Friday, August 15, 2008

Why so much interest in Emerging Church in South Africa?

Please click the link below to see some really interesting data on Google searches on the term 'emerging church'. South Africa ranks second after the United States, which is amazing considering our small population with broadband access. I was told by a Scottish minister that the Emerging church is not making much of an impact in the United Kingdom compared with America. Also interesting the number of Emerging Church leaders who have recently been in South Africa or are currently here: Brian McLaren, Scott McKnight, Shane Claireborne. I can't say what the reason is, but wonder if factors could include a post-apartheid and post-marxism ideological vacuum, which it is trying to fill. Also note the publicity it has had in the past 12 months with articles in Today Magazine, Joy Magazine and Baptists Today. So not all these searches are people necessarily in favour of it, but maybe just curious as to what it is about.


Anonymous said...

I am not so sure there is a lot of interest in the EC in SA.

If you click on the South Africa link on the google search it says "Not enough search volume to show results" or something (, while for the US which is ostensibly 2nd, there is plenty of breakdown. There is something fishy about that statistic.

On on the ground, for those engaging in Emergence, it is my experience that South African Christians are neither aware of nor interested in it.

You've seen - it's like a Karroo town, with occasional flurries of interest, but long stretches of nothing at all.

Maybe this whole "phenomonen" is just the fantasy of a few individuals - you and I for example.

(BTW I find blogger intensely demanding if I want to comment - I recommend wordpress for a far better and easier user experience. I've taken almost 20 minutes and 50+ clicks to be able to do this post.)

Anonymous said...


In your mission statement you say "the 'Emerging Church' Movement - an attempt to merge Christianity with the philosophy of Post-modernism".

Though you make a valid point or two the overal tone of your blog says the following louder:

1.) Christians do not accept cultures other than the Western one(and I'm sure we do speak of postmodernity as an emerging culture)
2.) Words like 'mission', 'enculturation' and 'inculturation' are not part of your vocabulary
3.) You have greater desire to break down, inhibit and prevent than encourage and support the development of churches other than western franchises

Given the spiritual malnutrition experienced by a growing number of persons attending church, who find it inherently dissatisfying.

Perhaps you'd be keen to put something forward that is constructive.

Contemporary evangelicalism is strongly linked to modernity along with consumerism and capitalism.

Modernity puts nouns before verbs while postmodernity puts verbs before nouns. Why is the development of churches in terms of the latter so 'inherently wicked' (to paraphrase you) and former so good?

ChristianView said...


With respect to your comments above.
* You assume that I support 'modernity' as against 'post-modernity'. Actually, I strongly oppose both ideologies although I recognise a difference (See article on 'What is postmodernism).
To respond to your points:
1. Post-modernism is mainly a western ideology. I oppose it strongly. Don't understand how I can be accused of supporting Western culture.
2. I am totally in favour of 'mission' in the classic Christian sense - aimed at conversion of souls, minds and cultures to Christianity. What I oppose, is the postmodern/ emergent replacement of classic 'mission' with a new form of 'pseudo mission' which they call 'dialogue' and 'conversation' - not aimed specifically at conversion.

* Agree that modernity is bound up in consumerism, which I also radically oppose - have written an article for example with respect to the commercialization of Christmas.

Agree Emergents have a lot of valid criticisms of the contemporary church. Just that I argue a different solution - a return to historic orthodoxy - not postmodernism.

Have no objection to cautious experiementation of new forms of worship service and church culture etc - but have major issues with application of postmodernism to Bible interpretation - for example in Emerging Church leader Graeme Codrington's recent promotion of acceptance of 'monogamous homosexuality'.

Philip Rosenthal

Graeme Codrington said...


Thanks for keeping an eye on my website. Now that I have been alerted to yours, I will return the favour. I hope that constructive engagement will lead us all to a deeper understanding of God's Truth and how to live Christ-like lives in our times.

Just a few initial comments by way of clarity.

Firstly, there is no "emerging movement" in South Africa. "Emergent" (see is an official movement in the USA, but no such movement exists in South Africa. Whilst there is a ragtag group of church leaders who are attracted to the intent and direction of "emerging church" thinkers in the rest of the world, I am not aware of any official groups, writings or associations in South Africa.

Secondly, I am not a leader. Certainly not of the emerging church in South Africa. But, I am not a leader of a church or church group. I am a Christian, concerned with how churches are currently portraying Christ's kingdom in the world. I currently live in London.

Thirdly, you base your critique on the fact that postmodernism is at the heart of emerging christian thinking. It is not. "Postmodernism" is this generation's "new age" - a label that means nothing, is not definitive or indicative, is rejected by the people it is applied to, but is used by Christian scaremongers as a blanket cover-all meant to immediately rubbish the arguments of the person it is applied to. If there IS an underlying philosophy behind emerging Christian thinking, it is reformation theology of "constant renewal" and a return to detailed and in-depth Biblical interpretation that takes the original culture and author's intent seriously.

Fourthly, in your August 18 blog entry, "Response to re-interpretation of Scriptures on homosexuality", you quote an article I wrote for the Baptist Today magazine - a copy is available at my site:

In your blog, you quote the opening sentence of my conclusion without any reference to the context of my article, or to the conclusions I made after that statement. My final statement was "One of the biggest dangers we face when reading the Bible is to decide beforehand what we think God’s Word says, and then read the Bible with that pre-judgement firmly in place. This can so easily result in us imposing our cultural, gender and personality biases onto God’s Word, and mask God’s intended meaning for us. Church history is littered with generations who incorrectly resisted updating their interpretations of God’s Word. On the issue of homosexuality, we cannot afford to do so any longer."

This is an invitation to a conversation. Our forefathers (and mothers) were wrong on slavery. They were wrong on the role of women (in society and in the church). They were wrong on apartheid. They were wrong on the application of the gifts of the Spirit. We are still wrong on many of these and other issues.

We need to go back to God's Word continually, asking "have we got it right?", and being willing to changing our beliefs if we discover the answer is "no". If you read my website, you will see this is my constant concern - to be true to an orthodox interpretative framework.

I appreciate those who wish to pursue these types of conversations. I do not understand those people who label us "dangerous", "heretics", a "threat" or similar.

I also do not understand how this can be done without engaging with people like myself.

Thanks again for creating space for conversation. I trust that you are seeking truth, rather than simply digging in the trenches to fortify bomb-proof certainty (the very opposite of faith!).

John said...

Regarding Graeme's "thirdly," in which he claims that postmodernism is a meaningless label, and, more importantly, that postmodernism is not the motivation for the emerging movement, but rather reformation is -- having studied this issue for several years, I find this claim more than astounding. Postmodernism is cited by Scot McKnight (who is part of ECM and writes about it for CT) as one of the five streams of the emerging church movement (I would argue it is also the motivator of many or all of the other four streams). Postmodernism is also all over emerging guru Brian Mclaren's writings. Examples could be provided endlessly. As for the claim that ECM is interested in reformation and the original intent of the authors of Scripture, the fact is that ECM can't tell the difference between reformation according to the Scriptures, and change to conform to culture. This is abundantly clear in the writings of Stan Grenz / John Franke, which provide the theoretical manifesto of the emerging church movement. The point of applying postmodernism (or soft-postmodernism) to the Scriptures is precisely to cast doubt on our ability to know the original intent of the authors.
John Ronning

Graeme Codrington said...


The problem with this discussion is that we're all using the same words, but we mean different things. This has been the recent history of evangelical "engagement". The terms "liberal", "new age" and "social gospel" have all been used as labels (mainly to mean "bad" and "steer clear" by evangelicals). But the content of those labels has never been fully discussed.

That's why I believe "postmodernism" is unhelpful.

Emerging church scholars (including all the ones you mentioned) all subscribe to the "postmodern" project that involves deconstructing our subjective starting point in interpreting Scripture. In other words, they would be concerned that we have misunderstood the Bible because we look at it through the lense of 20th century Western mindsets.

The task of proper exegesis - they and postmodern scholars would claim - is to ensure that one's own worldview does not impose itself onto the text under review, but that rather the text is allowed to speak for itself. Where they differ from pure postmodern thought is that they do believe there is a "correct" version of the text, and a "correct" interpretation thereof. If you disagree with this statement, please provide evidence and (in context) quotations to refute it!

I would therefore argue that the scholars you have quoted, who would call themselves "emerging", are attempting to do exactly and precisely the opposite of what you accuse them of. They are trying to be true to Scripture, and NOT be moulded by (white, middle class, Western, Protestant) culture in their interpretations.

Roger Saner said...

Hi Philip

Where do you get all this energy?! A website dedicated to fighting against the emerging church in South Africa? Cool! As someone who gets consistently referenced on your site, I'm amazed that you find me a threat! I'll continue following your thoughts and concerns - and respond if/when I can.

Just a note on this post - google has indeed referenced South Africa as the 2nd highest "user" of hte term "emerging church" - but google is wrong. If you compare the actual stats of the US with SA you'll see that SA has a single month of interest over 3 years, while the US has something during every single month. I'm not sure how google got it wrong, but it has. I think the internet interest in the emerging church in SA is less than you think.

You wonder in your post about the post-apartheid ideological vacuum, and perhaps the emerging church is doing something in that. I think so! I believe it is the duty of the South African church - well, mostly the white South African church - to take on the post-Apartheid critique of Christianity under Apartheid: why it is that so many Christians could, with a clean conscience, embrace the gospel of, "You've sinned against God, but if you repent he'll forgive you and grant you eternal life," without having anything meaningful to say against the evil of Apartheid.

Until the (white) church comes to terms, on a grassroots level, with that, we haven't learnt from Apartheid: we've just treated it as an mildly unfortunate diversion to preaching the gospel. Which is not only to minimise the suffering of those of a different skin colour, but to be horribly out of touch with our culture and recent history, and of the command to "Love on another."

Are you aware of any post-Apartheid critiques of Apartheid Christianity, and of church communities who are intentionally living inter-racial reconciliation?

I'm only aware of one: The Belhar Confession. Oh, and it wasn't a South African who told me about it: it was Brian McLaren.