Some Things I Want to Ask Young Emergent Church Planters

Each Sunday morning, as I drive to one or more of our campuses, I see multiple freshly-printed signs of varying creativity and style announcing a new church plant meeting at such-and-such a school.  Whenever I’m in another city, I see the same thing.  It was the case when I was in Charlotte and it is the case across South Florida.  As frequently as I see a new restaurant starting up, I see a new church plant starting up and sadly, from my observations — they both have about the same chances of making it (which isn’t a real good shot.)

Having been in fundagelical circles my entire life (and I’m still only 47, for at least a few more weeks), I’ve seen trends in church growth come and go.  I won’t bore you with the various fads, movements, campaigns, conferences, strategies and so on, I’ve seen — but they are myriad and multiple.  I’d also like to state for the record — I am PRO church planting.  I’ve helped start churches, I grew up in a church that was planted by my parents who were lay people, as a pastor — I’ve lead our church to plant daughter congregations.  I only have respect and admiration for those called into church planting.  I am neither spiritual enough or man enough to do it myself.  What follows is not a criticism of church planting as a mission inspiteof what may be viewed as some cynicism on my part.  I’m excited to see a new church gain its footing and break loose.

One last caveat — the kinds of churches I’m discussing here are those that would, for lack of a better term, be best described as “emergent”.  Specifically designed for “unchurched” folks who think and behave like postmodernist folks and are largely younger than 35 or so.  They have an “anti-traditional” air about them and they often speak openly of “doing church” differently than what others may have experience previously in a church.  They often have “one-word names” like “Relevant, Elevation, Revolution, Engaged, Mosaic, etc…”.  They are independent for the most part and even if they are denominationally-supported, they tend to hide that fact if at all possible.  Their pastors are hip, have kewl glasses, wear jeans and graphic T’s, love hair gel and tattoos, are prone to vocabulary that would make their mothers cringe, are extremely passionate about the lost, are often disdainful of politics — particularly the conservative/Christian/Republican variety –, have a copy of “Velvet Elvis” right next to the Bible and love edgy music of any kind.  Their pastors have often grown up evangelical, have been wounded by legalism, hate racism, love people, have been considered liberal by some uptight fundamentalist type at some point in their lives, find relational evangelism important, are very engaged in the local community, want to be friends with unbelievers and desperately want to make a difference in the Kingdom of God.  Oh….and they generally like Starbucks.

With that said, I have some questions of church planters.  Some of them are intended to provoke thought, some are intended to poke at the caricatures we tend to become, some are intended to open dialogue and others are simply born of my own curiosity which is almost always seasoned liberally with a certain amount of skepticism.  Please don’t misinterpret this as an “attack” on new churches, young pastors, the Church Growth Movement (well, maybe I DO intend to challenge the CGM a bit) or that this in any way indicates any hostility, envy or Pharisaical arrogance on my part toward new church plants.  I’m just doing my usual — asking the importunate questions that are rolling around my brain at this moment in time.

So…here we go….

1. Is your desire to plant a “new kind” of church born of passion for the lost, frustration (maybe even bitterness) with the church of your parents/grandparents or a combination of both?

I ask this question because I seem to detect something that often borders on anger when one discusses the history of the church.  To some like me, it sometimes feels like they are declaring to the Bridegroom (Jesus) that He has a really fat, ugly, lazy Fiancee (the church) and that they want to offer Him Rachel, not Leah.  Am I off-base here? Is this a rebellious stage in your ministry?  Was your parent’s church really all that awful?  Is rebellion and anger a good reason to start a church?  What message would you like to see received by the “traditional church” that they just don’t seem to get?

2. Is it possible that you are becoming as much a caricature of your generation as the caricature that irritates you in the generation before you?

We know the jokes.  Yesterday’s pastor and deacon and elder were cut of the mold that carried huge Bibles, wore bad combovers or even worse, pompadours (like they do on the Trinity Network), prayed in the King James style of intonation, loved polyester suits — particularly dark and double-breasted or with a vest, had 2 colors of wing-tip shoes and was married to a wife with “big hair”.

But….in wanting to put major distance between you and them (and who would blame you), you have chosen to use gel to an excess, refuse to tuck in a shirt under any condition, use the terms “Dude” and “sick” WAY too much, seem oddly proud of yourself that you have done a funeral in blue jeans because you don’t own a suit, have a soul patch or a goatee or that 5-day stubble thing going on and probably own some glasses like that Danny Gokey guy on American Idol.

So…really, aren’t you becoming just the newest incarnation of someone your kids will mock sometime around 2030 or so?  Is that really what makes us different?  Have you created a slightly newer version of the Christian sub-culture look that is still “mock-worthy” by the guy that wouldn’t be caught dead in any kind of church?  Is there more to your rejection of the pastoral suit and tie than we realize?  If so, what?

3. Do you think that doctrine really doesn’t matter?

Depending on whom one reads from month to month, we are frequently told that doctrine divides (and that is bad), that it is transient (can mean something different from one generation to another), is not essential and that it should be de-emphasized?   Is it impossible to teach doctrine without being as boring as a crusty old seminary professor?  Do you think that some tenants of doctrine (I’m not talking preferences, standards or traditions here) are essential for genuine and authentic faith?  If so, what are those and how do you systematically teach and train people in those doctrines?

4. Are denominational labels totally irrelevant?

I’m not convinced that you have to have your denominational tag on your name or on every sign.  However, do you consider the doctrines/beliefs/philosophy/positions of, say…the Southern Baptists to be on the same footing as perhaps the “Disciples of Christ?”  Why or why not?  How do you train your members to note the differences without clearly teaching them the differences?  Should potential differencs be important enough to explore them and maybe even teach about them?  If not, why not?  If so, when?

5. Are all traditions bad, are some good and how does one avoid traditions?  More so, what constitutes a tradition?

There seems to be a significant “anti-tradition” element in the CGM and emergents.  But the term “tradition” often seems to mean, “I like my traditions because they aren’t really traditions, but I really don’t like your traditions.”  What is a tradition by your definition?  Is baptism by immersion a tradition?  Is using unleavened bread and unfermented grape juice a tradition?  Is singing a hymn on occasion a tradition?  Is taking an offering a tradition?  What constitutes the difference between a good tradition and a bad tradition?  Is using lighting effects a tradition?  Is offering folks coffee as they enter a tradition?  Is twittering questions for the pastor during a sermon a tradition?  Are they better traditions or just different traditions or are they traditions at all?

6. Is a church that is multi-cultural, but not multi-generational better or worse than a white church or black church with several generations represented throughout?  Should one be avoided?  

There frequently seems to be a few token “gray heads” in some large emergent churches, but very few.  It’s kind of like the token African-Americans one will find in many large traditional Southern churches.  It kind of gives them a smug sense of “tolerance”….but let’s face it, some folks are “more equal than others” in those settings.

7. Is expositional and systematic preaching and teaching impossible to pull off in a non-traditional church?

It could be argued that dry Bible teaching without any practical application is a huge turn-off for desperate people with messed up lives who need answers and they need them now.  But is there a gulf between a “Dr. Phil” style of “I’m going to change your life in 60 minutes or less” and a method of teaching/preaching that relies on exegesis, but also includes some practical applications that is impossible to bridge?

So….those are just a few of my questions.  Now I’m going to duck and run for cover.  But before I do, I’m not sure I’ve got all my questions out there on this yet.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  I may post some more before we’re over.  I’m looking forward to hearing from some of my favorite young pastors — many of whom grew up calling me “Pastor” — as they roll their eyes at me and unload their guns.  That’s OK.  I’m sure I’ll learn something.  OH….and before you think I’m taking a singular swipe at emergents….beware!  I’ve got a list of questions I’ll be posting for those who think that 3 Hymns, a Wurlitzer Organ, ushers that look like funeral directors and an invitation that includes 27 verses of “Just as I am” constitutes “real” church.  So, watch out….

More later and thanks as always for letting me ruminate outloud.

21 thoughts on “Some Things I Want to Ask Young Emergent Church Planters

  1. Jonathan Charles

    I grew up in very conservative fundamental churches. Yes, the standards were very strict-women’s dress, movies, music, bible versions, etc. But after reflecting on my exposure to numerous churches and many Christians, I have concluded that most were well-meaning and loved Christ. Yes, there were a few Jack Hyles-like jerks, but MOST were not. I say this because I get tired of people my age who go around with a chip on their shoulder sucking their thumb over having grown up in a conservative fundamental church and home. Oprah has convinced us that we are all vicitms, and I guess some get some mileage out of moaning about their fundamental upbringing. Get over it!

  2. John the Baptist


    Excellent observations, accusations and ruminations.

    This should be printed on pamphlets and mailed out across the nation to PAstors of every stripe.

    Many of my “contemporaries” who have whole hogg moved from one cliche to another (Untucked shirt, geled hair and soul patch replaced their part on the side, wing tipped , double breasted old self) seem oblivious to the obvious on so many of these things.

  3. Ben

    Great thoughts. I especially loved 1, 2, and 5. You seem to articulate exactly what I’ve felt about this particular subject, and I’m a young church planter. What bothers me most about the Emergent movement is that they believe that God has been silent and inactive over the last 500 years of modernity. The lack of knowledge concerning church history and modern missions is amazing.

    The reality is that churches, whether modern or postmodern, fundamentalist or emergent, will always have flaws, because we are flawed. Praise to Jesus that He has been, is, and will continue to sanctify His bride. Both groups (and everyone in between) will be worshipping at the throne. Better love one another now.

  4. Dan Burrell Post author

    LOL, Rebecca….it’s a little tuft of “beard” that grows just below the lower lip and above the chin. Everything else is shaved. Usually found only in men. :-)

  5. Bob

    Re: 3. Doctrine divides…however the Bible is even worse! Think of how offensive are Jesus words. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” I am also reminded of Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” We don’t need to be self righteous jerks in presenting truth but truth is important..and especially Biblical Truth and Truth divides. It requires that we take sides. I would say that if the objective of emergents is to simply remove distractions by looking and sounding like the people are trying to reach in order to get the opportunity to share Biblical Truth then I guess that’s no big deal. I do think that young people tend to feel they are onto something no one else has thought of before. I remember…I was a young people once too. After life beats the tar out of you for a while however, it all boils down pretty quick. To be effective in any way for God, I need Jesus and the Written word more than words can express.

  6. bryan

    I have long noted to my wife that whenever I hear young Christian leaders talk of “pushing the envelope”; “breaking out of comfort zones”; always talking of “church tradition” in the negative sense, I have always theorized that it is more of a reflex to an unthinking rigid past rather than the moving of an omnipresent, living Lord.

    As one attending a church that is uncomfortably falling into a lot of the descriptions you are describing here, I would welcome your thoughts on one issue. In justifying reaching out to other churches of various denominations in our city and downplaying doctrinal differences, our elders wrote the following line in a study guide we published in-house on Ephesians: “the way of Jesus is more about whom you trust than what you believe.”

    In closing, to those of your readers who laugh at all the rules of the “indy Fundy” types, I understand. On the other hand, as a teenager raised and saved in a Southern Baptist church sound on doctrine but anything goes in terms of personal living, when I first united with an independent Baptist church at 16, I did not look at all the stuff about hair and dresses versus slacks as “legalism”. I thought, “wow, these people take it so seriously that they actually let it affect their lives!” While never accepting their rationales as Biblically defensible, I had enormous respect for their stands because of the sincerity of their hearts. To make a long comment short, always remember: one person’s legalism may simply be another person’s discipline. Let us not exhaust too much time playing the role of Holy Spirit in trying to judge which is which.

  7. Josh Benfield

    I’m really tired and wanna comment more.
    But, in response to the question about the bridegroom being fat and ugly (or whatever you said, wish I could write with such creativity). I’ll just go ahead and say “our generation”. So, our generation has noticed something and, apparently, the national secular news networks have noticed it too. It’s this – the church in America is in decline.

    So, in large part, for me, the desire to “do church” (I really don’t like saying that) differently is born out of a concern for the domain of King Jesus, especially in the land I was born, America. The church has NOT been making disciples of Jesus over the last 50 years. Or, said better, followers of Jesus have lost a lot of ground to followers of Joseph Smith, Mohammed, Money and Success, among others.

    I’m getting ready to step into church planting. And, honestly, I don’t hate churches that are more “traditional”, I just really see that I want to be a part of something different. Lots of people require lots of churches, each one will have its own unique personality, as does each state, city, town and group of people within the church.

    Good word from Ben, we are all going to worship together. Sweet!!

  8. derrick

    Great questions!!!! I have a tendency to be lengthy; maybe this is why I rarely reply to anything . At any rate, I will attempt to do so.

    1. All of the above, although it will differ between pastors. The majority of them, I assume, see flaws in the church, especially the ones that they are from, and think of starting a new church without those flaws only to find out that they have flaws of their own.
    I don’t think it is necessarily out of anger, maybe frustration, but I think the idea of “church” has changed for them, especially the idea of “traditional church” as we know it. Goodness, I see tons of problems with the church, especially the one I am a part of. I will take the good and bad from my experience in ministry, and whenever God moves me somewhere else, adopt the good and reject or change the bad. I think this is partially what many of them are doing.
    Granted, as you stated in the intro, it is a TREND. Give it about 10 years or so, and a new trend will develop. People will see flaws in the “new church,” which people already have, and it will soon be viewed as a traditional church, and it will change again. It’s all circular.
    I am sure that there are pastors out there in their “new church” who truly have a heart for reaching the lost, and they are doing what hey think is necessary to reach them. The problem that I see is that we begin to compromise truth for relevance and acceptance, doctrine for comfort, the word of God for our own opinions, and the glory of God for our own glory.
    For the “traditional” church, I think they should be willing to change without compromising. Methods change, but the Word of God doesn’t. Unfortunately, the “traditional church (pastors)” struggle with changing methodology because it is not what they used to do, etc. I think they must be willing to change how they reach the lost, their culture, etc, without compromising the teaching and truth of Scripture. It is doable, just not being done effectively.

    2. It’s obvious that we are becoming caricatures of our culture. What is funny is that in 10 years or so, we will have new caricatures that will laugh at the previous ones. I think one of the reasons for the caricature change is an open display of disdain for the traditional. They are trying to give the church a “new look” that is completely separate from the traditional, because they think that all the lost perceive the “church” as the old fundamental look, so if they can look different, lost people will begin to associate with church because it’s not the same as it used to be. At the same time, though, it may be sense of “does it really matter as much as we have emphasized it over the years?” Some of them may see it as a non-issue, but I believe the majority of it falls under the former explanation.

    3. Doctrine divides and that is GOOD. I am always reminded of Christ when He said that He “did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34-39) Not only this, but the statements that Christ makes about Himself, especially John 14:6, are divisive. Doctrine is divisive, and it is important. If doctrine is “transient,” then it’s not much of a doctrine. The Bible is universal and transferable from generation to generation, from culture to culture. The truths of Scripture do not change with time, just as our God is the “same yesterday, today, and forever.” It is important, and it must be taught, and taught correctly.
    There are numerous doctrines and tenants that must be taught and are essential. For example, the Gospel, salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ ALONE, virgin birth, the problem and seriousness of sin, the authority of Scripture, etc. If we cannot teach the foundational truths and principles of the Word of God, then we need to get out of the ministry, because you will probably be doing more harm than good.

    4. Denominational labels are irrelevant. What is interesting is that if you ask any of the “emergent” churches about their doctrines of belief for their church, if they have any at all, they will probably fall under one of the denominational sets of beliefs. The “emergent” churches will definitely not emphasize this at all.
    I do wonder about the doctrines/beliefs/philosophy/positions of any denomination in comparison to the disciples of Christ. I wonder if we have made it extremely difficult when the disciples didn’t. I wonder if the disciples even bothered with non-essentials. I know they all had to deal with various issues, but I think we tend to focus more on the non-essential elements of our beliefs/doctrines/philosophy/positions.
    With the de-emphasis on denominational affiliation, etc, I would venture to guess that the “emergent” churches do not focus on teaching their members the differences or the importance to see the differences.

    5. Not all traditions are bad. Some are. Lately there has been a disdain for “tradition,” as through some of your thought-provoking questions it makes me wonder if we making our own “traditions.” Baptism by immersion is not a tradition, I believe it is a mandate from Scripture. I see the reason for unleavened bread and grape juice, but not 100% sure if it is necessary in order to partake in the Lord’s Supper. Granted, I would not advise to use pizza and coke.
    I think a good tradition is one that upholds the teaching of scripture, glorifies God, and edifies the body of Christ (the Church). Singing ONLY hymns is a bad tradition, passing a fake gold plate with felt in the bottom for offering is a bad tradition, lighting effects is a bad tradition, offering coffee as people enter is a bad tradition. Partaking in the Lord’s Supper is a good tradition (and mandate), showing the love of Christ is a good tradition (and mandate). Usually our view of “traditions” are irrelevant aspects of “church” that really will not make a difference whether or not we do them. Again, I’m afraid that we are beginning to focus too much on the non-essential.

    6. I think having strictly a multi-cultural, or multi-generational church is equally bad. I see those two aspects on opposite ends of the same spectrum. Why can’t there be a multi-cultural and multi-generational church? Is this what God would envision for His Church? Is Heaven going to be a place of a bunch of multi-cultural old people, or is it going to be a place of about 10 families and all their generations? Seriously, both extreme examples are equally wrong, and the ideal church, in my opinion of course, is a beautiful mixture of both. Can it be done? Most people would probably say no, but why can’t it be done?

    7. Expositional and systematic preaching can be done in non-traditional churches. Again, I think there needs to be healthy balance of both. I do think that this is a major flaw of the “emergent” churches. They are EXTREMELY shallow in their exegesis of scripture. In being shallow, I am afraid that we are creating shallow Christians that are easily deceived and “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Eph. 4:14) People today have no idea what they believe, and it is because they are not being taught the truths of God’s Word. Because of this, people are not able to discern what is biblical and what is not. Although, this is not simply a problem caused by the “emergent’ churches. The “traditional” churches have also failed to consistently preach the “whole counsel of God.”
    There is definitely a gulf in the “emergent” churches, but the gulf is beginning to expand in our own “traditional” churches as well. This is why we see people living openly in sin, sin is not disciplined and repented from, people do not believe in the authority of the Scriptures, and many in our churches say that Jesus Christ is not the only way to Heaven (I have heard this in my own church). This is evidence of how the Church, as a whole, has failed.
    I do think that there can be a balance between expositional teaching and practical application. One of my fears though is that we throw too many applications/principles/truths at the people, and they never remember them. I really like how Andy Stanley approaches his sermon preparations. He focuses on one point, and hits that point hard. You can be expositional, true to the passage, yet still focus on one point and provide practical application. As everything else, it’s doable, just not be done effectively.

    I told you would be lengthy. I apologize.

  9. patrick

    wow! man… so much to say… so many thougths…
    not sure if I’ll have the time to really comment though. we’ll see how long this post stays up and if I get the chance to jump in the conversation.

    I wish you were still around so we could chat over a burger at Red Robin. I feel like we could figure out all your Qs.
    glad you’re still writing…

  10. ben schettler

    Derrick you write too much. lol I know you are making up for silence in staff meetings. Great thoughts I loved what you said.

    Patrick you don’t write enough. Get your lazy fingers moving b’cause I really want to hear what you have to say about these questions. I havn’t heard from you in a while hope all is well.

  11. ben

    I feel like some emergents think they are the saviors of the church gone irrelavent. I think that fundamentalist feel that they are the saviors of a church gone worldly. Perhaps we need to realize that Jesus is the savior of us all.

  12. Brian.

    Is it me, or is the meaning of emergent a little obscure. I mean, when the going gets tough, not many will outright call themselves emergent. Yet in times of comfort and around the friendly, the emergents will probably label themselves this (maybe).

    I mean, I think everyone commenting knows the gist of the emergent church, but does anyone really consider himself emergent? Who calls himself this?
    I can in some ways & in other ways I can’t.

    Clarify por favor.

  13. Brian.

    Is it me, or is the meaning of emergent a little obscure. I mean, when the going gets tough, not many will outright call themselves emergent. Yet in times of comfort and around the friendly, the emergents will probably label themselves this (maybe).

    I mean, I think everyone commenting knows the gist of the emergent church, but does anyone really consider himself emergent? Who calls himself this?
    I can in some ways & in other ways I can’t.

    Clarify por favor.

  14. Brent

    I’m coming from an Emerging perspective.

    1) Some start churches for wrong reasons like any group of church planters. Others use their jaded experience to actually do a positive missional church for the purpose of reaching non-Christians, or post-Christian cultures with the gospel.

    2) It is possible, but the difference is that we would be a caricature of our culture, not a synthetic subculture. The mock of past generation leaders was choosing an archaic culture (such as music from the gospel hymns era) or creating a subculture (wearing kulots (sp?) and avoiding alcohol, rock, and cigars. So the 2000′s culture may get mocks by those who live in 2020 but at least we are being culturally normal.

    3) Doctrine matters more than almost anything else. Particularly your view of the gospel as it translated into praxis in all areas of your church. Some of the Emergent group may believe doctrine to be unimportant but that fad will die very soon.

    4) yes.

    5) Since a huge trend in Emerging churches are young Reformed Calvinists then the answer is “yes” to the importance of tradition. But it depends. Yes to historic protestant theology, creeds, confessions, and even hymnology. “No” to most of the sub-culture traditions of a particular American Christian generation in the last 40 years.

    6) A better question is “doesn’t multi-anything really matter”? I don’t know of many younger pastors like myself who seek to have only a young church or multi-cultural. It depends on your particular demographic and your age. The reality is that common church wisdom reveals that most churches are full of people within 10 years less and more of the head pastor. Also, if you are an urban church by default you will have more diversity than a rural church.

    7) Expositional and systematic preaching is “In”. Works great if it is designed to transform, and in language and metaphors understood by the audience and not theological elitist terms, or sub-culture terms (ex. “fellowship”, “can I hear and A-men”)

  15. Jonathan Pedrone

    I’m hesitant to respond in a public forum, mostly because I think the issues here are better worked out around a table, with good food, good drink, and good discussion. I do however respond because I think the caricatures that have befallen the emergent church are wildly inaccurate. When interacting with anyone disparaging the emergent movement I am always interested to find out how many of the emergent books they have read, the emergent churches they have visited, and the emergent pastors they have taken to lunch to really hear their hearts. I’ll also use the term emergent and emerging, although a question of the exact definitions and usefulness of the words is another debate.

    1. Tony Jones has said that Emergent churches don’t start out of anger or frustration, they are started to save the faith of those involved in starting them. It’s not a simple rebellion against the modern church, but rather an attempt to rediscover a church that can free itself from the some of the damages that the enlightenment and the modern era have given us.

    2. The emergent caricature of a young man wearing sandals, hip glasses, and carrying Derrida in his backpack is just that a caricature. There are some great emerging and postmodern authors out there who are completely out of touch with fads, but completely in touch with culture, and the phenomenon that is the demise of foundationalism, and the rise of postmodernity in our culture. Quite honestly if there is a disparaging remark to be said about the demographic of the Emergent church leaders, it would be that they are old white American guys…

    3. Does doctrine matter? This would take more time to explicate than anyone would ever care to read, but let me try and answer this simply. Emergent’s attempt to be theological in everything they do; in fact, they call for more theology, and better theology in our churches. Does doctrine change? We believe in a God who is living and active. We believe that we have a vibrant, growing relationship with that God. We believe that the issues of our day can be understood from the perspective of the Scriptures. When a relationship like that ceases to grow and change, it dies.

    4. I’m always amazed at doctrinal statements at churches. In many churches the doctrinal statement serves as an end all to discussion on certain matters. Your theory of the atonement? Got that one settled for you. Your understanding of eschatology and the nature of apocalyptic language? Not a problem, we’ve already thought that out for you. The way you should vote? Just take our voters guide so that you wont have to think about any of the issues. I wonder what would happen if we took the priesthood of all believers seriously and really let our people in our churches think, and read the Scriptures for themselves… what if we didn’t have a doctrinal statement because they cannot fully encapsulate the fullness of our understanding of God. What if we were to lean towards an apophatic theological stance, where we understood that there was more to God than we could ever possibly understand?

    5. Tradition. Most would like to think that Emergent’s want to throw tradition and any semblance of history out the window. But I think many would be amazed if they actually read some of the Emergent books out there the leaning on tradition. The desire for the ancient spiritual practices, the crying out of our younger generations for a church where they can participate as a missional community of theologians, and not just bystanders. I have found that Emergent’s actually take the early centuries of Christianity far more seriously than some of their counterparts.

    6. The age demographic of Emergent churches tends to trend younger, but there is actually a great amount of diversity in Emergent churches, contrary to popular belief.

    7. Expositional preaching is certainly practiced in many Emergent churches. I think the problem is that in many of our traditional churches we feel that if we preach at a group of people for 30-50 minutes out of the Bible, we have done our job, and they have been given the Word… what if that’s not the case? What if traditional preaching doesn’t work anymore?

    The root of the problem is this. Emergent’s, much like postmodernity [which I would say is the reason for the rise of Emergent churches] is hard to pin down. Emergent’s are extremely diverse from super liberals in Massachusetts, to right wingers from Texas. They are a diverse group.

    Emergent has no official paid leadership [Tony Jones recently gave up the mantle of Emergent Coordinator so that the movement could remain a movement and not become an institution], they have no doctrinal statement, they have no grand central headquarters, and a minuscule budget. And yet they cause so much controversy, and seem to be making so many headlines…

    Now I’ve written just as much as Derrick… And I assume that no one will actually read all of this… In fact this represents brevity, and simplicity on my part… the actual issues are much more complex… But really, who wants to read that?

    And Derrick, get a haircut you hippie…

  16. Bob

    Fascinating reading the various thoughts and also very helpful. Taking all the cautions to heart, I have to say that I really believe God is doing a mighty work through our many if not most of our “emergent” brothers and as He promised, He will finish the good work He started because its His glory, not theirs or ours.

  17. ben

    Jon great stuff. I read every word. I felt like you gave some very important arguments and I am glad that these things are being said. I am thankful for the arguments and thinking emergents have brought to the kingdom as a whole.

    I am curious about a few things:

    I agree that the emergent church is diverse. It has many beliefs, faces personalities. I notice when I speak to emergents that they constantly apeal to the fact that they have no centralized beliefs. A difficult bunch to criticize.

    Would you agree that emergents are dogmatic about how they really don’t believe any one thing? Therefore it seems that any criticism given to the movement can be negated by saying. We don’t all believe that.

    If Dan’s questions arise from charicatures than what does the emergent movement believe?

    I also wanted to respond to your comments about doctrinal statements. I agree. I feel that many churches have a doctrinal statement that is too comprehensive. They have eliminated the possibility that we will never be able to know all that God is or has in store for us. Making things like the expanse of atonement and issues of eschatology dogmatic is ridiculous. Don’t expect me to believe that my faith requires me to have an unwaivering opinion on almost all aspects of theology. Our relationship with God will be a constant search.

    This brings me to a critique of part of the emergent movement. A criticism targeted at what I would call extreme emergents. While some emergents are only concerned with the things Dan wrote about. There are others whose doctrinal beliefs have gone widely eschew. While some emergents don’t have a doctrinal statement just to be cool others don’t have one because they don’t believe anything dogmatically. They have gone to error because of there over-emphasis on the search and under emphasis on the find.
    (once again I am only talking about some)

    In my many conversations with extreme emergents I feel that they are searching not to find answers but because they enjoy looking. The moment this brand of emergent finds God or an undisputed truth about Him it ruins the search. They are excited about the search and dissapointed in the find.

    Perhaps a doctrinal statement is a result of searching and finding the truth.

    I agree that there are many things we can not know. I also believe there are many things we can know. This is where I disagree with some (not all) emergents. There are emergents who can not be dogmatic about the ressurection, authority of scripture, the virgin birth, and deity of Christ. If your emergent principles have caused you to question these things than the movement is destroying you as a follower of Christ.

    All movements have their faults. Are emergents willing to admit this? I have found most emergents willing to admit that all other movements have their faults. I think there is good that has come from emergent thinking I wonder if the lack of absolutes will be their downfall?

    Obviously Derrick’s downfall is his hair. and his face…

    Jk derrick, I only make fun of you because Jon did and because I secretly want to be as cool as you.

  18. Todd

    Having been raised as a Baptist I was able to see the extreme dogmatism and narrowmindedness of some of my bretheren up close and personal. After rubbing shoulders with other fellow believers from other denominations, my eyes were opened. Dont tell everyone…but there will be OTB in heaven! (Other Than Baptist)

    One specific area that we claimed to have the corner on was the area of doctrine. The doctrinal statements were written in such a way that interpreted some areas of scripture along their viepoint. If you did not agree you were simply wrong. Amazingly enough most of the rank and file membership did not know what was contained in their churches doctrinal statement…i.e. they did not know what their church claimed to believe about scripture/doctrine.

    IMHO not having a doctrinal statement is a knee jerk reaction the opposite direction. Instead of keying in on the fundamentals of Christianity, they simply throw the entire thing out. (Which, interstingly, many churches do today in response to problems that arise…we make rules that swing the pendelum the opposite direction.)

    The answer I believe is taking time to develop a balanced statement so that the world knows who we are and what we stand for. At the same time it allows believers to come together. Certainly there are key elements that must be contained; authority and inerrancy of scripture, deity of Christ, lostness of man apart from Christ, salvation through Christ alone, eternal punishment for the lost, the personal return of Christ, etc…

    Bottom line…doctrine matters. Does it change? Not sure I can agree to that.To say that doctrine changes would be akin to saying that God changes. Hebrews 13:8 answers that for us. Our doctrine should not change, but our methodology MUST change in order to reach an ever changing world.

    One question for Jonathan..

    “7. Expositional preaching is certainly practiced in many Emergent churches. I think the problem is that in many of our traditional churches we feel that if we preach at a group of people for 30-50 minutes out of the Bible, we have done our job, and they have been given the Word… what if that’s not the case? What if traditional preaching doesn’t work anymore?”

    What is your definition of expositional preaching and traditional preaching?

  19. derrick

    Jon, Ben…you guys are simply jealous that I am as cool as I am…the hair is actually a wig…i’ve been suffering from pre-mature balding since I was 13.

    No, not really, I’m just that cool.

  20. Hombre Juan

    I have followed the emergent/emerging debacle or a long time. SOME of the people groups may be Biblical but, let’s be honest, most are not. I am not referring to their coffee shop style of ‘church’ or Harley rider style of ‘pastors’. I am referring to the fact they do not hold to the Bible.

    It can be said they are not a unified group but there are several writers and speakers that have become de facto leadership of the wayward movement. These men and women are space cadets! They are not connected to the Bible and they say it cannot even be understood. They claim to be ‘experiencing Jesus’ but they refute many (and maybe even most) of His teachings.

    Wake up call! Do all of the style paraphernalia you want but if you leave God’s word, your’re irrelevant. God did not call us to go out and make friends with and meld into the culture of the lost. He called us to take the message to the lost.

    ECers are promoting a plan B approach…(broad road)


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