My colleague Mike Young hosted an "emergent conversation" in Chattanooga last week. I was not able to attend, but I understand that it went well with about 20 people present. It was intergenerational and ecumenical (for want of a better word). As with most "emergent" gatherings, the gathering just "mushroomed" overnight, the fellowship was good, and the meeting concluded with no specific goals for the future. That's fine. One thing with which this movement struggles is how far can it go and how effective can it be without becoming organized or institutionalized.
A couple of people have asked me recently, "What is the unifying force behind the emergent movement?" (Another question asked was "What is the emergent movement?" but I will address that at another time.) A common thread for those involved in the movement seems to be a bad personal experience with fundamentalist (or propositional) religion. Many of the leading voices in the movement have come out of evangelical churches (some Bible churches) where their search for faith was criticized, ridiculed, or ignored. These were thinking people who had concerns about the ways in which faith was being articulated. When they tried to address this, they were spurned. For many, this created a lot of personal pain and anger; thus, the concern with institutionalism of any type.
This may be the common ground for any dialogue between those who embrace the emergent movement and those who are part of the CBF movement. We have both been hurt in some way by religious institutions. The greatest fear that I have is that CBF is moving so quickly to become an institution that the alienated and angry may see us as part of the problem rather than part of the answer. Even so, I think this is fertile ground for progressive Baptists, especially those interested in reaching and encouraging a young generation of seeking Christians.