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.
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