Emergent Church on Theopedia


(update – poll results)

Since yesterday’s post “The Emergent Heresy Test“, there have been at least 50 addtions to the definition of Emergent Church on Theopedia. Much thanks to Aaron Shafovaloff, the original writer who has put much hard work into refining his original definition and is asking for help. I have since stopped the comments on that post because the new definition no longer reflects our conversation or the test.

But out of curiosity, here are the results of the poll that measured how many of the 7 common characteristics described the emerging church people that took the poll. Those characteristics were “postmodernism”, “absolute truth is either non-existent or unknowable”, “narrative preaching”, “irrelevance of expository preaching”, “corporate inclusivism”, open theism and “apophatic theology”.

From the answers, 2 out of 7 and 3 out of 7 were the most common.

That was a good exercise – thanks for participating. I know it was painful for some of you to try the criticism on for size. Clearly, the hat did not fit. Clearly, what conservative Christians have been reading about the Emerging Church has not been accurate. That means we have some work to do in order to communicate better.Still much work needs to be done, mainly:

1. Presenting what the Emergent Church practices and affirms.

2. Helping out with the definitions on the other side of the hypertext links.

3. Allowing other countries to have a voice

I liked the way Bob Robinson summed it up

“This test certainly tells more about how Emergent is perceived than it does anything else.

And Andrew’s insightful and humorous post clearly indicates that emergent-types are falling way short on getting the message out as to who we really are!

I wondering where some categories of these categories are on the test:

Where’s “Emergents are Missional”?

Where’s “Emergents are Community-Centered”?

Where’s “Emergents are engaged with Postmodern Culture but are not held captive by it”?

Where’s “Emergent is willing to re-think and re-energize Christianity; they are Reformed in the truest sense of the word–ALWAYS REFORMING!”

Here is Aaron’s comment from yesterday, with some explanation of why he included those original 7 characteristics in his definition.

“Hey brothers!

Sorry to pull a hit-and-run, but I can only pull a chair and chat for a little while before I return to my work.

I think much of PhilJohnson’s comment on Apophatic theology shows that the emergent church–at least as I know it–can indeed be described by it. There is a big emphasis in the emergent church of God as mystery, and not one who can be described with many helpful propositions. Now, of course this needs qualification but I think you get the point.

Regarding narrative preaching, the emergent church also emphasizes it to a point where it can be fairly characterized as parting ways from, say, the traditional Protestant Christian practice of expositional preaching. This is true to a very high degree: emergent leaders, in my line of sight, rarely ever give ANY expository sermons. Expository preaching is seen as too impersonal. The very art and practice of expository preaching runs against the warp and woof of the postmodern complaint that people think they know a lot about what the Bible means but really don’t. This isn’t very distinctive, however, as most newer church movements are going in this direction.

Regarding open theism, the emergent church is highly vulnerable to it and I think can be described as very sympathetic and disposed to it. Clear beliefs (expressed via propositions) concerning the very nature of God’s knowledge are not seen as practical or necessary for healthy fellowship or worship. I need some time to better substantiate this. I’d of course qualify by saying that some solid emergent church fellowships are even Reformed in theology. It’s like the Pharisees or Cretans: they were a diverse bunch of folks but could be described with helpful generalizations.

Regading inclusivism I’d invite you to read the following Brian McLaren quote:

“I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts.” —A Generous Orthodoxy

The distinctives, of course, need to be refined and naunced and corrected and substantiated (in keeping with the wiki’s writing guidelines, of course). The material is mostly provisional and will hopefully mature as more volunteers contribute.

Grace and peace in Christ, 100% God, 100% man, Lion, and Lamb,


Thanks Aaron – there might be one or two in the bunch that have a few spare moments to volunteer some time – not just on your definition, but the definitions that they link to within Theopedia. Hey . . thanks for being a good sport!!!!

I think the main thing at this point is take some of Bob’s excellent points, and others, flesh them out, and make sure that every definition includes them. We have been saying that the emerging church is MISSIONAL before it is anything, and this point needs to be driven home, or people will never really understand what follows it.

What else?


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.


  • Kevin Rector says:

    After signing up for an account at Theopedia I noticed the following at http://www.theopedia.com/Theopedia:Writing_guide (I thought it should be noted since I was mistaken on the goals of Theopedia):
    Content endorsed by the statement of faith and content generally accepted within Reformed evangelicalism may be written assertively.
    Content that runs contrary to the statement of faith and Reformed evangelicalism may be respectfully and reasonably criticized.

  • Ed C says:

    One word that comes to mind for the emerging church is “network,” in the sense of a computer network where files can be shared. Networking covers how we communicate on the web, meet in a variety of venues to share our lives together, etc. For me the word network captures how many emerging Christians think, interact, and meet.
    Hat tip to Wolfgang Simpson: if we are a network of smaller groups (as he says, “rabbits”), we need to be connected together as opposed to larger groups that tend to be more self-sufficient (the “elephants”).

  • mark says:

    All of our perceptions are colored by our understanding of the terminology used in any conversation.
    For instance, based on the definition of Apophatic theology provided @ Theopedia.com I concluded I did not accept that as my position. However, upon reading Phil Johnson’s explanation of the same concept my perception changed. Why? The defintion was clarified.
    We need to make sure we are being understood & that those who are hearing us comprehend what we are saying. Education is a process. It’s also redundent (sic). Keep saying the same things in different ways until they “get it”.
    Thanks Phil… I get it.

  • D.R Randle says:

    I figure I should make some type of comment since it was my comments on the Emergent SBC blog that started the last post. First, I would say that I did not call anyone a heretic — I said that those views (Open Theism and Inclusivism) were heterodoxical. That means that they do not line up with classical or traditional Christianity. Now, what classical or traditional Christianity is defined as is sometimes difficult. Still, there can be at least a kernel understanding of what the Church universal has held to regarding many doctrines down through the ages. And although these views might not fall into the range of heresy, I do think they are dangerous positions. I think MacLaren’s views of the conquest narratives and of hell are outside the bounds of orthodoxy as well. And I think that is what has triggered such a backlash against the emergent conversation. It just seems that those in emergent are so open to every divergent view that they have in essence opened the door in similar ways to those who have come before them and are now securely within Protestant liberalism. I think that scares many of us who have studied church history of the past 200 years and continually strive now to keep the faith once handed down to the saints that now seems to have at least a general foothold in Christianity today. It would be a travesty to see Emergent go the way of the mainline denominations for the past 50 years. But it does seem that many of those in Emergent are taking the same path. I hope you will see that we as conservative, evangelical critics do care about Emergent and do want to learn from it, but we cannot accept a branch of Christianity that does not put emphasis on doctrinal truth (at least not without critiquing it). I am sorry that we have been at such odds and that there has been so much name calling, but I do think that indicates that we do take Emergent seriously and we do want it to succeed, just not at the expense of truth. I pray that you will take us seriously as well and buffer yourselves against our warnings. All of us don’t want to hold to man-made traditional, but we all hope to be as Biblical as possible.
    Soli Deo Gloria,

  • Dan-D from Canada says:

    Thanks for the honest, loving comments D.R.
    I can only speak for myself, but this is how I view truth and emergent: We are committed, wholeheartedly, passionately, and fervently to the truth. We believe that God’s truth is absolute and undeniable, but comprehending that truth completely is outside the realm of possibility. I look at all the different denominations and their interpretations of scripture (and the differnt views on hell – purgetory, etc) and I don’t think any one of them is completely “right”. That’s not the same as denying that truth exists; but certainty about truth may not, or may only exist in fleeting glimpses of Glory. Someone once described Emergent as a pub, where many different views could come and be welcome to discuss, debate, and worship together in a safe environment. I have not found that in many “modern” churches/denominations, where you hold to their particular view of the truth or get the boot. (and I know that not all of them are like that, but there are enough of them to drive us into the arms of emergent).
    When it comes right down to it, the only essential doctrine that we all hold to is Christ and him crucified – and there are plenty of diverse views on that too! Re: McLaren’s view of hell – is it that threatening for so many Christians that this becomes what we are judged for? I hope not! His ideas and readings of scripture in context has helped me (I work in a ministry position that is geared towards evangelism) to do better at reaching people. And really, even if we believe in hell can we not agree that a valid way of evangelism is to focus on the good (jesus’ saving life and death) not the bad (separation from God for those who reject him)?
    Again, D.R., thanks for your post. Rarely it seems do other Christians approach us in love. You have encouraged me today.

  • andrew jones says:

    Great to have you make an appearance on the blog. i figure i should make some type of comment on your comment, since it is my blog and we owe you the pleasure of this conversation.
    Your initial question on Steve’s blog was a relevant one and we discussed it, as you can see, without feeling judgement. I chose it because if we can answer your question, then we can anwswer the same question from a thousand people like you.
    I am not saying that we have answered it . . . we probably are still at the introduction stage.
    i like what Dan-D from Canada (above) has said in response.
    I think it is important to note that the emerging church movement, as it is showing its head around the world and inside denominations and outside denominations, is a multi-colored animal and there is lots to love and lots to hate.
    Brian M. comes from a North Eastern USA perspective and he reflects it, Tony Jones is a Lutheran attending Princeton and Baptists may not like his theology any more than they like other Lutherans. I notice that you are a Baptist from Kentucky, so i am guessing that my connection with the Baptist General Convention of Texas (moderate rather than fundamental) is somewhat of a worry to you . . . and the Theopedia people who are defining us on the internet, being heavily Reformed, are probably not very impressed with you.
    In fact, your statement on your blog a few days ago [and i quote]
    ” . . . men like J.I. Packer and C.S. Lewis who represent a past that is marked by orthodox theology and Evangelical engagement.]
    would label you as an “Inclusivist” like they label both those men in their definition of inclusivist . . . which is kinda funny . . because you said you had a problem with our inclusivism.
    anyway, what i am saying, is that there is a lot of variety in the emerging church. . . but there is also variety in the hymnbook your church uses, and the various churches that participate in a Billy Graham crusade. in fact, sometimes i think the emerging church movement has LESS variety than those two things . . . but its true to say that we all come from different backgrounds but we have heard the call of Jesus Christ who has summoned us by his Word to preach the good news to the next generation . . which we are doing side by side, even though we dont always agree with each other in our doctrine . . . and we are seeing new people come . .
    [dang – almost burned my curry – i turned it down to a 3 on the stove but i might have a bit of a crust on the bottom of the pot .. dangitt!]
    anyway . . uh . . yes . .seeing new people come into the Kingdom and the new churches are looking very different from our fathers churches and you probably wish they looked more like Kentuckian Baptist churches just like I hope my own kids grow up to mimic me . . which also is probably not going to happen . . and shouldnt happen if they are to succeed in this new world that i am about to thrust them out into
    ahhh . .. kids
    [why are we talking about kids??]
    anyway . . thanks again for kicking off the conversation – your original comment to steve was great . . and profound . . and it was the question of the moment that a million people are asking and that .. THAT . . is why i picked it.
    so . .. . THANKS
    now i will copy and paste this comment to email to you so you have it.

  • Mark Berry says:

    Sorry to change the flow somewhat but I noticed this amongst other things in the “new definition” … “The focus is on the humanity of Jesus and there is very little attention paid to His divinity. He is son of man, for men, and the quest is for justice and equity for all men.” Whilst many Emergent Churches may want to redress the Christological balance, it seems to me that the majority of Emergent groups/churches want to explore a broader Christology that refelcts the tension of fully man/fully God, the reality and living implications of divine incarnation. If anything this is a more orthodox position as it recognises both natures of Christ as congruent and significant.

  • Dan-D from Canada says:

    I think it’s perplexing that so many these days (not referring to D.R.) are interested in opposing us for views that some of us may or may not have. It doesn’t seem very practical, because, as we’ve seen, there are plenty of people around to object to the straw men that get set up/knocked down so easily. It is my hope that we at emergent will be judged for what comes of this movement above all else. Remember the words of Gamaliel: “If their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these [people]; you will only find yourself fighting against God.” Acts 5:39.
    Our varied and oft-disputed theologies aside – let us be judged by the fruit we bear.
    And away I go.
    Dan-D from Canada

  • Some hopefully helpful notes to promote understanding:
    When you say something like “Brian M. comes from a North Eastern USA perspective and he reflects it” it sounds (to those of us who don’t speak this way) like you’re saying what he believes is true for North Eastern USA but not for anyone else. You may mean that in regard to some cultural practice (I’m not sure), but it sounds like you mean that for anything- so if McLaren thinks that there is no hell, that’s true for him and his community.
    Those of us outside Emergent generally care less about what you practice and care more about what you believe. It’s not that your practice doesn’t matter to us, but that we mostly agree that certain practices can differ by culture. The more you tell us what you practice the more we get the impression that beliefs don’t matter to you, which is what we care about, so we get frustrated. Most of us don’t like DJs, but will tolerate you having them at your churches.

  • andrew jones says:

    thanks roger d:-)
    i do feel that the local context (time-space) in which we labor through/work out our theologies will influence what we come up with . . . certainly there are Amercican theologies that (pro-slavery, pre-tribulation, prosperity doctrine) that it would be hard to see emerging from any other country.
    But that does not make it right –
    Drop me into NE USA or let me walk around Princeton campus and there will be all kinds of people that do not agree with my theology.
    i feel we all need to do our best in bringing a sharpened Biblical prophetic word from God’s heart into the culture in which we live.
    whats really interesting in blogging is that, blogging from UK, you get the Aussie/Kiwi’s in the morning who cheer you on and encourage you, the Brits during the day who think through things in a balanced way, and by the afternoon the North Americans come on with extreme reactions either way. Makes for an interesting day.

  • ScottB says:

    Roger said, “Those of us outside Emergent generally care less about what you practice and care more about what you believe. It’s not that your practice doesn’t matter to us, but that we mostly agree that certain practices can differ by culture.”
    I think perhaps what you’re hearing is the connection that is often drawn in more emerging conversation between belief and praxis. I’ve heard it stated, as a critique of emerging church theology, that praxis follows belief. (You may agree or disagree with that statement, I don’t know – I’m simply stating it for illustration.) I think what you’ll find more often in emerging church thought is the interrelatedness of belief and praxis. So, for example, if I say that I believe that we are to pursue justice for the poor, but I do nothing to actually seek justice, then what is more demonstrative of my actual orientation towards the poor – belief or praxis? Conversely, sometimes praxis moves us towards belief, such as practicing disciplines of prayer and fasting and living in community with others, for example.

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