It is not easy to understand what the word "emergent" means. Superficially, the Webster's Dictionary secular meaning of the word is "arising unexpectedly or as a new and improved development." This word came to have significance in theories of evolution and was co-opted by the social scientists and Theosophists. The word now carries an occult meaning, which is thoroughly enmeshed in the esoteric philosophy that mankind is evolving to a higher order species.
The New Age Theosophist, Marilyn Ferguson wrote in her 1980 book The Aquarian Conspiracy that: "Evolution involves true transformation, re-forming of the basic structure, and not mere adding on." (p. 161) She said many now believe human beings are currently expressing a "collective need, preparing for an evolutionary leap" (p. 162). She wrote of a "collective and intensifying vision, the sense of an impending transition in the human story: an evolution of consciousness as significant as any step in the long chain of our biological evolution" (p. 385)
This evolution of mankind is said to be expedited by small groups which emerge to drive greater society forward towards a critical mass, at which point there is a paradigm shift, leading to the ultimate transformation of the species.
There is a secular aspect to this idea, too. Marketing practitioners have designed elaborate methods of creating emergent groups to shift paradigms, such as selling people a new brand of toothpaste. Public policy officials use these same techniques to mold, shape and transform public opinion. And the church growth movement has been training leaders to utilize these techniques to shift the church into transition and then transformation. One of the chief jobs of a change agent is to facilitate the emergence of a new paradigm.
The Theosophists and mystics do not view the term emergent in a benign, secular fashion. They create mixtures of science and religion, in which even their supposedly secular objectives are overshadowed by this agenda to create a higher-order humanity. Early Herescope posts from last Fall focused on the influence of Willis Harman, who worked his entire life to bridge the mystical with the scientific. Harman's influence can be seen in The Aquarian Conspiracy book (which he purportedly helped to write), which details how the social and natural sciences could be merged with the New Age mysticism. Education reform, health care reform, the corporate business world, etc. have all been influenced by this philosophy.
An Emerging Church
Pertaining to Leadership Network's involvement in leading the formation of an emergent church, a logical question then arises: was this a secular or mystical use of the term "emergent"? This is not an easy question to answer. An analysis of the history of Leadership Network reveals that there has always been both a secular and mystical theme to the organization's purpose, which viewed itself as a premier group to train leaders in new church models. The training methods employed by this group were both secular and mystical. The business "guru" expertise brought in was both secular and mystical -- in fact, some of these experts represent the farthest fringes of theosophical thought. The processes for church transformation were a mixture of secular with mystical. What then does Leadership Network mean when it uses the term emergent?
The description provided by Brad Smith in his report sheds considerable light on how Leadership Network incorporated both the strategies and philosophies of an "emergent" paradigm in order to forge an "emergent" church structure that could propel change and transformation. In a section entitled "History of the Young Leader Networks," Smith details the use of the "Revolutionaries" as change agents for transition:
"Originally, the Young Leader Networks was started because the Revolutionaries – those who expressed the new realities of the postmodern world – did not have a safe or healthy place to voice their calling in an existing network or national Christian gathering place.
"Rather than devalue the Adapter calling or stifle the Revolutionary calling, Leadership Network created a new network for the Revolutionaries and gave them plenty of freedom, resources and a platform from which to speak out with an unrestrained prophetic voice. In 1994, they were a largely marginalized and unrecognized group – misunderstood as sulky 'Gen Xers' hidden with a larger group of others who dressed the part, but who were more Adapters than true Revolutionaries. Today, their voices are heard at mainstream conferences and their writing are being nationally published. The fight between the old and new has reached a full crescendo. The 'tipping point,' in the transition, however, has been reached and Leadership Network, in keeping with its history and strategy, can hand over the role of 'platforming' these innovators to new partners who are ready and willing to receive them."
Smith then detailed the next phase in the "The Emergence of Terra Nova," where attention was shifted to the "Groundbreakers," who became change agents for transformation. It is at this point that the word "emergence" is used, and there is a corresponding paradigm shift theologically.
"In 1998, Leadership Network began to see early signs of Groundbreakers within the postmodern conversation. Among a small group, the tone of the rhetoric was changing from de-construction to construction; the role from prophetic to apostolic; and perspective from anti-modernism to 'new ground.'
"Leadership Network began to intensely listen and observe in order to recognize the subtle signs of an emerging 'Groundbreaker.' In early 2000, it was decided to create a new network within Young Leader called 'Terra Nova Project' or 'new ground' comprised of this groundbreaking group of innovators.
"These Groundbreakers are a new breed with a new calling, new tone and new priorities. They spend more time experimenting with new creations than critiquing past assumptions. They are almost naive about the modern-postmodern wars that preceded them and that provided a clean canvas on which they can create the new. They are both positive and pragmatic. They are confused, yet not worried. They live 'in process' and do not expect closure to arrive anytime soon.
"They are also not always easy to identify. Their emergence is very early, and often they have what appears to be mixed characteristics of adapters and revolutionaries. Many fulfill both roles, but long to move toward more creation and less critique. " [All emphases above added]
Smith concluded with a section entitled, "What’s Next?" He stated, "What will be built on this ‘terra nova’ is still undefined." What Smith is talking about here is the future church structure that will be built upon Terra Nova -- what we now recognize as the Emergent Church.
The descriptive language employed by Smith in the paragraphs above is indicative of the use of this term emergent in the same manner that the evolutionary Theosophists use the term. The term is also used in this manner as a marketing strategy. Leadership Network was looking for a "emergent" breakout group that could facilitate the paradigm shift. One could give Smith the benefit of the doubt and simply note that the creation of this new church structure was a brilliant marketing move. Of course, ethical questions arise about engaging in this type of activity. And biblical issues arise because there are no New Testament examples of Paul and the Apostles using sophisticated psycho-social marketing strategies to further the Gospel.
This subject might be dropped if it were not for the introduction of a new term to describe emergent leaders -- "new breed." This term "new breed" has specific and frightening meaning in the heretical doctrines of human evolution. It can be found in Theosophy and also appears in Latter Rain cult doctrine. A series of Herescope posts are forthcoming that will examine the history of this terminology and how it relates to the New Apostolic Reformation.
"A wise man feareth and departeth from evil: but the fool rageth, and is confident." (Proverbs 14:16)