Sunday, July 13, 2008

Missional and Emergent

I've spent the past two weeks teaching a graduate short course on emerging and missional churches at Pepperdine University. (I could get used to teaching at Malibu). My experience in this area is far more on the missional side of the equation. I've had the privilege of hanging out with Keifert, Roxburgh, Van Gelder, Hunsberger and other leaders in this movement. I've learned a lot through my participation, and have chosen a PhD program to go deeper in all things missional. My experience with the emergent church conversation is less involved and I have a lot to learn about these creative church leaders.

I know many of you are probably asking, "what in the world is emergent and missional, anyway?" Well, I want to get at that over the next few weeks. It's not so easy to define in either case. Let's start by simply saying that both are a response to what is perceived as a dramatic shift in the North American cultural landscape. We are not in Kansas anymore, Toto. And we need to gain our bearings, recover our sense of calling in a rapidly changing culture.

I have a fairly good sense of what this about for those who self-designate as "missional." I've had guesses about what that's about for those who identify themselves as emergents. My reading and limited experience with emerging churches is underscoring some of those initial impressions.

Let me make one distinction that I think holds up fairly well as a way to introduce a topic I hope to address in the next few posts. The missional church movement is concerned with what it means to be a church in a post-Christendom context. In other words, the supportive relationship we used to share with the larger culture can no longer be assumed. It is no longer the case that "if you build it they will come," even if what you invite them to is massively entertaining. Churches find themselves less and less at the centers of cultural power and influence (a public role) and relegated more to the cultural margins (a largely private role). This is not the same thing as saying North Americans are less religious or spiritual (though there is evidence to that effect), but that our overall place in the culture has changed. In an increasingly pluralistic culture, we can no longer expect others to play by our rules. We are now in a missionary engagement with our own culture. We can cry and whine about this all we like, but the genie's out of the bottle and we will need to learn to be different kinds of churches as a result.

The emergent folks tend to begin with the issue of postmodernity. What's changed is the spirit of the age. We've moved from a modern world to a postmodern world and we need to adjust accordingly. Issues related to postmodernity have less to do with the church's social location (missional), and more with how people think--what counts for truth and knowledge and how people come to know what they know. As a result, emergents emphasize connecting with postmoderns and much of what they are interested in is aesthetics--beauty, creativity, inspiration, incarnation.

These two shifts, post-Christendom and postmodern, are not unrelated. These two movements have found each other and are finding mutual encouragement. But they are different. And they do produce varying agendas. Both have something vital to say to our current context and both have much to demonstrate with regard to their ability to be constructive.


Richard Beck said...

I think its is the epistemological focus of the emergent conversation that I like a lot. It's high view of doubt and its a/theistic moves (per Rollins' How (Not) to Speak about God). Another way to cut at it is to say that emergent is interested in a New Apologetics given the post-modern situation.

Bryce said...

Dr. Love,
I appreciate your decision to create a blog. I took Life and Teachings with you your 1st year at ACU. I look forward to the opportunity to dialogue, learn, and gain from your perspective.

I'm interested in the reasons behind couching your description of "missional" in an attitude that encourages the Christian community to "get over" being top-dog. Is this move a way to get your audience comfortable with a more "missional" mindset, or does it reveal a sense of mourning that Christendom should have, but largely did not deliver in the context of cultural powerhouse? I guess I'm in the camp that think its a good thing that the Gospel is marginal, and naturally, I assumed everyone thought like me.

Mark Love said...


Now that you are no longer in freshman bible you can call me Mark. I agree with you that Christianity is truest to its self when at the margins. The particularity of the Christian story always stress the where of God's activity, and its typically from below or at the margins. It matters that Jesus was born in a barn, came up out of Galilee, and was crucified outside the city walls. The issue of social location is precisely the issue for me, and its where missional has it over emergent.

I do think many people are still mourning Christendom. So, I say get over it. And, you're right, its best that way anyway. More importantly, however, is the fact that we still "do church" with a bucket load of Christendom assumptions. That's what I'm hoping to address.

Are you still slinging Chinese food? And I wanted to put a picture of me without my shirt on my blog, but my wife convinced me otherwise.



Mark Love said...


You're right. It is their strength. However, that's only true for some of them. It's not true, I think, for guys like Dan Kimball who are still fairly in line with mainstream evangelical thought.

And, they can't make up their mind really on world/culture. Some of them still have a pretty big evangelical/world aversion, while others seem to think the secular arena is about the only place left to find transcendence these days. So, I don't think we can say yet that there is an emergent epistemology, but we can say that this is a prominent focus.


Anonymous said...

note to self--add this blog to Google Reader. enjoying the dialog here.