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The Emergent Church: A Working Definition for the UPCI

These notes were presented at the UPCI General Board Meeting March 3-5. They give a brief overview of the Emergent Church movement, mostly in the language of its proponents. I supply these notes to familiarize the Ohio District ministers with this relatively new movement and to provide a basic guide to its resources. I strongly urge our ministers to educate themselves on the emergent church. A strange hybrid of philosophy and orthopraxy, it presents a growing threat to Apostolic faith and doctrine.


“The Emerging Church movement seeks to revitalize the Christian church beyond what it sees as the confines of modernity, so that it can effectively engage people in a postmodern age. Critics allege, however, that this movement’s relativizing of faith has led many of its adherents outside of the bounds of orthodoxy. Emerging churches are communities that practice the way of Jesus within postmodern cultures. This definition encompasses nine practices. Emerging churches:

(1) identify with the life of Jesus,

(2) transform the secular realm, and

(3) live highly communal lives. Because of these three activities, they

(4) welcome the stranger,

(5) serve with generosity,

(6) participate as producers,

(7) create as created beings,

(8) lead as a body, and

(9) take part in spiritual activities.”

(Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger, in their book, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures (Baker Academic, 2005))

“This thing is radically Jesus-oriented. It is definitely communal; it’s post-denominational; it’s post-Protestant; and it is largely based in virtual reality as opposed to bricks and mortar and organizes itself on the Net. It is deeply concerned with theologies of religion that get rid of Christian particularity or exclusivism. Wherever it’s going, there’s every reason right now to rejoice that God is doing a new thing amongst us, and it’s called emergent Christianity.” Michael Freeman; Saturday, February 14, 2009; Abilene Online ReporterNews.

Primary Developers/Unofficial Leaders

Rob Bell Rob Bell is the Founding Pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church. He graduated from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, and Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He and his wife Kristen have two boys and live in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is the author of Velvet Elvis and Sex God, and is a coauthor of Jesus Wants to Save Christians. He is also featured in the first series of spiritual short films called NOOMA.

Brian McClaren McLaren is an author, speaker, pastor, and networker among innovative Christian leaders, thinkers, and activists. Born in 1956, he graduated from University of Maryland with degrees in English (BA, summa cum laude, 1978, and MA, in 1981). In 2004, he was awarded a Doctor of Divinity Degree (honoris causa) from Carey Theological Seminary in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Brian has been active in networking and mentoring church planters and pastors since the mid 1980’s, and has assisted in the development of several new churches. He is a popular conference speaker and a frequent guest lecturer at seminaries and denominational gatherings, nationally and internationally. His public speaking covers a broad range of topics including postmodern thought and culture, Biblical studies, Christian leadership, global mission, evangelism and spiritual formation, worship, inter-religious dialogue, and the relation of faith to ecology, public policy, social justice, and global crises.

Doug Pagitt Pagitt is an author in the Emerging Church movement and head pastor of Solomon’s Porch in South Minneapolis. He was born and raised in the Minneapolis area and is a graduate of Bethel College (1988 - Anthropology), and Bethel Seminary (1992 - MA in Theology). He has been the pastor of Solomon’s Porch, a holistic, missional Christian community in Minneapolis, since its inception in January 2000.

Pagitt is also a Senior Fellow with Emergent Village: a generative friendship of missional church leaders around the world and a leading architect of the emergent church discussion. Brian McLaren told author Robert Lanham that Pagitt coined the term Emerging Church at a leadership retreat in the late 1990s. However, one should remain skeptical of that claim, for the term “Emergent Church” has been around since at least 1981, and the term emergence, popular in philosophy, systems theory and science, has been around for decades.

Dan Kimball Kimball is a pastor, author and leading voice in the Emerging Church movement. Kimball has made popular phrases such as “Vintage Faith” and “Vintage Christianity” which are used to express the desire to be returning to the historical, spiritual, and “raw” missional values of the original Christian Church and teachings of Jesus.

In addition to being one of the earliest members of the Emerging Church Movement, Kimball is one of its more conservative members. Much of Kimball’s writings question the existing forms of church and their effectiveness in an increasingly post-Christian culture. However, he stresses that while change in the church is needed, the historical doctrines of the Christian faith do not need to change. Much of his writings focus on ways that methods of worship, preaching, church structure, evangelism and leadership need to change in order to be missional in a post-Christian or postmodern culture.

Leonard Sweet Currently the E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at Drew University, Madison, NJ and a Visiting Distinguished Professor at George Fox University, Portland, Oregon, Len has been Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the Theological School at Drew University for five years,

Author of more than one hundred articles, over six hundred published sermons, and dozens of books, Len is the primary contributor (along with his wife Karen Elizabeth Rennie) to the web-based preaching resource, For nine years he and his wife wrote Homiletics, which became under their watch the premier preaching resource in North America. His best-selling book FaithQuakes (1994), selected as one of the “10 best religion books” and “10 must-read books” of 1994 has been succeeded by a new best-seller SoulTsunami: Sink or Swim in New Millennium Culture (1999).

Mike Yaconelli (1942-2003) - writer, theologian, and satirist. Co-Founder of Youth Specialties, a training organization for Christian youth leaders; and The Wittenburg Door (sometimes just The Door), a satirical magazine. Quote: “Jump first; Fear later.” Yaconelli was also pastor of a small church in Yreka, CA - “the slowest growing church in America” as he called it. He and wife Karla used to share their time between Yreka and the Youth Specialties offices in El Cajon, CA. He wrote a number of books for youth leaders; and was a well-received Christian conference speaker. He was a regular at the Greenbelt Christian festival in the UK. Mike was killed in an automobile accident in 2003.

Erwin McManusMcManus is an author, lecturer, pastor and leader in the emerging church movement. McManus is the lead pastor of Mosaic Church, a Christian community in Los Angeles, California. He made his name first by speaking on Post-modernism (postmodernity, Postmodern Christianity), but also communicates on culture, change, creativity, and leadership. McManus was named by Church Report in January 2007 as one of the “50 Most Influential Christians in America.”

Tony Jones.  Tony is the author of The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier and is theologian-in-residence at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis. A doctoral fellow in practical theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, he is the author of many books on Christian ministry and spirituality, and he is a sought after speaker and consultant in the areas of emerging church, postmodernism, and Christian spirituality. Tony has three children and lives in Edina, Minnesota

Andy Stanley Senior pastor of North Point Community Church, Buckhead Church, Browns Bridge Community Church. He also founded North Point Ministries, which is a worldwide Christian organization.

Related Influencers

  • Richard Foster
  • Mark Driscoll
  • Rick Warren
  • Dallas Willard
  • Eckhart Tolle

Critics of the Emergent Church Movement

D. A. Carson Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He has been at Trinity since 1978. Dr. Carson received the Bachelor of Science in chemistry from McGill University, the Master of Divinity from Central Baptist Seminary in Toronto, and the Doctor of Philosophy in New Testament from Cambridge University. Dr. Carson’s areas of expertise include biblical theology, the historical Jesus, postmodernism, pluralism, Greek grammar, Johannine theology, Pauline theology, and questions of suffering and evil. He is a member of the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical Research, the Society of Biblical Literature, the Evangelical Theological Society, the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies, and the Institute for Biblical Research.

Kevin DeYoung, Ted Kluck Co-Authors of “Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be). An critical and insightful analysis of the emergent church movement.

Significant Books and Literature on the Emergent Church Movement

  1. Brian McLaren; A Generous Orthodoxy; Everything Must Change; Reinventing Your Church (re-published as The Church on the Other Side).
  2. Rob Bell; Velvet Elvis
  3. Donald Miller; Blue Like Jazz
  4. George Barna; Revolution
  5. Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger. Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures.
  6. Dan Kimball. The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations
  7. Andy Crouch. “The Emergent Mystique,” Christianity Today, Nov. 1, 2004
  8. Peter Rollins. How (Not) to Speak of God.
  9. Ray S. Anderson. An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches
  10. D. A. Carson. Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications.
  11. Spencer Burke & Colleen Pepper; Making Sense of Church: Eavesdropping on Emergent Conversations about God, Community, and Culture
  12. Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears; Death By Love.
  13. William Young The Shack Part Two.

More Books on The Emergent Church

  1. The New Conspirators, Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time, by Tom Sine.
  2. The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier, by Tony Jones
  3. The Irresistible Revolution, by Shane Claibourne.
  4. The Great Emergence; by Phyllis Tickle:
  5. The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community: Hugh Halter and Matt Smay
  6. Rising From the Ashes: Rethinking Church, by Becky Garrison.
  7. The Emerging Church by Bruce Larson and Ralph Osborne (1970)
  8. The Shaping of Things to Come, Alan Hirsh co-written with Mike Frost

Key Concepts

Postmodern Philosophy

“This new era has been characterized by a rejection of absolute truths and grand narratives explaining the progressive evolution of society. At the same time it has brought to the surface a multitude of different perspectives on society and an appreciation of different cultures. It has highlighted globalization on the one hand and localization on the other, the celebration of difference and the search for commonality.” Theopedia

“Postmodernism is post because it is denies the existence of any ultimate principles, and it lacks the optimism of there being a scientific, philosophical, or religious truth which will explain everything for everybody - a characteristic of the so-called modern mind. The paradox of the postmodern position is that, in placing all principles under the scrutiny of its skepticism, it must realize that even its own principles are not beyond questioning.”


Emerging church proponents emphasize a holistic emphasis of redeeming society and creation too. This emphasis translates into something quite similar to the social gospel (which fundamentally alters the gospel from personal redemption to merely social reformation) and, for some, environmentalism. McKnight, who considers himself part of the emerging church movement, explains that leaders in the movement are left-leaning in their politics for social justice. While he does not want to deny the need for personal redemption, he praises Walter Rauschenbusch’s original vision for the social gospel.


First, deconstruction not only accepts but embraces the category of difference. In part this is attractive to ET because they (we) are embedded within a late modern generation that is open to difference in ways that (so it appears to us) our evangelical “parent” churches were not. Many of these traditional churches focused on sameness: we must all behave according to the same rules, sing the same songs, look at the world the same way, and affirm precisely the same propositions. The deconstructive embrace of the significance of differentiation (differance, deference, etc.) gives ET a language for what they have already experienced: liberation from a constricting obsession with sameness.

Second, deconstructive epistemology (or hermeneutics) calls for humility within the search for knowledge. Now, my point is not that all deconstructive philosophers are humble and (say) analytic philosophers are not. My point is that the “method” of deconstruction is self-reflective in a way that promotes an ongoing interrogation of the way in which one is holding on to one’s knowledge. It challenges arrogant claims to have grasped final, neutral, universal truth. Many ET were raised in churches within the American evangelical sub-culture, wherein theological reflection was anything but humble. In fact, it wasn’t even reflection; it was declaration. Insofar as Derrida (and others) share epistemic qualities such as humility with the Christian apophatic tradition, the former can inspire ET to retrieve the latter. As we continue longing to know and be known by God, deconstruction can alleviate some of our modernist anxiety by helping us accept our finitude; we are not God, but this is OK and we can all take a deep breath and humbly follow in the way of Jesus without pretending like we know everything. After all, even he didn’t know everything!)


The style and structure of emerging congregations are unique. Iron railings, candles, dim lighting, and prayer stations were so ubiquitous early in the movement that today they’ve almost become clichés. Most emerging congregations have a relatively flat leadership style. Pastors are not usually called pastors (if there is a pastor at all), and many groups, such as Tribe in Los Angeles, prefer to meet “in the round” when they gather for worship—a physical representation of their flat leadership structure and egalitarian values

The house church movement, which has been partly influenced by the Jesus Movement of the 1960s and 70s, is considered to be a “cousin” of the emerging church movement because of its lack of structure.

Sample Church Names of Emergent Churches: Solomon’s Porch, House of Mercy, The Rock, Jacob’s Ladder, Circle of Hope, Ikon, Vintage Faith, New Beginnings, Mosaic, Scum of the Earth, The Journey Church

Terminology used by the Emergent Church

  1. Authentic- Real, not hypocritical, unpretentious. Non-secretive, unguarded.
  2. Becoming - the transformation from the modern to the post modern, emerging view of knowing truth.
  3. Christian conversation, the - the Christian based series of stories, myths, experiences, etc. that are offered for acceptance or rejection.
  4. Conversation - a flowing, non-precise communication made possible by linguistic commonalities. Give and take based on people’s opinions, experiences, and feelings. It is an internalized, non-objective feeling that is often discussed or the focal point of meaning. A non-ending process.
  5. Coherantism - belief system that adheres to itself, making sense of the whole when its many parts are interrelated.
  6. Contextual - sensitive to the cultural and historical context
  7. Deconstruction - removing the stale, modernistic, absolutism that has permeated interpretation of scripture, God, and truth
  8. Emergent Village - an organization headed by Tony Jones, Ph.D.
  9. Emerging - intellectual and/or spiritual movement away from traditionalist, rational, truths.
  10. Growing - development of the individual in concert with God in the working of God’s plans for the world.
  11. Missional - making the emerging conversation part of the social culture as it relates to temporal needs: housing, clothing, environment, etc.
  12. Myth - The stories believed by people that may or may not be factual.
  13. Narrative - Non systematic, non linear approach to knowing, a rejection of the absolute codification of spiritual truths.
  14. Orthopraxy – correct practice as opposed to correct beliefs.
  15. Reimagine - to reinterpret a long-standing truth.
  16. Story - myth, procession of myths strung together by conversation. A lesson with a value statement. If one story doesn’t work for you, try another. The Christian resurrection is a story.
  17. Story of God, the - The procession of myths and narratives dealing with God as found in the Bible or other religious works.
  18. Story of Jesus, the - The procession of myths and narratives dealing with Jesus as found in the Bible.
  19. Tribe - a localized culture with inherent morals, myths, stories, and customs that differ from one another. Therefore, which tribe’s position is true?

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Reader Comments (5)

Bro. Jordan
I appreciate this blog and the concern that many have for this growing sect in "Christianity" which at its core isn't Christianity but I do question some of the information presented here.

I have noticed that have noted Mark Driscoll as an influencer of this movement and I believe this is inaccurate. I have for some time now been following him and his preaching and even say this is the furthest thing from the truth.

Mark Driscoll does admit that he was once going in the direction of the emerging(submerging) church movement and says he really saw things were wrong when his worship leader got up and started quoting Gandhi. However since then Mark has turned full circle and will best be described as on of the "New Calvinists" that Time magazine has just wrote an article on. This is clearly seen by the preaching on his church's website. While the media will highlight his sermon series on sex from Songs of Solomon, they will not show you how in the middle he would take a whole sermon to talk about Jesus. Not a Jesus who would better your sex life but a Jesus who died in the place of sinners to redeem them from sin's curse by your blood. I am a regular listener and while I may not agree with all of his doctrine I admire his diligence to remain true to the text and a great deal of doctrinal preaching. (Please check it out yourself at - Your heart will burn for young men who will do this for this great apostolic truth we have) His book death by love also happens to be one of the books I am now reading and is an excellent defense of Penal Subsitutionary Atonement and how it works in our everyday lives.

I must also add that among your listing of terminology used by the Emerging Church Mark Driscoll uses a different definition from many of them. Missional is one example. It its a word not only used by the emergents but also the new calvinists and does not just deal with social action in meeting man's temporal needs but rather seeing to do as Paul in 1 Cor 9:22 and becoming all things to save some.

I express these concerns Bro Jordan, because I fear that as Mark has been miss-labeled many in our ranks will also be. I fear that many in the older generation will miss-understand and label them as being part of this movement as I have already began to hear just because one preaches in jeans, sits on a stool or has people refer to him by his first name.

Finally I wish that as Mark Driscoll sits with men like John Piper, D.A. Carson and Sinclair Fergason at a Desiring God Conference that young men who believe and teach this apostolic truth will not only be accepted but backed, corrected and encouraged by others without having to be put in this label.

P.S. I would much appreciate if you would comment on what I wrote. I am open to correction, rebuke or further guidance if my view is somehow distorted or wrong.

Thank You
Dave Christopher Lake

March 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterD. C. Lake

Brother Lake,

First, let me say that 99% of the material I posted on my blog concerning the emergent (emerging) church consists of the proponents own words or objective observer's words. Mark Driscoll's name has consistently appeared among those who advance at least some strain of ET. I have not been at this long enough to know all the nuances of the movement, except to understand that it is a composite of nuances and subtlties! It may be true that Mark has recanted some of his earlier writings, and since I have not familiarized myself with him in particular, I may stand to be corrected.

One of your main defenses of Mark Driscoll concerns his fundamental orthodoxy in theology. He does say, however, that he is theologically conservative and culturally liberal. If you have any knowledge of the UPCI, you know that we are theologically and culturally conservative. I am deeply troubled by reports of Mark Driscoll's positions on worldliness, i.e. rock concerts, champagne bars, tattoes, smoking, alcohol consumption, etc. As long as he condones these kinds of activities, he will be considered as emergent, at least by us. I do know that many other fundamentalists have a huge problem with such a drastic capitulation to the worldly culture. Perhaps you have issues with our beliefs along these line. If so, that is a different topic for a different day.

As I go further into my study of this movement, I have no doubt that I will have certain course corrections along the way. If I am too harsh, too reactionary or too indiscriminate in my assessments, I will need to modify my views. Your critique is appreciated. If we can keep the dialogue alive, we have a greater chance of understanding each other. Thank you.

Jonathan Jordan

March 27, 2009 | Registered CommenterJ. Mark Jordan

Bro Jordan,

I do thank you for considering my comment and your response to it. I also thank you for your willingness to dialogue on the subject. I do pray that I possess the same spirit you do.

I have read through your response to my comment and I am left both agreeing and disagreeing with your response. I want begin with our areas of agreement. I like you and many fundamentalists disagree with the cultural liberalism, especially when it embraces the ills that you have mentioned. I can see why you have gotten the impression that I have issues with these beliefs but I want that this is not the case.

On issues of disagreement I will begin on the issues of lesser importance by once again defending Mark Driscoll's place as not being part of the emerging church. I had intended to say this in my first comment but forgot. Mark Driscoll has been very vocal about his opposition to the EC movement even to the point of calling men like Rob Bell and "The Shack" author William Young, Heretics. (It saddens me like it probably saddens you as well that some in the apostolic movement seem to embrace these men and their writings loaded with really dangerous things such as questioning the virgin birth). Mark has also preached entire sermons against the movement as well.

On to what I believe is the more important point of our disagreement. From what you have written I am led to believe that you and others see the EC movement simply as those who embrace a culture and seek to dwell and relate to that culture. I believe this is a great error in defining this movement as the real issue is much huger than this one. The emerging church has at its core a problem of questioning everything from methods to doctrines that are foundational to Christianity. In the end it ends up preaching a message of nothingness and serves a Jesus who's cross is not relevant and thus unnecessary. This was the chief reason for me bringing up the issue of "Doctrinal Orthodoxy" as this is something the movement seeks to ignore or even sees as a hindrance.

I have for some time now, been following what many leaders in the evangelical world have to say about this movement and always seem to get the impression that their concern is more doctrinal ( Virgin birth, subtitutionary atonement, church government, biblical eldership etc.) than their method per se. I say this because at the 2006 Desiring God Conference, both Mark Driscoll and Dr. D.A. Carson sat together discussing this. Also your listing of terminology used by the Emerging Church echos my position.

I think I do a much better job if I sum up how I view the emerging church. It is more like a moralistic, mythical spirituality than Christianity. While method, even a wrong method can be considered Christian (The Corinthian Church for example) this can not and that is the danger.

Thanks once again for giving me an opportunity to present my views and for any further correction I may receive from you.

Dave Christopher Lake

March 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterD.C. Lake

Bro. Jordan,

My greatest concern is how much of the Emerging Church is worming its way into the Apostolic churches. I have noticed that many churches have become very liberal in how they think. There are no longer boundries that seperate us from the world. Instead of clinging to the old paths which was once treasured and has become a disgrace to follow after them. They want media, the most popular music,lights, and programmed movements to appeal to the world instead of allowing God to draw those whom he knows is ready to hear him.(Don't get me wrong I love music and play the organ myself) Churches have become a business vs. a place of refuge. How many can we grow this year to make our church bigger vs how many souls can we get prepared for heaven.Churches are becoming a place of look how many activities our church has vs. look at how many people have dedicate their life souly to God.
What are some of the *warning signs* we can look for to make sure we are not allowing this movement into our churches? I have been oblivious to this movement until a few months ago and I am doing research to make sure I keep on track. I have a book on the way right now about this topic and I am rearing to engage in reading it. I want to make it to heaven fast ways, no easy way..just try to live for God with a clean heart, soul, and body! I want my children, friends, and town to make it!! Whatever that requires from me..I am willing to do.
Thanks and God bless you!

January 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarjorie W.

I am amazed that you have lumped Andy Stanley into this group of "EC" pastors. Have you heard him speak? And are you personally aware of the fruit of the believers in the churches he is associated with? I have been associated with the North Point and Buckhead Churches for years and he sticks strickly to the Bible and I've never heard him "debunk" any other religous belief or doctrine. The Word and the Spirit do the work in these believers' lives. Really, check it out again.

June 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJulie Kohl

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