementioned book.

The book has five parts:  1) A People of Hope,  2) Communities of Hope, 3) A Hopeful Faith, 4) A Hopeful Way Forward, and 5) Hopeful Activism.  In each section, around 5 or 6 Emergent type leaders write on differing topics, from jail church to social justice to Karl Barth to sexual ethics to transforming culture.  The book is one you certainly want to get if you need a small and very easy to read window into the Emergent movement. 

On thing I appreciated about the book was that the authors understand our “day” is different from the “day” of 50 or 100 years ago.  I realize some in “conservative” churches are entrenched in the past, using old grammar, language, illustrations, totally unwilling to step into this century.  Again, despite my theological disagreement with how they handle our new “day,” I enjoyed some aspects of how they described it. 

I also enjoyed the chapter on the church in the jail (by Thomas Olson) as well as the chapters on Karl Barth (by Chris Eerdman) and humble theology (by Dan Kimball).  I’m not convinced by Eerdman as he compared Barth’s Church Dogmatics with Brian McLaren’s “broad ecclesiology” – though I see some truths in the statement, that in some ways Barth and McLaren are similar (p.241).  Kimball’s chapter was so doctrinal that it almost doesn’t fit in the book!  Some authors in the book were saying quite negative things about fundamental theological beliefs, while Kimball advocated the need to hold on to fundamental beliefs (p. 215).  I’d say things a bit differently than Kimball, but the chapter does stick out for me.

I also was quite frustrated with certain aspects of the book.  First, the buzzwords drove me nuts.  How many times can you say “explore” and  “post-colonial” and “adventure” and “authentic” and “community” and “generative” and “missional” and “conversation” in a single book?  I suppose the buzzwords might have to do with the internet aspect of the Emerging churches.  Buzzwords and internet go hand in hand.

Some aspects of the book were pretty offensive for me.  Though the words “hope” and “future” were all over the place, many of the authors were totally stomping on the historic or “old-school” church.  I was offended when they criticized “modern” churches for being so exclusive and disruptive to families.  For example, on page 53, Carla Barnhill critiques modern churches: In many churches, “There is little help for parents who struggle with a difficult child. There is little room for imperfect families.”  She goes on to say how Emerging churches are much more family-friendly than traditional churches because they are so much more inclusive and diverse than anything else.  This is pretty offensive, not just incorrect.  In the “old-school” churches I’m in, and grew up in, I have seen a group of mothers take turns helping a troubled family for weeks on end – food, cash, and prayers.  A month ago, after church, I saw an 82-year-old woman teaching some 13-year-old girls how to do needle work for their school project.   I’m not sure how you could improve on that kind of help and inclusiveness – this stuff just happens without all the blog buzzwords and talk.

The book also has an underlying theme: white, middle-class Americans (especially males) are to blame for most of the problems in Christianity.  It is my fault the Enlightenment happened, it is my fault that the church is patriarchal, it is my fault that there is racism, it is my fault that churches are fragmenting.  There may be glimmers of truth to some of those statements, and I’m far from perfect, but all those implicit accusations soon became offensive to me.  The only solution to the problems I’ve caused, the book implies, is to become Emergent, then my white-maleness will somehow be erased.  I’m not sure what to do with this undercurrent of the book!

In summary, there were some helpful things in the book and I’m glad I own it.  Some chapters made me want to put it in the compost pile to see if the ink really is biodegradable; other chapters left me pondering a few things.   I could note a few more things; this was just a very short review.  Maybe some other day I’ll post a tad more about it.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

7 thoughts on “The Emergent Manifesto (A Quick Review)”

  1. “…then my white-maleness will somehow be erased.”

    This reminds me of Horton’s lectures where he noted that the answer is not to collapse the many into the one, but to recognize the importance of both the one and the many. He reminded us of that comment people make: “I don’t even notice that you’re black.” To which the person being addressed might (should) respond saying: “What could be more obvious?!” Yeah… people really don’t like the many, in spite of what they claim. Fundy liberals and fundy conservatives alike prefer the one. Be like us. Even if you’re not like us, be like us. One-ness. That’s the answer. Too bad it’s harder to convince people that orthodoxy does indeed allow quite a bit of diversity; it allows the many to remain many. They are, however, many in one regard, though one in their united confession of faith!

    Great review Shane!


    1. Thanks, Andrew, and amen! I remember that now, thanks for pointing it out.

      GLW: I should’ve been more clear. Eerdman was comparing Barth’s “freedom” to McLarne’s “broad ecclesiology.” My comment meant this: theologically, I disagree with Eerdman. Yet, Barth’s odd universalism and McLaren’s “generous orthodoxy” might be somewhat related. Also, for the record, I doubt we can compare Barth’s loud reaction to liberalism to Mclaren’s (et. al) reaction to the institutional church.

      Thanks for the notes


  2. Thanks – Coming from a position of limited knowledge of the current US Emergent Church scene I found this a helpful overview of the book.


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