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November 17, 2005



I think I checked out of the "emergent mystique" this morning when I got the email and noticed that there was a logo contest for Emergent. Seriously, a logo contest? I'll make sure and get the tatoo of it when one is officially picked.


Yeah, I saw that one too. I didn't see what the winner got. Maybe a collection of Emergent books and a free tattoo.


"by studying, preaching, and living post-liberal theology for many years"

That's a good definition of what is needed for pastors and all ministers, whatever brand of theology they espouse. You've succinctly stated the very antithesis of institutionalized religion/church/theology.

What the emergent movement is experiencing now is the pressure to institutionalize that almost every successful movement experiences. It starts with people and relationships and, in this case, conversations, and then in order to survive, begins appropriating the trappings of of an institution, that is, it slowly but relentlessly becomes an organization that exists to prepetuate itself.

I'm not saying Emergent is there yet, I don't know enough about it, and this wouldn't be happening at all if Emergent wasn't worthwhile and successful in the first place. But this is exactly what I meant on your earlier post when I commented that emergent has "jumped the shark". The surprise, to me anyway, isn't that it happened, it's that it happened sooooo quickly.

Maybe there is still hope? McLaren doesn't strike (I should say, didn't strike, since I haven't seen or read him in a while) me as the kind of guy who could tolerate this kind of thing for very long.

And tatoos? Forget that. But I wanna know when the Emergent line of beers comes out. You'll post about that right?


How about a detox movement? Or, a bowel movement to get all this label crap out of our system? We could probably get a group discount for colonics (maybe they could start offering it at Mardell's, "free emergent bible and cd with every colonics!) I have never understood the need to label. When I attended the first Emergent convention I never felt like we were doing anything new or worth labeling we were just seeking to be genuine or authentic as opposed to denominational. Call it whatever they want, but if they are looking for denominational type loyalty I think they might be missing the point behind "emergent".

Scott in Houston

We have a female assistant pastor, can we call ourselves emergent? I tell you what, we'll light some candles and call ourselves emergent. I don't play mandolin, does that count against me?

It's the religious world we live in. Give the guy a break, he's passionate and hungry...so are his children.

Van S


Hey, this is Mark Van Steenwyk from the Consumerism Conference...I stumbled upon your site via a google search. I was reading through your posts when I noticed the Kaleo link and realized that you were THE Greg Horton who submitted a proposal for the conference.

I share your frustration with Emergent. Tony Jones and I are both in Minneapolis (along with Doug Pagitt). I don't question their hearts. I just think they are falling into the consumer pattern. Emergent is a brand which increasingly defines the emerging movement. Most people from outside the movement, and a good deal from within, are unable to distinquish between "Emergent" and "emerging." And Emergent doesn't really seem interested in clarifying their role in the convesation. Instead, they use their recognizeable brand name to effectively steer the conversation, which is against the whole idea of the emerging church.


Mmm...beer. I have a feeling Emergent beer would be long on ingredients and short on complexity. It would be pale or amber too. Not enough color to make it dark beer.


Glad you dropped by. Yes, they are falling into the consumer pattern, thus their crowing about publishing partnerships and other marks of achievement. I had high hopes that Emergent would help bring a new authenticity to American Christianity in a way that people who were disillusioned with evangelicals and liberals would want to investigate. It started well. I was highly disappointed by a recent trip to a well-know Emergent church. All the talk about community and friendship at Emergent '03 has been replaced by the demands of growing into a mega. It appears that Alan Wolfe's maxim about no religion comes to America and remains unchanged is still true. America still wins; faith doesn't. Ultimately, the faiths end up looking more like some form of American culture and not much like a subculture of Jesus-followers.

For the record, I don't question their hearts either. I just think celebrity is seductive and consumerism works at one level. It gets you to a place where you look like you've made it. Unfortunately, you lose all that is distinctive about you to get there.


Consumerism and an American Idealogy is so much easier to work because like you wrote, it makes you look like you made it. The bigger you are, the more God loves you. I know I am preaching to the choir but how does one go about changing it.

Kevin Powell


Excellent post! One of the reasons I frequently stop by here.

I agree with your assessment of the "Emergent" mov't. But I wonder if the Emergent mov't was ever that far removed from traditional church and the consumer society. The use of traditional symbols (icons, candles, etc) as props to create a mystical atmosphere seemed more like marketing rather than an attempt to return to an authentic engagement with the faith. The near sacramental status of Starbucks coffee without questioning the branding that goes along with a growing multi-national corporation. The use of technology in worship and mission to speak the language of a "post-modern" generation. How different is all this in principle than the seeker-sensitive churches?

I've read Dan Kinball's book and many Brian McLaren's, but I don't see a substantive difference between these other books on mission by say, Newbigin.

Just some reflections on a great post.


Trav the Okie Vegan

Did Christ come to start another organization or even a church or a religion, or did he come to show us a radically different and better way to relate to one another, our fellow creatures, our world, and to God?

There's nothing new under the sun. Damn, Ecclesiastes is a great book.



I agree with Trav and Solomon. The Emergent movement is nothing new. Most mainstream denominations started on the premise of reform, or on being true to "authentic christianity." I think that Emergent is on the fast-track to denominationalism, particularly because of being born into consumerism, as Van and Greg mentioned. Why not just let the movement emerge, person to person, through friendship and conversation? Why is there a need for media hype, books, marketing and technology to grow the movement? Because it's a trend to be capitalized on. It's the American way to turn your passion into a lucrative career, with the added bonus of calling the money God's blessing for works on His behalf.


Emergent hasn't become watered down. It always has been. The churches of some of the leading voices of Emergent are all you need to see. The one thing that unifies the 'emergent' churches is dimmer lighting and louder music. It's just a continuation of the contemporary worship trend. But theologically, the 'leaders' of emergent have some very different ideas, including as you and I have discussed, one who is misogynist and Calvinist. Like you, I've had pastors from Rick Warren-style hydra-headed churches tell me they're 'Emergent'. I think the conversation is already over. Emergent *is* just another worship movement. I'd love to see emergent become a true movement, but the ingredients for it to just be another Vineyard-type worship paradigm are all in place and being played out. To be a true movement, they would have to break with American evangelicalism and culture in a radical way and completely turn the name 'emergent' on its ear so that mega-church wannabes wouldn't go near it.


Z, et al.

I thought they were headed toward becoming a movement evangelicals wouldn't touch. The theological ingredients were in place. You can't read McLaren and not hear Moltmann or Barth or Newbigin. The post-foundationalism was there. All was going well. I'm still puzzling over what happened. McLaren kind of gave it away in "Generous Orthodoxy." More on that another time. While I agree there is nothing new, Emergent was pretending to offer something new. They were trying to communicate that American evangelicalism and liberal Protestantism had lost their souls and what was needed was a return to Christianity that looked like Jesus. That's a noble goal. Giving in to marketing makes that difficult.

Dallas Tim

The comment "Christianity that looked liked Jesus" sounded like it was made in passing, not flippantly, but like we're all on the same page as to exactly what it means.

That statment is the whole crux of this site and for most of Christianity. What did Jesus mean when he talked about sin, salvation, hell, the devil? Is it all about feeding the poor? He said "The poor you will have with you always." Is it about correctly worshipping the God of the Old Testament, who He claimed was His Father? Is it about escaping the place "created for the devil and his angels."

Jesus claimed that He would build His church. What does that mean? What about His eschatology?

Since there are so many different views about which part of the Bible should be taken literally, how are we sure about anything.

I am a literalist. I believe that Jesus came to redeem people from the eternal penalty of their sin. He demonstrated His power by the miracles He performed and He showed us that the true "Heart change" of salvation would be evidenced in our treatment of others, specifically those who may not look like we do, or even believe like we do. I have done a pretty poor job of fleshing out the "Heart change." I am grateful for this site and it's helping me see that the Gospel Jesus proclaimed is more that just knowing. It involves doing... and doing... and doing... and doing.

And thank you Greg for making the rule that no one can argue with me about it either!


Whisky Prajer

"McLaren kind of gave it away in 'Generous Orthodoxy'" - I'd very much like to see that expanded on.



It seems like that there are quite a few assumptions that are being made here. 1) That the institutionalization of the church in all its forms is always evil. 2) That it is possible at some point in time for someone or some group to articulate and embody the Kingdom exactly as Jesus had envisioned, in other words somebody eventually gets it right. 3) That Christianity in an American context can be expressed without unique cultural influence.

While I agree that any movement of reform needs to have balanced and constructive critique, and that our culture needs to be critiqued through the lens of the Gospel, but it seems to me that if these are the assumptions that we are working with then it would be quite difficult to find any hopeful expression of faith in our culture. Perhaps, I have misread the post and various comments.


I guess I'll be doing a follow-up post to explain myself this week. And, Dallas Tim, you're not the fundamentalist I'm talking about. You probably know that. I'm talking about the ones that wander by and take shots at me.

Tim Sean

The inclination toward institutionalizing (is that a verb?) is as natural as breathing. Anytime you get together with a few friends for beers and upon departure say, "You know, we should get together again, I'll call everybody." That is a a form of institutionalization (Wow! That is a huge word!). The question here is about crossing some line where it begins to take on some of the unattractive bi-product of said process.

When I, as the instigator of the above forementioned beer group fail to call the gang in a timely manner, or even worse, take it upon myself to not call one of the members because he only drinks Budweiser and it is ofensive to me (let him start his own watered-down American beer drinking group) then the momentum of institutionalization starts to become mean and divisive (unless of course you feel as strongly about Budweiser as I do, then you feel it a necessary divide).

I agree mostly with Greg. Let emergent remain as a loose and wild conversation, fueled by interested volunteers. If it dies, well, guess what? New and different conversations will rise from the ashes. The gospel, shall we say, finds a way. It's always been the nature of the reform movement.

I know that folks like Brian and Tony must love what they are doing enough that they would like to devote gobs of time to it, but there is atrade off. We've seen it time and time again. I say less is better. Less filling, tastes great.

For the record, I am a beer snob, but an ice cold Miller after being out in the heat is pretty fantastic, so I am open to people of other inlcinations under certain circumstances.

So maybe the question for the above fictional group should be simialr to emergents. What kind of beer would Jesus drink? AFter all, the parish puports to be about faitha nd culture, theology and beer...

Dallas Tim


Yes, I know. I did do a drive-by on you way back. It was just at attempt to get your attention though.

I would like to believe that most of the people who pepper you with random shots of fundie wrath are probably decent people who wouldn't say those types of things if they met you (or anyone else they disagreed with) in person. There's just something un-personal about email and blogging that allows people to just fire away without really thinking first. Heck, I'd probably shake hands with Charlie Manson if I met him face to face.

I think if we all wore a "Piss-off God" meter, it would go up with every person we think we're better than. Unfortunately, in our high-tech society, we can rant at others in a way that most face to face discussions would probably prevent.

I've pissed you off, Travis, Streak (where's he been), probably Leighton and several others. We got beyond the arguments in most cases and were able to discuss the issues (even though we still have disagreements).

One thing you taught me.......Celebrator is good!
I had one last night!

Hook 'em Horns....

Kyle P.

Perhaps it's the idealism of my youthful 26 years of age speaking, but it seems like I'm one of just a few here who thinks that something worthwhile can come from an institution structure. This seems to go against a questionable assumption that Dino correctly, in my opinion, suggests that many here hold without much question. In fact, I would argue that anti-institutional thinking is largely a product of a Romanticized exaltation of the individual. This individualism ironically is rampant in how Americans think about themselves but is almost completely absent in how we really act (hence the too-easy observation that all "nonconformists" act like each other). Greg, you are arguing that Emergent is falling prey to being overly influenced by that part of American culture that emphasizes consumeristic tendencies, which I tend to agree with, but with anti-institutional individualism so important for American identity, isn't it also quintessentially American to not want Emergent to be a large institutional structure, and instead be a vague, loosely-defined "conversation"? It seems like a case of damned if you do, damned if you don't in terms of capitulation to American culture. And I don't know if I could clearly argue that either the excesses of institutionalization or the excesses of individualism are ultimately the worse errors.

This is not to say that I'm not deathly afraid of the corrupting power of large institutional structures; as an English major who reads French theory, it is hard not to see the dangers of such structures. However, I think you will be hard-pressed to look throughout history and find any lasting movement for change (either good or bad) that wasn't undergirded by a large, structured, and thus potentially-damaging institution. But in America, we like to imagine that it is individuals who have changed things. Case in point: the recently deceased Rosa Parks. Almost all the eulogies for her basically figured her as this lone hero reacting against injustice, sparking off the utterly-successful Civil Rights Movement. Yet in reality, Rosa Parks was part of a highly organized movement that was working for change by teaching nonviolent methods of resistance and attempting to find partners to resist the injustice of Jim Crow. Rosa Parks' actions were precipitated by an institutional structure backing her, and the results of her actions only occurred because there was an institutional structure already in place to take advantage of the situation. The Civil Rights Movement would not have had the successes it had if it were not for the institutional structure provided by groups like black churches, the NAACP, etc., and even governmental structures like the Supreme Court and the U.S. Presidency. And it is true that the Civil Rights Movement wasn't completely successful in reaching its goals partially because of splintering in the institutional structures in the late 1960s, but it did accomplish quite a bit of good as well. I would submit that any lasting societal change can only be achieved through some amount of institutionalization, and if we want to be a part of the change, we have to take the good with the bad. (I would also suggest that the right is in ascendency in America not because they've become more numerous (they haven't) but at least partially because the younger left is so anti-institutionally minded that they have a hard time grouping together to accomplish positive results, something that the big-business minded right has no problem doing.) What I hear here too often sounds like a version of simple anti-institutionalism that is too idealistic to get its hands dirty. If Emergent is going to be any sort of force for lasting change within the church, it will have to take on some sort of institutional structure and have to have some sort of defining characteristics; otherwise, it will dissipate (probably quickly), perhaps even inhibiting later generations of reform-minded people. Instead of trying to keep Emergent from becoming any kind of definable structure, the goal, then, needs to be in shaping the kind of structure it becomes, minimizing the corrupting influences of an institutional structure and maximizing the positive effects of that structure.

Not to mention the fact that all of the positive influences on Emergent (Barth, Newbigin, Polanyi, Yoder, Hauerwas, McLaren, etc.) were able to produce their ground-breaking work only because they were rooted in an institutional structure (the pastorate, denominationally-funded missionary work, the Confessing Church (if they had billed themselves as the "Confessing Conversation," they probably would have accomplished nothing...), universities of divinity schools with tenure, etc.). It is merely another version of the Rosa Parks Myth if we assume that these heroes of Emergent are offering lone resistance to the consumeristic and institutionalistic excesses of modern culture.


Greg, I couldn't agree more with your post. I knew a wrong turn had been taken when a director was appointed and a couple weeks ago the logo contest sent up the white flag of surrender. I am not sure what is salvageable within Emergent, but I do hope those carrying on the emerging conversation continue, even if it is apart from (and perhaps better off this way) the new Emergent Institution.


I believe the church as an institution structure could be positive if the people who ran it allowed it to keep it's orginal intent. I would argue that anything is fine as an institution or corporate structure as long as they allow for the freedom of change and open mindedness.

That's the problem with institutions, especially with churches today, they have no freedom. They are controled by these CEO's, Presidents, Directors, Board, ect. The church's today must do as their "convention" commands. If they don't then they are thrown to the wolves. That is why it is better to stay a conversation than become a corporate structure.

The anit-institutionalist mentality isn't American. While the protests of the 50's and 60's make it seem like. That mentality existed long before with the likes of Martin Luther, Brutus (taking from Shakespeare's Juluis Caesar), the barbians who revolted against Rome. I think we just have it burned in our mind that everything we do was created first and foremost by America and it wasn't. It is romantic but not American.

Institutions can be good things but eventually they will have to subcome to those who pay to support it.

Kyle P.

Joe, Luther can hardly be considered anti-institutional in the contemporary American sense of just not liking the idea of institutions. He first wanted to reform the Church from the inside, and when that didn't work, he started his own official version of the Church; he would almost certainly be horrified with the rampant splintering of the Protestant wing of the Church that he founded. The other examples you give are also revolts against a particular institution, not against the very idea of institutions. And no, it isn't only American, but America is very characterized by it. I would further contend that the revolt against the idea of an institution, as opposed to revolt against a particular instance, is something that has primarily arisen over the last 300 years or so (i.e., since the Enlightenment and Romantic movements).

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