Why Lutherans shouldn't be afraid of the emergent church

In "emergent conversations" I often find myself translating out of an evangelical world whose jargon and shared assumptions I'm not in on. And I think that some of the questions I get from Lutherans about the conversation indicate that similar theological ideas get lost in translation because we're not all using the same codewords. So here is a stab at bridging the langauge gap for people from my tradition. Note: I know there is no "emergent church," I am reflecting here on what I have experienced overall, not the thoughts of one leader, one community, or (God forbid!) an institution.
  • The emergent church can be grace-filled. Even communities planted out of fundamental traditions can embrace a generous orthodoxy focused on God's grace.
  • The emergent church has a very high doctrine of God – so high, in fact, that emergent practitioners embrace all parts of the community on the grounds that all of it is God's and no activity can eject God from it.
  • The emergent church is incarnational. It embraces the action of a missionary God, coming down to us, and seeks to reflect it by becoming incarnate in a community in a radical sense – being for, with, in and of the community, as Jesus is for, with, in and of us. This is truer to the doctrine of the incarnation than the "We're a sacred space. You come to us" approach of the traditional Christendom church.
  • The emergent church seeks to participate in God's Kingdom. One of the central theological images used in the emergent church is Jesus' assertion that "the Kingdom of God is among you." Emergents critique the American heresy of "personal salvation" only much as Luther critiqued the selling of indulgences.
  • The emergent church holds up the theology of the cross against the theology of glory of our current civil religion. As postmoderns engage their own brokenness, and that of the world they have been left, the idea that God's strength is manifest through weakness has resonance with their experience, and is a palatable alternative to the triumphalism that promotes cultural colonialism.
  • The emergent church embraces the priesthood of all believers, both in the sense of encouraging and blessing believers’ calling, work and gifts in their daily lives and in embracing the idea that all have something to say about the interpretation and proclamation of God's word and will in the community.
  • The emergent church sees all of us as saints and sinners. This is clearly played out in the rejection of the notion that any one person, tradition or culture has complete, exclusive access to God's truth, and in the humility with which emergents try to approach difficult issues such as politics, sexuality, etc. The movement takes seriously Bonhoeffer's observation that we are all in a similar position relative to God.
  • The emergent church sees Christians called to act in God's two kingdoms: here, not just in heaven. Emergents tend to see working for the environment and social justice as a response to God's call in Micah 6, as faith active in love.
  • The emergent church is contextual. Just as Luther reshaped the language, music and worship of the church so that it reflected the ordinary people rather than the elites, the emergent church is trying to live out the core of the Gospel in ways that make sense in the communities they are in.

Let me know what you think!


Ryan Torma said...

Just found your blog on the ELN site. Great summation about what emergent is when it is at its best. We in the Lutheran circles have some great things going for us in the emerging church world. We don't have to change the denomination's mind about theology. Much of what you outline here and what is circling in the emergent conversation is theology that Lutherans have been excited about for a long time.

Our challenge is one of practice. Can we find a way to engage people living in our communities with this great theoligical tradition? The theology is there, can we live it in an authentic, exciting way? I think so.

Todd Hiestand said...

Bob, good summary. very much more hopeful than some of the other "assessments" i have read :-)

saw you link to philly emergent...have we met there?

oh, wait...you are Bob...we had lunch right? There are way too many Bob's in this world!

Bob said...

Yeah, Todd, I'm the Bob who came and bummed lunch off you guys. Next one is mine. I was at the last Philly meeting, and hope to be there this month.

Bob said...


I've been having similarthoughts as I've led a book group through "The Story We Find Ourselves In." There's a lot of theological resonance. Our hurdle is to get over the way we have always done it and using our theology to help bring about the kingdom. From the discussions we've been having I've been very encouraged at how excited people get about ways to do just that!