The Emergent Church

June 26, 2008

We were having a discussion over at Evan’s blog about theology and stuff regarding Christianity in general. For some reason, the subject of the Post Modern/Emergent Church came up. I find the whole subject to be really interesting. Not because of the subject at hand, but more so the church’s reaction to new thoughts and ideals.


Authors like Brian McLaren, Donald Miller and Rob Bell are considered three of the main writers for the movement. Their books are heavily centered upon the grace side of things along with some counter-church-culture theologies regarding heaven, morals and other things.


Critics say that the movement skirts around issues that have been debated amongst Religious scholars for years and years. The more “Fundamentalist” crowd thinks these authors are twisting “God’s inherent Word”. I find it interesting because it seems like both sides of the issue are extremely biting and ungraceful in the way they carry out the dialog to find truth. I think that the Emergent church has a lot of unanswered questions, and unfinished thoughts. However, I also think that the fundamentalist church has passed over these believers and not taken a look to see where these questions are coming from, and helping to seek resolution.


I figured since this subject seems to come up in EVERY theological discussion I have, it would be nice to have a blog entry devoted to it. Vent your thoughts, frustrations and concerns. I just ask that you be graceful and non-attacking.



  1. You are a courageous man Mr. Mickleson, very courageous. My comments to follow

  2. Okay, so the major issues the Emergent church seems to have conflict with:

    What is Hell and who goes there?


    The authority of the Bible

    I would say most of the debate sparked by this movement could be categorized into these three areas, no?

  3. Also, the reason I brought this discussion over to my blog is that I know that I have a lot of readers on both sides of the issue. That is why I said we all need to be respectful and graceful about how we tackle this dialog. I am going to try being more of a mediator.

  4. anything for the blog traffic! haha jk

  5. Why would the church be concerned about Postmodernism anyway? I mean, aside from the obvious, are they trying to defend the structure of the church, or are they worried about the pessimistic side of it all and trying to comfort people?

  6. I could be wrong, but I think the actual Post-modern philosophy is not directly attached to the religious dubbing of it. Pretty much, Post-modernism in Christianity is saying that we have to stop mixing modernity with God’s Word because it’s timeless and transcends current culture. The movement teaches that we have mixed way too much of our culture, history and personal world-view in with God.

    The conflict/debate is that many of the founders of the movement have opposing viewpoints on a lot of issues because they feel they are more bred from modernity rather than Biblical truth.

  7. from what I’ve seen the “emergent” church is just trying to revamp it’s approach to be “relevant”
    but I think it’s just a band aid on a hand that’s held on by some veins or something.
    essentially church in america is unbiblical and dying out because it’s not meeting the true needs of the people and it’s not following the biblical model that was set up by Christ the disciples.
    if we weren’t so focused on church attendance and trying to get people to come to church and maybe if we looked a little more at sending “church” out into our communities and bringing Jesus to the people maybe then when we were doing church how we’re supposed to we’d be a little more relevant but until then we can go along thinking that it’s the non-contemporary music and the bible teaching that’s turning everyone away when it’s really our lack of christ-like-ness.
    sorry for that run-on sentence.

  8. I think that to say the church in America is “unbiblical” and “dying out” is a pretty bold statement, and actually encapsulated my big issue with the post-modern/emergent churcg: where is unity in Christ? Where is strengthening the body? The word teaches us that WE are the body when we stand together. I’m not the body when I got out alone. I think it’s very easy to just damn the church and decide to start your own “movement,” but to me when I read a new author with the “new way” to do things or the new revelation, I typically see someone who has a porblem respecting authority and is convinced they know better than the people who came before them. I always believe that the church needs to be progressive, to explore new ideas and territory, but always with the purpose of getting deeper into God’s objective truth. The hangup is that I see a lot of authors and a lot more of their readers taking their “new” ideas and deciding that truth (and truth about God, subsequently) is subjective and up to us to “figure out.” To me this takes out the Holy Spirit and puts our faith in our own brilliant, post-modern progressive thinking. In Ecclesiastes, it says that there is nothing new under the sun. I think we need to be striving towards a better understanding of God’s truth, not creating our own new version.

    And people who want to constantly bash the church need to get over themselves, roll up their sleeves and do something to better the Kingdom, and quit starting their factions and quit playing the right/wrong game.

  9. I found this topic intrigueing about a year ago (I have other matters taking up my energy now) and spent a lot of time looking into it then. To me the emergent church is a reaction to something that is lacking in the church. There is a very broad spectrum of thought under the emergent banner, some of it I find refreshing, some of it is in danger of serious error.

    My main beef with the movement is that it tends to ‘throw out the baby with the bath water’.The church today has not been an accurate model of what true Godly leadership/discipleship, correct doctrine and becoming a disciple of Jesus is. Still,that is not reason enough to those things as irrelevant.



  10. @Sumi – I like that. I hope you are able to contribute more later!

    @Sean – Do you think it’s all the emergent side of things that are doing the complaining? It seems like you are articulating that all people on that side of the issue are simply following a “flavor of the month” doctrine, which is a bit undermining. As to objective vs. subjective truth, who decides that?

  11. I don’t know what does and does not fit under the official umbrella of the “emergent movement,” but i’ve been really heartened by the way the church seems to be growing up. Yeah, there are a buttload of churches who are going for 1M members, creating superchurches with stadium seating and light shows. That seems like wasted effort to me. But at the same time I see a lot of churches realizing that God is bigger than previously assumed, and are giving people more space to be who they are in Him, instead of inflicting a lot of shoulds and should nots until they have a tidy congregation of properly trained sheep. It might look like disunity when person A prays quietly, and person B shouts like a man on fire, but who are we to say who’s right and who’s wrong? The goal is loving Him and bringing His kingdom to earth. That’s the only thing that we need to agree on. There’s a time and a season for everything, but I like that there is a lot more freedom than restriction in some churches these days.

    I see a lot of people, especially 20 somethings who devour Miller and McLaren like bread taking a good look at themselves, comparing that image with Christ and working on the places that don’t match up. Of their own accord, too. We seem to be far more into doing hard things for sake of future benefit. Christians who are personally responsible! Whodathunkit?

    But to sum up, I’m more concerned with myself and how I should live my life than trying to figure out what an entire church should be doing. I’ve linked arms with people who seem to be aiming for the same things I am, and we’re going places. We’re learning and sharpening each other, and finding out just how big God is. It’s a fun time to be alive.

  12. Responding to Timothy’s comment, it was Ghandi that said “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

    Jesus, when he walked the earth, was a man of common labor. He would have worn oridinary clothes, likly very worn, and had calouses on his hands from manuel labor. He would most likly have been dirty, at least most of the time. All of his analogies were about working people; fisherman, shepherds, farmers, etc. Many churches in American would not welcome Jesus with open arms. The Christ on the cross would get blood on their carpet.

    American Christians have failed to be conformed to the image of Christ. All labels and vocab words aside, if were not visiting the hospitals, jails and orphanages, were not the body of Christ he calls us to be.

  13. @Josh: I think that both “sides,” like you said, take it too far. There is a traditionalist side that wants to decry anything new or progressive as heresy, but there is an emergent side that wants to decry anything traditional or current as outdated or “unbiblical.” As the church, we need to always be stretching ourselves to better articulate the gospel of Christ and to lead the people God has placed in our care into His presence and into better relationship with Him. My problem with a lot of “emergent” thinking is that it promotes church-hopping and isolationism. Rather than stay and discuss and strengthen the church, we’ve decided bollocks with all that, I’m starting my own church and then I’m going to tell the world that my way is the right way and those other folks have had it wrong all these years. this to me is a little rebellious, and it justifies a problem with authority and leadership. rather than submit to a leader and try to progress organically, we start a new church, new movement every week.

  14. @ josh again: objective vs. subjective. that I think is a kind of loaded question, because obviously I don’t believe humanity decides it, but if I answer with “the Word,” then I get myself into a whole debate on the validity of scriptures, humankind effed the whole thing up by translating it, who’s to say argument. at some point there has to be a line where we ask ourselves what the benefit of deconstructing everything is. for me it causes strife, frustration, and confusion about who God is because I’m relying on my own human understanding to determine it. I’d rather take off my “genius” hat, spend time reading the Bible and being in God’s presence because I know that’s where I’m transformed and where HE, not me, reveals truth.

  15. @Mel – Beautifully written.

    @Clark – thanks for the input. I feel like this is a bit of a stretch:

    “Many churches in American would not welcome Jesus with open arms. The Christ on the cross would get blood on their carpet.”

    I, personally, have never been into a church that doesn’t let people in as they are. The process after that is up for questioning, I suppose. You are right though; the church needs to penetrate the community more. I think we have to be careful not to be negative though, because a lot of churches have some wonderful programs for helping people, and receive only negative feedback for it “not being enough”. I personally go to a large church here in Denver that has some incredible programs for helping people locally. Additionally, there is a plethora of individuals who take personal ownership and volunteer at local missions and outreach organizations. Yet for some reason, the church is just categorized as the “rich person church”, etc. etc. My point in saying that is, it’s a lot easier to point out that negative than it is to acknowledge the positive.

    @Sean – Make sure to keep the conversation cited. Saying “My problem with a lot of “emergent” thinking is that it promotes church-hopping and isolationism.” is pretty big over-generalization. You would need to cite what leaders/individuals have said that, because it seems more like just a viewpoint.

    What happens when two individuals spend time praying, reading the Word and they come to different conclusions?

    I guess it seems like inevitably, the conversation is going to steer towards the subject of interpretation. The Bible was written by a bunch of different authors going through different time periods and living in different cultures. The letters they wrote were addressed to different sects of people addressing different circumstances. It seems like it would be pretty easy to manipulate the Word to say whatever you want it to. I guess that is where faith comes in to play. Like Sean said, we have to stay in an active relationship with God that is alive. Revelation needs to come through processing our thoughts through that relationship.

  16. @josh: I think that is a marvelous way to put it. Faith is, I think, I missing link for some members of both sides. I feel as though focusing too much on being progressive and deconstructive leaves little room for the Holy Spirit to move in us because of how much human thought we rely on and believe in. But holding blindly to tradition and discounting fresh thought also stifles the Spirit, because we allow our personal lenses to keep Him out.

  17. I like what Clark said about the issue. I truthfully don’t care much about discussing some over-arching idea of the emergent church because after two years of talking about it I still have no idea what it is and I’m not convinced it does either. But before I proceed, know that I am no fundamentalist Christian.
    I have been in churches where the people sort of look at you funny because you aren’t pulling in at least $40,000 a year. The point Clark was driving at (I believe) is one that Kierkegaard articulated rather well in a number of works, but primarily Practice in Christianity and Judge For Yourself! That idea (in nuce) is that Christ, in the form this world saw him, is offensive, which is why he was almost universally rejected.
    As a Christian who is completely fed up with the American church and its failures, this was an important concept for me to wrestle with, because if I’m really living the way Christ said to live (and I’m still not) then I too will be offensive to most of culture. Now, obviously, don’t read into the use of the word offense because I don’t mean that we give society the finger, not literally anyway. Ideologically, I think the Church should, though, but in a silent manner. We don’t go parading around, “You guys have it all wrong! You’re going to hell!” No, we influence society through action and ultimately, despite the banality of the term these days, love.
    Through my own study and experience, I realize that it is the poor who influence the wealthy and not the other way around. I and my generation, and I’m guessing a fair amount of you, need to reassess our entire system of values and the things that influence us (20th C hyper-capitalism, etc) so that we can grasp what the real purpose of the Church is at this point in the unfolding of things and how we’re supposed to act. In that sense, whatever the Emergent church is, I think will fail along with everything else in most of American (and probably Western Christendom) largely because it’s just secularized. There’s little depth, or hell, even concern for Christianity, even from the Christians. Much of theology is marked by flippancy and is influenced by contemporary politics.

    I also agree with what Sean said, generally. “Church-hopping”, if I understand correctly is something I’ve addressed in conversations I’ve been having recently. People think I’m strange because I’m structuring my foreseeable life around one town because there are two church communities here that I really believe in and am deeply involved in. I think our modern conception of church involvement is really fucked up and there’s no better way to put it and that I will blame on things like post-modernity (and capitalism). Our culture has no sense of connection, identity or commitment. So I don’t understand your response to him about citing, Josh, at all.

    That’s all for now.

  18. I’ve listened to a good deal of Rob Bell’s teachings via the internet and have listened to his 2 books — not really sure what all of the controversy is about as he is taking the Great Commission (making disciples) very seriously and literally. Some might even say he is being very “fundamental” about it.

  19. @ Matthew, thanks man. I was asking Sean for citing because he said that most Emergent types advocate church hopping, and I don’t see that, just wanted to see where he got that idea from. I really appreciate your response, though.

    @ Esteban, I, myself, didn’t quite understand the Rob Bell involvement either, but he is mentioned a lot, so I included him in the blog entry. Thanks for your contribution.

  20. Josh, I’m afraid that I don’t have much to say about the emerging church as an idea or a movement. I simply don’t know that much about it.

    I wish to quickly address one point, though. I don’t understand the assault upon the idea of relevancy from certain contemporary Christians. The whole of Christianity–that is, the history of Christian theology and doctrine–represents, sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly but nonetheless always, the desire to be relevant. It is the story of making relevant a culture’s understanding of the Gospel. The history of Christian thought shows that Christians, from the writer of John’s gospel and Hebrews, for example, to the early Church fathers, before, during, and after Nicea, through the Medieval period, the early and late modern periods, the Reformation and the birth of modernity, and this ambiguous post-modern period have all used, respectively, relevant (“current”) philosophical concepts to talk about God, to proclaim the Gospel, etc. Every theological topic, every doctrine, has a history to it. Moreover, they are as of yet unfinished, that is, they are living ideas and realities that Christians still get to think about and imagine anew to proclaim freshly to new ears. To decry those who seek to make relevant Christian doctrines to new ears is not a new notion. That’s not to suggest that movements such as the “emerging church” or American evangelicalism can ever have a monopoly on Christian truth, or that some ideas shouldn’t be rebuked or, for that matter, questioned, but by simply labeling misunderstood theologies, on either side, “heterodox” or, worse, heresy, makes one irrelevant to the body of Christ, if only because they have failed to be just that through simple acts like listening to each other and speaking with one another. We are, as Christians, already so far removed from Jesus’s fundamental desire of oneness in God’s love that it seems utterly petty to squabble over a disagreement in ecclesiology in the year 2008, we are so far removed from a desired unity that all of this seems petty, and the least we could do, for the sake of the body, and by greater extension for the sake of relevancy, is listen to one another, to speak to one another, and to love one another, and finally, if not ultimately, to take the servant posture of the crucified God and work for the betterment of each other. Are we relevant to our culture? I hope so, God is counting on it. But what good is that if we’re not even relevant as a body of disciples?

  21. Smiley was unintended.

  22. Definitely an interesting topic. I’m a little late to ring in, but I thought I would say something anyway.

    I’m still not certain as to what I think about the emergent church. I think they have some interesting insights, but I also believe that things are still fuzzy and confusing with the emergent church.

    I’ve always felt that the emergent church has relied a lot on intellectualism. Perhaps so much so that they miss the point. It’s kind of like they’re trying so hard not to miss the point that they do anyway, if that makes any sense. I have also felt like there are so many holes and uncertainties in the emergent church and there’s still a lot left to define. It’s still kind of vague and abstract to me.

    I think we still have a lot to learn about the emergent church and this is just the beginning. Hopefully as time passes there will be more clarity.

    So basically, I think the emergent church is flawed, yet still may have some valid points. Oh, and they have to be careful with the intellectualism as to not miss the practical and obvious.

  23. Josh, the emergent church is a hot topic at Seminary, given its challenge of traditional conservatism. Here are what I see as pros and cons of the movement. The pros are the way the movement challenges the traditional church in how its reaches the lost. In his book Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, D.A. Carson commends the Emergent Church for the way they ‘read the times.’ In his words, “Those associated with the emerging church movement are trying to read our changing times and make necessary adjustments so as to be able to communicate the gospel to what is, in substantial measure, a new culture. (p48)” In doing this, the emerging church has done a great job at reaching what Carson calls ‘church outsiders.’ Of course for some traditionalist, their techniques are often what are questioned. But from what I see, their techniques are not what raises the red flag, its their unwillingness to take a stance on moral absolutes, which draws back to your first comment. It appears a typical post-modern stance is one that rejects what Christianity had become under modernism. As a result of their disapproval of modernism, the emerging church has used post-modernism as their crutch to accept just about any belief system available. And this is where they avoid taking stances on the things you mentioned above like homosexuality, hell, and the ultimate authority of the Word. From a post-modern perspective, taking a stance on an issue is wrong because that means one has a all knowledge of that topic to know if it is right or wrong. But that is a modernistic viewpoint, one that post-modernism rejects. And I use post-modernism and emergent church in the same breadth because you will often find the same beliefs in both camps.
    It is definitely a hot topic. And it shouldn’t be completed disregarded because the emergent church definitely challenges churches to rethink their ways of ‘doing church.’ One just needs to be careful when a “Christian” church neglects to claim the Word of God to be inerrant.

  24. great responses, everyone. I am really grateful for all the contributions.

  25. Dang, i waited too long to check this out josh, my bad.

    i tried to read all this but its late and my eyes are tired, i apologize if i repeat anything already said.

    The danger with the Post Modern movement (in my eyes) is its unwillingness to discuss and settle on “truth” and where it comes from.

    And i guess i can be considered as a bull in a china shop, or one of those fundamentalists who believe that the Emergent church twists the Inherent Word of God.

    And yes i see how i can be interpreted as hostile in my response, thats how i type, and speak for those of you who know me.

    As i always do when talking about this issue, throughout the New Testament, we are warned to be on the look out for false doctrine and false teachers IN our churches. In the 4 Gospels, in Acts, in every epistle, and in Revelation.

    Now if the majority of the American Church was in their Word and actually understood their faith, the Emergent church wouldn’t have the momentum it has now, because the Word is very clear on the message of the Gospel and that we are too preach Christ and Him crucified.

    Now you can not tell me that a large portion of what the post modern movement (and i include, McLaren, Warren, Osteen, Paula White, and Rob Bell in this) “preach” on health and wealth teachings, and the heavy Grace ladened idea od Christianity, which are completely antithetical to the Word of God. Check out my most posted scripture….

    2 Timothy 4:1-5
    (1) I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;
    (2) Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.
    (3) For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
    (4) And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
    (5) But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.

    These people speak messages that tickle the itching ears of the modern church. There’s a lack of DOCTRINE, a lack of CONVICTION, and a lack of pushing for REAL SPIRITUAL GROWTH.

    and for the Grace Train…

    Gal 5:13 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

    And frankly, the major players in the movement have blown MANY key opportunities to preach the gospel publicly from major media platforms.

    Key example…
    Check out Rob Bell at the Seed’s of Compassion here

    Rob Bell

    If the leaders in this movement are as unwilling to boldly proclaim Christ as Mr. Bell is then why would any true Christian follow them?

    heres Warren on fox


    wheres the Gospel? Sin? Christ?

    Yes, i know they are hitting good points in their works, but thats not enough!

    We are to be bold, strong, educated in the Word believers who can take the Message to the World, not water it down and make it easier to comprehend or bear.

    John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, Paul, Timothy, not to mention any OT prophets ever tip toed through the tulips with people, they didn’t sugar coat any thing down.

    They preached the Word and the Word alone

  26. Thanks man! So let me ask you this, Keanon. How do you seek resolution? Criticism is painfully easy, but how do you go about creating unity and resolution to the conflict? Like it or not, we are one body. Rob Bell and Brian McLaren are your brothers. How can you go about walking hand in hand with that section of the church? The Bible calls us to be bold in our faith, but also ecumenical and to operate as one. I know you say that your delivery is just “how you are”, but maybe we need to find a way to harness the passion you have in your heart to make it follow through to application, ya know? For instance, if I was mad at my roommate, Hoshi for not cleaning up the house, I could say “Hoshi, you are a slob – clean up after yourself!” but I can almost guarantee that Hosh would get defensive immediately. If I were to say “Hoshi, I noticed the house was dirty, could you help me clean a bit?” then he feels like we are working together and it’s not me vs. him. I think that kind of applies over to faith as well.

    (this next part isn’t directed specifically at you).

    The church needs to step up and be known for what it stands for, and not what it stands against. We are a varying group of individuals with different priorities and backgrounds, thus creating different issues they care about. We need to be respectful of those issues, and work together in seeking clarity. Some people care about environmentalism, some care about pro-life issues, some care about the economy, etc. etc. All of these issues need to be valued, regardless of what you personally find important. “Torches together, hand in hand” as mewithoutyou puts it.

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