Thursday, November 6, 2008

Is there a difference? Emerging vs Emergent


Some have argued that I am being unfair in criticising the 'Emerging Church'. They draw a distinction, saying that the 'Emergent' church is different from the 'Emerging' church - with the 'Emergent' church being the more radical liberal wing of the movement and the 'Emerging' church being more mainstream.

Now to respond to this question firstly, I understand that there are different types of people within the movement, whatever you want to call it. Some are orthodox Christians and some are outright heretics, with a continuum of everything in between. One could compare it with the movement of socialism: There is a major difference between the socialism of the British labour party and that of the old Communist Soviet Union, but both use the same name 'socialist'.

The most substantial radical distinction between those in the movement is the difference between those who are 'Missionaries of historic orthodox trying to reach postmodern society' and those who are 'Missionaries of postmodernism to the church, trying to integrate it with Christianity'. Confusingly, both types of people sometimes call themselves 'Emerging'. Now I myself am also trying to reach postmodern society with the gospel and try to be culturally sensitive where this is possible without compromising, but do not wish to associate myself with the movement - but others do. And that creates confusion.

Some claim that 'Emerging' means the 'orthodox' wing and 'Emergent' means the unorthodox liberal wing of the movement. For example, read:

Now the question is whether there is any widely accepted consensus on the difference of meaning of the terms 'Emerging' and 'Emergent'? A brief internet search comes with the answer: 'No". Many leaders such as Don Carson (anti-) and Brian McLaren (pro-) use the two terms interchangably.
Tony Jones (pro-) argues no distinction and opposes all 'line drawing'.

Doug Paggit defines 'Emergence' as what is happening in society; 'Emerging' as what is happening in the church as a result of the social changes; and 'Emergent Village' as the core network of leaders within the movement.
Those leaders associated with 'Emergent Village' have tended to 'emerge' with the most eccentric, liberal and extreme theological errors, which is probably why many have extended the use of the term 'Emergent' to mean the 'liberal' wing of the movement. But I would argue that these leaders are just those radicals who are most enthusiastic in reinterpreting Christianity through a post-modern lens - and their much larger constituency of orthodox evangelical followers are the laggards slowly following in the wrong direction behind them. The longer these people immerse themselves in postmodern thinking, the further they tend to stray down the road of error. In other words it is often a distinction between the 'wolves in sheeps clothing' and the 'sheep' following the wrong way with them.

Some have claimed all successfully trying to reach postmoderns e.g. Tim Keller, a conservative evangelical, as part of the 'Emerging Church',
but Keller himself rejects the label.

Mark Driscoll is exceptional in that as part of the movement, he has distanced himself from some other emerging church leaders "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."
I think such distancing from theological liberals is commendable and I would encourage others who identify themselves with the Emerging Church movement to do the same. Driscoll sees four categories of 'Emerging Church' of which he strongly rejects the liberal category.
Others have labelled him as 'a theological misfit and no longer emergent'

I personally use the two terms 'Emerging' and 'Emergent' interchangably because that is what I see most others doing, but understand that others use them to mean different things. I personally wish that they did mean different things, because it would help me to draw a distinction between the orthodox evangelicals and the extremist unorthodox liberals. But reality is that there is no consensus on a distinction between these terms.

But if you happen to be one of those people who self-identifies with the Emerging Church, and is trying to reach postmoderns with historic orthodox Christianity without using postmodernism as a lens to re-interpret the Bible - then please understand that I am not attacking you. I personally believe it is unhelpful to share the same label as those who are spreading theological error in the church, but if you are not spreading error then I don't reject you as a Christian brother simply because of the label. But if you do wish to use this label, I would urge you to publicly distance yourself from the errant teachings being promoted by others who use the 'emerging' or 'emergent' label.

I would argue that those conservative evangelicals who want to reach postmoderns in a culturally relevant way, rather than trying to split hairs over the distinction between 'emerging' and 'emergent' should invent a completely new an different label for themselves to distance themselves from the emerging 'wolves in sheeps clothing' who are trying to reinterpret Christianity through the lens of postmodernism.

But my really big issue is actually not with those who self-identify as 'emerging' or 'emergent' - these are mostly just just the vanguard of the confusion. My issue is a concern about the millions of young Christians who without consciously realising it, have adopted the worldview of postmodernism and placed Christianity as just a minor sub-set or 'religious department' of this worldview - rather than seeing Jesus as Lord of all of life and the Bible, the word of God as authoratative for all of life. This is the 'Lost generation' of Christians who need to be brought back to authentic biblical Christianity and to use this real Christianity, relevant to all of life to reach and convert the unsaved from postmodernism to Christ.


Steve Hayes said...

As I have come to understand it, "emerging church" refers to a broad movement, which encompasses many different views, while "Emergent" refers to a particular organised group called Emergent Village. But I could be wrong.

Roger Saner said...

Steve's right - even though there is much confusion about this, "Emergent" only refers to Emergent Village which is "a node in the web of the emerging church" according to their front page. Emergent Village is a group of people who are one network within the US; there are others. All of these US groups are part of the emerging church conversation in America; which is part of the emerging church conversation in the West.

A parallel conversation runs in the third world - the post-colonial conversation. South Africa is interesting because these two conversations converge in our context.

Roger Saner said...

Tony Jones, the co-ordinator of Emergent Village in the US, has said that he won't respond to any of his critics unless they've read, "How (not) to speak of God." More details here. You up for it, Philip?

ChristianView said...


I am interested in what the book has to say, but my time is stretched and would prefer to read a summary of it or listen to an mp3 talk or read an article by the author. Can you point me at one?

Also interested to what extent there is consensus that this is 'the' emerging church primer book to read? Why not one of McLaren's since he is the more high profile leader? May read it one day, but doubt it will be this year.

Roger Saner said...

Hmmm...the best book that introduces the emerging church conversation? Probably Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger's "Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures."

I wouldn't list McLaren's work as seminal or even a good place to start, although he's very influential in America.

An excellent place to get an overview of which books to read is, of course, The Tall Skinny Kiwi's post on "Emerging Church: Top 5 Books for American Reporters".

For the global perspective, see this post.

You can also see his (now a little dated) post on The 50 Books on My Emerging Church Bookshelf. The best bit from that post is this:

"Without the missiology shelf beneath it, my emerging church shelf is a shallow illustration of the thinking behind it."

The emerging church responds out of its understanding of missiology and the missio dei. To talk about the emerging church without finding out about these things is to miss the point entirely.

Roger Saner said...

If you would prefer to read blogs, I can recommend the following blogs as the best ones to do with what the emerging church conversation is about.

The TallSkinnyKiwi
Scot McKnight (New Testament professor)
Alan Hirsch
Pete Rollins

Also, the book "Mission Shaped Church" published by the Church of England a few years ago is an excellent book detailing the same issues that the emerging church is interested in dealing with, especially coming out of a post-Christian nation like England.

ChristianView said...

Roger. I would object to Tony Jones saying he won't respond to critics unless they have read some book as being a bit evasive.

It is rather a bit like McLaren who said:
Brian McLaren's view on how we can “solve” the homosexuality issue within Christianity: No one is allowed to talk about it unless they have enough points:

"10 if you have considered and studied the relevant biblical passages
10 if you have actually read the six passages about homosexuality in the bible
20 if you have read other passages that might affect the way you read those six passages
5 if you have read one or more books that reinforce the position you already hold
25 if you have read one or more books arguing the opposite position
10 if you have spent three hours reading websites showing a variety of views
50 for every friend you have who’s been through an ex-gay ministry
50 for every friend who’s been through an ex-gay ministry that didn’t work
50 for every friend who’s gay and in a long-term committed relationship
50 for every friend who’s gay and not in a committed relationship
50 for every parent you’ve listened to whose child is gay
When you have 3,000 points, you can speak on the issue."
--Brian McLaren, Generous Orthodoxy Conference: The Gay Forum, 2005

There is another errant preacher out there (on the issue of 'The New Perspective on Paul' who tries to silence his opponents by saying that unless they have read all the Targum's on in the original Aramaic then they don't understand the subject and can't argue with him.

I think McLaren was at some points sent a public open letter with some questions by Chuck Colson, which he failed to answer.

I mean they guys might be too busy to answer everyone who tries to debate with them, but Tony Jones stance I think is a bit unreasonable.

On some occassions when I have a debate where people raised lots of objections I just wrote a long article with a list of questions and answers which I put on the web - and just sent new people there to look it it - but at least it was accessible and indexed so they could find the answers easily.

Roger Saner said...

@Philip: ja, Tony Jones's thing is a bit extreme - I can only surmise he arrived at that point after having the same kind of conversation 1000 times. Of course, he could document his responses and point people to those - but why do that when an already-published book will suffice?

McLaren's thing on homosexuality is controversial - I won't argue that. I will say this, however: why is it that those who speak loudest about grace are the harshest, most unforgiving people out there? In part, I think this is what Brian is reacting to.

As for the errant preacher - this is obviously someone who's operating in the academic world, which is a bit different from an online environment and has its own rules of discourse. Of course, things like The New Perspective on Paul have an academic root and study, but applications which make their way into the "non-specialist" world. It's unrealistic to expect non-specialists to be able to read Aramaic before they can engage in debate. In this situation, there needs to a be a balance based on the audience: if everyone is an academic who can read Aramaic, great. For the rest of us: give us the summary and then your conclusions.

As for McLaren failing to answer a letter put to him by Colson - I highly doubt this happened. Can you verify? I know Brian personally and I know the high regard he holds conversation and responding to his critics. If Colson wrote him an open letter he would respond - there's no question in my mind.

Roger Saner said...

"But if you do wish to use this label, I would urge you to publicly distance yourself from the errant teachings being promoted by others who use the 'emerging' or 'emergent' label."

Could you list some of those errant teachings, please Philip? I'd like to know what to distance myself from (one which keeps on coming up is Steve Chalke's "cosmic child abuse" when talking about penal substitution - which is an excellent example of taking things out of context and ignoring other people who've dialogued with him about it).

Roger Saner said...

McLaren responded (2 years ago) to his moratorium on making pronouncements on homosexuality:

"Third, I would wish that people would take more care in reading what I actually said. I did not argue or call for a moratorium on discussion or making decisions (as some responders asserted). I simply suggested that a moratorium on making pronouncements might be a good idea. What I meant by pronouncements I did not make clear in the article, but many of the responses provide examples of exactly the kind of thing I was thinking about. Of course, I did not and do not seriously expect such a moratorium to happen. Who would have the authority to call for it, and what could anyone do to enforce it? The purpose of the hypothetical proposal was to point up the desirability of not engaging in hurtful and divisive rhetoric, but rather of providing space where we could practice “prayerful Christian dialogue, listening respectfully, disagreeing agreeably.” Some may agree, in light of the tone of some of the responses, that we Christians need some work in this area."

geesbouer2000 said...

“prayerful Christian dialogue, listening respectfully, disagreeing agreeably.”

great quote.

I actually really appreciate the spirit in which McLaren makes statements such as the "points system" for being outspoken about homosexuality (sorry for the awkward reference!)

for instance:

"50 for every friend you have who’s been through an ex-gay ministry
50 for every friend who’s been through an ex-gay ministry that didn’t work
50 for every friend who’s gay and in a long-term committed relationship
50 for every friend who’s gay and not in a committed relationship"

I realize what he's saying can be seen as a reaction against many christians who throw around opinions without much effort to actively love those who commit these controversial sins. McLaren's stuff is usually relationally focussed, as is this "recommendation" (the points scheme thingy).

geesbouer2000 said...

what I am (awkwardly) trying to say is that McLaren realizes that HOW you say something is just as, even more important than what you say.

That being said I surely agree that the monatorium approach is extreme...

Anonymous said...


I agree with you - how you say things is as important as what you say.

Also, the EC is helping people have deeper and more real conversations around what faith and doctrine actually mean to them in their life and experience.

To me it's like the difference between a surface conversation and a conversation between intimates. When you speak deeply you may say contradictory things to what you'd say if speaking abstractly.

It seems to me that one or two critics of the EC are looking for neat statements of faith and are uncomfortable with expressions of doubt, confusing such deeper and process related conversations with statements of faith.

Mark DeVine said...

Through this link ( you can access a chapter I have written entitled The Emerging Church: One Movement¾Two Streams for an upcoming book entitled Evangelicals Engaging Emergent (Nashville: Lifeway, 2009). In this chapter I include a doctrine-friendly stream of emerging and a doctrine-wary/doctrine/averse stream. My first challenge is to defend the inclusion of both streams within the emerging phenomenon in spite of their strongly divergent stances regarding doctrine. I do this by highlighting an array of values, language, and goals both streams of the movement share, under these headings: protest, missional authenticity, community, narrative/mystery/the arts, and post-Christian/postmodern. My interest in this is that I believe the doctrine-friendly stream has much to offer orthodox and evangelical Christianity and I do not want to see these groups wrongly lumped with the doctrine-unfriendly folks even though they share certain significant values with those groups, mainly related to assessment of cultural matters and how these might shape evangelism and church-planting in the West.