An Emergent Manifesto of Hope An Emergent Manifesto of Hope

Doug Pagitt & Tony Jones (Editors)
ISBN 9780801068072 (080106807X)
Baker Academic, 2007
£9.99

Category: Emerging Church & Postmodern Faith

I am blown away. Reading this book, I think I have an inkling — just an inkling, mind — of how those two disciples on the Emmaus Road must have felt so many years ago as they spoke with the newly risen Jesus: "Our hearts burned within us..." (Luke 24:13-35) — hope reborn after hope had been lost; a future to look forward to when the future had looked bleak and empty.

So what do we have here? Why am I so fired up over this book? What we have is a collection of essays from 'key leaders' in the emerging church — Ryan Bolger, Dan Kimball, Brian McLaren, Sally Morgenthaler and Samir Selmanovic, to name just a few:

Some are men and women who have been working out an emerging theology for decades. Others represent the next wave of Christian thought and practice. Both the veterans and the up-and-comers represent the essence of the Emergent Village. (from the foreword)

I started reading the essays by the people I'd heard of first, starting with Brian McLaren's "Church Emerging: Or Why I Still Use the Word 'Postmodern' but with Mixed Feelings".

Even before I'd finished the book I felt like throwing a party to celebrate: the Kingdom of God, swallowed up by that ugly caterpillar Christendom with its crusades and inquisitions, emerges at last, a beautiful butterfly. Hope is reborn, fire rekindled, life renewed, the modern age and — dare I say it? — even postmodernism's chrysalis left behind.

Is it too much to long for, too wild a dream? I think not: as Salir Salmanovic observes in his essay, "The Sweet Problem of Inclusiveness", what God did once, he may yet do again:

To lose one's life is to gain it. It would not be the first time that God has broken out of religion, which carries his message, and done something new. If God found it good for his followers to break out of the confines of a religion two millenia ago, why should we expect God not to do such a thing in our time? Maybe Christianity should be thinned out and broken up, spent like Christ who gave himself for this world. (p.199)

Perhaps Christianity has indeed had its day, served its purpose: but her Lord lives on; his Kingdom will come, is already here: now and not yet... emerging...

The book has five parts, five movements if you prefer:

  1. A People of Hope
  2. Communities of Hope
  3. A Hopeful Faith
  4. A Hopeful Way Forward
  5. Hopeful Activism

Each of these is introduced briefly by either Doug Pagitt or Tony Jones, setting the tone, acknowledging the incompleteness. These chapters, says Doug Pagitt of Part 1 — but equally applicable to the whole book —"serve as a call to into friendship, are the result of friendship. So read with this invitation in mind, and read with the grace needed by those who seek friendship through faith, hope and love." (p.20)

It's an important point to raise: the book is, as the title says, a Manifesto of Hope — but with that essential qualifier: Emergent: not a finished work but an ongoing conversation, open-ended. Many won't like it because of this: what we believe should be worked out and set down in doctrinal statements and clearly defined creeds, shouldn't it? Again, I think not: faith is a journey, a journey of hope and exploration, not a formula.

Will you be part of it? I hope so. And I also hope that you, gentle reader, whoever you are, will forgive me that this is a far from complete review: every contribution in this book is different. There is no single voice, no united front except a determination to follow Jesus, wherever that leads; and, as the Book of Acts shows us, that's not necessarily all in the same direction: Christ calls us to unity, not uniformity.

I've highlighted Salmanovic's essay as one that connected with me: to comment on them all would require an article almost as long as the book itself. Some are brilliantly written — McLaren's essay, as always, sparkles with insight; others were more of an effort: but all were worth taking time over.

To conclude: this book is more than a manifesto of hope: it's a beacon of God's love against the odds. If there's a gravestone out there that says "Christianity RIP" then know this: that RIP is resurrection in progress.

Thank you to all concerned.

Phil Groom, July 2007

Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.

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