THE EMERGENT CHURCH MOVEMENT, Part II
IT'S DISTINCTIVE TEACHINGS AND GOALS
January 17, 2010
As I noted in last week's article, the emergent church movement
takes its name from the idea that as culture changes, a new church
should emerge in response. In
this case, it is a response by various church leaders to the current
era of post-modernism. Although
post-modernism began in the 1950s, the church didn't really seek to
conform to its tenets until the 1990s.
Post-modernism can be
thought of as the dissolution of "cold, hard fact" in favor of
"warm, fuzzy subjectivity." The
emergent church movement can be seen in the same light.
The emergent church movement falls into line with basic
post-modernist thinking—it is about experience over reason,
subjectivity over objectivity, images over words, outward over
inward, and feelings over truth. These are reactions to modernism
and are thought to be necessary in order to actively engage
contemporary culture. This movement teaches that there is not yet a
standard method of "doing" church amongst the groups choosing to
take a post-modern mindset. In fact, the emerging church rejects any
standard methodology for doing anything. Therefore, there is a huge
range of how far groups take a post-modernist approach to
Christianity. Some groups go
only a little way in order to impact their community for Christ, and
remain biblically sound. Most groups, however, utilize
This eventually leads to a very liberal, loose translation of
the Bible. In fact it
often leads to the rejection of much of the Bible.
This, in turn, leads to the acceptance of liberal doctrine
This week I would like to present some of this
movement's goals and purposes. They are not Biblical, but practical
for modern day approaches to "doing" church.
- The world is radically
changing and the church must radically change with it
Emergents believe postmodernity represents a dramatic break with
the past and that only an extreme transformation in the church
can keep the church relevant and effective in this environment.
What is needed, they say, is not just a change in methodology.
We need a new kind of Christian.
- Since the Church has
been culture bound for so long we must reexamine and question
every belief and practice in the Church, finding new ways to
define and express these
Visiting emergent blogs, one will find that absolutely any
doctrine or moral standard can be questioned. It seems at times
that emergents are engaging in a complete reinvention of
Christianity accompanied by a radical redefinition of Christian
- We have no foundation
for any beliefs, therefore we cannot know absolute truth
Critics of the Emerging Church movement insist that emergents
misrepresent epistemological foundationalism (the belief that we
do possess some knowledge that serves as a basis for further
knowledge) as requiring “bombproof certainty,” something
contemporary foundationalists insist they do not hold to.
What contemporary foundationalists do believe is that we can
possess real knowledge that is so certain it requires
extraordinary evidence to refute it. D. A. Carson points
out that emergent postfoundationalism is based upon yet another
of their false antitheses, saying “In effect the antithesis
demands that we be God, with all of God’s omniscience, or else
forever be condemned to knowing nothing objective for sure.”
Additionally, emergents fail to consider the scriptural teaching
of faith as something God-given which does possess
supernaturally certain knowledge (Mt 21:21, Eph. 2:8, Heb 11:1).
Emergents do not seem to realize that critiquing secular
foundationalism is not the same as critiquing Evangelical
foundationalism. In A New Kind of Christian McLaren’s
fictional altar ego, Neo, says even Scripture is neither
authoritative (in a “modern” sense) nor a foundation for faith.
- Since we cannot know
absolute truth, we can only experience what is “true” for our
Postmodern philosophers and theologians insist that truth is
only known and validated within communities (“There are no
Metanarratives only local narratives”). While this implies that
truth is culturally relative and that true cross-cultural
communication is impossible (those outside a community must
first join a community before they can understand the
community’s ideas), postmodern authors communicate to people of
various communities simultaneously, apparently expecting them to
all equally understand their intent.
- Since we cannot know
absolute truth we cannot be dogmatic about doctrine
Emergents see orthodoxy as “generous,” that is, inclusive of
many beliefs Christians have historically thought of as aberrant
or heretical. Many leading emergents echo McLaren’s refusal to
assert Christianity’s superiority to other world religions.
- Since we cannot know
absolute truth we cannot be dogmatic about moral standards
Absolute stands on issues such as homosexuality are viewed as
obsolete. Activities such as drinking, clubbing, watching
sexually explicit movies, and using profanities are seen by some
emergents as opportunities to show those who are not part of the
Christian community that postmodern Christians do not think they
are better than them through any false sense of moral
- Since we cannot know
absolute truth, dogmatic preaching must give way to a dialogue
between people of all beliefs
Emerging Christians do not posture themselves before the world
as though they were the light and the world were in darkness.
Instead of “preaching” to the “lost” they join in
“conversation,” with people of various beliefs. Conservative
Evangelicals seem not to be truly welcome to contribute their
distinctive content to this conversation since they represent
the old, rotting corpse of “modernism.”
- Since propositional
truth is uncertain, spiritual feeling and social action make up
the only reliable substance of Christianity
Emergents consider propositional truth a “modern” (and thus
outmoded) fascination. Postmoderns think and communicate in
narratives. Since the pursuit of truth is portrayed as a never
ending journey with no solid starting point, they consider the
only legitimate measuring rods of Christianity to be experience
and good works. Without a solid footing in revealed truth,
however, emergents have no firm foundation for knowing which
experiences are valid and which works are good (something they
do not seem to notice).
- To capture a sacred
feeling we should reconnect with ancient worship forms
Trappings such as burning candles and events such as silent
retreats are popular in the movement. Embracing these premodern
forms further breaks their connection with “modern”
- Since sublime feeling
is experienced through outward forms, we should utilize art
forms in our worship
Many participants in the movement see appreciating art for art’s
sake as a spiritual experience.
- Through conversation
with them, “outsiders” will become part of our community, and
then be able to understand and believe what we teach
The postmodern approach is not to try to persuade people to
believe, it is to try to befriend people into joining. This is
commonly expressed as Robert Webber does when he says “People in
a postmodern world are not persuaded to faith by reason as much
as they are moved to faith by participation in God’s earthly
community.” There is a false antithesis in such statements,
however. We do not have to choose between a purely cerebral
attempt to talk others into believing correctly on the one hand
and offering an open, unqualified invitation to our group on the
other. The Bible teaches us to proclaim the gospel message with
reliance upon the Holy Spirit to empower, illuminate, and
convict (1 Co 2, 1 Thess 1:9). When such proclamation is absent,
as it is in the Emerging Church movement, there is no prophetic
voice coming from the church calling sinners to repent and
believe the Gospel (Ac 2:38, 16:30-32).
- All are welcome to
join the “conversation” as long as they behave in a kind and
Emerging believers reject any posture which hints at exclusivism.
Dogmatic Evangelicals, however, are not treated as kindly in the
conversation as others are (something many emergents admit).
- The ultimate goal is
to make the world a better place
The Emerging Church movement envisions a utopia in which the
oppressed of the world are free, the poor are no longer
impoverished and the environment is clean. This paradise is
achieved through social activism. Many emergent leaders think it
is selfish folly to live for the return of Christ.
The accomplishing of all of the above is seen by
those in the movement as evidence that the Church is emerging to
reach the culture, adapting to it. Critics of the movement see these
things as signs that the Church is submerging into the culture,
being absorbed by it.
Next week, we'll take a look at many of the methods of
the Emergent Church Movement.
We believe that the Constitution of the
United States speaks for itself. There is no need to rewrite, change
or reinterpret it to suit the fancies of special interest groups or