Unbundling Christianity: An Attempt to Define the Emerging Church

Since this blog launched last October one of the alluring conversations has been the nature and definition of the "emerging church." The debate started when James McDonald declared why he is not emerging, gained volume with my report on Brian McLaren's seven layers of the emergent conversation, and has continued to surface through many of Ur's entries.

To the frustration of its critics, and to the delight of its advocates, the emerging church has successfully resisted boundaries, categories, and labels. Such devices are seen by emergent's adherents as the shackles of modernity used to confine and control what should be free and fluid. To an increasingly suspicious culture even the desire to established discernable boundaries is met with alarm. Such categorization can only serve two purposes - either exclusion (the judging of others determined to be unlike me), or exploitation (the targeting of others for my gain).

So, it is with some trepidation that I venture into the forbidden territory of definitions with admittedly less experience and knowledge of the emergent landscape than many of you reading this post.

My reason for entering is simple - curiosity. Most of the outspoken opponents of the emerging church have leveled the same criticism. They accuse it of being merely a deconstructionist movement - deconstructing modern church forms, theology, and strategies without constructing valid (i.e. modern/rational) alternatives. However, I have a hard time believing a purely deconstructionist movement would endure and gain momentum as the emergent conversation has done. Likewise, if the emergent church were not constructing some alternative theology/philosophy of ministry why would so many opponents feel threatened?

So, curiosity has led me to ask - is it possible to identify the emerging church by what it is constructing instead of simply by what it is deconstructing? Of course any effective process of differentiation requires both, so my definition must include some discussion of deconstruction. But, rather than using that inflammatory and hopelessly postmodern terminology, I prefer the word "unbundling" to describe what the emerging church is achieving.

In marketing bundling is the practice of packaging several items together as a single product. For example, being nearly bald I really don't need conditioner for what remains of my hair. However, if I want to use a certain shampoo I am required to also purchase conditioner because the manufacturer has bundled them together. Bundling is a strategy that forces people to purchase more than they want or need by limiting their options.

January 18, 2006

Displaying 1–10 of 15 comments

Mike Clawson

February 24, 2006  12:09am

"Where are the emergent churches that cross Eastern Orthodoxy with Black Gospel?" I don't know about Eastern Orthodox and Black Gospel, but if you want a church that combines Roman Catholic, Black Gospel and social justice check out St. Sabina Catholic Church on the south side of Chicago.

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January 30, 2006  8:18pm

Big Chris I think your comments are unfair becuase you could easilly apply the same accusations to most Groups of christians. Unfortunatly selfishness is part of the human condition. How many worship war's are driven by how I like to worship or I don't want my church to change. Selfishness is an endemic problem to dealing and working with people. Equally from watshing and listening to emergent conversations and churches allot of talk about we and us is just as present as I and we. Emergent is full of groups talking about how do we define ourselves and our communities. Equally i think many of these coments and the initail article are too UScentric to really catch the scope of emerging church and so we are really mostly talking about emergentUS church. Of which I think merging is a good descrition of what is going on now but i think as part of the merging new idea's and forms will start to emerge over the next few decades.

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Zane Anderson

January 30, 2006  7:27pm

If it's all about liberality, cross-pollination, and generosity, why am I sitting here looking at a book by McLaren and Campolo entitled "Adventures in Missing the Point?" Each self-contained chapter makes a neat little case of how other Christians are really messing it up. So, I suppose that all the generosity is reserved for those who believe just like the emergents do.

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Big Chris

January 28, 2006  10:13am

Jamie, How exactly are my comments unfair and generalizations? I tried to be honest and as specific as possible, without accusing the few emerging leaders who aren't drinking McLaren's Kool Aid unfairly. You made a statement and didn't give support as to why you feel I'm unfair. I'm just sharing my observation, observations as one fairly close on a pretty regular basis to some influencial emerging (and emergent) people. Big Chris

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January 24, 2006  4:04pm

Seems to me that this is just what the church has been doing regularly for it's history: seperating Christ from culture, reexamining it's assumptions and ideas and determining what is essential to following Christ and what has simply become part of the "package" out of habit or comfort. The "emergent" church is simply the church doing what it has always done and the discomfort many feel is simply the discomfort that has always been felt by those who (for whatever reason) want to hang onto cultural forms that they think are important.

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Chaplain Dave Poedel

January 24, 2006  3:05pm

Reading this and much of the literature over, a lingering question for me: Who decides? Who decides the "mix" for the bundle (or unbundle)? Is it the Pastor (assuming there is one), the Elders (assuming there are some), the Bishop (oh, I can hardly wait to see an "Emergent Bishop" or..?"Unbundled Bishop"?. How about when those deciding on the bundle leave for whatever reason? Coming from a "bundled" Tradition myself (evangelical catholic, aka Lutheran) there is inertia in established systems, but there is also continuity. I have observed megachurches go through major upheavel when the senior pastor is replaced, bringing his own theology to bear. Does the same thing happen in the "bundled" church? Just wondering....

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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

January 21, 2006  10:37am

Big Chris, I think that is entirely unfair. While I do not attend an emering church, I am deeply influenced by emerging theology. As a result, my wife & I now live and minister full time in an inner city neighbourhood. Many others I know have equally been challenged to live sacraficially, incarnationally and selflessly as a result. Generalization like that are rarely accurate or helpful. Peace, Jamie

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Mark Goodyear

January 20, 2006  10:33am

Nathan, I think I'll light a candle for the new Pope at a Baptist Eastern Orthodox, Black Gospel, United Methodist Assembly of Church of Christ. I'd like to get baptized there, too, just to see what kind of water experience they'd come up with.

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Big Chris

January 20, 2006  10:26am

I can't help but continually return to the thought that pomoism and much that is Emergent is completely self centered. How is that you ask? It's because of the resistance and refusal by most of lables and definitions and anything from the outside. It's all about "me" and how "I" define "myself" and nobody else can do that. It is a self centered and self driven philosophy. I always find it ironic how they talk about community and being missional, and yet are so self centered at the fundamental core of their thinking. It's not a problem for some emergent types to lable others as modernist and closed minded (there are volumes of examples across the web) but they won't let the street run both ways. I suppose it's just the next chapter in the individualistic and independent mindset of the modern Western culture. Big Chris

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Call Me Ishmael

January 20, 2006  8:33am

The word "merging" seems to imply reunification, and it seems premature to conclude that the Emerging Church is leading the church in that direction. Could "the Cross-Pollinating Church" perhaps be a more adequate title?

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