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December 18, 2004


dave paisley


I've been thinking about the various points you raise, and FWIW, I see emergent as maybe akin to a professional society. Let me explain further. I'm an aeronautical engineer. The premier professional society for aero engineers in the US is the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). It's also a part of a worldwide alliance of societies including the Royal Aeronautical Society in England (and the two societies are corporate members of each other, which may be an interesting model for independent but collaborative emergent entities around the world.)

The AIAA's main task is to be an advocate for the aerospace industry and its members. It organizes conferences, publishes journals, develops continuing education courses, develops public policy for the industry and lobbies for those policies, and a variety of other things that enhance the well-being of its members.

Now, it is NOT an aerospace company like Boeing or Lockheed (akin to denominations, perhaps?) although it has many members that work in those companies, of course.

In this vein I can see emergent as a para-church type association, tasked with the mission of developing the theology and philosophy of emergent and supporting and developing the practitioners in the field.

It requires, as you note, further development beyond just a "conversation", but I think something like this may not be far off.

Anyway, just an idea that sparked.


Your concept definitely holds some attraction for me, Dave. I wonder what others think.


Well said Dave. Good ideas.


Dave: Your notion of Emergent as an association or society makes sense. Clever insight!

If I had to come up with a nomenclature for Emergent, I'd consider fellowship. That term seems to fit, given the comments coming out of the hearts of Emergent thinkers. Bill, you see an infrastructure like a spider web. I think that's perfect. That, to me, leaves the authority with the Word of God, which is, Biblically speaking, sufficient.

A fellowship puts members at equal footing toward a common cause. Since authority already exists in the triune God, there's no reason to assume Emergent thinkers would desire to create another form of it. Am I right?

That concept may require us to shun some of the high philosophy at one end of the Emergent spectrum, but I believe we have to fight it back in order to maintain the integrity of the Gospel. I would see the development of a theocratic head within Emergent as a bad thing. (Not so, however, a coordinating group like the one that currently exists, such as it is, and for its purposes.)

Maybe Screwtape, as Chris Enstad observed on Tony Jones' weblog, has a point: keep them mis-focused and they won't see the important questions.

Emergent seems to have found a way to be inclusive, or at least cordial and patient, while maintaining the integrity of the Gospel. That's something I want to be part of.

I find the description of Emergent at emergentvillage.com to be just the thing I need to read occassionally to keep me focused on the important parts of the conversation. Like the hackneyed but really crucial: "What have I done today to reveal the love of God?"

Blessings all around,

Goyo in Nicaragua

Ok, one huge thing that will bring more definition and clarity about what "emergence" is will be the coming (coming? it's here!) criticism. This criticism is mainly from conservative evangelicals (a good place to start is to read Chuck Colson's amicable reply to Brian McLaren...sorry I don't have time to link it here!). Also, a book's just out called "Reclaiming the Center" and sets to set the record straight about (mainly) Stanley Grenz's neo-foundationalist approach to Scripture. The point is, though, that nothing brings people together than when they feel the heat of criticism...and especially the harsh, judgemental type that's coming down the pipe from our "concerned" evangelical friends.


Thanks for reminding me to read Mr. Colson's response. I found it to be very reasonable and, as you said, amicable. I have posted the e-mail I sent to Brian after reading what Mr. Colson wrote.

In some ways I think they're talking about two different things. In some ways Mr. Colson might be right, in other ways wrong. I really wish Brian would respond publicly. It would be a help to me and I'm sure to many others, even if it has no affect on Mr. Colson, himself.

I understand that at some point argument becomes futile, but as you know, Mr. Colson specifically said that Brian shouldn't assume discourse would be futile in this case. Colson writes:

"I must say at the outset that the four points you stated in your opening paragraph as to why you normally wouldn’t try to respond to a piece like mine smack of postmodern despair. We should not say it’s “fruitless to even try to dialogue” or that people can’t understand things and it doesn’t make any difference. In my view misunderstandings matter greatly because there are consequences to ideas. As has been true from the time of the Greeks till today, vigorous healthy debate is vital as all of us search for truth. Our differences – yours and mine – need to be discussed in the service of Truth."

No offense to Brian, but after reading that, how could he not respond?


I was amused by Colson taking McLaren to task over the "fruitlessness" of dialoguing (though he took that statement in McLaren's letter out of context)...


I don't know if he quite took it out of context. Maybe Colson assumed that he was potentially on of those who, to quote Brian, "think they understand postmodernism...[but] lack the time, energy, or historical and philisophical understanding..."

See what I mean? If Colson assumes Brian is potentially describing him, then it makes sense to reply, in his opinion, that dialogue COULD indeed be fruitful.

I think if Emergent is really going to produce sizable changes, there will have to be more dialogue with people like Colson and Carson. These men may never fully agree with what we are saying, but hopefully the dialogue will help to inform others (like me!).

karen ward

a brilliant insight dave, to compare what emergent *could be* to a professional society, assuming the root meaning of the word 'professional' (one who professes or espouses certain philosophies and ideas).

i am am member of two societies of liturgy, the north american academy of liturgy and societas liturguca (world wide). both give space for serious convesation and thought around the topic of liturgy. both meet once a year or once every two years in plenum, both have member dues, a journal and a website and study groups around various topics and keynote type lectures or addresses. most members of each group are from denominations (working professors of liturgy, along with some are ph.d candidates in liturgy, denominatoinal worship officials and liturgucal artists of all sorts).

both are splendid communities that have a great impact on the church via their scholarly and professional converstions, whose fruits 'cross-pollinate' across denominations in plenum and are carried back and 'mainstreamed' into the wider church in their persons (very relational).

i will point some of the coordinating team of emergent to this conversation to move this ideas into the emergent hopper.

thanks dave. i'm hoping we can get together for a beer soon. we've got more plotting to do in our diocese and also about an general emergent co-hort group in seattle. we already have an emergent church planters group connected to emergent through me, but we don't have a non-planter focused group. - just another idea to throw around over beer.

doug pagitt

Dave, and sorry for continueing to carry on conversations on another person's blog, i like this way of thinking.
I don't know if you remeber when we used the term "fellow" for people in Emergent. It was from this very idea. I wanted us to think of ourselves in this way- like part of a fellowship.
but that met such universal distain that we have gone away from it.

I still like the spirit of it, and we will stay with that, but the terms in all this take some work, partly becasue as people we are so easily bothered by the wrong term.

Thanks for taking time to put together good thoughts.

karen ward

hi doug, dave, bill, et al,

i think the intial 'flaming' emergent got about the fellows idea was based on an unintended 'cart before the horse' development of the society paradigm, as the fellows part drew immediate and untimely attention to the leadership of the society and not towards the root idea of the development of the society itself (the plenum).

when the plenum becomes the driver, then the fellow thing (curating the plenum) fits and would be welcomed, as it flows from the needs of an actual body.

i think that with emergent, the curate (fellow) thing got in place before the body was fully formed, so i think now is a more kairos time for this idea to get sea legs, as the emergent body politic is now big enough to need curates/senior fellows and build on this society idea, but a society based not on total doctrinal agreement or supra denominational strucural unity, but based on relationship and ascent... ascenting to 'a way to explore,' a trajectory of vision, a 'linux platform for 'parallel processing' the kingdom (ie emergence).

if we begin to use this society thing and tailor it towards emergence, we may be on to something that can help us to 'curate the conversation' and provide some modest and fuctional structuring, which i think there is now need for, as the need is being expressed by the 'plenum at large' in conversations like this one.

as an active member of other such societies, i have some ideas on how this concept might be morhped for emergent.

rick luoni

Dear Bill,

I found you via cousin Will.:) Interesting post! I think about many of the things you are saying AND I wonder about why we must attempt to organize? There is a part of me that says yes, then there is part that says why? It certainly seems that it has been unnecessary up to this point. Why now? Don't get me wrong I like the idea of having a group of folks in which to share ministry ideas and issues. Last year I made a trip to Seattle to hang out with Karen Ward.(I have tons of respect and admiration for what Karen is attempting to do. What a wonderful group who deserves Big Brother's support in a major way) She and Johnny Baker came here to SF in May via Bob Carlton.

If it is a work of the Spirit God will give birth. Like the early monastic (desert)they were a "movement" that didn't require them to become "organized". Folks from all ove Europe found their way to the desert to learn and then return home to incorporate what they saw practiced. The Clunys and Cistercians both started with great intentions, but came corrupt once their "movement" became an "organization". My understanding of Jesus is one who was all inclusive, and I am not talking about a 21st century politcal correct understanding. Jesus' very life was about inclusion.

I agree with you and think you are right, Emergent is a movement. I like referring to what is happening in the body of Christ as a movement, not of people's minds, but the Holy Spirit in folks hearts. Nobody gets to own this but God. :)
If that makes folks uptight, I rest my case.

With all that said, I'd love to connect with some folks in the SF Bay area who would like to explore what God is doing here. :)

Thanks for the topic!

God's peace,


I think that if it has not been necessary to "organize" up to this point that may be because not much has been accomplished. I don't mean that to sound harsh, I just mean that so much more COULD be done. I also think a resistance to being more organized could easily prove to be detrimental in the long run.

I don't know that I can agree with your suggestion that things automatically become corrupt when they move to a certain level of organization. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the desire that people may have to move away from the super-sophisticated organizational urge of the mega-church movement. I'm not talking about organization that spends all it's time organizing and doing upkeep, either. I just believe that being intentional about what you want to do matters.

I think that your view of the Holy Spirit overlooks the desire that God has for us to collaborate with him in the process of redeeming creation and furthering the kingdom. Maybe you're not quite saying this, but I don't think God wants us to just sit around hoping God will do something and making sure we don't "get in the way."

rick luoni

Thanks for your comments Bill. Brother, you are not harsh, I am very secure in my faith and realize that reasonable minds differ. Thank you for your consideration. I guess it is how we understand our role as Christians in the the world; which only furthers my case about a premature organization.

I do not think or assume things become "automatically" corrupt. I said, we run the risk of corruption once we begin to attempt to control and define God's activity. I think it is an approach that has plagued the church for 2,000 years.

I too think we need to be extremely intentional about LIVING OUT our faith. If we are INTENTIONAL about how we live our faith, some of this concern for organizing will diminish. Part of the fear in that nothing is getting done is because we are hanging out in the suburbs lighting candles and discussing theology rather than being present in the broken world. (I am pointing the finger at myself.) I think how we collaborate with the Holy Spirit is how we are active in the world and not by how many societies we create. If we want to "collaborate" with the Holy Spirit we can be about redeeming creation by what we do. In some ways organizing seems very inward focused and not outward focused.

My point about the Holy Spirit was that it is GOD's ACTIVITY. We need to be vessels for God's activity. As soon a folks begin to "define" we run the risk of interpreting the LAW much like the Pharisees did the torah.

With all that said, I too like the concept of some form of society. (Like the comment from Dave.) My fear is moving beyond a society (that serves as a support network) we enter into areas of defining culture etc. We we begin to lay ground rules we sound much like history repeating itself.

Many blessings and thanks for the topic! Great stuff!


Sivin Kit

I like what I'm reading here ... and I'll need some time to digest it with the comments. That section on more than a "conversation" and being "missional" really resonates with me.



I think this is all on the right track, but we've thus far been too much like an academic society, or "guild," in my estimation -- thus the criticism by Steve Bush that we've become the "Emergent Book Club." If professional "society" or academic "guild" has sufficient attention to praxis, then I'm all for it. If it means holing up in a hotel ballroom and reading papers to each other, then forget it.

Marx's final thesis to Feuerbach: "The philosophers have interpreted the world; the point, however, is to change it."




I don't want to undermine what you're saying about the "broken world," but I do want to suggest that this brokenness you speak of easily extends into the suburbs some of us are in. When I look around the church culture I am a part of, I see needs people don't even know thay have. I see a people group who think they've got this Jesus thing figured out. They think they need to just do more of the same thing, perhaps with a little more of the ideology of corporate America thrown in.

My concern with not organizing is that people will think emerging IS just about lighting candles and holding the "book clubs" Tony mentions above.

I don't want to see this thing become watered down too much. It seems to me that a great way to AVOID collaborating with the Holy Spirit would be to add a whole bunch of irrelevant or antithetical activities. Right?

rick luoni

I guess what I am trying to say that "emerging" is a movement of the Holy Spirit and perhaps it has been a "movement" for quite sometime. "Emerging church" may not be a movement only an expression of the Holy Spirit's movement.

I love the idea of connecting with folks from all over the globe who are seeking understanding to thier faith. I have traveled to various places like Seattle in the past year to learn from others who are on the journey. So a society that welcomes folks in an exchange of what God is doing in their midst is wonderful. To define and set boundaries on what that means is dangerosu in my opinion.

I really appreciate being able to think these thngs out via blogs. :) Thanks for the dialogue. Despite what some may think, conversation is healthy for it allows expression and consideration of ideas, thoughts, and opinions.

Thanks again. Peace,


Sorry, Bill... I sent that Trackback before I realized my naming mistake. Please forgive. :)


lol...np...thanks for mentioning my post!

dave paisley


kudos on sparking some great conversation, just in time for the San Diego conference.

And from Tony: "If it means holing up in a hotel ballroom and reading papers to each other, then forget it."

Oh my god, that is the absolute worst part of professional societies. I'm trying desperately to get people to change that ;) We call it death by viewfoil (now powerpoint).

bob c

what is the problem that changing organizational structure would address ? focus ? inclusivity ? ability to communicate ?



The purpose of my original post was to talk about more than just organizational structure, if I'm understanding what you mean by that term. I just think that perhaps more could be done to address at least two of those three things you just mentioned: focus and ability to communicate. Believe me, I don't pretend to have all of the answers, I just want to be sure to encourage forward motion.

It seems to me that while the effort for inclusivity is very important, it could actually be hindered by a lack of focus on who it is we're trying to include. I don't know that inclusivity = anybody and everybody. We would be hard pressed to include people who place a high value on exclusivity, for example!

I guess a lot of the comments on this post have revolved around what we want Emergent to be, but there is another question: What do we want Emergent to do? What is our purpose?

I'm interested in hearing how others would respond to your question.

rick luoni

I think the question is: What does God want emergent to be? What does God want emergent to do? What is our purpose as Christians?

Great conversation! Thanks.



Right, and one of the ways I would seek to discover that is to ask how God may be working in the hearts of other Christians. That's why I ask "What do we...?"

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