Between the Lines: A Conversation with Kevin Corcoran

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Kevin Corcoran is the editor of Church in the Present Tense: A Candid Look at What’s Emerging, co-written with Scot McKnight, Peter Rollins, and Jason Clark. We got a chance to talk with Kevin about the book as well as the future of the emergent church movement.

After a lot of hype, we haven’t heard much about the emerging church recently. Why do you think this is?

The recent explosion of online discussion around Rob Bell’s new book has put the emerging church back in the spotlight. While Bell himself does not self-identify with the emerging conversation, those who do look to him and in many of the discussions (or rants) in the blogosphere, and in some of the editorials, they associate Bell with the emerging church. But, in any case, whatever the emerging church is it is a dispersed reality. People who are part of the conversation are in and outside of churches. On any given Sunday morning you are likely to find a participant in the emerging conversation next to you in the pews at your local non-denominational church, your Methodist Church, your Episcopal Church, etc. Other emerging types wouldn’t be caught dead in a church. Because it is such a dispersed and decentralized reality, perhaps this accounts for its relative quiet of late.

What do you mean when you say the emerging church is passionate about the present?

I mean that people who participate in the emerging conversation believe that the permanent address of God’s kingdom is here. And now. They believe that the salvation that Jesus brought is good news for the embodied, messy lives we lead today. They are not waiting for real life to start with a next life. It’s now!  So they tend to be socially and politically active in worldly issues such as earth care, religious tolerance, equal rights for all, and more.

What makes up the four divisions in the book and why did you decided to divide it this way?

Well the four divisions of the book are four areas where emerging Christians are stirring the waters. First, philosophy.  A lot of emerging folks are coffee-house philosophers. They like to sit around and “talk philosophy,” and usually postmodern philosophy. The other divisions are theology, worship, and Bible. In the section on theology, we get two very different paths emerging and these are represented on the one hand by Jason Clark and on the other by Pete Rollins. Both are emerging Christians but they are on two very different theological paths. Then there’s worship. Emerging worship is very tactile and very culturally engaged. It’s innovative and creative. And here again, this section is represented by Jason and Pete. When we read these guys I think we see again two very divergent paths in which the emerging church is moving. And when it comes to the bible, there is no better person to turn to then Scot McKnight. There’s a lot of discussion not just of how to read the bible, but the very place of the bible in emerging Christianity. I take Scot to be the elder statesman and most astute critical insider when it comes to emerging Christianity and biblical hermeneutics.

What is the role of worship and liturgy in the emerging church?

This is where you can see the two paths of emerging on display.  I would put it like this: there is the ancient-future path of emerging that Jason, Scot and I myself are on. Then there is the other path that seems untethered and unbound to the past. This is the path Pete seems to be on and moving down. Worship and liturgy are on both paths, though their looks, feel, and functions are different. But the role, I would want to suggest, is the same: to embody a new way of being in the world.

What is the future of the emerging church?

Time will tell, I guess. In one sense, I don’t think the emerging church as a “thing” that will either survive into the future or not.  It’s more like an event in the Church’s life. I believe the Church will carry around the effects of the emerging conversation well into the future. And I’d like to think that, all things considered, the Church will be better off for having experienced emerging.


This book has generated some good discussion online. Check out some recent posts on the ‘Church and Postmodern Culture: Conversation’ blog:

David Finch on The Church in the Present Tense

A Response by Tony Jones

A Response by Kevin Corcoran