The emergent movement is difficult to put your finger on. It seems like I've run into post after post, lately, of people trying to define, understand, or just wrap their heads around this "movement" called emergent. So, I though, why not? Why not put in my two cents?
It's difficult to define the emergent movement because the first inclination one might have is to define it by what people "within" it say and believe. The problem with that, is you will love it or hate it based on who you choose to listen to. For example, say you choose to define "Emergent" using Tony Jones as your example, you might agree with him or at least sympathize with him and find yourself thinking "This emergent thing is pretty cool." Whereas if you had chosen Doug Pagitt, you may have disagreed with him and thought completely opposite (and of course it could happen the other way around too, this is just an example). Depending on your sampling, your perception of the Emergent movement might be totally different (not too unlike Christianity in general). All this to say that, going into any conversation about "Emergent," on MUST realize that we are talking about a fairly large umbrella--at least larger than a simple general statement.
This principal also goes into individual authors and pastors. Take Brian McLaren, for example. If you only read one book by McLaren, you may come out the other side with a much different perception about his theology than you would have had you read a different one. For example, if you read A Generous Orthodoxy you may think he's a heretic, if you read More Ready Than You Realize you may think he's right on target. All this to say that this is not as simple as reading a faith-statement. The Emergent movement comes out of a much larger conversation and a broad sampling is in order before judgment should be cast (if ever a judgment should be cast). One must realize that we are dealing with a conversation in an internet age. No councils have been formed, no committees have voted, the emergent movement just seems to happen and it happens out of and within a conversation.
Now, everyone who is part of the movement is part of the conversation, even if they don't want to be (I wonder if this is where Rob Bell fits). But not everyone who is in the conversation is really part of the movement, at least not in the way I am defining it for our purposes. The movement is people who have come together and are experimenting with "church" and trying new ways of "doing church." They are doing it from within evangelicalism (although some of them are not... I think) but from without the walls of an evangelical church. They are starting new churches or significantly changing an existing church from positions of authority. A Church which is part of the emergent movement will have "emerging" people in the authoritative positions within the church (Pastor, deacon, whatever, etc.) along with a congregation who are of similar mind.
But there are others who are part of the conversation but not exactly part of the movement. These are people who move, within their churches and in their conversations, toward Emergent and are contributing to the formation of emergent ideas (this means bloggers too). These are people who are not necessarily part of a church which is experimenting. In fact, someone like this may be participating in a church which is still very anti-emergent or fundamentalist. Someone like this represents, theologically, at least in part, the emergent movement. They are part of the broad conversation of books, articles, bloggs, etc. But are not partnering, in any formal way, to start or completely change their church (note: change will happen naturally, but in this case it's not from any position of authority). I would consider myself and this blog as a part of the emergent conversation (at least on some days). But I do not participate in a church which could even be mistaken for emergent. I sympathize with the movement, and from this position I input into the conversation my ideas, both in the blogosphere and in casual conversations.
I've set out here only to give some help to those who are interested in Emergent as to how to enter into conversation and understand what it's about. If I've misrepresented Emergent in anyway, I would love to hear some critiques. It would be helpful to me. If there are any books which might help us understand this better, give 'em to us.
The New Christians by Tony Jones, Generous Orthodoxy and A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren, Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations and They Like Jesus but Not the Church by Dan Kimball, Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches: Five Perspectives by Mark Driscoll and others. There are more I could link, but I'll top there.