December 2, 2020

More Thoughts On The Emerging Church

markbook.jpgWhen did “emerging” get to mean something that was so clearly, definitely bad? When did we all agree that “emerging” means wrong about everything?

I thought “emerging” was an approach, a “style,” not a theological confession. According to recent posts at various self-proclaimed theological watchblogs, “emerging” equals heresy, open theology, charismatic error, liberalism, denial of the authority of scripture and registered Democratic.

I thought “emerging” was an intentional effort to do church in a way that employs a non-traditional missional approach to reaching younger people in postmodern, western culture. Now it appears to mean “everything bad you can find in a Brian Mclaren book is embraced enthusiastically by everyone with a goatee.”

Crusading conservatives don’t do anyone any favors when they adopt a term and decide, ex cathedra, that the term means only what they want it to mean. Note to blogstar wannabes: When twenty people tell you that you’re wrong, and all you can say is that it’s an emerging church conspiracy, there is a simpler explanation.

Case in point. One theological watchblog recently touted the fact that Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll had renounced the emerging church as heresy. OK. Assuming this watchblog has this on good, firsthand authority, maybe they can explain why Mr. Driscoll’s current book is entitled, Confessions of a Reformission Rev. : Hard Lessons from an Emerging Missional Church. Odd choice of a title.

Driscoll, at his own blog, recently wrote about a conversation with Ravi Zacharias where Driscoll responded to some of Ravi’s concerns about the EC. I am excerpting three sections to show that Driscoll is not renouncing the label emerging, but clarifying the theological divisions within the emerging church movement, and separating himself from the aberrant strains.

I explained to him my history as one of the early leaders in the Emerging church movement. I further explained to him that the brand name “Emerging Church” was coined by my friend Dan Kimball who wrote the book The Emerging Church after borrowing the line from Leadership Network. Leadership Network had started the Young Leader Network in the mid-1990s, which later evolved into the Emerging church. I explained that within the Emerging church there is a wide range of theological teams but that many people on the teams are Bible-believing evangelicals who appreciate the writings of like-minded authors such as Dan Kimball and Donald Miller. I also explained that Emergent is a stream within the Emerging church where the more theologically liberal Emerging church leaders gather for community and conversation…

Until this point the Emerging church and its various theological teams have enjoyed relative freedom to experiment with doctrine and ministry styles without critical evaluation. But with the growing buzz about the Emerging church, more Bible scholars are critically evaluating the teachings of the Emerging church leaders, especially the more liberal-minded Emergent team

The result of the growing investigation and critique of more prominent Emerging church leaders and their teachings could be either positive or negative. Aberrant leaders may prove humble enough to receive correction and maintain sound Christian doctrine, in which case the greater church of Jesus Christ would be best served. Or, aberrant Emerging church leaders could become more entrenched in their erroneous teachings. This could lead to a fracture in the evangelical church that forces a doctrinal debate similar to that of a previous generation, which also wrestled with such things as the inerrancy of Scripture, truth, sin, atonement, inability of other religions to save, women in ministry, gender roles, masculine names for God, and the nature of authority in the church. My fear is that these Emerging church leaders will only see their support base of new monastic community, labyrinth-walking, jolly-blogging, new kind of Christians grow as the disgruntled children of evangelicalism declare heresy to be hip.

If conservatives decide that “emerging” is going to equal “every heresy we can throw into the soup,” then they are going to be guilty of obfuscation and slander. They are also going to damage the reputation of hundreds, maybe thousands, of theologically sound pastors who have paid some attention to some of the good points written and spoken by people that conservatives are RIGHTLY suspicious of. This will be a rerun of throwing the label “liberal” at everyone who isn’t a Texas Southern Baptist. To use a word that we all can agree on, such slanderous labelling is lazy, stupid and if it is intentional, unethical.

The high pressure tactic of “join my team of crusading conservatives or I’ll label you emergent on my blog” is ecclesiastical Mccarthyism. It’s sub-Christian behavior that deserves to be pointed out, and if not abandoned, derided.

It seems to make little difference to ask crusading watchbloggers to look at their use of terms and consider that in their desire to shoot and stuff somebody, they may wind up shooting a whole lot of innocent pastors and churches. “Emerging” does not equal heresy. Other questions have to be asked. The entire emerging movement is still in tremendous flux. There are huge differences between Driscoll and Macmanus on the one hand, and with Mclaren and the Emergent Network on the other. Those differences represent fidelity and Biblical discernment that should be honored, not painted over with a broad brush of ignorance.


  1. I suspect that the claim that Mark Driscoll has renounced the emerging church as heresy could go back to the following from the “Welcome” post on his blog/website:

    But, I eventually had to distance myself from the Emergent stream of the network because friends like Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt began pushing a theological agenda that greatly troubled me. Examples include referring to God as a chick, questioning God’s sovereignty over and knowledge of the future, denial of the substitutionary atonement at the cross, a low view of Scripture, and denial of hell which is one hell of a mistake.

    The section you mention also mentions Emergent as the “brand name” of a more liberal stream within the emerging church than he feels comfortable with.

    Now, for me that was the first time I came across a definition of the two terms “emerging” and “emergent” as applied to this movement/conversation; so far I had assumed they were interchangable. Realizing that Emergent is merely a subset of the emerging church helps, but I suspect taht not too many folks are making that distinction yet.

    Beyond that I agree with your criticism of the Evangelical tendency to “label and condemn” without due discernment.

  2. Histrion (Jay H) says

    iMonk wrote: […] and consider that in their desire to shoot and stuff somebody, they may wind up shooting a whole lot of innocent pastors and churches.

    Yeah, well, a certain amount of collateral damage is expected and permissible, especially when you’re trying to kill or flush out the terrorist leaders.

    Fox News Theology, if you like.

  3. Right on, IMonk…

    I consider myself a part of the whole emerging thing, and have been arguing for a looonng while now that
    a. Not everyone in this emerging church can be classified the same way theologically, much less as heterodox
    b. Emergent the organization should change its name.

    Look for more and more people to eschew “emerging” for terms like “missional” and “organic”… which are more descriptive anyway.

  4. “Examples include referring to God as a chick”

    Is this like chicken or woman?

  5. Seems as if your post is equally accusatory at “conservatives” as you believe they are of the “emerging church” types. As I’ve pointed out repeatedly on other EC-oriented blogs, the ECers and their defenders are as guilty of over-generalization and stereotyping as those they accuse may be.

  6. The word conservative occurs four times in this post. If you feel those uses are trying to make a unfair blanket statement about all conservatives, you are misreading the post. If there are non-conservatives using the word “emerging” as “heretical,” I would be happy to know who they are. I have not found anyone making the conclusion I am describing other than conservatives.

    Your statement is that I am making the same statement about conservatives that some are making about “emerging.” That would mean that I am saying the word conservative always means heretical or wrong. That is absolutely not what I am saying, not what I am implying and not what could be concluded by anyone reading this post without a presupposition that I am anti-conservative.

  7. “I thought “emerging” was an intentional effort to do church in a way that employs a non-traditional missional approach to reaching younger people in postmodern, western culture…”

    This is starting to sound a lot like the broohaa in our United Methodist Church over
    “contemporary worship” (e.g., amplifeid music, bands, ensembles, home Bible studies, spontaneous testemonies, street witnessing)When I was a little bitty pentecostal girl we just called it “church.”

    Similarly, us Methodists have always tried to be intentional and non-traditional in reaching folks in every culture. Not to say that we don’t have a tendency to slide off in the ditch with that ‘relevancy’ thing. But, emergent church just sounds like old fashioned evangelism to me.


  8. Be careful not to lump conservatives into the group with which you disagree, by the same token. Emergent is not about theology. I wrote about this the other day:

    I agree with the point of your post, but we need to be careful here. I am a conservative AND I am emergent. My two cents…. 🙂

  9. I posted a nice long post and it got lost. Oh well. I wrote about this the other day:

    I am CONSERVATIVE AND EMERGENT. It’s not a conservative vs. emergent thing. It’s an old-guard vs. new guard thing.

  10. 1) “Crusading conservatives” – negative implication
    2) “If conservatives decide that “emerging” is going to equal “every heresy we can throw into the soup,”” – implies that all conservatives think “emerging” is heresy (see the comment following mine – I’m obviously not the only one who sees your inconsistency)
    3) “spoken by people that conservatives are RIGHTLY suspicious of” – marginal, but still labels conservatives as “suspicious”
    4) “The high pressure tactic of “join my team of crusading conservatives or I’ll label you emergent on my blog”” – another snide, negative connotation

    I don’t know enough about your leanings to tell one way or the other, but in this case you speak just like the liberals that I regularly engage around blogdom, taking potshots at “conservatives” whenever the chance arises (not that it matters one way or the other – I’d just as soon leave the discussion to this particular post, since as you may have noticed, I don’t disagree with everything you say…if I did, I wouldn’t read your stuff!)

  11. You are wrong in this case. In fact, I’m pretty sure you are going to dislike an awful lot of what I have to say, because I am not dealing with liberals in my context. I am dealing with the errors of conservatives, and I will point them out regularly.

    Adding constant limiting adjectives to every noun is not necessary in reasonable discourse. Any reasonable person knows that all conservatives aren’t doing the same things all the time. But of those who equate emergent with heretical, all I’ve read are conservatives.

  12. I’m not asking for “limiting adjectives”. I’m pointing to your attitude problem where any mention of “conservative” is accompanied by an insult and a corresponding (explicit or implicit) sweeping generalization. While I know you claim not to be “EC”, your behaviour is similar to theirs – accuse “conservatives” of something and then proceed to do the same yourself.

    I believe the issue is not that “non-conservatives are using “emerging” as heretical” – it is what the other poster points out – not all conservatives DO use the term in that fashion. That is where your generalization is inaccurate…you are committing the same offence that you accuse the conservatives of.

    Is it acceptable for you to make a blanket statement about a group, and it’s not OK for conservatives to behave similarly? (I can answer my own question by saying that “yep, it sure is – it’s my blog and I can be as illogical and unreasonable as I care to”) That certainly seems to be your message here.

    It is quite disingenuous for you to claim that your post is not directed at conservatives – at least 50% of it is an invective directed at “crusading conservatives” (you used that particular term twice). Perhaps the first three or four sentences are not, but the implications are obvious. It doesn’t take dozens of occurances of the word to make it so.

  13. I never said it wasn’t directed at conservatives. I said any reasonable reader would know that it doesn’t describe all conservatives.

    Invective? How about exaggeration and mischaracterization on your part.

    If you want to continue deconstructing a simple post into proof that I am part of the emerging church- knowing full well that I am not- go right ahead. It would be preferable for you to simply say that the emerging church IS always heretical and that I am always an anti-conservative emerging postmodern.

    That would be a lot more straightforward.

  14. I personally didn’t mean to deconstruct your post (I know you probably weren’t referring to me). Rather, I mean to point out that emergent isn’t conservative vs. liberal. It’s modern vs. postmodern… Err something. 🙂

  15. bookdragon says

    Dear wfsuebe,

    Michael can certainly answer for himself, but let me point out two things.

    First, by using the label ‘crusading’ he is in fact making it clear that he is not talking about all conservatives, but rather only those who might be described by the qualifier ‘crusading’.

    Second, I’ve been reading this site for some time and Michael is a conservative by most measures. That’s why he can talk about what is wrong in (many) conservative circles without having to go to great pains about being clear that he isn’t labeling ALL conservatives.

    It’s pretty much a time honored understanding in rhetoric that a person can speak more harshly and paint more broadly when critiquing his/her own group. You even see it in the bible. All of the Apostles and Paul were Jews, and yet they make blanket statements about Jews that sound rather anti-semitic. Is that because they were self-hating Jews, or because they were speaking as members of the tribe and hence had a bit more right to speak in broad terms about their own group than would an outsider? Furthermore, we know that not all Pharisees were nasty, conniving hypocrits. Yet Jesus makes what appear to be blanket statements about them. Why didn’t anyone throw it in His face that He was slandering the Pharisees who were decent folks, esp. the ones who were also following Him? Probably because His human family, like most non-priestly Jews of that era, was at a minimum sympathic to the Pharisaic strain of Judaism. He was speaking as an insider critisizing His own party and their leadership.

  16. Good point. Didn’t Michael Spencer say somewhere that he has more in common with Jerry Falwell than Brian McLaren (or something along those lines). So perhaps we should consider this when he uses the word ‘conservative.’ 🙂

  17. Give me a little help people. I live way out in nowhere, and I really haven’t heard of the “emerging” Church before I read some references to it here.

    I suppose there is not a quick, simple answer to what it is and its purpose? So can someone direct me to a website that will help me understand what it is?

    Thank you,

    fish on [jerry]

  18. Jeremiah Lawson says

    Actually the emerging/emergent distinction is exactly what this thread starts off with. iMonk links to Mark Driscoll’s blog wherein Driscoll explains what the distinction is and why it has come about. iMonk has already done the heavy lifting for you. 🙂

    I’m surprised at hoe much trouble some people here are having reading simple if/then statements. And it seems people don’t notice that the bold type isn’t original to the Driscoll blog but is emphasis added by iMonk. Maybe I only notice this because I’m a member of Mars Hill church and Driscoll is one of my pastors but some people need to remember how to read, seriously. If iMonk were doing what the emergent types were reportedly doing he wouldn’t be linking to Driscoll’s blog and would denounce him as a terrifying chauvinistic fundamentalist who has made an idol of the Bible like some people have been doing out in the blogosphere. I know people say this about Driscoll because I’ve heard people say this kind of stuff with my own ears and seen it in blogs. And I’ve heard people say Driscoll is advocating heresy or immorality for preaching that the Song of Songs isn’t actually an allegory about Jesus’ love for the church. The reason it’s more annoying when theological conservatives jump the gun in this way is they claim to preserve the truth of the Gospel while they utterly fail to discern who their brothers and sisters in Christ are. John’s epistles assure us that the antichrists will give us their public service announcements soon enough.

    But what iMonk is doing is what he is, rightly, advicing other people to actually do. He’s linking to Driscoll’s blog to make a point and he obviously read what Driscoll had to say. Find out what a preacher is actually saying before you decide they’re a heretic.

  19. It’s really not a “thing.” It’s not a tangible thing to be described. It would be like describing the reformation to somebody during it’s first few years…

  20. Michael, everything you say about the conservative evangelical – and it’s blanket statements about the Emergent Church is exactly the problem I see with folks like yourself. You quickly renounce Evangelicals and write things like the Collapse of the Evangelical Church and then get upset when conservatives do the same to your slant. When we write/say the same things about you and the Emergent Church we are trying to “stifle” you – I see a post like this as an effort to “stifle” opposition to your opposition.

  21. OK. Exactly how am I trying to stifle you again? I’m apparently a little dense.

  22. What the conservative church needs is to become more conservative. They need to remember and apply “Semper Reformanda” which always comes after a deconstruction. By becoming more and more conservative they would out-rebel the so-called rebelliousness of the liberal.