THE "TIPPING POINT"
Something real and reliable matters! For when the
ship starts sinking, everyone reaches for the life preservers.
Leading thinkers agree we live in a time of
explosive change, epic metamorphosis, perhaps the most precipitous
moment in planetary history.1 During this century alone,
we’ll see—at today’s rate—on the order of 20,000 years of change.2
And, the next viable human community will differ decidedly from what
we’ve called "civilization."3
Warnings like these can’t be brushed aside! The
very future of faith depends on emerging church leaders "getting
it." And they have only a few years—25 is a conservative guess—to
get it right.4
If they fail, we all fail.
Alarmingly, we’ve already reached the "tipping
point" between the failure and the success of the "emerging church
movement." We’ve already moved into lands where even our best maps
no longer work. And, we’ve already faced inescapable history and
risked unredeemable errors.
Trapped in "Glass Houses"
It wasn’t always that way.
The early emerging church movement responded to
the signs of the times: the sober warnings of a post-Christendom
reality. In the beginning, its diverse and innovative leaders were
neither "rebels" nor "heretics." They were, instead, a fragile and
fluid, transparent and pristine "emergence" within the church. They
envisioned a more "relevant" God, a more "real" God, a more
"personal" God within the "official" God. They focused on
alternative worship for younger generations—but with the goal of
making these generations part of the church again. . . .
. . . they had hoped!
Tragically, many emerging leaders got burned by
the pseudo-sacred realities of today’s church. They discovered a
church either totally out of touch with the world or totally in
touch with the world—a world the Lord of History had already left
behind. They found long-established leaders in positions of power
holding stubbornly to where God had been at the expense of where God
was going. And they found hidden hierarchies ignoring a future world
in order to pacify a past sanity.
This proved too much frustration for those who
were already frustrated. It required too much care for those who
already cared. So, in the middle of the night, the movement crossed
a forbidden boundary, and—perhaps unintentionally—became a source of
controversy, a target of criticism.
With many critics, the "emerging church" implied
trauma and chaos. The movement seemed far-out and foreign,
counter-cultural and conspiratorial. And, by most doctrines, it
sounded even "dangerous." One well-known group, for example, has
been called "off base at best and heretical at worst."5
Incredibly, though, many emerging church leaders
have become their worst enemy. They have polarized differences with
the church and proclaimed entirely unnecessary offences. Indeed,
when traditional Christendom leaders finally hear what’s being said,
they’ll call it "scandalous."
The movement is also embarrassingly
self-contradictory, doing the very things it despises, embracing the
very things it rejects, and making the very mistakes it pins on
How can the nascent leaders of the future be so
naive? Those leaders who yearn most for renewal actually obstruct
it! They have unwittingly created labels that the world now uses to
They have trapped themselves in "glass houses."
An Apology and a Wake-Up Call
It’s worrying when a movement this young becomes
the target of criticism.
Will the "emerging church" really emerge? Or,
will it become an infamous oxymoron—"submerging" rather than
"emerging"? We wonder, after all, if it will become a mere blip on
the radar of time?—a stylish fad for the disaffected few?—a rapture
for nerds?—a grace for geeks? . . . And, we wonder if we’re just
repeating past mistakes?
Is the movement "deja vu all over again"?
I’m a member of the emerging church. In fact, I
was a member of renewal movements several years before the term
"emerging church" was invented. In other words, I’ve had plenty of
time to make plenty of mistakes. My new book (Beyond the Emerging
Church) is an apology for those mistakes and a wake-up call for
my friends in the emerging church movement.
Obviously, it’s too early to nail down final
definitions for this movement, but I know what I know, and I write
what I see. The leaders of the movement may deny what I see, but—in
my opinion—how they define the movement often hides an embarrassing
whitewash (even if unintended).
We still need an emerging church. We still need a
prophetic vision. So let us fervently believe this movement is yet
to emerge. Let us humbly concede we’re capable of confessing our
hidden biases. And let us boldly embrace the hidden possibilities
within the emerging church and its profoundly empowered future.
© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt
1. Thomas Berry, Mitchell Stevens, Ray Kurzweil,
Steven Johnson, Henry Kissinger, Alvin Toffler, and many others.
2. Ray Kurzweil in PC Magazine, September
4, 2001, p. 151, 153.
3. Thomas Berry, quoted in Gene Marshall,
Fresh Wineskins for the Christian Breakthrough: Fragments of
Visionary Brooding on the Sociological Future of Christianity,
(Realistic Living Press, Bonham, TX, 1999) p. 50.
4. The approximate watershed moment predicted by
futurists of "Technological Singularity." See:
5. Peter Walker and Tyler Clark, "Missing the
Point?" Relevant Magazine, Issue 21, July-August, 2006, pp