123–124: Emergence Christianity and Mormonism

It goes without saying that religion is intricately entwined with culture. And since this is so, when we find that the various ways of thinking and institutions that create culture are shifting, so will we find religion in all its forms asking new questions, sorting through “the way things have always been done” and asking if these ideas and forms are meeting today’s needs, lamenting the decline in previously transformative energies and searching for revitalization. Many claim that such shifts are happening today, and within western Christianity, the upheaval and reconfiguration that is taking place has been labeled “Emergence Christianity.” In its most dynamic places, individuals and congregations are looking in fresh ways at scripture, at mission, at liturgy and all the ways they “do” church, at the stories and narratives they tell and inhabit, at what it means to be a Christian–if the most important focus should be about afterlife salvation or this-life transformation and truly working as the Lord’s Prayer states to have God’s kingdom come here to earth just as it is in heaven. This is a moment that defies easy description, but it is very exciting to give ourselves permission to really think of new possibilities seek new forms for renewal.

Is something analogous happening in Mormonism? What are similarities and differences between the questions and sensibilities that are animating Emergence Christianity and those at play in Mormonism, especially among online discussion groups and grassroots associations that are putting new ideas and ways of relating into practice? What can Latter-day Saints learn from the discussions and new forms of church taking wing in Emergence Christianity? What would be easy sensibilities and practices to fold into Mormon Christianity? Which ones might be harder to connect with?

For this two-part Mormon Matters episode, we are extremely blessed to have been able to spend an hour with two of Emergence Christianity’s most eloquent thought leaders, cultural historian and publishing icon Phyllis Tickle and dynamic author, speaker, and former pastor Brian McLaren, learning from their descriptions (through their telling stories from their own lives, as well as in all they see going on around them) of these shifts. Incredible friend and Mormon Matters podcast favorite Jana Riess arranged for their appearance on the show, and she leads this discussion. Following this initial focus on Emergence Christianity as a whole, we say goodbye to Phyllis and Brian, and we welcome Katie Langston and Parker Blount, two Latter-day Saints with a deep interest in Emergence Christianity, to discuss connections, hesitations, and their hopes and dreams for new discussions and renewal within Mormonism.

We are excited to have you listen and then share your own stories and ideas in the comments section below!



Phyllis Tickle, Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters

Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why

Brian McLaren, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammad Cross the Road?

Other titles by Phyllis Tickle and Brian McLaren are also available through the Mormon Matters Bookshelf (with a percentage of purchase price going to support Mormon Matters Podcast)

H. Parker Blount, “The Word of God: A Tale of Two Paradigms,” Sunstone, June 2012.



16 comments for “123–124: Emergence Christianity and Mormonism

  1. August 30, 2012 at 9:55 am

    Excellent choices to interview Dan! I’m excited to listen to this podcast. Wanted to give you a strong Kudo for the focus choice. Amen.

  2. Tim
    August 30, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    Interesting conversation. It struck me that many of the “emerging” modes of worship, service and spiritual discipline that the participants were attracted to aren’t really exclusive to Emergence Christianity. In many ways those are being re-discovered across all strains of Christianity.

    Most of the Post-Modern attitudes expressed by McLaren and Tickle are finding their way into confinement within (rapidly dying) Liberal Christianity; which makes sense. As Modernism dies out, the forms of Christianity that have chosen to conform to the secular world will shift to Post-Modernism.

    McLaren found some influence throughout Evangelicalism about 5-10 years ago. I think his openness to new forms of worship and spiritual practice kind of served as bait for his heterodox ideas. There was a general uneasiness with his quest but it wasn’t obvious where he’d land. With the release of “A New Kind of Christianity” McLaren more clearly stated what many had feared and interest in his ideas dropped sharply. At the turn of the decade Brett McCracken pointed out that the conversations about Emergent Christianity had largely been resolved in Evangelicalism.

    My own church had many conversations about this stuff and you can see where we landed here: http://www.rockharbor.org/media/rh-position-papers/is-rh-becoming-an-emergent-church/

    • BryanJensen
      September 4, 2012 at 5:38 pm

      Postmodernism has already lost out in favor of a transitional hybrid of modernist, neo-orthodox and postmodernist values. Many cultural scholars are calling it post-postmodern or metamodern though a label really hasn’t stuck. McLaren is not a postmodernist; not that he isn’t affected, even shaped, but his “emergent” Christian advocacy is very PPM. As long as those reacting against “emergence” as a heterodox invasion of postmodernism they are missing out on the main worldview of influence. Big-E Evangelicalism hasn’t “resolved” anything about the dialogue, and I say this as a little-e evangelical.

  3. Wendy
    September 2, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    Dan, thanks for introducing to Katie Langston to a larger audience than she has had thus far. She was articulate and thoughtful as always.

  4. Wendy
    September 2, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    Dan, thanks for introducing to Katie Langston to a larger audience than she has had thus far. Dan, Thanks to introducing Katie to your audience. She was articulate and thoughtful as always. May her influence and intelligence spread widely.

  5. Wendy
    September 2, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    Dan, Thanks for introducing Katie to your audience. She was articulate and thoughtful as always. May her influence and intelligence spread widely.

  6. Wendy
    September 2, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Dan, thanks for introducing Katie to your audience. She was articulate and thoughtful as always. May her influence and intelligence spread widely.

  7. September 2, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    Dan! You rock bro! What an awesome, on the button topic. This is good, good stuff. Your panel is stunning – Brian and Phyllis are a huge score.

  8. September 3, 2012 at 9:59 am

    I’m one of those mentioned by H. Parker Blount who found it impossible to remain within Mormonism. I was born and raised in a devout Mormon home but found the whole thing very dissatisfying on multiple levels. I left as a teenager in the early 90’s and after a reactionary identity crisis of doing all the things forbidden by Mormonism, I eventually embraced the transforming grace found in the message of Jesus. While this clearly marked a new and redemptive direction for my life, I found myself still unimpressed with what I saw in the realms of religion. Many years later, I discovered the works of Brian McLaren, among others, which has been encouraging beyond words.

    The following words of Jesus sum up my journey in a nutshell:

    “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 from The Message)

    • Velska
      September 9, 2012 at 5:23 pm

      It’s funny how we tend to be different on surface. But for me, the LDS Church has afforded a spiritual home that has helped me on the way to lifting others’ burdens. I can’t say I’ve been able to do very much but at least I read the New Testament the way you outline there.

      Then there is that perfectionist striver who seems to think that the Grace will be applied only after we’ve done our all. No, it’s when we accept Jesus’ invitation and let him into our hearts, then Grace becomes the power to change us, if only step by step, one day at a time, only as fast as we are able. One is not required to run faster than one has strength, is what I read.

  9. Ryan Comins
    September 4, 2012 at 8:31 am

    Great conversation. Thanks for this. Awesome topic, and I loved the panel.

  10. BryanJensen
    September 4, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    Western Institute of Intercultural Studies is working with Brian McLaren’s publisher on this latest book to get a modestly-costed speaking engagement arranged in Salt Lake City. If you know sponsors or venue leads please get in touch with them at info@wiics.org. Would be nice to see it happen!

  11. September 7, 2012 at 9:40 am

    I have been part of the “E” movement for about 8 years now, all started by McLaren’s “New Kind of Christian” book. I am a co-leader of an emergent cohort here in the Atlanta area, where about 20 of us “exiles” meet once a month to openly discuss theological (and political) issues that are typically “not encouraged” in Sunday school environments. We have Christians, post-Christians (Evangelicals, Baptist, Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian), atheists, Jews, Muslims that participate. I am totally fascinated by the parallels struggles you guys discussed on part 2. Progressive Mormons are not at ALL presented in the media (tho progressive Christian voices are usually not heard either – just the fundamentalists!) and to have discovered you guys gives me great hope! I also listened to your survey episode – it just reinforces some of the same reasons people have left conservative and mainline churches. I wanted to pass on to you a cohort “map” so that some of your listeners might connect to our local conversations – it might broaden the sense that they are NOT alone, that this “E” conversation is happening all around them, and that their voices are wanted and needed. http://emergentvillage.org/newev/?page_id=29

  12. Jason__F
    September 7, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    Thanks for this podcast, I enjoyed the conversation and presentation of the topic. I am not surprised to find out that there are many having this discussion of what is termed Emergence Christianity, but I was not aware the topic was so mature and defined.

    Just as media (music, movies, games) and news is becoming vastly decentralized with the explosion and adoption of the internet, a similar non-reliance on a central institution is clearly influencing personal religious attitude. For rank-and-file Mormons I think it is game changing to even recognize and acknowledge that the landscape of society is changing in this way. I think it can, and should, influence our discourse with each other and with those not in our church.

    One thing that struck me again in this podcast (it has been mentioned in previous episodes) is the fact that the LDS church is organized such that you attend a specific congregation based on where you live rather than picking and choosing the one that suits you. I agree that there are positive and negative aspects to this. My concern, especially in the context of the topic of this episode, is that the potential negatives are much more damaging to someone that is struggling with these or other issues than the positives are to someone in that situation. I’m not 100% certain this is a true statement, but it is something that weighs on my heart and mind the more I listen to (and enjoy!) podcasts from the Open Stories Foundation family of podcasts.

  13. Velska
    September 9, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    One interesting idea is that when King James says “the Kingdom of God is within you” some better translations say “among” and I have been told by more knowledgeable people that the word he was reported in the Greek NT to have used includes both meanings.

    So the Kingdom of God will be on the Earth, when we transform our lives to follow the Sermon on the Mount ideals. This includes lots of “hippyish” concepts like World Peace and more.

    Israel, Israel, God is calling. Are we too busy to e.g. help a homeless guy sleep a bit more comfortably? Just saying you want to love your neighbour doesn’t really cut the mustard.

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