Emergent church spokesman Shane ClaiborneThere's a big difference between a fad and a movement: Christian heavy metal was a fad. Emergent Christianity is a movement.

Emergent Christianity and the emerging church movement gained considerable traction in the first decade of this century. Wikipedia has a pretty good introduction to the characteristics of a concept that's still gaining shape and definition. But the general idea of the emergent movement is a realignment of Christian communities for a world of "posts": postmodern, postliberal, postevangelical, even post-Christian. 

Based on a typical description like this one, confessional Christians may see emergent Christianity as too liberal and too dismissive of ecclesiology. And liberal, mainline, and "cultural Christians" may think it's just conservative neo-evangelicalism in disguise. Many seminary trustees and administrators, who likely fall somewhere on this continuum, may also have one of these reactions when they hear murmurs of emergence among their professors or students.

But that's the thing with a movement: It moves beyond the status quo. Iconoclasts like St. Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther, John Wesley, William J. Seymour, and Harold John Ockenga each helped spark movements that had long-lasting effects on the trajectory of Christian tradition. Today, some say that folks like Brian McLaren and Shane Claiborne and the Emergent Village online community are similar catalysts in a new movement that's cutting to the quick of American Christianity. (Nobody said that about the Christian hair band Stryper!)

How is your theological school reacting to what seems to be a movement with legs? Are you:

  • Resisting the movement -- either actively or passively -- with appeals to tradition, orthodoxy, piety, or habit?
  • Investing in learning more about, and from, emergent Christians? 
  • Taking a wait-and-see approach so that you can more clearly determine how the movement will evolve? 

We may indeed be living in a time of widespread religous stagnation, but the context in which we educate students for scholarship and ministry never stays the same. Emergent Christianity is a movement that seems to be on the rise. It's worth knowing about it, because it may represent the future, and that may affect your own school's recruitment, placement, fundraising, educational programming, and more.