What Is the Emerging Church?

JP: Worthwhile read from Doug Brown of Faith Baptist. Doug is the brother of Dr Dan Brown of 4th Baptist and Liz and Hanna’s Uncle.

What Is the Emerging Church?


What Is the Emerging Church?

Leaders and proponents within the emerging church seem to relish the fact that the emerging church eludes defining. Much of their literature is intentionally slippery and vague, often raising more questions than answers. Most resist the label of a “movement” and prefer to use terms such as “conversation,” “journey,” and “narrative” to describe the emerging church.

Part of the difficulty in explaining the emerging church is its wide diversity. It crosses denominational boundaries (since it is both interdenominational and nondenominational) and national boundaries (since it is international). In addition, emerging churches represent a wide assortment of theological positions (ranging from evangelical to liberal) and an even more extensive mixture of methodologies (everything from house churches to alternative worship).

So what is the emerging church? Scot McKnight summarizes: “Emerging catches into one term the global reshaping of how to ‘do church’ in postmodern culture.” Reducing the emergent church to innovative and unconventional methodologies would be a mistake. It goes deeper than just methodology. The emerging church movement marks a philosophical and social shift to make the church relevant to postmodern society.

How Did the Emerging Church Emerge?

In order to understand the origin of the emerging church, one first has to understand a bit about postmodernism. Western civilization can basically be divided into three eras since the rise of Christianity. First was the era of pre-modernism. Prior to the Enlightenment, people generally believed in God and saw the Bible as revelation and authoritative. Those in the church and academy operated under pre-scientific presuppositions. Truth was viewed as knowable and objective. The Enlightenment changed this worldview and inaugurated the modern era.

Under modernism, human reason became the accepted authority, and the supernaturalism of the Bible was rejected. Truth was, however, still knowable and objective. René Descartes’ conclusion, “I think, therefore I am,” epitomized the modern era. Eventually rationalism led to the rise of empiricism and the scientific method, which resulted in the historical-critical method and the divide between the sacred and secular.

Throughout the twentieth century, postmodernism arose as a result of existential philosophy and a growing dissatisfaction with modernism. Under postmodernism, truth was no longer objective since people’s pre-understanding prohibited them from finding truth. The individual became the authority; one created truth as he or she perceived it. The greatest ideals of postmodernism were pluralism, tolerance, pragmatism, and moral relativism.

The emerging church seeks to revolutionize the church by reaching or accommodating postmodern culture. Emerging leaders view the traditional church (in its many forms) as essentially modern. They credit the decline of the church in Western civilization to its worldly allegiance to modernity. Since we now live in a post-Christian culture, the church must change. Hence, the emerging church is first and foremost a protest movement against the traditional church.

How Should We Evaluate the Emerging Church?

Leaders within the emerging church movement promote a postmodern hermeneutic that I believe greatly undermines God’s Word. Emerging leaders argue for the “hermeneutics of humility,” which asserts that we cannot know any propositional truth absolutely. Therefore, Christians should exercise humility in interpreting God’s Word and systematic theology because anyone could theoretically be wrong.

This approach sounds noble. But in the end, this postmodern approach to God’s Word can lead to reader-response approaches to the text, polyvalence (multiple meanings), and ultimately uncertainty of anything theological. Two specific examples illustrate the danger of this approach to the Scripture. First, several within the Emergent wing are questioning the substitutionary death of Christ. Second, some also refuse to condemn homosexuality (as well as other sexual sins) as aberrant behavior.

%d bloggers like this: