Four types of emergent church

Back in January on the blog Gathering in Light, Wess Daniels offered a typology of emergent churches, and he names his four categories Deconstructionist, Pre-Modern/Augustinian, Emerging Peace Church, and Foundationalist. Curiously, I find myself most in sympathy with the Emerging Peace Church model of emerging church, which Wess describes as follows:

This model of the emerging church stresses the non-conformist tendencies of Jesus, and thus the church should follow in his footsteps through non-violence, love of enemy and caring for the poor. This one may be closest to a kind of new monasticism that has so often been written about in recent times. While there are people from the various peace churches involved in this type of church, there are also people from a variety of traditions who are seeking to contextualize the Gospel within our culture. This group does not accept any one style of culture as being good, thus their non-conformist attitude is directed at modernity and postmodernity alike. They see Jesus (and his incarnation) as their primary model for engaging culture….

As a post-Christian Transcendentalist, my Christology would doubtless differ substantially (!) from those who might claim identity with this model, and doubtless many of them would be less than thrilled by having a post-Christian identify with them. But Wess’s description of this type this comes pretty close to summing up why I consider myself in sympathy with the emergent movement.

Another caveat:– While Wess’s typology is useful for understanding the emergent movement, he leaves out important parts of the movement — e.g., emergent Jews. Along these lines, the real task for emergent Unitarian Universalists is not to fit oursevles into a pre-exiting category, but to articulate what, exactly, we find so frustrating with the existing (20th C., late modern, unreflective, methodologically conservative, smug) practice and theology of Unitarian Universalism as we find it in most of our congregations — to be true to our own unique community of memory, while moving forward methodologically.

6 thoughts on “Four types of emergent church

  1. will shetterly

    The description is promising.

    A tangent: How useful is “post-Christian”? To me, it suggests an antagonism that doesn’t seem to be meant by the people who accept the label. Would neo-Christian or non-doctrinal Christian or something else be useful, or is “post-Christian” a tag like “post-modern” that’s been used too much to sidestep now? I confess, I feel like a pre-Constantine Christian–like the pre-Rafaelites, I may want to return to something that never existed, but I think Christianity took a wrong step when priests and princes began narrowing Christian possibility.

  2. Dan

    Will @ 1 — “Post-Christian” is not a particularly useful term, but it’s the best I can come up with. Can’t accurately call me a Christian — as a Unitarian Universalist, I’m quite aware that the Christians don’t want to admit that I might be related to them (e.g., they kept us out of the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches). “Neo-Christian” doesn’t cut it for me, because I feel what I’m doing is trying to get back to the essentials of early Christianity before the creeds were imposed by the Roman emperor; or maybe I’m trying to maintain the permanent aspects of Jesus’s teachings, in the spirit of Theodore Parker’s “Transient and Permanent in Christianity” — but either way, there’s nothing new about what I’m doing.

    I kinda like pre-Constantine Christian — I might almost adopt that — except that it is less immediately understandable to most folks, whereas post-Christian tends to spark some kind of immediate understanding.

    By the way, if you haven’t read Cornel West’s book “Democracy Matters,” he has a chapter devoted to the differences between prophetic Christianity and Constantinian Christianity. Based on his discussion, I might be willing to call myself a prophetic Christian — except that the crazed apocalyptic Christians (a la Hal Lindsey) have screwed up the meaning of “prophetic” to make it mean “apocalyptic.”

    Which is the real problem in all this for me — I feel as though in the United States today, the fundamentalists and conservative Christians have so corrupted the word “Christian” that I’m not sure the term is redeemable in our time. Yes, I’m a follower of Jesus of Nazareth — but boy I have to cut through a whole load of crap before I can, in good conscience, call myself a Christian.

    Oh, and I do have an evolving definition of “post-Christian” here.

  3. will shetterly

    I hear all that, and I like that page. I’ve toyed with calling myself a Nazarene, but that’s claimed, a Jesusian or a Yeshuite, but they just sound funny. Maybe a Wayfaring Christian? I go back and forth about the importance of names. What’s hardest about them is they may be most important to others, though they can also be a guide to you.

    Well, no answers now. More to ponder. Thanks! I’ll track down Democracy Matters now… Ah. Library has it. Reserved!

  4. Jess

    I’ve always felt the term “Post-Christian” to be rather arrogant in tone, even in understanding the scholarly definitions. I like the idea of “Red-Letter Christians,” who work directly from the words of Jesus as reported in the Bible rather than interpretation around them, but do not trust the various translations enough to consider them completely accurate accountings of his words.

  5. c. wess daniels

    thanks for the link and comments. and good point about who I left out. Good work on bring up emergent Jews, did you know There are even emergent muslims as well?! I am sure there are a lot of other groups out there who would fall into (or be at least close in proximity) to these groups. I guess I was strictly trying to speak about what I know and that’s largely Protestantism. I didn’t even really mention Catholicism, Dorothy Day or the more recent Latin America Base communities, so yes it’s certainly a bare-bones grouping but you’ve done well to add to it, and I appreciate that!

  6. Dan

    Jess @ 4 — “rather arrogant in tone” — I always thought of it as “smug,” but I could go with “arrogant.”

    Wess @ 5 — I didn’t know there are emergent Muslims, will have to find out more! Thanks again for your typology — it really helped clarify my thinking.

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