There have been many efforts to describe what an emergent Christian is. Each attempt inevitably analyzes them from a certain angle and so inevitably produces various portrayals. This is further complicated by the fact that they are not a monolithic group. They come from different walks of life, different theological persuasions, different traditions, different geographical locations, each one has his/her own story and so on. I would say they are as diverse as the individuals that make up this group. Yet they feel a bond with each other. There is a thread that unites them all: they want to be the architects of their lives. They don’t want to blindly or “in faith” employ someone else’s design for life; they want to create their own customized blueprint.
For way too long there has been the assumption that Christians ought to be a homogeneous group. That they have to look the same, feel the same, think the same, believe the same, act the same, smell the same … pretty much made from the same matrix (ok, I am exaggerating, but you get the point). The way this has played out is that there is a Christian “tradition” that is to be passed on from one generation to the other, passed on faithfully and accepted without examination, i.e. “in good faith”. The emergent Christians have broken this chain and said: we can’t just take this in blindly; we need to examine and we need to examine EVERYTHING.
There are some people who may like to call themselves emergent or are referred to as emergent by others. Ed Stetzer’s three streams of emergents is a prime example. Here’s my paraphrase of what he said and it is believed in general. Some “emergents” want to rebrand the Christian tradition so as to be relevant nowadays. Everything stays the same, we just change the face. These are the relevant emergents. Then there are those who are willing to take a stab at how we do church and change it as needed. These are the reconstructionists. The last group are those that want to re-examine everything and are ready to undergo a system wide overhaul. These are the revisionists.
Laying aside the labels with their negative connotations let me just say that the last group represents the true emergent Christians. In order to pass as an emergent you’ve got to have the guts to re-examine EVERYTHING. If you’re not ready to examine everything why examine anything? [I really don’t get this pick and choose kind of reexamining. What is the criteria by which you figure what to examine and what not to? Really !!!] Now, does that mean that everything will be changed? Not necessarily. It is simply an honest re-evaluation of the Christian tradition that has been passed on to us: practices, doctrines, ecclesiology etc. What are we to be afraid of? If we sincerely love God, have the Bible as a guide and are committed to follow Jesus then we should be fine, right?
The true emergents have always existed. They are those who want to examine everything before they adopt it and make it their own. They are the Bereans in Paul’s time who did not think that just because you are Paul we should just gullibly accept everything you’re giving us. That is the right posture, one that will save us of many harmful human traditions that want to creep into our paradigm. It is the task of each generation to take a fresh look (not with a closed eye to those that have come before) and re-imagine what does it mean to be Christian, to follow Christ in his or her context. It is much easier to just replicate a passed on tradition then to redesign a fresh one. But to be true to our internal compass, to the God we love, to the Bible we hold dear, to the world we find ourselves in and to Jesus whom we want to follow, there is no alternative. To be Christian is to be emergent.