Over the past month we have been engaged in  a vibrant conversation here about the labels of Liberal, Evangelical, Progressive, and Emergent. Here is a set links for those wanting to get up to speed.  Liberal Masterclass pod – Nine Nations of Evangelicalism blog  – Progressive is not Liberal blog – Emergent TNT pod .

There have been two things that have come across my plate recently that have caused me to ask a second set of questions about the whole conversation. The first is a quote from the book “Postcolonialism” by Robert Young.

 As soon as any contemporary intellectual or political movement is established, arguments will always follow about its name. This is because naming involves important form of political power structures, as is clear from the ways in which feminism, queer theory and black studies have had to wrestle with the implications of the naming process. The drawback of any name that ends in an ‘ism’ is that it will be taken to imply a set of shared ideas, and a single, homogeneous ideology. Such a characterization will of necessity be a broad generalization, produced after the event. The practice is always far more diverse and heterogeneous… (p. 63)

The second was some push back I got from a friend who took exception to my assertion that people who self-identify as Emergent should have at least a cursory knowledge of emergence theory. I am concerned that emergent not simply be used to denote what we are not. It is not enough to use it as a marker for not being traditional, conservative, denominational, etc. It has to have a basis in some conceptual famework that in some way connects with what or how we see the movement/conversation actually operating. I think that it does.

My concern here is twofold.
A) That both Emergent (as a concept) and Evangelical (as a theological identifier) could become disconnected from the words that supply their titles/labels. I told my friend “if the emerging conversation has nothing to do with emergence theory , then it could have just as easily been called the Leopard church or Zebra conversation. it would have no identifying connection to that which it refers.”
B) I have a similar concern about Evangelical. I have said before I would like to see the term theologically tied to some historical markers. I use Bebbington’s 4 themes and then try to expand them a little bit for contemporary developments. What I do not want to see happen is for it to come to mean “Republican” or Religious Right or any predominately political de-marker.

I first heard of the emerging church from Eddie Gibbs before the founding of Emergent Village. He talked of the developments in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and then England. I was under the impression that those participating in the conversation were taking their cue from and engaging the conceptual perspective of emergence thought.

Now, it might be right that the American manifestation was not rooted in emergence thought but only utilized the word as a label that could be branded and marketed. But that would be disappointing to find out … although there is one aspect that would actually make a lot more sense. It would explain why just over a decade into the conversation it seems for have lost some of its initial steam and continues to come under criticism for lacking real traction on the ground. Could it be that this is at least in part due to the lack of philisophical-theoretical basis in the very thought that it derives its name from?

A name is not just a name. It means something. It comes from somewhere. It denotes something. It can stand in contrast to or exclude other labels. It has the possibility to explain, inspire and even direct. Is it possible that at part of the loss of momentum in the Emerging conversation is a disconnection from its philosophical referent? Is it possible the contention over the label Evangelical is about control, but is being made possible by a lack of historical grounding?

I would love to hear your thoughts.