Engaging Emergence

One of the most important books I read this year was by Peggy Holman: Engaging Emergence; Turning Upheaval into Opportunity. As Peggy says in her blog, emergence is a process "through which order arises from chaos as the existing order is disrupted, differences appear, and a new coherence coalesces. By engaging emergence, you can help yourself and your organization or community to successfully face disruption and emerge stronger than ever." She advises: "Step up by taking responsibility for what you love as an act of service. Prepare to embrace mystery, choose possibility, and follow life-energy. Host others by clarifying intentions, welcoming disturbance, and inviting diversity. Engage by inquiring appreciatively, opening, and reflecting. Then do it again!" 

At some point within the past 40 years or so, the Christian world embarked on an immense and historic reconfiguration that called into question the doctrinal and institutional assumptions that had held sway for hundreds of years. And by now, we are right smack in the middle of epochal changes. The struggles of a century ago between liberals and conservatives that led to the creation of modern fundamentalism after World War I are no longer relevant to the conversations that now resonate most powerfully for Christians. Dry arguments about dogma no longer compel desperate arguments or inspire movements. The United States is no longer a "Christian nation," and fortunately for Christianity, it never was. A new generation of Christians is asserting that the core teachings of Jesus are inherently universal and transnational, and can never--and should never--be owned or identified as the characteristic of any nation-state.

At the same time, all of the principal institutions and denominations of  the church--Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, and Other, evangelical, mainline, charismatic, and neo-Anabaptist--are undergoing wrenching change. The population centers of Christianity have rapidly shifted from the North--Europe and North America--to the South--Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Within the United States, Christians are becoming a minority alongside other religions and spiritual movements, and Christians themselves are becoming less white and more racially diverse. Finally, Christians generally are beginning to seek a more genuine and Spirit-filled expression of their faith, focused on service to others and finding the essence of their faith in compassionate love rather than in dogmatic pronouncements. Significantly, the 2010 American Congressional elections were the first in 30 years in which the Religious Right did not play a significant public role--in its guise as the Religious Right.

Peggy Holman's insightful book has much to offer Christians who are pondering what to make of the chaos and how to live a faithful Christian witness. As Christians move from disruption to coherence, what will we learn to notice? What will we explore, what will we be bold enough to try, and what new possibilities will we be open to? How will we reinvent ourselves in the 21st century?

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