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Emergent Church

Scot McKnight in Christianity Today maintains a crucial distinction between two related streams:

emergent and the broader emerging movement.

Emergent is crystallized in Emergent Village and its leaders Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, and Doug Pagitt.

Emerging is a mix of orthodox, missional, evangelical, church-centered, and social justice leaders and lay folk like Dan Kimball, Dave Dunbar, Michael Frost, Alan Hirsch,  and Donald Miller.  He sees emerging trends in megachurches like Willow Creek Community Church and Saddleback Church.

Jim Belcher in Deep Church: A third way beyond emerging and traditional, p 9-10: The evangelical church is deeply divided.  Although evangelicalism has always been diverse, in recent years this fragmentation has threatened to pull the movement apart.  Two groups, the traditional and emerging camp, are at the heart of the impendnng split.  In the late 1990s some young evangelicals (now called the emerging church), unhappy with the reality and direction of the church, began to protest.  In their writing and speaking they found fault with many elements of evangelicalism.  They organized conferences, wrote books and started new churches to make their voice and opinions heard.  It has, however, elicted a strong pushback from the traditionalists in the evangelical church. ... the traditional church has gone after the emerging movement through books, conferences and blogs.  After almost a decade the two sides now are at loggerheads, and it seems the rift will not be healed anytime soon. ... The emerging church is composed of many different authors, pastors and church traditions, and therefore does not speak with one voice.  What unifies them, in part, is their view that something is wrong with the evangelical church.  They are seeking wholesale change, not just reform.

Emerging Church Terminology

Edited from

One of the problems with trying to understand some of the writers and teachers in the Emerging Church movement is deciphering what they mean by various terms. They use phrases such as...

  • Becoming - the transformation from the modern to the post modern, emerging view of knowing truth.
  • Christian conversation, the - the Christian based series of stories, myths, experiences, etc. that are offered for acceptance or rejection.
  • Conversation - a flowing, non-precise communication made possible by linguistic commonalities.  Give and take based on people's opinions, experiences, and feelings.  It is an internalized, non-objective feeling that is often discussed or the focal point of meaning.  A non-ending process.
  • Coherantism - belief system that adheres to itself, making sense of the whole when its many parts are interrelated.
  • Contextual - sensitive to the cultural and historical context.
  • Deconstruction - removing the stale, modernistic, absolutism that has permeated interpretation of scripture, God, and truth.
  • Emerging - intellectual and/or spiritual movement away from traditionalist, rational, truths.
  • Growing - development of the individual in concert with God in the working of God's plans for the world.
  • Missional - making the emerging conversation part of the social culture as it relates to temporal needs:  housing, clothing, environment, etc.
  • Myth - The stories believed by people that may or may not be factual.
  • Narrative - Non systematic, non linear approach to knowing, a rejection of the absolute codification of spiritual truths.
  • Reimagine - to reinterpret a long-standing truth.
  • Repent -  think again 
  • Story - myth, procession of myths strung together by conversation.  A lesson with a value statement.  If one story doesn't work for you, try another.  The Christian resurrection is a story.

Emerging Church Characteristics by Matt Slick

Following are some of the common traits found in Emerging Church material.  But please understand that not all Emerging Churches adhere to all the points listed.

  • An awareness of and attempt to reach those in the changing postmodern culture.
  • An attempt to use technology, i.e., video, slide shows, internet.
  • A broader approach to worship using candles, icons, images, sounds, smells, etc.
  • A renewed interest in contemplative and bodily spiritual formation disciplines that is considered have, historically, been important Christian practices.
  • An inclusive approach to various, sometimes contradictory belief systems.
  • An emphasis on experience and feelings over absolutes.
  • Concentration on relationship-building over proclamation of the gospel.
  • Shunning stale traditionalism in worship, church seating, music, etc.
  • A de-emphasis on absolutes and doctrinal creeds
  • A re-evaluation of the place of the Christian church in society.
  • A re-examination of the Bible and its teachings.
  • A re-evaluation of traditionally-held doctrines.
  • A re-evaluation of the place of Christianity in the world.
  • A reexamination of vocation, livelihood, and sustainable economics. 

Eight Basic Positions Emphasized by the Emergent Church Movement

From The Emergent Church of Brian D. McLaren, by Dr. David A. DeWitt

1. Universalism—All religions can be part of the Kingdom of God.

Brian McLaren writes: The Christian faith, I am proposing, should become (in the name of Jesus Christ) a welcome friend to other religions of the world … (A Generous Orthodoxy, p. 287). Missional Christian faith asserts that Jesus did not come to make some people saved and others condemned. … The idea that the Christian message is universally good news for Christians and non-Christians alike is, to some, unheard of, strange, and perhaps heretical. To me, it has become natural and obvious (Ibid., p. 120). … to love my neighbor … in regard to my neighbor of another religion is to value … the opportunity to learn all I can from his religion (Ibid., p. 288).

2. Ecology—Redemption includes rehabilitation of the natural world.

Brian McLaren has a chapter titled Why I Am Green (Ibid., pp. 261-275). Most Emergents believe the Kingdom of God includes saving the natural world and that should also be part of our ministry. McLaren suggests,

Preach the gospel to all creation means to move away from the theology of salvation to the theology of creation … (Ibid., pp. 100-101). Perhaps our ‘inward-turned, individual-salvation-oriented, un-adapted Christianity’ is a colossal and tragic misunderstanding. … In the Bible, save means ‘rescue’ or ‘heal.’ It emphatically does not automatically mean ‘save from hell’ or ‘give eternal life after death (Ibid., p. 101). … we are struck by the present hope of ‘the kingdom of God’ that is so central in Jesus’ message. In this kingdom, Jesus said, sparrows matter. Lilies of the field matter. Yes, people matter even more, but it’s not a matter of either/or; … (Ibid., p. 268).

3. Feminism—Women are to be equal with men in all levels of Christian leadership.

Emergents tend to deny the clear biblical prohibitions against women teaching and exercising authority over men (1 Corinthians 11:1-16; 1 Timothy 2:10-14; 3:1-2). They do this by appealing to culture and claiming that that was only true then and in that situation. We are to emerge beyond that. McLaren writes:

The exclusion of women and minorities from leadership hurts the church in many ways. … we are subject to the unchecked biases of white male Christians … and lose credibility with contemporary, educated people for whom racism and sexism are deeply offensive signs of backwardness and injustice (The Church On The Other Side, p. 132). I avoid the use of masculine pronouns for God because they can give the false impression to many people today that the Christian God is a male deity. … The masculine biblical imagery of ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ also contributes to the patriarchalism or chauvinism that has too often characterized Christianity (A Generous Orthodoxy, pp. 82-83).

4. Catholicism—The beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church fill some gaps in Protestantism.

Brian McLaren writes: I realized how impoverished my Protestant faith was with its exclusively male focus. How much we missed by failing to see the beauty of the incarnation through Mary—a beauty that magnifies the value of women, erases the shame of Eve, … (Ibid., p. 257). [After sitting beneath a statue of Mary behind a Roman Catholic Church, he reports,] That day I became a little more Catholic and a little more catholic, too (Ibid., p. 249).

5. Community Salvation—Individual salvation is an emphasis on selfishness—the individual is to emerge into the church community, which is to emerge into the world community.

The idea that man has a personal soul that needs saving Brian McLaren characterizes as a … ghost-in-a machine model, where the body is the bigger machine and the soul is a little disassociated tenant, fluttering around in the machine like a tiny moth in a tin can. ... Individuals are wonderful, but they aren’t the highest expression of humanity (Ibid., p. 319). … the Gospel starts with God’s concern for the world, in which God creates a community called the church, comprised of persons who stop (or repent of) being ‘part of the problem’ and choose instead to join God as ‘part of the solution’—thus simultaneously entering a mission and a community in which one is accepted by grace, through faith in Jesus (Christianity Today, November 2004, p. 42). Election is not about who gets to go to heaven; election is about who God chooses to be part of his crisis-response team to bring healing to the world (Ibid., pp. 39-40).

6. Avoiding Absolute Truth Claims—Objective absolute truth cannot be known and that idea is offensive to our post-modern world.

Brian McLaren continues: Making absolute truth claims—so important to evangelism in the modern era—becomes problematic in the post-modern context. Instead, … we can focus on recruiting people who follow Jesus by faith (without claims of certainty or absolute knowledge) with the goal of being transformed and participating in the transformation of the world (Ibid., p. 42).

He then warns against the use of "… adjectives like absolute and objective to modify the noun truth" (Ibid., pp. 42-43).

7. Missional Not Missionary—The truth of the Bible is not to determine what we do, it is to be determined as we go about our mission to heal the world.

Brian McLaren writes: Just as it’s nearly impossible to balance a bicycle when it’s not moving, we’re most likely to crash in our dealing with Scripture if we’re not moving forward in our mission. Perhaps the best way to use Scripture is not to concentrate on our use of Scripture at all but rather to focus on our pursuit of mission (A Generous Orthodoxy, p. 182). The Bible is a story, and just because it recounts (by standards of accuracy acceptable to its original audience) what happened, that doesn’t mean it tells what should always happen or even what should have happened (Ibid., p. 185).

8. Liberalism—There is a de-emphasis on heaven, hell, and the infallible Bible, and an emphasis on following a nice, tolerant, "Jesus" into a better world.

D. A. Carson writes: When the horrible and frightening subject of hell comes up, the same sliding away from Scripture, without quite stating that Scripture is wrong, rises to the surface. … Small wonder that numerous emerging leaders insist that the good news will focus on the importance of restoring one’s lost relationship with God rather than salvation from God’s judgment. Yet the Bible dares to speak of the wrath of God in terms every bit as personal as it speaks of the love of God. It is not surprising that McLaren is not faithful to what Scripture says on the cross of Christ, since he is not faithful to the nature of the judgment from which we must be saved. His reading of the Bible’s story line turns out to be so selective that the uncomfortable bits are discretely dropped (Becoming Conversant with the Emergent Church, p.168-169).

 John Stott (a leader of the worldwide Evangelical movement) sketched three core practices of emerging churches:

  • the way of Jesus,
  • breaking down the sacred-secular divide
  • community living

He says that "emerging churches are rediscovering [these core practices] and giving them a fresh emphasis."

  • Åpenbaring erstattes av erfaring/opplevelser
  • Ord erstattes av bilder
  • Doktriner erstattes av åndelighet
  • Sannhet erstattes av personlige følelser
  • Frelsen erstattes av jordisk rettferdighet
  • Evigheten erstattes av sosial handling
  • Guds kjærlighet erstattes av toleranse/etisk nøytralitet

 By "God's dream" they mean that God imagines an ideal future for the world that we can join and help actualize.  When this dream becomes reality in the future, it will be the Kingdom of God.

  • Brian McLaren in The Story We Find Ourselves in, p. 17: "Maybe that's the word you should use, then, instead of 'evolution'." Kerry said.  "Emergence. ..."

They say the Emergent Church is dead-The Truth behind the story

 John 3,16

in a Emergent Church perspective:

For God so loved the worldhas become [1] so tolerant, generous and loving, that he gavesenthis only Son Jesus, that whoever believes in himfollows his example in service and thereby contributes to building the Kingdom of God on earth should not perish but have eternal lifebe a citizen in that kingdom.

[1] Since the Old Testament

BTW: If you replace the word Jesus with Christ, this paraphrased verse will fit for the theosophic leader and New Age matriarch Alice A. Bailey too.

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