So I just finished reading Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures by Ryan Bolger and Eddie Gibbs.

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And I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the “emerging church”, whether you are a critic of them, interested in them, or in favor of them. Does that cover the bases?

Let me leave you with a couple of different paragraphs from their conclusion:

This study sought to identify the essential practices of emerging churches in the U.K. and the U.S. As explained, after five years of research, we identified nine practices of the communitites that are engaging postmodern culture. To clarify, emerging churches are not young adult services, Gen-X churches, churches-within-a-church, seeker churches, purpose-driven or new paradigm churches, fundamentalist churches, or even evangelical churches. They are a new expression of church. The three core practices are identifying with the life of Jesus, transforming secular space, and commitment to community as a way of life. These practices are expressed in or lead to the other six: welcoming the stranger, serving with generosity, participating as producers, creating as created beings, leading as a body, and taking part in spiritual activities.

For a number of reasons, this has been a difficult book to write. In the first place, we are not the authors of much of the material. We wanted emerging church leaders to be heard in their own words. Our roles have been that of interpreter and commentator. We refrained from acting as censors or critics when something was said about which we have our own opinions. We sought to include leaders who had walked away from their previous ecclesial tradition out of frustration and disillusionment as well as those who continue to work within a tradition, seeking its transformation.

I leave you with those two quotes for a couple or reasons. One, it gives you a sense of their findings, and what the nine characteristics they found that defined “emerging churches.” You may agree or disagree with them, but these are the facts of their research. Second, it gives you a sense of their humility, and their ability to work with those that they both agreed with, and disagreed with, while presenting their findings in a respectful manor to all those involved.

You will also hopefully find their Appendix B, Research Methodology chapter extremely helpful and interesting. A lot of books present material that doen’t often have any data or research involved with them, but this book allows for the research and those involved within the “emerging church” to speak in their own words. This is what they say about their methodology:

Our approach to this study was exploratory. As opposed to testing a particular thesis we investigated the nature of emerging churches and movements. Through our first set of questions, we sought simply to better understand these communities. Who participates in these innovative forms or church? How different are these churches and leaders from one another? To what extent do they differ significantly from their predecessors and prevailing models of church? Will they play a significant role in the future of the Western church? Are they groundbreaking frontiers, or are they diversionary fringes?…………..We employed interviews, observations, and document analysis to achieve our aims.

The bottom footnote 1, to the above, closing sentence says this: We triangulated our research using multiple methods (interviews, observations, document analysis, video, and personal experience). Triangulation involves using more than one research method in a study. This is done to minimize the weaknesses in any one particular approach and to provide a more comprehensive picture.

I learned a lot from this book and will be thinking and talking a lot about the book, and what I read and discussed with others. Reading this book reminds of what might have occurred in earlier generations when new forms of church, theology, ecclessial structures, music, technology arrived upon the scene. What must have my grandparents thought when guitars and drums where introduced into a church service? Or what might have those before us thought about the arrival of the overhead projector, Powerpoint, etc.? What did those before us think about the move away from denominationalism, and towards non-denominational, bible churches that stressed their own independence? As you know these questions are endless and can go on forever. I think that the lesson I learned from this book is a need for a sense of humility as people continue to explore ideas and ways of church. I didn’t read the book and walk away with a sense of fear regarding the future of the church, or that it is falling apart. Rather I walked away knowing, and learning more about the “emerging church” movement and that there were some things I learned and am interested in exploring, and there are some things that didn’t quite sit right with me, but I realize they might be reaching others that we are not. Some may see me as being quite relativistic from that statement, but I assure that I am not, but I don’t feel that the “barbarians are at the gate” either. Rather I think new ways of church have, and are always being explored in an attempt to improve on things. Some fail, and others cause a reformation. Only time will tell.

And I was bummed that I was really sick this morning and missed Ryan Bolger speaking this morning at Fuller to the emergent Southern California cohort. I look forward to dialoguing and interacting with this group as I hope we can learn from each other, as I continue to learn and dialogue with my church, the college group I pastor, and all of you.