The danger of ‘branding’ lurks for emerging church

I don’t follow religious trends much. But I admit, I must have been in a cave when the Emerging Church movement gained prominence. When I first began to explore it, it felt a bit like liking a “new” band while listening to its greatest hits album. By the time I started reading about it, it was already so yesterday.

But that’s the problem. When a “thing” becomes well established enough to qualify as such, it is often quickly on its way to becoming something far different than the thing in the first place. The more I read about this Emerging Church, the more I know I belong and don’t want to belong all at the same time.

Such is the problem with spiritual branding. What is it about us that has to define, label, legalize and organize everything that has to do with a God that transcends our best efforts to define, label or legalize?

Let’s take a step back for other cave dwellers like me that may not be up on this Emerging Church Thing. In short, it’s Christianity for those burned out, hurt, excommunicated, reviled or simply anti, modern Christianity, which basically means it most anyone.

Some in the Emerging Church don’t even want to be labeled Christian at all, often because of all the bad baggage that caused them to be either burned out, hurt, excommunicated, reviled or simply anti- modern American Christianity in the first place.

The Emerging Church is built on a decided lack of definition, which is the reason the idea attracted so many people in the first place.

It’s not exactly this, but… it is, and that’s part of its charm. In fact, the above photo is probably a why I first first listened to my greatest hits collection in the first place.

The Emerging Church isn’t anti-Biblical or anti-God or heretical to most people except those who pretty much dominate conversation by acting as judge and jury over what is anti-Biblical or anti-God or heretical. And frankly, who cares what the hell they have to say anyway. They were the logs and the gasoline for the fire that is the Emerging Church, so disapproval from them is like a badge of honor.

The problem is not that the Emerging Church lacks definition, it’s that it seems to be trying to gain one. People want to define it, then debate it, then agree or vilify it. Why not ignore all of the above and just live it?

For a spiritual tide of inclusion, of freedom, of seeking not answering, of opening the door of faith rather than closing it off like a members-only lodge, the push to brand is dangerous. We can’t anymore define a movement of God than we can define God herself. By definition God defies definition because simply if we fallible and finite and limited humans could completely confine and define a being beyond us, that being would lose its ability to be divine. God must transcend.

The Emerging Church transcended without the brand, in opposition of the modern “brand” of what Christianity became. But as the Emerging Church tent grows, it seems the focus on the “brand” — i.e., what is it and who is it and why you should buy it — threatens to make it far less of what the purpose was in the first place.

If Christianity Today is writing about your rebellious breakout Christianity, as it did in 2007, then you have just jumped the shark into mainstream. Turn in your rebel card no matter how many tats you have and how many times you can lump F-bombs and God in a sentence.

Instead of branding it, maybe we should all just go back to living it and leave it at that. Maybe, just maybe, that’s truly the greatest hit that God was humming all along.



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