You should, of course, never trust a preacher who says, “Finally. . . ,” especially when he’s talking about a subject on which he has no standing from which to claim authority. So, from here on, you’re on your own.
But I really did mean “finally.” When I wrote to Kyle at the end of his course, I adduced four characteristics that look like pertinent signs of “emergence” from this limestone-tower perspective: breadth/depth of participation, decentralization of power, worship that the congregation embraces and understands, and a commitment to a vision of truth that respects both the vitality of staking something on one’s truth-claims with the humility of observing how frequently our most cherished theological forebears have disagreed with one another, or over- or understated the importance of one premise or another. I frequently cite with relief the Church of England’s nineteenth Article of Religion: “As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred, so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.” The Church errs, and when it finds itself in error needs to reassess its ways, repent of errors, and reform its living and manner of Ceremonies, and also its matters of Faith. The modern church came increasingly to identify right doctrine as a basis for exclusion of err-ers, on the premise that a decreasing number of disciples of Jesus actually understood rightly what the Church should be about; an emergent church should, I think, be more ready to endure uncertainty within the church about which controverted topics needed to be determined right here, right now, and the newly-established Bad Guys expelled (or otherwise punished).
The “emerging” spirit about which I’m talking will find a home where people care enough about theological truth to sustain disagreements about it within the community. That doesn’t make truth “up for grabs” or irrelevant (despite what a common knee-jerk response wants to make it). It means that truth comes clear over time, and that however confident we are that our position bears the impress of God’s very own truth, we have not finished learning. Our certain knowledge of the truth about God stands in the shadow of our sister’s equally certain knowledge, and until some extrinsic criterion resolves the disagreement for us, no one of us can afford to stop our ears at what our ardent sibling in Christ would urge us to consider. That attitude may be more “propositional” than “grammatical”; it’s not Lindbeckian-ness that makes “emergent,” but understanding that truth itself has an emergent dimension that can’t be pinned down and put away.
I’ve started calling this a hypomonic relation to truth, alluding to the high value that the New Testament authors put on the virtue of hypomonê, “endurance,” “long-suffering.” Such an outlook trusts that where brothers and sisters disagree, and their faith on matters other than the disputed topic harmonizes with the faith received from the saints, God will in the long run make resolve conflicts that seem in the short run to be intractable. No one gives up their strong truth-claims; they do, however, decline to use truth as a lever for excluding those with whom one disagrees.
That requires me to make explicit my assumption that ont every congregation should be “emergent” (as I sketch emergence here). If your faith is such that your conscience requires you to banish those who permit women to teach in the church, for instance, by all means go ahead — but such a firm conscience will leave little room for the unexpected, and (to belabor a point) “unexpectedness” constitutes one of the touchstone features by which we recognize emergent phenomena.