Emerging Church

The Emerging church movement (or the Emergent church movement) is described by its own proponents as "a growing generative friendship among missional Christian leaders seeking to love our world in the Spirit of Jesus Christ." ^ [1]^ Instead of calling it a movement, those of the Emergent sentiment would rather call it a "conversation." The leading voice for the emerging church movement is the Emergent Village, which began as a group of young Christian leaders gathered under the auspices of Leadership Network in the late 1990s and organized in 2001. In their own words, they began meeting because many were "disillusioned and disenfranchised by the conventional ecclesial institutions of the late 20th century." ^ [1]^

A group of Emergent leaders states it this way: "We each find great joy and promise in dialogue and conversation... Throughout the history of the church, followers of Jesus have come to know what they believe and how they believe it by being open to the honest critique and varied perspectives of others. We are radically open to the possibility that our hermeneutic stance will be greatly enriched in conversation with others. In other words, we value dialogue very highly, and we are convinced that open and generous dialogue rather than chilling criticism and censorship offers the greatest hope for the future of the church in the world." ^ [2]^




Favorable / sympathetic

Critical overview

According to D.A. Carson, the emerging church movement "arose as a protest against the institutional church, modernism and seeker-sensitive churches... It has encouraged evangelicals to take note of cultural trends and has emphasized authenticity among believers." ^ [3]^ At its heart "lies the conviction that changes in the culture signal that a new church is emerging. Christian leaders must therefore adapt to this emerging church. Those who fail to do so are blind to the cultural accretions that hide the gospel behind forms of thought and modes of expression that no longer communicate with the new generation, the emerging generation."^[4]^

Sam Storms notes that it is a protest against the "failure of [evangelicals] to recognize the demise and passing of so-called ' Modernism' and the ascendancy of Postmodernism and the countless ways it affects both the larger culture and how we live as Christians and pursue ministry as the Church... It has an emphasis on narrative rather than propositions ('tell me your story, don't explain principles')." Quoting D.A. Carson, Storms explains that there is an emphasis "on affections and feelings over against rational, linear thought; on experience over truth; on inclusion rather than exclusion; on the corporate over the individualistic, etc. Tolerance is the principal virtue, as nothing is more indicative of the mentality of modernism than telling someone they are wrong (either intellectually, doctrinally, or morally)."^ [4]^

Given the diversity of the movement, "penetrating criticisms that apply to one part of it are sometimes inappropriate to some other part," ^[5]^. In other words, the Emerging Church (EC) is difficult to pin down. Carson, while writing his book, wrote that he had "not found it easy to portray it fairly," ^ [6]^. Mark Dever notes that, "By its very nature it doesn't appreciate definition." ^ [7]^

Distinctive beliefs

Postmodernism over modernism

According to Brian McLaren, the EC is "a group of people who are talking about the gospel and church and mission, especially in terms of changes going on in our culture that some people call a shift from modern to postmodern culture."^ [3]^

D. A. Carson adds to this by stating, "Modernism is often pictured as pursuing truth, absolutism, linear thinking, rationalism, certainty, the cerebral as opposed to the affective which in turn breeds arrogance, inflexibility, a lust to be right, the desire to control. Postmodernism, by contrast, recognizes how much of what we know is shaped by the culture in which we live, is controlled by emotions and aesthetics and heritage, and in fact can only be intelligently held as part of a common tradition, without overbearing claims to be true or right. Modernism tries to find unquestioned foundations on which to build the edifice of knowledge and then proceeds with methodological rigor; postmodernism denies that such foundations exist (it is antifoundational) and insists that we come to know things in many ways, not a few of them lacking in rigor. Modernism is hard-edged and, in the domain of religion, focuses on truth versus error, right belief, confessionalism; postmodernism is gentle and, in the domain of religion, focuses on relationships, love, shared tradition, integrity in discussion"^[8]^ He goes on to add that "the majority of church leaders see a very clear contrast between modern culture and postmodern culture and connect the divide to questions of [how we know things]."^ [9]^

See main articles: Postmodernism and Modernism.

Narrative over propositional truth

Brian McLaren believes that "Christians should present Christianity through loving attitudes rather than logical arguments." Furthermore, "[t]he gospel is made credible not by how we argue and make truth claims. But it's made credible by the love and the good deeds that flow from our lives and our community."^ [3]^ McLaren's statements overlap with the prevous section in that proponents of the EC tend to reject a Christian faith that is made up of "logical arguments" and propositional "truth claims." Instead, those in the EC want to belittle the idea of arguing for the truth and logical consistency of the Christian faith, and simply live the Christian faith. Thus, what develops is a faith that is only lived while little attention is given to what one actually believes. Biblical Christianity denies (nor belittles) neither, and encompasses the reality of living out that which one believes is true.

Adam Bradley writes that "PoMo (Postmodern) churches tend to shun reductionist approaches to Scripture in which a story is reduced to doctrines and principles but stripped of its tension and human drama."^ [10]^ A "reductionist approach" would be where a Pastor looks at a passage and draws out, for example, that Jesus is indeed God from John 1:1. Those in the EC desire, instead, to focus on a practical approach to Scripture rather than one that draws out propositions.

It should be stated that proponents of the EC do not reject propositional truth altogether, yet it remains near the bottom of the priority list when EC Pastors preach or when the gospel is shared with an unbeliever.

Contemplation and reverence

In Dan Kimball's book, The Emerging Church, he advocates "...contemplation and reverence instead of blaring music and high-tech smoke and show in order to attract young, postmodern Americans to the Church." ^[11]^

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Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, describes Brian McLaren's book A Generous Orthodoxy (2004) as follows: "Embracing the worldview of the postmodern age, [Brian McLaren] embraces relativism at the cost of clarity in matters of truth and intends to redefine Christianity for this new age... As a postmodernist, he considers himself free from any concern for propositional truthfulness, and simply wants the Christian community to embrace a pluriform understanding of truth as a way out of doctrinal conflict and impasse."^[12]^ Elsewhere, Mohler believes that the Emerging movement is "unwilling to affirm that the Bible contains propositional truths that form the framework for Christian belief, [instead] this movement argues that we can have Christian symbolism and substance without those thorny questions of truthfulness that have so vexed the modern mind."^ [3]^

Sam Storms believes that in this movement "they long for... 'a kinder, gentler' version of evangelicalism that is devoid of the doctrinal dogmatism, moral certainty, and absolutist mindset that they are convinced is out of touch with so-called postmodern developments in our culture."^[4]^

Although those in the Emerging church have denied belief in relativism, they admit denying the correspondence theory of truth and agree with Leslie Newbigin that "the popular dichotomy between 'facts' (as what we know) and 'beliefs' (of which we can only say, 'this is true for me') rests on an illusion. ^[13]^

Reductionistic and critical understanding of modernism

According to D.A. Carson, Emerging Church leaders are "painfully reductionistic about modernism and the confessional Christianity that forged its way through the modernist period".^[3]^ In brief, Modernism focused on the ability to know truths absolutely, or in an objective way. Throughout the Postmodern movement, it has been emphasized that each person is affected by their culture or society in such a way that each person cannot be objective about truth. Thus, most EC leaders tend to shun Modernism and believe that all methods and ideas that were developed or during this time (e.g. emphasis on expositonal preaching, apologetics, exclusivism) are not helpful and are in fact harmful in today's church.

Carson replies to this notion and notes that, "They could humbly offer critiques of modernist confessionalism at its best and gratefully acknowledge that many of us are Christians today because our forbears, sustained by grace, were faithful to the gospel" ^ [14]^. It seems that most EC leaders are quick to judge the Christianity of Modernism, yet were they not addressing their culture in the best way they knew? Were they not faithful to the gospel message? Are not EC leaders addressing their culture in new ways? Similar questions are asked by Carson, and he concludes that the unfair and uncalled-for criticism of the Christianity of Modernism must stop ^[15]^.

Non-authoritative stance on gospel truths

"Many thinkers in the movement shy away from asserting that Christianity is true and authoritative."^ [3]^ To this, some emergent leaders have responded:

"We affirm the historic Trinitarian Christian faith and the ancient creeds, and seek to learn from all of church history and we honor the church's great teachers and leaders from East and West, North and South; yes, we believe that Jesus is the crucified and risen Savior of the cosmos and no one comes to the Father except through Jesus. . . But we also acknowledge that we each find great joy and promise in dialogue and conversation, even about [these] items."^ [2]^ However, others are not convinced of the sufficiency of the affirmations:

"When it comes to issues such as the exclusivity of the gospel, the identity of Jesus Christ as both fully human and fully divine, the authoritative character of Scripture as written revelation, and the clear teaching of Scripture concerning issues such as homosexuality, this movement simply refuses to answer the questions."^ [3]^

Exaltation of community

"Community is good. But the community itself must never become more important than conforming that community and its members to the image of Christ and obedience to God the Father by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit."^[10]^

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Prominent emergent figures

This list is not exhaustive:

Some associated with the Emerging Church who seek to distance themselves from it

  • Rob Bell - the founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, an emerging church in Grandville, Michigan
  • Mark Driscoll - originally considered on the conservative fringe of the emergent movement, Driscoll is now distancing himself from the "emergent village." ^ [16]^


  1. ? ^1.0^ ^1.1^ http://www.emergentvillage.com/about/
  2. ? ^2.0^ ^2.1^ Our Response to Critics of Emergent emergent-us
  3. ? ^3.0^ ^ 3.1^ ^ 3.2^ ^ 3.3^ ^ 3.4^ ^ 3.5^ ^ 3.6^ Leaders call ‘Emerging Church Movement’ a threat to Gospel
  4. ? ^4.0^ ^ 4.1^ ^ 4.2^ EnjoyingGodMinistries.com cf. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, p. 29
  5. ? Becoming Conversant, p. 45
  6. ? Becoming Conversant, p. 9
  7. ? March 17, 2006 - Hour 1 Way Of The Master Radio
  8. ? Becoming Conversant, p. 27
  9. ? Becoming Conversant, p. 28
  10. ? ^10.0^ ^10.1^ The "Emergent" Church Zeal For Your House: The “Emergent” Church
  11. ? Open Theism and the Emergent Church Christ and Culture: Thinking Biblically in a Post-Christian World
  12. ? Is a 'generous orthodoxy' truly orthodox? Banner of Truth
  13. ? http://www.xenos.org/essays/newbigin-emergent.htm
  14. ? Becoming Conversant, p. 64
  15. ? cf. p. 65ff
  16. ? TheResurgence.com Welcome, by Mark Driscoll.


Informational / Favorable


  • D.A. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, (Zondervan, 2005) ISBN 0310259479
  • R. Scott Smith, Truth and the New Kind of Christian (Crossway, 2005)
  • Millard Erickson, editor, Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern Times, 2004, Good News Publishing. ISBN 1581345682

See also

From 9Marks


- Emerging or Re-Emerging an article by Pastor Bryan Stupar - D. A. Carson critiques the Emerging Church ( Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, by Sam Storms - A Review of Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications - Postmodernism and the Emerging Church Movement by David Kowalski - The Emergent Mystique, by Andy Crouch ( _Christianity Today) - Emerging Confusion, by Charles Colson with Anne Morse ( Christianity Today_) - "A Generous Orthodoxy"--Is It Orthodox?, by Albert Mohler - " Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, and The Emerging Church" (.doc) and " Critiquing McLaren & the Emerging Church" (.doc), by R. Scott Smith - two chapters from a manuscript - The Emerging Church Essays and Audio @ Monergism.com - Essential Concerns Regarding the Emerging Church by Brett Kunkle of Stand to Reason (www.str.org)

Favorable / Sympathetic

- EmergentVillage.com - Five Streams of the Emerging Church: Key elements of the most controversial and misunderstood movement in the church today, by Scot McKnight ( _Christianity Today) - Brian's Annotation to "The Emergent Mystique" ( Christianity Today_) - Our Response to Critics of Emergent, by Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Spencer Burke, Brian McLaren, Dan Kimball, Andrew Jones, Chris Seay - "We offer this in response to recent criticisms, with the hope that it will cause some to better understand us and others to find hope in a document that they can sign on to." - The Emergent Church – Another Perspective - A Critical Response to D. A. Carson's Staley Lectures (PDF), by David M. Mills - Scot McKnight on the Emerging Church