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What is the "Emerging" Church?

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The emerging church (sometimes referred to as the emergent church movement) is a Christian movement whose participants seek to live their faith in modern society by emulating Jesus Christ irrespective of Christian religious traditions. Proponents of this movement call it a "conversation" to emphasize its developing and decentralized nature as well as its emphasis on interfaith dialogue rather than one-way evangelism.

Members of emerging communities may be disillusioned with the organized and institutional church and often support the deconstruction of modern Christian dogma. The movement often favors the use of simple story and narrative, occasionally incorporating mysticism. Members of the emerging movement place high value on good works or social activism, sometimes including missional living or new monasticism; while Evangelicals may emphasize eternal salvation, many in the emerging movement emphasize the here and now and the need to create a kingdom of heaven on Earth.

It should be noted that there is believed to be a difference between the terms "emerging" and "Emergent." Emerging is the wider, informal, church-based, global movement. Emergent refers to an official organization, the Emergent Village. This sub-movement, a large intellectual and philosophical network, is sometimes called the "emergent stream" within the larger emerging church.

Key themes of the emerging church are provocative language of reform, Praxis-oriented lifestyles, Post-evangelical thought, and incorporation or acknowledgment of political and Postmodern elements.



The emerging church (also known as the emergent church movement) is a Christian movement of the late 20th and early 21st century whose participants seek to live their faith in modern society by emulating Jesus Christ irrespective of Christian religious traditions.

Dr. Stuart Murray drawing on international research stated the definition:

Emerging churches are so disparate there are exceptions to any generalisations. Most are too new and too fluid to clarify, let alone assess their significance. There is no consensus yet about what language to use: 'new ways of being church';'emerging church';'fresh expressions of church';'future church';'church next'; or 'the coming church'. The terminology used here contrasts 'inherited' and 'emerging' churches. [1] [2]

Ian Mobsby quoting work by Larson & Osborne has identified a functional definition:

The use of the phrase 'emerging church' appears to have been used by Larson & Osborne in 1970 in the context of reframing the meaning 'church' in the latter part of the twentieth century.[3] This book, contains a short vision of the 'emerging church' which has a profoundly contemporary feel in the early twenty-first century ... Larson & Osborne note the following themes: Rediscovering contextual & experimental mission in the western church. Forms of church that are not restrained by institutional expectations. Open to change and God wanting to do a new thing. Use of the key word ..."and". Whereas the heady polarities of our day seek to divide us into an either-or camp, the mark of the emerging Church will be its emphasis on both-and. For generations we have divided ourselves into camps: Protestants and Catholics, high church and low, clergy and laity, social activists and personal piety, liberals and conservatives, sacred and secular, instructional and underground. It will bring together the most helpful of the old and best of the new, blending the dynamic of a personal Gospel with the compassion of social concern. It will find its ministry being expressed by a whole people, wherein the distinction between clergy and laity will be that of function, not of status or hierarchical division. In the emerging Church, due emphasis will be placed on both theological rootage and contemporary experience, on celebration in worship and involvement in social concerns, on faith and feeling, reason and prayer, conversion and continuity, the personal and the conceptual.[4]

Dr. R. Todd Mangum, Associate Professor of Theology and Dean of Faculty at Biblical Seminary, describes it this way:

“Emergent” is a loosely knit group of people in conversation about and trying experiments in forwarding the ministry of Jesus in new and different ways, as the people of God in a post-Christian context. From there, wide diversity abounds. “Emergents” seem to share one common trait: disillusionment with the organized, institutional church as it has existed through the 20th century (whether fundamentalist, liberal, megachurch, or tall-steeple liturgical). Its strengths: creative, energetic, youthful, authentic, highly relational. Its weaknesses: somewhat cynical, disorganized, sometimes reckless (even in the theological ideas willing to be entertained), immature[5][6]

Proponents of this movement call it a "conversation" to emphasize its developing and decentralized nature as well as its emphasis on interfaith dialogue rather than verbal evangelism. This idea of 'conversation' also emphasises some of the Trinitarian basis to many of the emerging churches. (see Ian Mobsby's reflection on this here) [7]


Emerging churches can be found throughout the globe, predominantly in North America, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Africa. Some attend local independent churches or house churches[8][9] labelled "emerging" while others worship in traditional Christian denominations.[10]


There has been a strong bias in the US to ignore a history to the Emerging Church that preceded the US Emergent organization, which began with Mike Riddell and Mark Pierson in New Zealand from 1989, and with a number of practitioners in the UK including Jonny Baker, Ian Mobsby, Kevin, Ana & Brian Draper, Sue Wallace amongst others from around 1992.[11] The US organization emerged in the late 1990s.

What is common to the identity of many of these emerging church projects that began in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, is that they developed with very little central planning on behalf of the established denominations.[12] They occurred as the initiative of particular groups wanting to start new contextual church experiments, and are therefore very 'bottom up'. Murray identifies 'emerging churches' beginning with:

An apparently spontaneous phenomenon ... without central planning, coordination, or consultation. Loose networking, shared stories, 'blogging' on websites and developing friendships were all that connected otherwise isolated initiatives ... The churches that have emerged in the past few years have been remarkably diverse ...[13]

Many emerging churches ... were not intended to become churches but developed into churches as those involved found their ecclesiology transformed by engagement with the community they were serving ... They grew into churches as those involved found the culture gap between new Christians and church too wide ...[14][15]

Values and characteristics

Trinitarian based values

A number of pieces of research including Gibbs & Bolger have identified a number of core based values in the international emerging church drawing on narrative action research.[16]

These include:

  • Who take the life of Jesus as a model to live (life as spiritual journey).
  • And who transform the secular realm.
  • As they live highly communal lives.
  • Welcome those who are outsiders.
  • Share Generously.
  • Participate.
  • Create.
  • Lead without control (unity in diversity).
  • And function together in spiritual activities.

A number of researchers have further explored what underpins these shared international values.[17][18] Research suggests that it is a Trinitarian Ecclesiology that informs these values:

I suggest that perhaps the Emerging Church had found, or been led to a Trinitarian ecclesiology which had inspired a model, the values of which reflected God's desire for what the emerging church should be. This is what Volf is talking about in After our Likeness. A Church whose values reflect the Trinitarian God.[19] This development appears not to have been a consciously mediated action, but to have emerged out of the experience and practice of those involved in the projects. Is this a God-led re-imagining of the Church? I believe that it is.[20]

This position resonates strongly with postmodern theology:

Ultimately then, we enjoy the fullness of community as, and only as God graciously brings us to participate together in the fountainhead of community,namely, the life of the triune God ... The community that is ours is nothing less than shared participation - a participation together - in the periochoretic community of Trinitarian persons.[21]

Research therefore suggests that the Emerging Church is centred on the combination of two models of Church[22], and possibly two models of Contextual Theology[23] that draw on this Trinitarian basis. The Mystical Communion Model and Sacramental model models of Church,[24] and the Synthetic and Transcendent models of Contextual Theology.[25][26]

So the Emerging Church, in reaction to the missional needs of postmodern culture, has re-acquired a Trinitarian basis to its understanding of Church as Worship, Mission and Community, in reaction against some forms of conservative evangelicalism and other more reformed ecclesiologies since the enlightenment, that have dumbed down on the Trinity which, it is argued, has caused problems with certainty,judgementalism and fundamentalism and the increasing gap between Church and contemporary culture.[27]

Post-Christendom views concerning Mission & Evangelism

Christendom as a concept has been around for a long time. It has been based on the concept of creating and maintaining a Christian nation by ensuring a close relationship of power between the Christian Church and its host culture.[28] In more Conservative forms of church, this mindset based on a power discourse is maintained. Today, Churches drawing on this power-discourse, still attempt to use this power when considering mission and evangelism.[29] The Emerging Church considers this power-discourse to be unhelpful for mission and evangelism in the postmodern world, and stands against these more Christendom values which have been summarized as:[30]

  • Creation of a hierarchical church society and the loss of lay (Laos) vitality.
  • Power-hierarchy created an institution rather than a community.
  • Orientation towards maintaining the status quo. As church moved from the margins to the center of society.
  • Wanting to control history and bring God's Kingdom through political power. Compelled all to be 'Christian' with resultant loss of true mission.
  • A punitive rather than restorative approach to justice.
  • An interpretation of Church history that marginalizes the laity, dissident movements, women and the poor.
  • Forms of Church that actively dis-empower the laity from active participation in leadership and liturgy.
  • Inattentiveness of the criticisms of those outraged by the historic association of Christianity with patriarchy, warfare, injustice and patronage.
  • Partiality for respectability, top-down mission and hierarchical church government.
  • Approaches to evangelism that rely excessively on 'come' rather than 'go' initiatives.
  • Thinking that the Christian story is still known, understood and widely believed within society.
  • Preoccupation with the rich and powerful.

So the Emerging Church, seeks a more post-Christendom approach to being Church and Mission:

  • Renouncing imperialistic approaches to language and cultural imposition, making 'truth claims' with humility and respecting other view points.
  • Holistic forms of faith - that seek to integrate the public private split.
  • To move from the center to the margins of the relationship between Church and political power.
  • From privilege place in society to a voice amongst others in pluralism.
  • From control to witness.
  • From maintenance to mission.
  • From institution to movement.

These values have not come without criticism, largely from the more Conservative Christian Right, but many in the Emerging Church have argued that this is because, those coming from a more Conservative perspective do not critique their attitudes concerning Christendom, the seeking of a power relationship between Church and culture. Further, the Emerging Church is trying to take a balanced 'both and' approach to Redemptive & Incarnational Theologies. The Emerging Church critiques Conservative Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism as being 'overly redemptive' in focus and therefore in danger of over-condemning people where the 'Good News' is communicated in aggressive and angry ways that is less than good news.[31] The Emerging Church therefore, takes a more loving and affirming approach (as Jesus in the Gospels) with postmodern elements of culture where people distrust anything that is associated with power-discourses. So rather than the Emerging Church having nothing to offer other than its rejection of conservative evangelicalism and its Christendom focus, pioneers of the Emerging Church emphasize that it has resulted or emerged out of missional activity and re-engagement with twenty-first century post-industrial western cultures.[32]

Postmodern worldview

The emerging church movement arose as a response to the perceived influence of modernism in Western Christianity. Just as sociologists noted a cultural shift to postmodern ways of perceiving reality in the late 20th century some Christians also began to advocate changes within the church to respond to these same perceived cultural shifts. These Christians saw the contemporary church as being culturally bound to modernism and contoured their practices to reach a culture that no longer related to some of the common incarnations of Christianity. Emerging Christians began to challenge the 20th-Century church regarding its use of institutional structures, systematic theology, use of propositional teaching methods, a perceived preoccupation with buildings, attractional understanding of mission (trying to bring people into the church rather than improving their world), professional clergy, overemphasis on the facade of goodness and the perceived preoccupation of conservative Christians in the political process.

As a result, the emerging church believes it is necessary to deconstruct modern Christian dogma and avoid the use of jargon, called Christianese, that has become increasingly irrelevant to the prevailing culture. The emerging church accomplishes this by engaging in two-way conversations, or dialogues, rather than proclaim a predigested message and in this way leads people to Jesus through the Holy Spirit on their own terms. Many in the movement embrace the missiology that drives the movement in an effort to be like Christ and make disciples by being a good example. The emerging church movement contains a great diversity in beliefs and practices, although some have adopted a preoccupation with sacred rituals, good works, and political and social activism. Much of the Emerging Church movement have also adopted the approach to evangelism which stressed peer-to-peer dialog rather than dogmatic proclamation and proselytizing, (see conversation section).

Postmodern hermeneutics

A plurality of Scriptural interpretations is acknowledged in the emerging church movement. Participants in the movement exhibit a particular concern for the effect of the modern reader's cultural context on the act of interpretation echoing the ideas of postmodern thinkers such as Jacques Derrida and Stanley Fish.

Narrative theology

Narrative explorations of faith, Scripture, and history are emphasized in some emerging churches over exegetical and dogmatic approaches (such as that found in systematic theology and systematic exegesis), which are often viewed as reductionist. Others embrace a multiplicity of approaches.

Generous orthodoxy

Some leaders in the movement publicly welcome open discussion with other religions regarding the definition of Christian faith.[33] Others in the movement label the practice differently, calling the interfaith dialog a means to share their narratives as they learn from the narratives of others.[34] Self-proclaimed emergent author Marcus Borg, for example, notes that individuals who have read the same Bible "literally" may have different accounts of the message of Christianity, which are often mutually exclusive. Borg claims that many aspects of people's lives, including their political beliefs and their surrounding culture can provide a "lens" that can distort the Bible and influence which parts of the Bible they take literally, and which parts they may ignore.[35] Some Emerging Church Christians believe there are radically diverse perspectives within Christianity that are valuable for humanity to progress toward truth and a better resulting relationship with God, and that these different perspectives deserve Christian charity rather than condemnation.[36]

Additionally, many participants in the movement assert that dogma has led to the tragic events in history such as the Salem Witch Trials, genocide occurring during the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and many other unfortunate events. Recognizing this, many Emerging Christians reject such dogmatism, preferring liberty in Scriptural interpretation on many issues deemed "non-essential".[citation needed]


The movement favors the sharing of experiences and interactions such as testimonies, prayer, group recitation, sharing meals and other communal practices, which they believe are personal and sincere over propositional, dogmatic presentation of the Gospel. Teaching in the Emerging Church tends to view the Bible and its stories through a lens which they believe finds significance and meaning for their community's social and personal stories rather than for the purpose of finding cross-cultural, propositional absolutes regarding salvation and conduct.[37]


The movement's participants claim they are creating a safe environment for those with opinions ordinarily rejected within modern conservative evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Non-critical, interfaith dialog is favored over dogmatically-driven evangelism in the movement.[38]. The place of story and narrative replaces the place of the dogmatic. Therefore the story of the prodigal Son brings more meaning than stating the Ten Commandments.

The relationship between words and images has changed in contemporary culture. In a post-foundational world, it is the power of the image that takes us to the text. The bible is no longer a principal source of morality, functioning as a rulebook. The gradualism of postmodernity has transformed the text into a guide, a source of spirituality, in which the power of the story as but on potential moral reference point has superseded the didactic. Thus the meaning of the Good Samaritan is more important than the Ten Commandments - even assuming that the latter could be remembered in any detail by anyone. Into this mileau the image speaks with power.[39]

Those in the movement do not engage in aggressive apologetics or confrontational evangelism in the traditional sense, preferring to allow persons the freedom to discover truth through conversation and relationships with the Christian community.[40]

Missional living

Participants in this movement assert that the incarnation of Christ informs their theology, believing that as God entered the world in human form, adherents enter (individually and communally) into the context around them, aiming to transform that culture through local involvement in it. This holistic involvement may take many forms, including social activism, hospitality, and acts of kindness. This beneficent involvement in culture is part of what is called "missional living."[41] This approach leads to their focus on temporal and social issues, as opposed to a perceived Evangelical overemphasis on eternal salvation. Drawing on research and models of contextual theology, Mobsby asserts that the Emerging Church is using different models of contextual theology to Conservative Evangelicals. Conservative Evangelical Churchs tend to use a 'translation' model of contextual theology[42], (which has been criticised for being colonialist and having a very low opinion of culture and humanity), where the Emerging Church tends to use a 'synthetic' or 'transcendent' model of contextual theology.[43] The Emerging Church has charged many Conservative Evangelical Churches of withdrawal from involvement from contextual mission and seeking contextualisation of the gospel.[44]

Christian communities must learn to deal with the problems and possibilities posed by life in the "outside" world. But of more importance, any attempt on the part of the church to withdraw from the world would be in effect a denial of its mission.[45]

Many Emerging Churches then inadvertently have worked at a strong emphasis on contextualisation and therefore contextual theology. Contextual theology has been defined as:

A way of doing theology in which one takes into account: the spirit and message of the gospel; the tradition of the Christian people; the culture in which one is theologising; and social change in that culture.[46]

Emerging Churches, draw on this synthetic model or transcendent model of contextual theology, seek to have a high view towards the Bible and the Christian people, as well as having a high view of culture, humanity, and justice. It is this 'both And' approach that makes the difference in contextual theology.[47][48]

Emerging communities participate in social action, community involvement, global justice and sacrificial hospitality in an effort to experientially know and share God's saving grace. At a conference titled The Emerging Church Forum in 2006, John Franke said “The Church of Jesus Christ is not the goal of the Gospel, just the instrument of the extension of God’s mission”. “The Church has been slow to recognize that missions isn’t a program the Church administers, it is the very core of the Church’s reason for being.”[49]

This focus on missional living and practising radical hospitality has led many emerging churches to deepen what they are doing by developing a rhythm of life, and a vision of missional loving engagement to the world. Many emerging churches also now see themselves as drawing on new monasticism to express their sense of community and mission, whilst drawing on alternative worship to define their worship.[50]

A mixture of emerging Churches, Fresh Expressions of Church and mission initiatives arising out of the charismatic traditions, have begun describing themselves as new monastic communities. They again draw on a combination of the Mystical Communion Model and Sacramental Models, with a core concern to engage with the question of how we should live. The most successful of these have experimented with a combination of churches centred on place and network, with intentional communities, cafes and centres to practice hospitality. Many also have a rhythm, or rule of life to express what it means to be Christian in a postmodern context. ... New Monastic Communities are attempting to relate to a culture of mysticism in a twenty-first century context, modelling expressions of the Christian faith that can relate to this culture.[51]

Communitarian/Egalitarian Ecclesiology

Proponents of the movement communicate and interact through fluid and open networks because the movement is decentralized with little institutional coordination. Because of the participation values named earlier, being community through participation affects the governance of most Emerging Churches. Participants avoid power relationships, attempting to gather in ways specific to their local context. In this way some in the movement share with the house church movements a willingness to challenge traditional church structures/organizations though they also respect the different expressions of traditional Christian denominations.[52]

International research suggests that some Emerging Churches are utilising a Trinitarian basis to being church through what Avery Dulles calls 'The Mystical Communion Model of Church'.[53]

  • Not an institution but a fraternity.
  • Church as interpersonal community.
  • Church as a fellowship of persons - a fellowship of people with God and with one another in Christ.
  • Connects strongly with the mystical 'body of Christ' as a communion of the spiritual life of faith, hope and charity.
  • Resonates with Aquinas' notion of the Church as the principle of unity that dwells in Christ and in us, binding us together and in him.
  • All the external means of grace, (sacraments, scripture, laws etc) are secondary and subordinate' their role is simply to dispose people for an interior union with God effected by grace.[54]

Dulles sees the strength in this aproach being acceptable to both Protestant and Catholic:

In stressing the continual mercy of God and the continual need of the Church for repentance, the model pocks up Protestant theology ...[and] in Roman Catholicism ... when it speaks of the churhc as both holy and sinful, as needing repentance and reform ...[55]

The biblical notion of Koinonia, ... tha God has fashioned for himself a people by freely communicating his Spirit and his gifts ... this is congenial to most Protestants and Orthodox ... [and] has an excellent foundation in the Catholic tradition.[56]

Creative spirituality

This can involve everything from expressive, neocharismatic style of worship and the use of contemporary music and films to more ancient liturgical customs and eclectic expressions of spirituality, with the goal of making the church gathering reflect the local community's tastes.

Re-discovered spirituality

Emerging church practitioners are happy to take elements of worship from a wide variety of historic traditions, including Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, the Orthodox church, and Celtic Christianity. From these and other religious traditions emerging church groups take, adapt and blend various historic church practices including liturgy, prayer beads, icons, spiritual direction, the labyrinth, and lectio divina.

One of the key social drives in Western Post-industrialised countries, is the rise in new/old forms of mysticism.[57][58] This rise in spirituality appears to be driven by the effects of consumerism, globalisation and advances in information technology.[59] Therefore, the Emerging Church is operating in a new context of postmodern spirituality, as a new form of mysticism. This therefore suggests the shift from the situation that most are atheist, to the fact that many people now believe something more spiritual and else. This has been characterised as a major shift from religion to spirituality.[60]

So, in the new world of 'spiritual tourism', the Emerging Church is seeking to missionally assist people to shift from being spiritual tourists to Christian pilgrims. Many are drawing on ancient Christian resources recontextualised into the contemporary such as contemplation and contemplative forms of prayer, symbolic mutli-sensory worship, story telling and many others.[61] This again has required a change in focus as the majority of unchurched and dechurched people are seeking 'something that works' rather than something that is 'true'.[62]


Drawing on a more 'Missional Morality', that again turns to the synoptic gospels of Christ, many Emerging Churches draw on an understanding of God seeking to restore all things back into restored relationship. This emphasises God's graceful love approach to discipleship, in following Christ who identified with the socially excluded and ill, in opposition to the Pharisees and Saducees and their purity rules.[63]

Members of the movement tend not to make distinctions between issues viewed as sin; saying that one behavior is somehow worse than the other. For example, members of the movement are unlikely to view homosexuality as any more sinful than viewing pornography. Rather, both are seen as wrong because they take sexuality out of the context that they believe God created sexuality to exist in. That context being marriage.

Use of new technologies

Emerging churches use the Internet as a central medium to facilitate global friendship and to converse about theology, philosophy, art, culture, politics, social justice, etc. through various blogs, websites, and online videos.

Postmodern terminology

Many of the movement's participants use terminology that originates from postmodern literary theory, social network theory, narrative theology, and other related fields.


Many people in the movement express concern for what they consider to be the practical manifestation of God's kingdom on earth, by which they mean social justice. This concern manifests itself in a variety of ways depending on the local community and in ways they believe transcend "modernist" labels of "conservative" and "liberal." This concern for justice is expressed in such things as feeding the poor, visiting the sick and prisoners, stopping contemporary slavery, critiquing systemic and coercive power structures with "postcolonial hermeneutics," and working for environmental causes.[64]

"Emerging" versus "Emergent"

Although some emergent thinkers such as Brian McLaren and other Christian scholars such as D. A. Carson use "emerging" and "emergent" as synonyms, a large number of participants in the emerging church movement maintain a distinction between them. The term emergent church was coined in 1981 by Catholic political theologian, Johann Baptist Metz for use in a different context.[65] "Emergent" is sometimes more closely associated with Emergent Village. Those participants in the movement who assert this distinction believe "emergents" and "emergent village" to be a part of the emerging church movement but prefer to use the term "emerging church" to refer to the movement as a whole while using the term "emergent" in a more limited way, referring to Brian McLaren and emergent village.

Marcus Borg defines the word emerging. Emerging Christianity or "the emerging paradigm has been visible for well over a hundred years. In the last twenty to thirty years, it has become a major grassroots movement among both laity and clergy in "mainline" or old mainline Protestant denominations. The emerging paradigm's central features are a response to the enlightenment. Borg describes it as "a way of seeing the Bible (and the Christian tradition as a whole): historical, metaphorical, and sacramental. And a way of seeing the Christian life: relational and transformational."[66]

Many of those within the emerging church movement who do not closely identify with "emergent village" tend to avoid that organization's interest in radical theological reformulation and focus more on new ways of "doing church" and expressing their spirituality. Mark Driscoll, an early leader associated with the emerging church conversation, now distances himself from the "emergent thread."[67] Some observers consider the "emergent stream" to be one major part within the larger emerging church movement. This may be attributed to the stronger voice of the 'emergent' stream found in the US which contrasts the more subtle and diverse development of the movement in the UK, Australia and New Zealand over a longer period of time. As a result of the above factors, the use of correct vocabulary to describe a given participant in this movement can occasionally be awkward, confusing, or controversial. Key voices in the movement have been identified with Emergent Village, thus the rise of the nomenclature "emergent" to describe participants in the movement. Some people affiliated with the relational network called "Emergent Village" do not identify with the label "emergent".

Comparisons to other movements

It is sometimes useful to compare the emerging church movement with other Christian movements, which emphasize a similar approach to Christianity and inner experience.

The Taizé Community in France parallels the emergent experience in many ways. Traditional symbols in this community such as candles and crosses have intensified importance in creating subjective feelings. Taizé places a great emphasis on meditation, scripture, and the experiences derived from the monastic life. They also embrace a religious pluralism that discards notions of eternal judgment. Within the wider Emerging Church there is a growing exploration of a similar kind of monasticism, known as new-monasticism. Communities such as "Moot"[68] in the UK and "COTA"[69] in the US are examples.

The Religious Society of Friends ("Quakers"), although not born from a conflict with modernism, has nonetheless influenced the emerging church movement through mystics such as Richard Foster. This influence is often seen in the mystical tendencies of emergent worship and devotion. Some emerging churches mirror the Quaker rejection of church hierarchy while valuing the sacred as a personal, subjective experience, others utilize their particular denominational structures for church leadership.

The house church movement, which has been partly influenced by the Jesus Movement of the 1960s and 70s, is considered to be a “cousin” of the emerging church movement because of its lack of structure. Most of these house churches, however, are quite different from those in the emerging church movement as they are conservative in their theology and structure.

All four of these groups seek fellowship with likeminded groups and value some subjective traditions and experiences. The emerging church movement stands out by its postmodernism as well as its pluralistic dialog with the surrounding culture.[citation needed]

The emergent methodology which relies upon community activism before propositional evangelism has been advocated by many liberal theologians who find propositional evangelism to be a form of arrogant "theological colonialism." These theologians tend to reduce the Christian mission to an effort to create a more just world (often through socialism) that is environmentally responsible. In 1917 Walter Rauschenbusch presented a lengthy rationale for this approach to Christian mission in his book A Theology for the Social Gospel.

Theologically, the emerging church movement bears many striking similarities to the theology of neo-evangelical Christians such as Langdon Gilkey and David Tracy, shares many beliefs with the more liberal post-Vatican II Catholic theologians such as Karl Rahner, and can trace much of its roots to the teachings of "postliberals" such as George Lindbeck.[70] In many ways emergent thought resembles that of the iconoclastic Stanley Hauerwas. Eschatology in the movement closely resembles that found in theologians such as Jürgen Moltmann who advocate the "theology of hope." The emergent approach to interfaith dialogue is similar to earlier discussions of this kind of dialogue as found in authors such as John Hick as well as the "federalist/universalist" approach to pluralistic theology of Ninian Smart. Some emergent thinkers have also been deeply influenced by postliberal authors such as Walter Brueggemann[citation needed] and Lesslie Newbigin.[71] Newbigin, especially, along with fellow missiologist David Bosch, offers alternatively nuanced understandings of dialogue which, nevertheless, do embrace a relativistic epistemology.[citation needed] NT Wright's eschatology, missiology and ecclesiology have also influenced emerging church theology. [72]


Non-constructive focus on protest

Some Christian scholars, such as D. A. Carson, have characterized the emerging church movement as primarily a movement of protest in which participants are reacting against their more conservative heritage. These critics generally claim that emergent books and blogs are more preoccupied with this protest than they are with any genuinely constructive agenda.[citation needed]

Unorthodox theology

While many evangelical Christians have been open to some of the criticisms that the emerging church movement has offered, most seem to have rejected the emerging church movement's views of several key theological themes within their soteriology and eschatology as well as the openness of some in the emerging church movement to alternative lifestyles. Many of these critics seem especially concerned about unorthodox views in the emerging church movement on doctrines such as blood atonement, salvation by faith, hell, and the sovereignty of God.[73]

The "emergent thread" of the emerging church movement has been harshly criticized by Mark Driscoll and the Acts 29 movement that consider themselves "emerging but not emergent:"

In the mid-1990s I was part of what is now known as the Emerging Church and spent some time traveling the country to speak on the emerging church in the emerging culture on a team put together by Leadership Network called the Young Leader Network. 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.

– Mark Driscoll[74] (Link No Longer Available)

Propositionless evangelism

Some Christians critique one of the emergent perspectives on evangelism. These critics believe that the emerging church's view of God's kingdom is too narrowly limited to improving social conditions while ignoring eternal matters, resulting in a social gospel. Some see the distinction between the evangelical and emergent approaches to evangelism in some emerging Christians' rejection of propositional evangelism[citation needed] which Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians insist complements friendship and good works in order to impact both the mind and heart of others.

Syncretistic spirituality

Some Fundamentalist Christians express concern that postmodern spirituality is more syncretistic than scriptural.[75] These Christians have questioned a variety of mystical techniques found in the emerging church movement such as contemplative prayer (although this term is used with various meanings) and labyrinths; and they express concern regarding the premodern (as exhibited in the medieval mystics) and Eastern approach to "spirituality" found in the movement.

Criticisms persist despite diversity in the movement

Several critiques of this movement have been written recently by Christian scholars D. A. Carson and Millard Erickson. In September 2006 an open conversation was held in Perth between D. A. Carson and two Australian emerging church leaders, Andrew Hamilton and Geoff Westlake.[76] This meeting restated the proponents and critics positions. Critics have long recognized the great diversity within the movement which makes it difficult to critique with too broad of a brush. This conversation served to highlight that issue, as Carson affirmed that the 'brand' of emerging church he was observing in Australia seemed different from that which he critiqued in his book. This concession by Carson, however, concerning one region has not ended the larger controversies surrounding the movement. It may also be noted that criticism of this movement is difficult because many "emerging" types do not question Biblical beliefs (a very heavily critiqued aspect of the emerging church), but are focused more on "modernizing" the church building itself and the ways that the Gospel is spread.[77]

See also


  1. ^ Stuart Murray, Church After Christendom, (London: Paternoster Press, 2004), 73.
  2. ^ Ian Mobsby, Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church: How are they authentically Church and Anglican, (London: Moot Community Publishing, 2007), 20.
  3. ^ B Larson, R Osbourne, The emerging church, (London: Word Books, 1970), 9-11.
  4. ^ Ian Mobsby, Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church, (London: Moot Community Publishing, 2007), 20-21.
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Q & A with Todd Mangum" (2007-10-06). Retrieved on 2008-04-05.
  7. ^ "Conversation as a basis for connectivity" (2008-08-03). Retrieved on 2008-08-03.
  8. ^ Kreider, Larry (2001). "1", House Church Networks. House to House Publications. ISBN 1-886973-48-2. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ See article written by Steve Collins at
  11. ^ Ian Mobsby, Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church, (London: Moot Community Publishing, 2007), 23-24.
  12. ^ Stuart Murray, Church After Christendom, (as above), 69-70.
  13. ^ Stuary Murray, Church After Christendom, (as above), 74.
  14. ^ Ian Mobsby, Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church, (London: Moot Community Publishing, 2007), 24.
  15. ^ E Gibbs, R Bolger, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Communities in Postmodern Cultures, (London: SPCK, 2006), 44-5.
  16. ^ Ian Mobsby, The Becoming of G-d, (Oxford: YTC Press, 2008),65-82.>
  17. ^ Ian Mobsby, Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church, (London:Moot Community Publishing, 2007).
  18. ^ M Volf,After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity,(Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1998), 191-220)
  19. ^ Ian Mobsby, The Becoming of G-d, (Oxford: YTCPress, 2008), 67.
  20. ^ JM Tillard, Dilemmas of Modern Religious Life, (Delaware: Michael Glazier, 1984)in SJ Grenz "Ecclesiology" in (ed) KJ Vanhoozer, The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, (Cambridge: CUP, 2003), 268.
  21. ^ A Dulles, Models of Church, (New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc, 1991).
  22. ^ SB Bevans, Models of COntextual Theology, (New York: Orbis, 2002).
  23. ^ Ian Mobsby, Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church, (London: Moot Community Publishing, 2007),54-60
  24. ^ Ian Mobsby, Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church, (London: Moot Community Publishing), 28-29.
  25. ^ Ian Mobsby, The Becoming of G-d, (Cambridge: YTC Press, 2008), 98-101.
  26. ^ Ian Mobsby, The Becoming of G-d, (Oxford: YTC Press, 2008), 15-18, 32-35, 37-62.
  27. ^ S Murray, Post Christendom, Church and Mission in a Strangle Land, (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2004),83-88.
  28. ^ S Murray, Post Christendom, Church and Mission in a Strangle Land, (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2004),83-88, 200-2.
  29. ^ As last reference
  30. ^
  31. ^ I Mobsby, Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church, (London: Moot Community Publishing, 2007).
  32. ^ See
  33. ^ Richard Sudworth, Distinctly Welcoming, Oxford: SUP, 2007).
  34. ^ explore faith : One on One Interview with Marcus Borg
  35. ^ E Gibbs, R Bolger, Emerging Church: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures, (USA: Baker),
  36. ^ Frost, Michael (2007-09-14). "Intriguing Michael Frost video". Michael Frost, Founding Director of Centre for Evangelism & Global Mission at Morling Theological College in Sydney, speaks to authenticity as bringing a "living among them" type of Christianity rather than cross-cultural absolutes regarding salvation and conduct. Retrieved on 2008-04-05.
  37. ^ I Mobsby, The Becoming of G-d, (Oxford: YTC Press, 2008),97-111.
  38. ^ M Percy, The Salt of the Earth: Religious resilience in a Secular Age, (London, Continuum, 2002), 165.
  39. ^ I Mobsby, The Becoming of G-d, (Oxford: YTC Press, 2008), 113-132.
  40. ^ Griffiths, Rev Dr. Steve (2007-01-30). "An Incarnational Missiology for the Emerging Church". Rev Dr. Steve Griffiths speaks about the Emerging Church and how they view and approach missions. Retrieved on 2008-04-05.
  41. ^ SB Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology, New York:Orbis, 2002),3-46.
  42. ^ SB Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology, New York:Orbis, 2002),81-96.
  43. ^ I Mobsby, Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church, (London: Moot Community Publishing, 2007),28-9.
  44. ^ BA Harvey, Another City, (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1999), 14.
  45. ^ SB Bevans, Contextual Theology, (New York:Orbis, 2002),1.
  46. ^ I Mobsby, The Becoming of G-d, (Oxford: YTC Press, 2008), 67-82.
  47. ^ I Mobsby, Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church, (London:Moot Community Publishing, 2007), 28-32.
  48. ^ "Notes of John Franke at the Emerging Church Forum" (2006). Retrieved on 2008-04-05.
  49. ^ Ian Mobsby, The Becoming of G-d, (Oxford: YTCPress, 2008), 65-82.
  50. ^ Ian Mobsby, The Becoming of G-d, (Oxford: YTC Press, 2008), 30-1.
  51. ^ and a significant number of emerging church proponents remain in denominationally identified communities. There is also a significant presence within the movement that remains within traditional denominational structures. (Missional) "Emergent Village: Values and Practices". Retrieved on 2006-08-09.
  52. ^ A Dulles, Models of Church, (New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Ltd, 1991).
  53. ^ I Mobsby, Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church, (London: Moot Community Publishing, 2007), 54-5.
  54. ^ A Dulles, Models of Church, 46.
  55. ^ A Dulles, Models of Church, 50-1.
  56. ^ E Davis, Techgnosis,(London:Serpants Tail, 2004).
  57. ^ J Caputo, On Religion, (London:Routledge, 2001).
  58. ^ I Mobsby, Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church, (London:Moot Community Publishing, 2007), Chapter Two and Three.
  59. ^ Barry Taylor, Entertainment Theology, (Grand Rapids:Baker, 2008), 14-15.
  60. ^ I Mobsby, The Becoming of G-d, (Oxford: YTC Press, 2008), 83-96.
  61. ^ Barry Taylor, Entertainment Theology, (Grand Rapids:Baker, 2008), 96-102.
  62. ^ See
  63. ^ Brian McLaren "Church Emerging: Or Why I Still Use the Word Postmodern But with Mixed Feelings" in An Emergent Manifesto of Hope eds. Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2007), 141ff. ISBN 0801071569
  64. ^ Johannes Baptist Metz, The Emergent Church(New York, NY: Crossroad, 1981)
  65. ^ Borg, Marcus J. (2003). The Heart of Christianity. HarperSanFrancisco, 6, 13. ISBN 0-06-073068-4. 
  66. ^ YouTube - Emerging vs. Emergent
  67. ^
  68. ^
  69. ^
  70. ^ Scot McKnight (2007). "Five Streams of the Emerging Church" (html). Christianity Today. Retrieved on 2007-05-04.
  71. ^ "Emerging church resources: A beginner's reference guide". Retrieved on 2007-02-26.
  72. ^ Carson, 157-187
  73. ^
  74. ^ Veith 1994, 192-193
  75. ^
  76. ^

External links

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