Friday, February 16, 2007

How Similar Is the Emerging Movement to the Jesus Movement?

Scot McKnight asks a very interesting question on Jesus Creed: "Is Emergence the 60s all over again?" Here's a sampling of the variety of responses that he's received:

Brad Boydston writes:

“Is Emergence the 60s all over again?” The answer is YES — but with more tattoos. I suppose that’s why some boomer types get annoyed with the whole thing. In hindsight they know how full of crap they were in the 60’s and then along comes a bunch of guys (mostly) who think they’ve just discovered the key to real Christianity — genuine community and “question authority.” And the growing-greyhair (or in the case of some, no-longer-growing-hair) realizes that the emerging crowd is as full of crap as they were. That realization is compounded by the fact that they know deep inside that they’re still processing all the pain they went through when their own 60’s style house church disbanded in 1976 — if it lasted that long. It’s all mostly the same old, same old stuff.

But that’s okay. Each generation in its youth seems to have to reinvent things. Then when they reach middle age they’re embarrassed by how arrogant they were back then. And it’s at that point that they have a fresh epiphany of the vastness of God’s grace and mercy. And they realize that all of the things which we hash and re-hash, while important, pale in significance to the generosity and forbearance of God.

So, my advice to the emerging generation (which is very very soon the post-emerging generation) is truck on with Jesus! You’re doing fine — and who knows, perhaps God will use you as he unfolds his kingdom. If nothing else you’ll be in a great position to extend grace to the next arrogant and crap-filled generation.

Julie Clawson writes:

My cynical response…

So what if it’s like the 60’s (or any other reform/visionary period)? If it makes some people feel okay about selling out to consumerism instead of trying to transform the world with God’s love by labeling (read dismissing) others that’s their issue. One of my biggest pet peeves is being told by some baby boomer that I’ll grow out of my idealistic passion. That I’ll live real life and be forced to return to self-centered conservative American evangelicalism I grew up in. They think that by telling me that others in history have tried to passionately pursue Christ but rightly let the love of comfort and money dissuade them of that passion will dissuade me as well. They tell me that I’m the one who needs to grow up and give up my passion for Christ because it just isn’t normal/mainstream. And I’m expected to accept the wisdom of their years and revert to whatever box they want to shove me into. That’s called growing up and being responsible…

And finally, Matthew Wilcoxen writes:

There are quite a few substantial differences that I see between the Jesus People movement of the 70’s and the Emergent movement of now. First of all, the Jesus People movement was, if I understand it correctly, largely “anti-intellectual.” Seminary became a Cemetery to these hippies. The Bible was all you needed and anything else was dead, putrefying “religion” or “tradition.” The Emergents on the other hand, while perhaps loathing systematic theology and the seminaries of what they see as a bygone era, are anything but anti-intellectual. They load up blogs and discuss scholarly works in their free time. Rather than dismiss everything from the past as “tradition” that kills, these emerging Christians welcome anything from the past as long as it isn’t in any way connected with the movements and institutions which spawned them.

The second difference I see is that the Jesus People Movement did not really push the envelope doctrinally at all. The one exception being, perhaps, that some of them loosened up and actually believed the parts about the Bible that talk about the Holy Spirit. For the most part, they took the doctrines that had been handed down to them, and took them to the streets and preached them with vigour. On the other hand, the Emergents are, some more than others, shoving the envelope quite radically. McLaren says that “..our interpretations reveal less about God or the Bible than they do about ourselves…” (A New Kind of Christian, p. 50). The Emergent movement seems to be questioning, largely, whether or not understanding theology in any definitive way is even possible. For this reason, we are seeing much in the theological realm that is more reactionary than it is revolutionary. (I hope this doesn’t seem vitriolic, please correct me if I’m wrong.) In sum on this point, the Jesus People turned out to be fundamentalists in hippie garb; the Emergents are willfully shaking any fundamentalism out of themselves as quickly as possible.

For my last point (I think that I could go on forever!), I will say that the Jesus People were proclamational and definitely “missional.” Their strong emphasis was preaching the gospel. If you meant someone who was part of this movement, chances are, you had been confronted with the truth of the gospel of their Jesus. They were strongly committed to being “witnesses” in the sense that they verbally told and retold the story of how God, in Jesus, had reconciled sinners to himself through the cross and “commands all men everywhere to repent.” What they wanted was a conversion of the heart and of the priorities and they would ask you to accept that converting work of God. Conversion was, to them, a sharp break with one’s past life. They were all about being “born again.” The Emergents, while committed to being “missional”, are not committed to evangelism, at least not in the same way. Since orthopraxy has taken over for orthodoxy, most Emergents are not as concerned wtih proclamational evangelism. Instead, they seek to model inclusion before conversion (something many Jesus People undoubtedly did as well). Conversion in the sense of a radical godward reorientation, a “born again” experience, is not the aim of Emergent missions. I could continue, but I think most will further recognize the contrast betweent the Jesus People Movement’s strong proclamation (understand: verbal) of Christ and the Emergent’s aversion to such proclamation.

In sum, I think the Emergent movement is a whole different type of movement when we compare the beliefs, convictions, and practices of it with the Jesus People movement of the 70’s.
I could find points of commonality with both Brad and Matthew. And I remember thinking like Julie. What do you think?


  1. I'm too young to have first-hand experience of the JP movement but based on my understanding, I see one other significant difference. It seems the JP movement was driven partly by the fact that the "hippie" Christians weren't welcome in the average evangelical church. It was more of a movement of necessity due to the rejection of the mainstream church. Many of those JP churches were formed by new converts who couldn't find a church that would accept them. The emergents aren't being rejected by the church, they are consciously rebelling against the forms (and in some case, doctrines) of the church they grew up in. It's not primarily a movement born out of conversions. While I'm not one who condemns the emerging movement, I do think this aspect of the movement is a little troubling.

  2. I don´t think there is lines from the Jesus Movement to the Emergent Movement. There is lines from Jesus Movement to the House Church movement, imho.

    But there is some parallells between JM and EM.

    JM had a flat out radicalism which yu may find again in the HC.