Tom Wright and Emerging Church

pooltable390Great time at the conference. Hard core thinking and then some good relaxing times around the pool table. Good to meet many friends there.
Tom Wright was great – bringing a balanced eschatology into a whole cosmology to inform his historic ecclesiology. What?????? He talked a lot about bringing the future of God into the present. Good stuff!!!!. His comprehension of the emerging church was a little short and narrow, but then he is a busy man and he lives in a castle on a little island so that was OK. We all liked him and he was very approachable and friendly. Si, Tim Keel, Jim Thwaites, Shannon Hopkins were there. Richard Sudworth, Jason Clark, Gareth Powell and Jonny Baker wrote reports and summed it up better than i feel like doing right now.

UPDATE: ok – two questions in my mind. Maybe those of you smarter than me can answer them.
1. Is the emerging church solely a reflection-of / reaction-to the past, or is it in fact partly prophetic? ie, are these new forms of church we are seeing a sign of God’s future breaking in to the present? Tom Wright’s teaching suggests the inbreaking of God’s future into our present should be a reality. If this is true, then not everything we are doing can be explained easily by what we have come out of. I know much of what we are doing has been done before, and that is a good thing. But, are we, in some circumstances, displaying signs of the future kingdom without reference to the past ecclesial history?

2. Is there a word for this inbreaking of the future into our time?
If ‘diachronic’ means understanding our present through time (historically past time) and ‘synchronic’ means understanding our moment with other moments (a multilayered present) then what word would describe the phenomenon expressed in question one?


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • will says:

    Lives in a castle on a little island? Is that for real?

  • Andrew says:

    yes – the little island called England. Although the cathedral in Durham is like an island also. I was just trying to say that England has very few expressions of emerging church but the only way to see the depth and breadth of emerging church is to travel out of the country and see what new forms are arising in various contexts.
    If leaders from England say “emerging church” then they often only refer to the few english expressions of it.

  • Don’t think I’m smart (most of the time) but here’s some thoughts to get started; 1. It’s got to be both hasn’t it? A reflection of the past because we can recognise elements in what is happening from what we know of early (& more recent) church days. And prophetic because perhaps these new forms are pionneering something which will shape the church to come, in preparation for what God is planning before Jesus’ return.
    2. I’m sure there is a word. I remember Wimber in his mc510 class at Fuller used some term, which I suspect may have come from G.E. Ladd? Sorry can’t remember and all my notes for that are up in the roof in a box! Let’s invent one!

  • Si Johnston says:

    nice photo…by the way, you’re reds! A very good question regarding the synchronic/diachronic. Maybe something along the lines of ‘retrojection’ or ‘retrochronic’ which implies something from before being pulled into the present/past?

  • maggi says:

    surely anything prophetic is both a response and areaction to what has gone before? So, by definition, the two options you pose are in fact inseparable.

  • brad says:

    first, good questions, but naughty naughty for invalidating yourself, Andrew! you are indeed intelligent but also intuitive, so no need to diss yourself. and actually, the issue should never be “how smart are we?” but “how are we smart?” thus, the best, most comprehensive, most real-world-liveable answers to theological questions will NEVER be found solely in the realm of intellect. we need to consider the contributions of imagination, emotions, “soul,” and will as well. (so, my responses below may look strictly intellectual, but get to know me and see if i am embodying them in other dimensions of my life as well…)
    second, the ways we ask questions precondition our answers. these phrasings naturally lead to either/or answers, or, as some commentors have already mentioned, the paradox of both/and. i’d see it as even more complexly layered, especially because (as I see it) there is not “THE” emerging church, but there are many kinds of emerging churches, because there are multiple kinds of emerging cultures.
    my take on the so-called emerging churches is that there are some waves in it that are reactive. in my opinion, these are the ones based mostly in the world of the mind; they groove on abstract, theological, philosophical. and they tend to make incremental movements forward (mods and hacks; thesis, antithesis, synthesis). however, they also tend to be especially strong on issues related to personal morality (black-and-white issues) and sometimes on social ethics where the issues are black-and-white. so, they can be “prophetic” when it comes to morality and ethics, letting the kingdom break through with “old” truths in potentially “new ways,” or at least in new contexts that need those elements introduced or reinforced. so this doesn’t constitute an either/or or just a both/and.
    meanwhile, other waves within the emerging churches are more integrated around the worlds of the imagination (tending to be more naturally geared to futuristics/prophetic with no apparent historical reference), emotions and relationships (often geared to the “prophetic” voice of justice and compassion), or soul (the more paradoxical, tending to see constant connections between seen and unseen; humans and God; spiritual warfare involving God, angels, Lucifer, demons, and humans). i think all of us disciples should integrate all such aspects through our will in order to bring wholeness.
    we very well may be, in some circumstances, displaying signs of the future kingdom without reference to the past ecclesial history because the churches of the past were not fully holistic. they did not represent all they could have embodied of the Kingdom in their own generations (and neither will we, even when fully sincere). also, new historical contexts call forth new applications of truth. this is, in part, why i didn’t get all that excited about the idea commonly spread around in the late 1990s that “the postmodern 21st century has more in common with the pagan 1st century than with the modern 20th century.” well, yeah, there are some helpful parallels to consider between now and then, but let’s get real – pomo technopaganism has elements in common with both 1st and 20th centuries. we should study “macrohistory” (various patterns by which histories can be interpreted) to see how to consider our current experiences in light of different ways to think about the links among past, present, and future …
    on the question of, “Is there a word for this inbreaking of the future into our time?” seems like both diachronic and synchronic deal more with kronos (linear/layered) concepts of time than kairos concepts of time, which deal with ideals, trajectories, and strategic fullness-of-time. the Kingdom of God is “erupting” and “interrupting” the linear flow with new elements, it is “infusing” the co-terminous layers, and just generally bustin’ out all over! i suspect there are links between what the Spirit is doing and the current culture, or at least some kind of relevant soil into which He is planting seeds for future development …
    okay, i think the afternoon application of caffeine is wearing off, and therefore, time to end. hope this didn’t sound like just a lot of blah,blah,blah … 🙂

  • will says:

    This is one of the great questions for our time, isn’t it? So many of us come from a tradition where the only option was to reshape the existing clay. To even consider that we could see signs of God’s future breaking into our present would get you drummed out of the presbytery (or whatever your denominational board happened to be). The prevailing hermeneutical principle was to understand revelation as a timeline beginning in Genesis and ending in Revelation, leaving us to rearrange the deck chairs while we wait. Many of us were molded by these faith traditions, and have an inbred caution when talking about God doing new things. However, as we look around the world – in the West, in the Far East, in the global South – it seems to me that there are new things, things that do not simply find their explanation in what has come before.
    So, to the point of the emerging church, I wonder if each person shouldn’t first resolve the primary question of revelation. Does God have new things to say? If not, then yours is a simple question to answer, and the emerging church must be seen as a reaction to the past. Many from Western evangelical traditions may not be ready to go there. To see the emerging church as something more than a response to the past, you have to believe that God can speak in new ways. If you believe that, as I do, then you can see the emerging church as part of a new expression of God. It seems to me that is what is at stake here with regard to your first question.
    One other point I might mention here, and that is to ask that we all keep a broad view of God’s work, whatever we might call it. Consider the parable of the weeds. One of the primary points of that parable is the catholicity of the sowing. I believe that God is doing things all over this world. One of the ways the Israelites got into trouble was seeing everything from their perspective. We need to be careful not to see God’s prophetic work of today only through the lenses of Western culture.

  • saint says:

    Bear in mind that I’m definitely dumber than all of you:
    1. Don’t know
    2. The kingdom of God

  • Andrew says:

    thanks everyone.
    someone came up to me and asked me what questions i was thinking and my blog post was basically the questions i had jotted down.
    its nice to have questions floating around in one’s head – maintains a learning posture.
    it is also a sign that i am trying to get my head around the english way of thinking. England is a country that already has a “church” and all new/emerging structures are birthed in the shadow of the CHURCH and are judged in relation to it. This is why Tom’s teaching on future is so relevant for the English.
    English emerging churches are often a breaking from tradition (at least that is what they are expected to be by the establishment) and American emerging churches are often a re-introduction to the tradtional/liturgical. And emerging churches around the world, that lack a strong church tradition, can generally be whatever they need to be.
    But bringing in the future and the prophetic puts us all back in the missional posture before the emerging posture and that is a good thing. As many of us have said before, we are missional before we are emergent.

  • here is a comment sent by email from a friend working in the underground church overseas.
    ” I would answer YES< YES< YES! to your first question that it is a sign of God's future breaking into the the present. The reason I say this is because of the people I"ve talked to around the globe that believe the "post modern" world view directly relates to their ministry (especially in the 2/3 world). SO.... In my simplistic thinking, I think that this is God's way to prepare us for the future for the communication of the gospel in clear ways(as we interract East to West and West to East).. to prepare his Bride around the world. God has always been missional...of course that's what HE's all about so it would make sense that what he is doing (even bringing on new waves of loving Him) would be all for the purpose of His glory around the world. I guess I was a little dissapointed when I read the focus of your meetings and it seemed a bit western focused or "what's this phenomenon in "the 'west" leading to. When I feel so strongly that God is doing a global thing. So your questions really excite me because I think it addresses the Mystical movement of the Holy Spirit world wide.....and that is really refreshing, inclusive, and biblical... " hi - thanks for your comment yes - it was a very western thing and actually quite an "english" thing also. thanks for your input to balance us out. the focus on the coming future as a way to look at the emerging church is very helpful. and to be honest, when i was seeing new forms in san francisco among street kids in the mid 90's, i saw it much more from a future perspective. . . . . . . that in the future, there would be less funding, shorter training, more persecution, more danger. and the people God was raising up in what was the "new postmodern thing" were a new breed of people getting ready for a very different future. Maybe i need to connect again with that perspective more than i have been doing.

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