Emergent Criticism

It looks like Emergent is about to enter a season of blow torching from the mainstream church. How should we handle it?

A comment yesterday, that i unfortunately deleted by mistake (sorry – please try again) asked about how we should handle criticism and what we thought about a particular book coming out soon.
Brian MacLaren sent out an email to some of us today that included this:
“Hostile Critique: We have expected some sort of critical response to our work for some time, and have so far been impressed by how generous and restrained critique has been. That restraint may end soon. When it does, we need to be prepared to keep a sweet spirit about critiques, and not become distracted by them. In many cases, the critiques will be based on issues that are relatively unimportant to us; in other cases, they will be unfair. In some cases, they will actually help us, as they help make clear the differences between emergent and other approaches, so people can make intelligent choices about where to invest their energy. We don’t want everyone to join us, and we are glad that some non- emergent leaders will succeed in steering some people away from us, as they will be happier and more productive elsewhere. “


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • bobbie says:

    gosh he’s gracious! what a lovely way to look at it.
    i blogged on this a couple of days ago with the hubbub about sweet’s new book here. i truly think/fear things will get ugly soon. there are too many with structures to preserve, that are far too invested in the status quo that cannot remain silent, and my guess is that a large division is coming.
    i think the first place this war will be waged is with youth pastors – i can see it already happening for my husband, we have talked about our response at length.
    brian’s words help that to be more gracious and forward moving, the warning not to get caught up in the sidelines, but to keep the goal in sight and let those who feel that way have their own, and glory in that.
    inspirational words, thanks for sharing them!

  • Toby says:

    Being in seminary, I hear a wide range of opinions, but most of what I hear from professors is encouraging. Most of my profs hold very modern opinions about church, but realize somethingelse is necessary.
    I sat with one professor yesterday who wants to start a church someday (he actually said he hopes he has the ***** to start this church someday) that owns no buildings, that revolves around discipleship, and that reproduces itself when it reaches 100-150 people so that the church can maintain a strong sense of community. No mega church for this prof.
    Another prof keeps telling us that the way they did church when he was a kid doesn’t work anymore, and that he doesn’t know how to fix it, it’s up to us (my classmates and I) to find what works and be the agents of change. (for a funny story about this prof, no name given, check out my blog post on 1 reason to guard your words).
    So, while I’m sure criticism is coming, there are a growing number of people recognizing the flaws in the structure, and the need to repair them. Maybe this all goes back to our previous discussions of “Emergence, Divergence, and Convergence”: we have emerged (we are here)and in some instances diverged (by criticizing the establishment and creating an us/them mentality), so maybe its time to start the process of converging, a process that is sure to be messy and very possibly painful to some.

  • tk says:

    but i think another healthy response is to not let everything said be roll off like water off your back. sometimes things sting bc there are morsels of truth…albeit, not said in truth in LOVE… but truly evaluating what’s being said, weighing it, and responding (if need be) is necessary. criticism can be constructive, even if it’s not delivered that way.

  • Bill says:

    Brian’s words are wise (and make me chuckle). What I’m wondering is which issues are supposed to be relatively unimportant? Which ones are essential?

  • david says:

    the ic should criticize the ec … many of us (myself included) have criticized the ic for sometime, and that criticism has ‘served us’ as a kind of fuel for moving forward … obviously the possibility of a response by the ic indicates an advance of sort in the dialogue … (at mayheim)brian discussed the natural dynamics of criticism within a new movement and how it assists that movement in taking shape (by negative definitions) and his own hope that we could move beyond beyond criticism toward rudimentary elements of formation … this appears to potentially be one of the steps toward that formation … and that is a good thing …

  • Greg says:

    Hi Andrew,
    It was MY post that was deleted and what a wonderfully intelligent post it was (ironic smile). Well, I can’t remember exactly what I said…something about Hegelian synsytheses, high renaissance Brethren bishops, and evangelical cross-hairs. I can’t exactly put these back in reclaimable order that anyone would care for but I would like to highlight something else from McLaren’s email today:
    For a number of reasons, we all felt that the international side of emergent was at a critical and fertile juncture. We have been realizing increasingly that “postmodern” is a Euro-American way of talking about one slice of a much larger and more profound reality called “postcolonial” in the global south (which is now the demographic center of Christian faith and mission). We believe that postcolonial is a better, richer, more all- encompassing way to frame many of the issues we are grappling with. So, we are convinced that any theological conversation that doesn’t include global south and north as partners simply perpetuates colonial, modern, Euro-American Christianity. The global north/west needs to learn from the global south/east, and we want to link emerging leaders for that conversation and friendship. We have been working on this side of things for a couple of years, but we felt the time had come to shift significant resources in this direction.
    As one of the few who live in the “global south” who frequent this site these words ring very true. I think if the Euro-American-ANZAC church makes connections into the global south we’ll have less time for these evangelical/emergent mudslinging. I do agree with some of the above posters that not all the criticism will be bad and indeed some of it will be healthy and constructive. But it will sting nonetheless. Let’s begin to brace ourselves with God’s grace and forgiveness. We’ll need it soon enough if not already.

  • jason says:

    That’s a link to a book that will be the first aggressive critique of Emergent. You can read the intro there.

  • Howard says:

    Brian is indeed gracious, and therefore very accurate.
    It is amazing how the main thrust of criticism of emerging Church broadly comes from Evangelicals (passionate about making disciples) rather than the more Catholic (for whom the fabric and tradition of institution is more important).
    I can’t help feeling that just as the USA defeated Communism, only to turn round and be surprised by how few other countries were applauding; so too Evangelicals have become pretty dominant, but cna’t understand why many people don’t want to touch them with a barge pole.

  • Oke says:

    One of the key issues that Brian must refer to when he talks about unimportant versus important has to be the ethnocentrism of much of american evangelicalism. The sad part is that they don’t know — and they don’t want to know — how self-absorbed they are and that the center of christianity shifted long ago to the global south and not the USA south. We in the USA learn from others, no, no, no, no, — they learn from us, don’t you know?
    Criticism of the EC will almost certainly come from those who have the most to gain from continuing more of the same — mmmm, wonder who *they* are? Unfortunately, Brian’s call for a grace-filled responses to impending ctiticism will likely not be returned in kind. As you say andrew, it could be torch blowing time.

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