There are important clarifications to make when talking about emerg-anything because so much stuff is flying out there because no one knows who is talking about what. In Lining Up I lamented that there are some who like to categorize everyone in order to decided whose heretical and whose orthodox. Though I still don't think that's a great idea, it is helpful to have some definitions and categories in order to have a helpful conversation so that we're not talking past each other or attacking people for things that simply aren't true. So, here are a couple of helpful things:
Emerging Church is not the same thing as Emergent Church which is not the same as Emergence Theory.
The Emerging Church is something that general means the character of the church that is emerging in the new postmodern era/ culture as our culture and history makes a move from modernism through postmodernity to whatever will be next. The idea here is that as the culture and humanities ways of viewing and experiencing the world change, so the church will also go through some changes. (For instance, the church made changes through the Roman Period, through Medieval Times, through the Renaissance, through scientific modernism, etc.) We are now in the stages of that emerging and we won't know until we are on the other side what that will mean or look like.
The Emergent Church refers to a particular strain of dialogue and a group of leaders that was originally birthed out of some connections of the Leadership Network in the mid to late 1990's (most known are Tony Jones, Brian McLaren, Chris Seay, Doug Paggitt, Spencer Burke, Dan Kimball, and Andrew Jones). You can often hear Mark Driscoll making it clear that he is no longer a part of this groupl, even though he was there in the beginning (more on Mark to come in later posts).
Emergence theory is a particular strain of theories that has a wide span and has been appropriated to the way the brain works, how ant colonies functions, how cities are designed, how people move in crowds, how software is designed, and much more. Emergence theory is a kind of complex systems theory that, in the most crass way I can put it, posits that order emerges complexly from what looks like chaos - that complex systems are self-ordering in a kind of evolutionary manner from the "bottom up" rather than by design from the "top down."
Now, this isn't to say that the Emergent Church folks aren't applying Emergence Theory to understand the Emerging Church. (That would actually be a true statement for some. For instance, though I'm sure where Kester Brewin, author of "Signs of Emergence" fits, he is definitely applying Emergence Theory to how the church should function in the future. I'll write about his book soon... one chapter to go, but for the record, I disagree with a lot of it.