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Why Swedenborgians Need to Pay Attention to the Emergent Movement or Similarities Between New Church and Emergent Church

Bronwen became aware of the Emergent Movement in 2010. She brings the reader up to speed on what this movement is and then draws connections between it and the New Church. There is a lot to learn by engaging in this conversation. -Editor.

Being the church is an emphasis found in the emerging church that strongly speaks to me. It reminds me of the passage Divine Providence 101 whereupon arriving in the next world after death “one is not asked ‘What church were you were a member of?’ But ‘How have you lived your life?’” At the same time I find the theological conversations in the Emergent Village to be especially thought provoking and interesting in the context of the impact of the New Church in the world and on Christianity.

In the summer of 2010 I read the book, The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier by Tony Jones. I swallowed this book whole. I read with speed and enthusiasm about an emerging theology that transcended organized and institutionalized religion and spoke to a Christianity that emphasized being the church. The parallel between this new Christianity and the New Christianity that I had grown up with were impossible to ignore. For the first time I felt that New Church theology was being accepted by other Christians. Is this emerging theology/Christianity a product of the New Church movement?

I sought after more information about this movement in the written works of Brian McLaren. I was dumbstruck to discover that both Tony Jones and Brian McLaren were speaking at a Lutheran church just a mile from my workplace! I attended this event and ever since have been inspired about the emergent church. A driving question for me is whether there are things that the New Church can learn from the emerging church movement to further the New Church movement? This is a conversation I want to be a part of.

So What is the Emergent Movement (Emergent Christianity, Emergent Church Movement)?

The emerging church is a Christian movement of the late 20th and early 21st century that crosses a number of theological boundaries: participants can be described as Protestant, post-Protestant, Catholic, evangelical, post-evangelical, liberal, post-liberal, conservative, and post-conservative, anabaptist, adventist, reformed, charismatic, neocharismatic, and post-charismatic. Proponents, however, believe the movement transcends such "modernist" labels of "conservative" and "liberal," calling the movement a "conversation" to emphasize its developing and decentralized nature, its vast range of standpoints, and its commitment to dialogue. Participants seek to live their faith in what they believe to be a "postmodern" society. What those involved in the conversation mostly agree on is their disillusionment with the organized and institutional church and their support for the deconstruction of modern Christian worship, modern evangelism, and the nature of modern Christian community. (Source: Emerging Church, Wikipedia)

That opening sentence threw me a bit, so I went on to read about the labels as described here (from the same Wikipedia article):

Although some emergent thinkers such as Brian McLaren and other Christian scholars such as D. A. Carson use "emerging" and "emergent" as synonyms, a large number of participants in the emerging church movement maintain a distinction between them. The term emergent church was coined in 1981 by Catholic political theologian, Johann Baptist Metz for use in a different context. "Emergent" is sometimes more closely associated with Emergent Village. Those participants in the movement who assert this distinction believe "emergents" and "emergent village" to be a part of the emerging church movement but prefer to use the term "emerging church" to refer to the movement as a whole while using the term "emergent" in a more limited way, referring to Brian McLaren and emergent village.

Many of those within the emerging church movement who do not closely identify with "emergent village" tend to avoid that organization's interest in radical theological reformulation and focus more on new ways of "doing church" and expressing their spirituality. Mark Driscoll and Scot McKnight have now voiced concerns over Brian McLaren and the "emergent thread." Other evangelical leaders such as Shane Claiborne have also come out to distance himself from the emerging church movement, its labels and the "emergent brand."

Testament to the Impact of the New Church on Christianity

I was really blown away the first time I heard an emergent speaker (Brian McLaren) and the number of things he said that were exactly what I had learned through New Church theology. One striking example is the de-emphasis on Paul’s works, and the renewed emphasis on Jesus’ works and words. Another unarguable similarity is the notion that the Lord is still working, still moving, still speaking and revealing Himself, and that the event of His coming is not complete. Other similarities included the complete disregard of the Council of Nicea and the lack of emphasis on blood atonement.

It would seem that emergent Christianity is manifesting what Swedenborg described with words in incredibly relevant terms. The emergent movement participants are rejecting the dogmas of the churches that have come into popularity since Christ’s death and are actively seeking and bringing about a return to His original teaching.

We Can Learn from Emergent Christianity

There is an articulation of faith, humility, and an uncertainty around theological matters present in the emergent movement that is significant and appeals to younger generations. The heartfelt effort to live one’s beliefs fully, through serving those in need is especially inspiring and relatable. There is a compelling message that every individual is responsible for their faith path, and that that path is not stagnant, one-time spirituality, but a lifetime journey of looking to the Lord, the Word, spending time in prayer, and following the path that Jesus Himself led.

Are Swedenborgian Churches Emergent?

Yes. No. I don’t know. I think there is a great desire for each one of us to create boxes. Boxes into which we categorize and put people, movements, and churches. The emergent movement defies boxing and resists it greatly (much to observers’ dismay). Part of the essence of the emergent movement is this sense of being post denominational. This is a paradox in and of itself, as many people resonate with emergent thinking, many also resist being boxed in as emergent. Sound familiar? My experience of readers of Swedenborg is that they are fiercely independent (I say this with fondness) and have deep desire to search and explore for themselves, ultimately deriving their own applications for life from the teachings.

Many passionate, well-educated people have wrestled with the dogmas of fundamental Christianity and have thrown it aside. Many have experienced years of heartache and disillusionment, and were on the verge of dismissing Christianity altogether, when they experienced the beauty at the heart of Jesus' message, a beauty at times expressed so clearly in the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. So whether you’ve known about emergent Christianity, or are just learning about it, it feels important for the New Church to engage in this conversation.

Participating in the Conversation

Since coming into awareness of the emergent movement, I have new insights (and questions) around how I present New Church theology. And I am eager to communicate the message of the New Church with clarity and humility for people who desire one, loving God. With this end in mind, I am submitting to emergent blogs with a newfound sense of confidence and boldness. Although I’m not a scholar of the Bible or of the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, I am a reader of each, and have thoughts and questions, and maybe even insights on how these ideas apply to life. So not surprisingly, with each blog I write, even as I too try and bring a New Church perspective to the table, and join the conversation, I am filled with trepidation and excitement about the possibilities. It is affirming that, as part of the emergent movement, everyone’s voice is valid.

Furthering the exposure of the emergent church to New Church theology, and the New Church to emergent views on expressing spirituality through worship, prayer, and study feels like a compelling next step for me. This April, General Church Outreach is offering an opportunity to participate in an outreach-training event. The event, called Impact 365, will encompass challenging sessions, workshops, discussions, and worship, all focusing on bringing “church” into our awareness every day.

As part of this event, Tony Jones, a well known author and speaker in the emergent church, will be giving a keynote address that centers on his book, The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier.

For more information, visit or call 267-502-4916.

Bronwen Henry

Bronwen Henry is a mom of two, an editor for New Church Connection, and a member of a team developing small group programs that are for a new kind of Christianity. Bronwen delights in the exploration of different religions and embraces that she has yet to master any herself.