I have for some time been a fairly outspoken critic of Evangelical Protestantism. Among other reasons, I object to it fundamentally because of its hegemonic agenda and its uncontextualized, dogmatic treatment of the Bible. Recently, however, I have been questioning my wholesale dismissal of the tradition having learned about the so-called Emerging Church (sometimes called the "Emergent Church"). I wanted to take a few lines here to first extol it and then critique it.
The Emerging Church starts in Evangelicalism with that central insistence on the cultural imperative. That is, Evangelicalism has demanded that Christians engage the "world" (their term for secular society). Whereas traditional Evangelicals have used this to justify an ideological program through proselytization that is more otherworldly-centered, Emergers have revisited their own texts and found a need to engage the more temporal and materialistic demands of the Gospel. This means that issues like social and environmental justice are put center stage. This has more broadly meant a shift away from the individualism that has famously characterized the Evangelical experience to a more communalistic concern. Put more simply, Emergism is more other-centered where Evangelicalism has been more self-centered.
For any serious observer of religion, though, this all should sound very familiar and rightfully so. In practice, Emergers have basically reinvented the wheel. Mainline Protestants have been saying this stuff for nearly a hundred years now. I am very hesitant to be overly critical here, though. After all, it shouldn't matter how one gets to the finish line so long as she gets there, right?