The Emerging church movement (or the Emergent church movement) is described by its own proponents as “a growing generative friendship among missional Christian leaders seeking to love our world in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” Instead of calling it a movement, those of the Emergent sentiment would rather call it a “conversation.” The leading voice for the emerging church movement is the Emergent Village, which began as a group of young Christian leaders gathered under the auspices of Leadership Network in the late 1990s and organized in 2001. In their own words, they began meeting because many were “disillusioned and disenfranchised by the conventional ecclesial institutions of the late 20th century.”
A group of Emergent leaders states it this way: “We each find great joy and promise in dialogue and conversation… Throughout the history of the church, followers of Jesus have come to know what they believe and how they believe it by being open to the honest critique and varied perspectives of others. We are radically open to the possibility that our hermeneutic stance will be greatly enriched in conversation with others. In other words, we value dialogue very highly, and we are convinced that open and generous dialogue rather than chilling criticism and censorship offers the greatest hope for the future of the church in the world.”
According to Brian McLaren, the EC is “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.
Emerging Churches define themselves as those:
1. Who take the life of Jesus as a model way to live
2. Who transform the secular realm
3. As they live highly communal lives.
Because of these three activities, emerging churches
4. Welcome those who are outside
5. Share generously
8. Lead without control and
9. Function together in spiritual activities.
Boiling it down to one sentence: Emerging Churches are…communities who practice the way of Jesus within postmodern cultures.
Please notice that all of the above emerging principles are not about what Christ has done for us, but what we do for him. The true gospel is news about what Christ has already done for us as a Savior, rather than instruction and advice about what you are to do for God. The primacy of his accomplishment, not ours, is the essence of our faith. The gospel of Christ above all brings news, rather than instruction. So the the very central core of Christianity is left out.
Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, describes Brian McLaren’s book A Generous Orthodoxy (2004) as follows: “Embracing the worldview of the postmodern age, [Brian McLaren] embraces relativism at the cost of clarity in matters of truth and intends to redefine Christianity for this new age… As a postmodernist, he considers himself free from any concern for propositional truthfulness, and simply wants the Christian community to embrace a pluriform understanding of truth as a way out of doctrinal conflict and impasse.” Elsewhere, Mohler believes that the Emerging movement is “unwilling to affirm that the Bible contains propositional truths that form the framework for Christian belief, [instead] this movement argues that we can have Christian symbolism and substance without those thorny questions of truthfulness that have so vexed the modern mind.”
According to D.A. Carson, Emerging Church leaders are “painfully reductionistic about modernism and the confessional Christianity that forged its way through the modernist period”. In brief, Modernism focused on the ability to know truths absolutely, or in an objective way. Throughout the Postmodern movement, it has been emphasized that each person is affected by their culture or society in such a way that each person cannot be objective about truth. Thus, most EC leaders tend to shun Modernism and believe that all methods and ideas that were developed or during this time (e.g. emphasis on expositonal preaching, apologetics, exclusivism) are not helpful and are in fact harmful in today’s church.
The issue is their attitude towards truth. I’m deeply concerned about it, and I think that it will be the undoing of the emergent church as it has come to be. They don’t believe that truth itself is an objective propositional thing that has a yes and a no. Nothing is ever either/or, good or bad, right or wrong, ugly or beautiful. It’s all vague.
Some of the most widely known Emergent leaders who have denied fundamental doctrines such as the substitutionary atonement or else embraced entirely unorthodox opinions of the sort mentioned above are Brian McClaren, author of A Generous Orthodoxy; Doug Pagitt, pastor of Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis; Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, and Tony Jones, a popular Emergent speaker and blogger. There are several good critiques available of the Emergent Church, including The Courage to Be Protestant, by David Wells, Why We’re Not Emergent, by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck, and Don’t Stop Believing, by Michael Wittmer.