Some of you may gather from my critique of Rising from the Ashes in recent posts that I am not a fan of the emerging church (lower case, note) any more. This would be a wrong assumption. I think it has promise still, but I think that it is important to clarify the various strands of the emerging church and evaluate what has happened and where it is going.
The first distinction that must be made is that the ec is quite different in the US than most other places. Here, the ec is driven primarily (but not exclusively) by a post-fundamentalist, post-evangelical mindset. There's nothing wrong with that, per se, but it is important to bear in mind. The biggest gorilla on the block is of course Emergent (capital E) and Emergent Village. This is because it is home to the most successful Emergent author, and arguably the cornerstone of Emergent USA, namely Brian McLaren. Without his early books it's doubtful that Emergent would exist today.
And here's where the distinction needs to be made between actual church communities that identify as "emergent" and the organization "Emergent". Basically hundreds of people have started churches, or an offshoot of an existing denomination, or a church-within-a-church and become emergent practitioners. This is where the rubber meets the road, and is what I would call truly "emergent". Often, nobody told them what to do or how to do it. Informal communities of friends and like-minded people found each other (often online) and shared what worked.
Emergent, the organization, is a different animal. It's a para-church organization that ostensibly exists to facilitate the "conversation" between practitioners. Emergent Village describes itself as:
"Emergent Village is a growing, generative friendship among missional Christians seeking to love our world in the Spirit of Jesus Christ."
This is where I see Tony Jones' comments about mainline churches needing to be redeemed or overthrown to be profoundly unfriendly, unloving and unhelpful. As the official paid spokesperson for Emergent Village this is quite unacceptable. It is interesting that many successful emergent churches in the UK are actually the church-within-a-church model, created and run with the blessing of the mainline denominations they belong to. Add to that the fact that one of the most successful emergent churches in Seattle is a Lutheran/Episcopal church plant, I think it's unfair to write off the mainline/emergent angle.
Far from being a help to practitioners, EV seems to be positioning itself as primarily an event and book promoter. Not only that, but there is a certain gate-keeping element to EV's self-proclaimed role that is rapidly becoming unhelpful. EV is potentially great for the writing and speaking careers of those it endorses, but does little to help the actual people doing the work of church in emerging contexts.
The great promise of emergent, I believed, was to marry the entrepreneurial spirit of emergent practitioners (and yes, that Evangelical background drives a lot of that entrepreneurship), with the stability and history of the mainline churches. This is where Presbymergent and Anglimergent are interesting experiments. Without the baggage of being post-evangelicals (for the most part) it will be interesting to see where these emergent-mainline communities can go, and what kind of influence they can have on their respective mainline behemoths.
Random, rootless church planting often leads to nothing but a cult of personality worship (see, for instance, Mark Driscoll's Mars Hill in Seattle), with no accountability and no connection to a historical faith. There is also no doubt that the mainline denominations desperately need a shot in the arm of some kind. Combining the best of both could be wonderful thing.