Emerging Church/New Spirituality: Part 2 (Definition and motivation)

Defining the Emergent Church Movement

As we said in Part 1 of this series, to define the Emerging Church isn't easy.  It refuses any kind of label, preferring to see itself as a 'work in progress.'  It’s intentionally vague, amorphous, unstructured and fluid.  David Roach in his article 'Leaders call Emerging Church Movement a threat to Gospel,' quotes McLaren:

I generally don’t even use the term movement at this point . . . I think it’s more of a conversation.  It’s a group of people who are talking about the Gospel and church and mission, especially in terms of changes going on in our culture that some people call a shift from Modern to Postmodern culture.

Emergent can mean many things

According to Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck in their book ‘Why We’re Not Emergent,' it’s whatever anyone who calls themselves emergent thinks at any given point in time.  Emergent therefore can mean 'a hundred different things to a hundred different people.'

There are probably thousands who have never heard of the Emerging Church who would in some way be sympathetic to some of its aims.  For example, Christians with a heart for social justice, those opposed to religious legalism and those who believe there's more of God to be discovered and experienced, would come into this category.

Are you an Emergent?

In case you wonder if you're an Emergent, DeYoung and Kluck (with tongue firmly in cheek!) suggest you might be an Emergent Christian if:

*    you listen to U2, Moby and Johnny Cash's 'Hurt' (sometimes in church), use sermon illustrations from 'The Sopranos,' drink lattes in the afternoon and Guinness in the evenings and always use a Mac;

*    your reading list consists primarily of Stanley Hauerwas, Henri Nouwen, N. T. Wright, Stan Grenz, Dallas Willard, Brennan Manning, Jim Wallis, Frederick Buechner, David Bosch, John Howard Yoder, Wendell Berry, Nancy Murphy, John Franke, Walter Winks and Lesslie Newbigin (not to mention McLaren, Pagitt, Bell, etc.) and your sparring partners include D. A. Carson, John Calvin, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Wayne Grudem;

*    your idea of quintessential Christian discipleship is Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, or Desmond Tutu;

*    you don't like George W. Bush or institutions or big business or capitalism or 'Left Behind' Christianity;

*    your political concerns are poverty, AIDS, imperialism, war-mongering, CEO salaries, consumerism, global warming, racism, and oppression and not so much abortion and gay marriage;

*    you are into bohemian, goth, rave, or indie;

*    you talk about the myth of redemptive violence and the myth of certainty;

*    you lie awake at night having nightmares about all the ways modernism has ruined your life;

*    you love the Bible as a beautiful, inspiring collection of works that lead us into the mystery of God but is not inerrant;

*    you search for truth but aren't sure it can be found;

*    you've ever been to a church with prayer labyrinths, candles, Play-Doh, chalk-drawings, couches, or beanbags (your youth group doesn't count);

*    you loathe words like 'linear,' 'propositional,' 'rational,' 'machine' and 'hierarchy' and use words like 'ancient-future,' 'jazz,' 'mosaic,' 'matrix,' 'missional,' 'vintage' and 'dance;'

*    you grew up in a very conservative Christian home that in retrospect seems legalistic, naïve, and rigid;

*    you support women in all levels of ministry, prioritize urban over suburban, and like your theology narrative instead of systematic;

*    you disbelieve in any sacred-secular divide;

*    you want to be the church and not just go to church;

*    you long for a community that is relational, tribal, and primal like a river or a garden;

*    you believe who goes to hell is no one's business and no one may be there anyway;

*    you believe salvation has a little to do with atoning for guilt and a lot to do with bringing the whole creation back into shalom with its Maker;

*    you believe following Jesus is not believing the right things but living the right way;

*    it really bugs you when people talk about going to heaven instead of heaven coming to us;

*    you disdain monological, didactic preaching;

*    you use the word ‘story' in all your propositions about postmodernism.

If all or most of this list describes you, then you might according to these guys be an emergent Christian.  Note please it says you might be, not that you certainly are.  After all, there are a few things in that long list that we all might applaud.

Mark Driscoll's definition of the Emerging Church

Mark Driscoll, the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, who was once a member of the Emergent Village, describes four different groups that make up the Emerging Church.  We think it's helpful to differentiate between them since only one section causes us significant concern:

i    Emerging evangelicals: this group is hardly any different to normal evangelical Christians, but they, in Driscoll’s words: ‘Do cool, hip church.’  They’re trying to make church and Christianity more relevant to people who otherwise would have no interest in Jesus or the church.  They believe the Bible is God’s word and are not endeavouring to change either orthodox beliefs or practice.

ii   House Church Emergents: this group meet in houses, coffee shops and the like.  As we know the early church met in homes (Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15).  They believe that the general form of institutionalised church (special buildings, programmes, choirs, meetings, liturgy, traditions, etc) is lacking in life and vitality and in many ways is divorced from everyday life.

Whilst they want to reform the church wineskin, they still believe the Bible is God’s word and again are not endeavouring to change either orthodox beliefs or practice.  They simply believe that fellowship, discipleship, Bible study, meals and caring is best done in smaller communities of faith where everyone is able to participate, learn and grow together.

There are some within this group however suggesting that we should no longer have leaders.  This, in his and our view, is unbiblical.

iii  Emerging reformers: this group believe all of the evangelical distinctives, but again are trying to make the church more relevant, accessible and culturally-connected.  They seek to address issues of postmodernism.  They generally love the reformed theological traditions although it tends to be different from older reformed theology in that worship is pretty free and they tend to be charismatic.  This is where Driscoll places himself now.

We have no major concerns regarding these three groups within the Emerging Church.  It is also worth saying that just because one of the above categories might reflect the path you are on, this doesn't imply that you are automatically labelled as part of the Emerging Church.

iv  Emerging liberals (including the Emergent Village): this is the group that Driscoll was part of and then left.  It’s the development of the Emerging Church which is trying to find new ways of being and doing church and is calling into question many orthodox Christian doctrines and beliefs.  The leaders in this group are people such as Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Phyllis Tickle and Doug Pagitt.

This liberal and unbiblical group within the Emerging Church has submerged itself in Postmodern thinking hook, line and sinker and embraced many of the ideas and potentially dangerous practices found in ancient forms of spirituality and neo-paganism.  They have embraced theological heresy.  Driscoll says of this group:

In the mid-1990s I was part of what is now known as the Emerging Church and spent some time travelling 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 they've totally gotten off the highway and they’re lost out in the woods.  At best it’s new Liberalism.  At worst, it could be cultish and going in a completely new religious direction.

This is the group that causes us concern and on which we will continue to focus in the remainder of this series.

Some key players (past and present) in, or influencing, the extreme liberal wing of the Emerging Church 

Many of the key liberal leaders within the extreme wing of the Emerging Church are household names.  We have listed these below together with others involved in the resurgence of ancient forms of spirituality and neo-paganism.  We have also listed some of their book titles:

Brian McLaren (A Generous Orthodoxy, A New Kind of Christian and The Story We Find Ourselves In)
Tony Jones (An Emergent Manifesto of Hope) written with Doug Pagitt
Doug Pagitt (An Emergent Manifesto of Hope) written with Tony Jones
Spencer Burke (Making Sense of Church)
Scott McKnight (The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible)
Dan Kimball (The Emerging Church)
Ken Wilbur (A Theory of Everything: An integral vision for business, politics, science and spirituality)
Rick Warren (Purpose-Driven Church)
Leonard Sweet (Quantum Spirituality: A Post-modern Apologetic)
Rob Bell (Velvet Elvis, Love Wins)
Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz)
Alan Jones (Reimagining Christianity)
Phyllis Tickle (The Great Emergence)
Eddie Gibbs (Emerging Churches) written with Ryan Bolger
Peter Rollins (How (not) to Speak of God)
Dave Tomlinson (The Post-evangelical)
Steve Chalke (The Lost Message of Jesus)
Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline)
Brennan Manning (Ragamuffin Gospel)
Matthew Fox (The Coming of the Cosmic Christ)
M Scott Peck (The Road Less Travelled)
Thomas Merton (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander)
Henri Nouwen (The Way of the Heart, Sabbatical Journey)
Thomas Keating (Finding Grace at the Centre) written with Basil Pennington

In addition to the books written by the leaders of the liberal Emerging Church there are countless Internet articles and general reviews to be read.

Critics of the Emerging Church

There are also books written by critics of the Emerging Church:

D A Carson (Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church)
Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck (Why we’re not Emergent)
Roger Oakland (Faith Undone)
Dr Peter Jones (One or Two, Stolen Identity, The God of Sex, The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back and Spirit Wars)
Ray Yungen (A Time of Departing)
Paul Smith (New Evangelicalism)
John MacArthur (The Truth War)

The motivation of the liberal leaders of the Emerging Church

Let’s look briefly at what appears to motivate liberal emergent leaders.  We've identified four common or recurring themes:

i    The belief that the church must adapt to the culture in which it operates in order to effectively reach that culture with the Gospel.  If the church doesn't act in response to the culture within which it exists - for us this means Postmodernism - they believe that it will become irrelevant.  To reach the Postmodern world, in their view, we need to radically reshape not just our methodology, but also our message and theology.  For more on Postmodernism see Part 3 of this series.

ii    Its hostile reaction to conservative evangelicals, especially fundamentalists.  The liberal Emerging Church, like most new movements, is a reaction to older expressions within the church and they see traditional evangelical Christianity as bound to Modernism, absolutist, lukewarm, exclusive, middle-class, arrogant, judgemental, lacking in vibrant faith and denying the social justice aspect of the Gospel.  The Postmodern Emerging Church challenges the religious establishment of the day.

iii    Its desire for authenticity, personal fulfilment, social justice, peace, harmony, unity and the salvation of the planet.  They are not so interested in the notion of saving people from hell and judgement (which many within the Emerging Church deny exists) and preparing them for eternity, but concerned with the here and now, helping people reach their full potential, seeking global solutions to the worlds ills, establishing social justice, eradicating oppression, poverty and disease, working for religious unity and saving the environment.

iv    It desires to discover what McLaren calls a more generous orthodoxy, but in reality is a new spirituality.  In his book ‘A Generous Orthodoxy,’ he argues for a post-liberal, post-conservative, post-protestant convergence that will stimulate lively interest and global conversation among thoughtful Christians from all traditions.  However, ecumenism, interfaith dialogue, syncretism and neo-paganism, as we shall show, are all in the mix, resulting in theological heresy.

Go to Part 3 of this series for more understanding regarding Postmodernism . . . 

To define the Emerging Church isn’t easy.  It refuses any kind of label, preferring to see itself as 'a work in progress.'  It’s intentionally vague, amorphous, unstructured and fluid

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