What Is This “Emerging Church” You Speak Of?

3 comments Written on February 10th, 2009 by
Categories: Dr. Lockwood

As president, I receive a lot of mail with all kinds of questions.  A recent persistent question is:

"Where does Multnomah stand on the emerging church?"

My usual answer is brief: "Multnomah has not chosen to take a stand on the emerging church issue."  This is because the emerging church, like a number of other issues batted around in evangelical circles, means a lot of radically different things to different people. 

I just read an insightful article by Mark Driscoll that helped me unravel some of the dispirit threads of this issue.  The article, "Navigating the Emerging Church Highway," was published in a recent issue of The Christian Research Journal (vol. 31, no. 04). Mark, the preaching pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, provides a helpful synopsis to the four "lanes on the emerging church highway."

Briefly, those 4 lanes are:

  1. Emerging Evangelicals
  2. House Church Evangelicals
  3. Emerging Reformers
  4. Emergent Liberals. 

The first three are united in embracing orthodox theology, while holding different views of the mission and purpose of the church.  The Emergent Liberals, on the other hand, have rejected much of orthodox theology.  Driscoll directs most of his attention on this final group, including an intense analysis of its major proponents: Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, and Rob Bell.

Because one can get the impression from reading many of the contemporary books on this topic that there is only one emergent church movement (and it's the liberal one), many conclude there really cannot be any legitimate evangelical expression of the movement.  Mark Driscoll clears away some theological smoke for me. 

Perhaps it will for you, too.

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Dr. Daniel R. Lockwood is Multnomah University's fourth president. Inaugurated in 1997, he has overseen an era of exceptional transitions. Under his leadership, Multnomah has achieved regional accreditation; solidified name and logo branding; changed to a University structure; built several buildings and launched numerous new programs.

3 comments “What Is This “Emerging Church” You Speak Of?”

A helpful critique of the Emergent movement is R. Scott Smith’s book, *Truth and a New Kind of Christian* (Crossway).

Smith is a professor of ethics at Biola University.

The book is helpful on at least two major fronts:

1. It came about as a result of Smith actually dialoging with Emergent leaders, which he has continued to this day. So there isn’t this sort of distant analysis.

2. It provides helpful discussion of some of the relevant philosophical assumptions that Emergent’s take to be true.

1. There are others beyond Driscoll who should definitely be consulted on the Emerging Church dialogue/movement/what-have-you before making a judgment. Driscoll was a part of the first beginning of the “group” several years ago as he was part of the Leadership Network, along with Doug Pagitt, and Brian Mclaren, etc., and has subsequently distanced himself from these. This fact gives a marked background to his opinion on the matter.

While not completely unbiased, in my mind, Scot Mcknight’s article the Five Streams of the Emerging Church (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/february/11.35.html) is a good jumping off point, and Gibbs and Bolgers book Emerging Churches (http://www.amazon.com/Emerging-Churches-Christian-Community-Postmodern/dp/0801027152) is a fairly objective look at some of the characteristics of the various churches and groups involved, which has nearly become the reference book for all things Emerging Church.

2. Making judgments on the Emerging Church right now in my opinion is a hasty action and an overcommitment to a categorical assignment.

The “movement” is only at the beginning of its growth, and has not put forward any kind of official theology or confession, which is understandable for two reasons: a. part of the “groups” ethos is a de-emphasis on orthodoxy (right thought) and an emphasis on orthpraxy (right action). And b., at the same time there is no official organization or leader that would be able to do so. The Emerging Church (big C) is not connected or organized to put forward one confessional statement that would represent each church (little c), but is only a sociological grouping of a movement that has no official organization, leadership, etc. etc. etc.

3. Any critique of the Emerging Church therefore needs to be done on a case-by-case basis looking at the actions and doctrine of individual leaders and congregations, and blanket statements should not be made as far as possible. As always these critiques and investigations of movements, churches, etc. need to be done with scripture in mind and love in the heart, without letting personal preference, tradition, or overly firm doctrine taking the place of these.
Ggrace and Peace

It’s great to find a site like this for people like me. Keep the faith and thanks for your work and showing us these things. God bless and happy National Prayer Day!