The Emerging Church - what is it and from wence doeth it emerge

More and more Christians say the usual ways of "doing church" no longer resonate in a contemporary, postmodern culture. Seeking to fill the gap, a growing movement called "the emerging church" is developing new forms of worship and theological questioning for a new cultural context.
Religion and Ethics -

Over the past five years (perhaps longer) in both the USA and the UK as well as in other parts of the world there has been a blossoming of what sociologists have called Generation X. Gen X church reflects the difference of this generation to it's forebears but if this were all that was going on we could simply talk about the church in post modernity.

However, across the generations a freshness has awoken in a seaming random stratified sample of the church. Some have been subject to "spiritual abuse" and thus repulsed from the church, for others they have felt the need to simply depart and seek truth for themselves. While yet in others they hear the ringing of alarm bells, the call of the spirit, the call to action... call it what you want but something that has so far defied full classification has began.

For those in America this movement has called itself the emerging church (or the Emerging Church of America (ECoA)). It is a church emerging from the shadow of "old wine skins".

But the truth is, as always, a little larger than you imagine.

I actually have mixed feelings on the term - partly because so many people use it to describe so many things - many of which I'm not sure are really too 'emerging'.

I also don't really like to 'define' things because then they tend to become boxed. The beauty of what I see happening around the world when it comes to communities of followers of Jesus is that there is such diversity, creativity and fluidity. I worry that when we label we perhaps run the risk of institutionalizing a dynamic movement of God.

Some writers have called it the Final third of the reformation, the second reformation or the encroaching revival. Like all of these things and their historical examples this has drawn fire, abuse, hard words and (for lack of a better word) persecution. As always this persecution has come from the deeply entrenched and establish hierarchy. More so as this new movement seeks to do without the pillars of power in a very mid-60s trend towards community, equality, freedom and acceptance. Christianity has become experiential as of days of old...

At the heart of the Emergent Church movement—or as some of its leaders prefer to call it, the “conversation”—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.
Modern Reformation Magazine, "Faith a La Carte?" (July / August 2005 Issue, Vol. 14.4).

For many this movement is about revaluating everything, moving Christ out of dusty buildings and into the community. Church becomes the loose association of people who gather in each others house to pray and share in an emulation of the church as described in the book of Acts (Bible).

This has thrown up many anomalies such as Open Source Theology ( http:/ ) a site for the emerging church to debate and reform it's own theology.

Emerging church is characteristically postmodern in its suspicion of the controlling structures of religious life and thought: church hierarchy, dominant cultural forms, doctrinal formulations, and so on. So the life and practice of emerging church are marked by a resistance to these structures, but also by a desire to develop positive alternatives.

One of the leading critics of the emerging church in general and Open Source Theology specifically has been Ingrid Schlueter who speaks via web site as a sort of self proclaimed guardian of Christianity, an inquisitor after truth...

Open source theology. Think about that. It's computer program lingo which I will not attempt to explain but sum it up this way: any source will do, take it, just use it.

But this is not all that this freshness has to offer. This "reporter" has been in the UK among the silent and carefully growing "gangs" of Christians for whom the wisest and most educated members are theology graduates, life time missionaries and other profound and well grounded persons who each fully and definitely refuse to found "another church".

What we are looking at is not a movement but a subtle change in attitude across the board.

It is as if these people are all listening to the same very quite small voice. They move in parallel directions, their ideas and actions are complimentary and yet for many they are like the wind itself. You can see their effects, and you see them but no one knows where they are going or where they came from...

It sounds very peaceful very gentle and even good. Yet it is the willingness to challenge everything for its value. To try every belief and attitude in a hot and public fire that seems to scare the life from more traditional leaders (although not all).

Such questions as "Has the bible become a god?" and "Is the root of most of the problems with the church the leadership system itself?" (both found at are sure to make many Christians slightly uncomfortable. For those whose way of life could end due to such questions it must bring utter terror.

Denial of the Word of God and its ABSOLUTES is a hallmark of someone who wants to "conversate" everything to come up a theology that more acceptable to man than the real thing. comments

Being a post-modern movement it is, naturally, fully embracing modern technology and the internet is ripe with Emergent Conversation once you start looking for it.

The question, therefore, arises as to where all this is heading?

Considerable emphasis is placed on relational paradigms as the basis for all forms of Christian activity. In many instances this has encouraged a shift away from ‘concentric’ or ‘solid’ towards decentred or ‘liquid’ expressions of community (see, for example, the review of Pete Ward’s Liquid Church). This has also led, inevitably, to a blurring of boundaries, both between church traditions and between believers and non-believers.

There seems to be two most likely destinations. A revived more "God like" church or a giant heretical cult.

...pagan, inter-faith, synergistic, transformational (new age) universalism. comments

What seems most prominent just currently is that the fear people seem to have for what is being debated far outstrips anything that is actually being done. There is the suggestion that fear and paranoia are currently the biggest dangers for those that oppose this "movement" than any actual threat to their status.


Is this movement anti-fundamentalist?
As movements go this one defines itself by it's possitive aims and so the answer is likely to be "Not diliberatly but certainly not pro-fundamentalist" I am open to correction...

This E2 Special was created from draft and notes created in preparation for writing an article for submission to various sites for publication.  Also I have not noded in donkeys years. (spelling revised)

The essential problem with the Emerging (i.e., Postmodern) church is that is not a cohesive movement or structure.

When people attempt to place the Emerging church, they try to compare it to other things. They try to pin it down as a denomination, or a heresy, or a trend.

However, properly stated, there are Emerging members in ever denomination or sect of Christianity at this time. Most of them, much like Calvin, Luther, and others before them, have no actual wish to splinter the church further, but rather wish to get back to the heart of what really matters as a body.

In one of his earlier books, Emergent Church author Brian McLaren wrote that the Emerging Church is like the reeds growing under a pond, that in spring finally emerge and are seen by all for what they are...they don't move from the pond to show their true colors.

However, the Emerging Church has also, increasingly, become a hotbed for proponents of Universalism, Christian Liberalism, and various heresies of a more or less serious nature. Those with an eye to the historic nature of the church will note that this is hardly uncommon, but as today's church will react badly and violently to anything that seems risky, the Emerging Church is thus constantly under attack.

Significant issues that the Emerging Church disagrees with the Fundamentalist Church on:

  • The Inerrancy of Scripture, or Sola Scriptura,
  • Salvation as being about more than just not going to hell,
  • Mankinds responsibility, both in light of Agape and the Stewardship mandate from Genesis, to take care of both the earth and society, rather than being selfish and despoiling it,
  • Social Justice,
  • Relevancy/Authenticity,
  • The meaning and legitimacy of Church Tradition, both practiced and forgotten,
  • The role of conversation and relationship in the Christian life and in humanity,
  • The Christian response to violence and vengeance,
  • Community (See The New Monasticism),
  • The difference between God actively sending people to hell, and people choosing not to be with God.

The list continues, but these are merely some of the brighter, hotter spots.

The majority of contrary opinion from the Fundamentalist camp (John Piper, John MacArthur, James Dobson...yes, who is actually a Fundamentalist is entirely a perspective of where you are standing, strangely enough) comes down to Emerging Christians wanting to water down the gospel, not respecting Scripture or Tradition, denying the Lordship of Christ, removing Salvation from prime importance, denying hell, denying heaven, Cult of Personality, Liberalism, Polytheism, Universalism, Heresy, and various other friendly titles.

Good books to read if you're looking to learn about the Emerging Church, by people who often would never identify themselves as Emerging, and as a result epitomize it:

Initially, the Emerging Church was refered to by those who had self-identified themselves as part of it as the Post-Modern church, but that descriptor holds so much negative hype within the church that they switched to a different title.

Brian McLaren, one of the most controversial speakers for the Emerging Movement (part of the flagship Emergent Church movement) states that like any movement, the Emerging Church has only really been around for 20 or 30 years, so we won't really know the full effects of it for a century or so. Positive thinking on his part.

In the book "A Generous Orthodoxy", Brian D. McLaren describes himself as: "...a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed- yet hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian". His book is a fantastic read, because in it he describes a tour throughout the various denominations and what he learned from actively participating, without prejudice, in each.

This wasn't "pick and choose" or "salad bar" Christianity - more along the lines of the blind bats flying by an elephant and perceiving it based on the part of the elephant each landed on. If you think about it, even the source material itself presents different viewpoints: we get a more complete picture of Jesus from the four Gospel writers, each of whom perceive Him in a different way. Mark portrays Jesus as a revolutionary whose movement initially failed. Matthew's gospel points to rabbi, a teacher, the expected Messiah. Luke portrays him as a compassionate hero who dies for all of humanity, and John's Jesus was a mystic. Who was right? Yes.

And Christianity's divergent evolutionary paths mean that in different churches, different lenses have evolved to focus on what whatever that church's founder thought was important. For example, Martin Luther and Calvin thought the crucifixion was a penal substitution, whereas the anabaptists thought that left no room for divine pardon, and the Catholics didn't like what that meant in terms of sanctification by the Holy Spirit. Even the styles of worship are radically different, from the pomp and circumstance of a full blown high church Episcopal mass, to a quiet gathering of Quakers in an unadorned room. Whether the Eucharist is seen as transubstantiation and an incredibly important sacrament, or a ritual of remembrance with deeply spiritual overtones, or not celebrated at all.

But in the latter 20th and early 21st centuries, we're seeing a strange juxtaposition of forces. One force is seeing church attendance decline and people in the pulpit despairing over increasingly secular influences and a greying of the congregation. The other is the rise of fundamentalism as people desperately seek answers. And in the same way that cell phones are displacing pay phones even though pay phones still exist, churches still technically exist, but people are seeking out spirituality and religion in other ways. Biker tabernacles, online churches, home churches, prayer meetings, new school evangelical churches that resemble coffee houses more than houses of worship, books in the stores on Kabbalah and Feng Shui. "I'm spiritual, but not religious".

And there's something rotten in the state of Denmark. The Episcopal Church watched entire congregations up and walk: either to the Catholic Church, or to another, breakaway and not officially recognized Anglican group, ACNA - over the ordination of an openly gay Bishop. Likewise, the Southern Baptist Church are in the midst of purging themselves of liberal elements, watching Pentecostal and charismatic movements gaining strength in the American as well as the global south.

In the world of any kind of engineering, sometimes you look at a structure, or you look at software code, or whatever it is you're building, and evaluate whether you can save what you have or do a re-build. Buildings are rebuilt with the same materials, programmers start afresh but carefully copy over source code from the relics of the last project, picking and choosing what fits and what doesn't. Or, in the words of Marcus Borg - "a way of seeing the Bible (and the Christian tradition as a whole) as historical, metaphorical, and sacramental, and a way of seeing the Christian life as relational and transformational."

In practice, people like McLaren visited various churches and took what they liked (not theological picking and choosing, but aspects of their worship). For example, whereas someone might have been put off by Pentecostals rolling around and speaking in tongues - they were participatory and actively open to God working through themselves, as opposed to standing there halfheartedly singing the same old hymns. And though there are different general ideas about emergent Christianity, for example the theological conservative trying to make church relevant, or the passionate advocate of making the church a transformational force, either personally or socially, or someone way out there like Spong, arguing completely for a post-theist understanding of the Bible - there are certain themes that are common to most.

One is Christian praxis - a term taken from liberation theology. The gist of it is to see things historically: Jesus was a social reformer who fed the poor and healed the sick, and transformed the lives of who He was around, and as a result - Christians have an obligation to make their own lives transformational, not only of self but the society in which they live. And given the way the first followers of the movement lived in koinonia, they see an opportunity to achieve this by moving closer to first principles.

A second is mission and evangelism from a post-modern perspective. Whereas old style evangelism was sometimes along the lines of inviting someone to read their Bible and be "saved" and/or outright scaring the pants off them with fire and brimstone dire warnings of Hell, they're trying to share the good news as they know it, and invite people to join in in the struggle to better themselves and others. Likewise, to liberate mission from its colonialist or tourist trappings and make whatever they're doing relevant.

And that also ties in with a more modern removal of hierarchy. In the same way that modern work emphasises collaboration over command and control, and the org chart's been flattened considerably at many work places, the emergents generally hope that good will rise up the ranks, that ideas will come from parishioners/community members looking for ways to transform themselves, understanding, worship and mission - as opposed to being dictated from on high. Emphasis is on personal testimony, shared study, shared meals (the original way the Eucharist was celebrated. Christianity at its inception didn't have priests, it had bishops and it had deacons. It didn't waste money on giant buildings, or maintain a clergy. Jesus said "wherever two or three of you are gathered". After all, Jesus pointed out that to be clergy was to serve, not to be served, and the most amongst you will be the least, and the least, the most. They're trying to live that.

This is happening within and without churches. Never mind the creation of entirely new types of churches - the old hierarchies are responding. The Episcopal Church looked at the 21st century as a challenge and change, and published the "Transforming..." series of books on how to apply some of this thinking to their tradition. And a high ranking Catholic bishop was arrested at Occupy Wall Street. The new Pope washed the feet of a Muslim female prisoner, and takes the bus to work, eschewing his predecessor's notorious Prada pumps.

A lot of theology has come about from iterations over translations of a Bible, and a lot of it is getting undone as people study the history and the languages. "Salvation" in the Bible talks more about transformation on earth than it does some kind of after-life levelling up. "Mercy" has moved far from its original meaning of "compassion". The word "righteousness" really translates to what we understand as "justice". And within certain parameters, (and here your mileage may vary) - parishioners are free as a self-managing group to find new, creative ways to express that spirituality and advance those principles, seeing themselves as a fraternity seeking improvement, rather than an institution of people coming to obey.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.