Emerging Church in Modern Reformation

Cover0705BMy copy of Modern Reformation arrived in the mail yesterday (cool cover in Kiwi green!) and I was surprised to see the entire issue devoted to the Emerging Church. I love the Reformed folk and I think they have added a lot of spice to the conversation over the past year.

The issue is quite balanced and reviews of books both pro and con are presented with equal weight. Although the best books i have read on emerging church were not reviewed.

The focus on the emerging church falls heavily on just one group – EmergentVillage.com – I would have liked to see them deal more with emerging church inside the Reformed tradition – emerging Lutheran churches, the Acts 29 Network, leaders like Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill) and others who are ministering among the emerging culture AND holding to a Reformed 5-point Calvinism. However, they have done a thorough job and a lot of work to put this together. You can read more and listen to some talks at White Horse Inn.

There were also 2 CDs with the magazine and I got to listen to Dr. D.A. Carson who, in a very short time, has achieved Emergent Nemesis Status and is sounding much better than his original taped series at Cedarville that sparked an outrage a year ago. I like him more each time I hear him – he seems to be settling into his role and he has more good stuff to share. Of course I dont agree with a lot of his conclusions but you know that already. Great to hear him laugh a little and be himself. I am guessing that his mention of “Monastic Vows” and its content is taken from a blog post of mine called “Monastic Vows”. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like for Dr. Carson to critique some of his own students who are giving voice and leadership to the Emerging Church – Bob Robinson, and Dwight Friesen come to mind.

One of Carson’s points is spot on – his observation that much of the emerging church is Anabaptist in flavor. I feel this is why the Southern Baptists are finding it easy to encourage integration (check out Emerging SBC Leaders) and why the disagreements between Emergent and Reformed sometimes feel like they have gone back to the days when Reformers were inisisting that Anabaptists see things their way and were drowning those that didn’t in Lake Geneva.

Interesting – emerging church people are criticized for a random sampling of Christian traditions (Faith a-la-carte) and are encouraged to stay in a tradition, to keep the distinctiveness of their denominational history – which I agree with wholeheartedly, and I often default back to my Baptist heritage, as you have probably noticed. Although when a Southern Baptist pastor shares on the CD that he is tapping into Reformed thinking and teaching “The Solas” he is complimented rather than chastised. So maybe taking from other traditions is OK, as long as its Reformed [ha ha – had to put something in here to stir up the Calvinists]
Although, to be honest, most emerging stuff i have seen (in about 20 -30 countries) is happening WITHIN denominations and existing structures, so it is not as visible and threatening as groups with a strong identity – like EmergentVillage.

What about the young people interviewed at Emergent Convention and taken apart by the theologians? Well, they didnt answer the questions as well as they should and were easy targets. Although if i went to a more traditional mainline or denominational convention and asked the participants the same questions, I might get some shallow answers also. I think the entire evangelical tradition needs a thorough grounding in the missiological sweep of Scriptures so that we all understand God’s redemptive plan and how we fit into it. In the meantime, lets all do better at communicating the missional heart of why new wineskins are needed for new wine, and NOT why old wineskins will not work, lets we sound like we are reactive or in protest mode.

You can read Carson’s article “The Emerging Church” here.

PLEASE, lets not get too defensive, nor rebound to a beaten dog posture. But since we define ourselves by a contextual, missional approach to bring the whole gospel to an emerging culture and are seeing new churches take their place in the fabric of the wider body of Christ, both inside denominations and as part of new networks, lets be clear on one thing:

We are not protesting – and “Protest” should not be the number one characteristic that Carson has noticed (or assumed).

We are NOT defined by “Protest” against modernism or the traditional church.

We are NOT even about reforming the traditional church

We love the traditional church and are NOT trying to reform it – in fact, we should support the traditional church all we can. I often tell new emerging churches to not meet on Sunday mornings but to go and help the traditional churches – teach a Sunday School class or prepare morning tea, run the AV – and let the traditional folk enjoy their worship.

We are NOT infatuated by postmodernism, defined by postmodernism, shaped by postmodernism or called to defend it.

We do know that a new generation will need to hear the timeless gospel in their own heart language and will build ecclesiastic structures around the new believers that may not look like structures from 1954. But that does not make the new better or cooler than the old. The old might have been appropriate for its time, and we should pray that our church structures are also the right thing for our time.

And lets stop talking sooooo much about our cool worship and technological tricks and haircuts.

Buy the way – did you know i am growing a mullet???

Ok – maybe i cant help myself talking about hairstyles, or technology. Or worship stuff.

Dangitt – maybe i am a lost case . .

But then when i talk about new media theory, i am trying to read the culture (as D.A Carson suggests) and i see more parallels in new media theory and the emerging church than i do with postmodern philosophy of the 1970’s.

And if i am reading the culture wrong, in attempting to understand the way we are communicating (new media) and the way new churches are developing organically within a complex environment (emergent theory) then someone please let me know – but don’t make me go back to read my fathers books and make a case for them. Unless my elders recommend that i do. . .

Anyway, God is doing a great thing. It is His church and He is building it, and we might not always choose the path that he chooses for us but we should never be embarrassed by the Bride of Christ. If we are not doing well at communicating then lets try harder so that we can enjoy the blessing of elders and wise counsel. And when Dr Carson visits his first emerging church, he will find love, grace, commitment to truth AND truthfulness, an accurate reading of the culture, a prophetic stance within the culture, health, life, joy, uprightness, . . . and some really cool haircuts.

Same old stuff. Sorry to say it again.

Others who read the mag:

Redeeming the LCMS


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.


  • Jason Clark says:

    Thanks Andrew, great review, and all the best with the hair. Jason.

  • Modern Reformation on the Emerging Church

    The latest issue contains some articles on the emerging church, including this one by D. A. Carson: Most movements have…

  • Justin says:

    Good post Andrew, thanks for the summary and we really do need to make sure we help others to understand that we are not reforming the church we are interested in reaching a group that is quickly becoming unreached. I think it would be helpful for us to subscribe to a “unity creed” so that we don’t get constantly slammed that we are against the trad church. Emerge has a good start on it that I saw mentioned on a couple blogs. Could we all agree to subscribe to a creed of unity? See The Charge of Unity

  • Sivin Kit says:

    “most emerging stuff i have seen (in about 20 -30 countries) is happening WITHIN denominations and existing structures, so it is not as visible and threatening as groups with a strong identity – like EmergentVillage.”
    totally agree with this … becoz i see myself in this comment … how about some of us who are connected to both in conversation in denominations and emergent village? I think it’s a great place to “be”

  • ScottB says:

    Fascinating connection between the emerging church and Anabaptist approaches. I’ve recently begun to consider my own lack of traditional connected-ness, and have been investigating some Anabaptist traditions. I was truly surprised to find such a high degree of compatibility with their doctrinal positions. And the fact that the emerging church gets perhaps its harshest criticism from those in the Reformed tradition does play out as at least ironic and at worst destructive – and I think we’ve seen responses at all points along that spectrum, some better and others worse, as you’ve often pointed out.

  • Kyle says:

    Andrew, thanks for this post. It is much needed. I really appreciated the Stan Grenz interview in the mag. He is deeply missed.

  • david says:

    okay andrew ~ your comment “Although the best books i have read on emerging church were not reviewed” begs the question for this bookstore owner . . . what are the top ten books you consider ‘must reads’ of things considered emergent ??

  • Gabi says:

    Excellent, gracious and your shortest summary on EC. The end of paragraph 7 is what everyone needs. I’ll send the link to brothers asking me to define EC in non-‘what not” terms. Great you put your thoughts down, thanks for saving me time 🙂 PS: glad for your daughter. I love to hear about the Jones’ parenting.

  • Charlie says:

    I read with interest your blog entry on the emerging church. I haven’t had time to read extensively on the issue. However, it seems to me that relevance to culture isn’t the issue that matters the most. The seeker sensitive thing has been around for ages. What’s new?
    What matters the most is the truth, isn’t it? If your approach compromises the truth, then what good is it? Seems to me that rebellion isn’t the answer to misplaced authority based on shakey modernist foundations.
    If truth is relative, then we have nothing left but sinking sand. Where’s the solid rock?
    Sincerely in Christ,
    Charlie Ray

  • andrew jones says:

    but charlie,
    truth is not always relative –
    some is (“fireworks are legal in USA”) and some is not (“God is truth” “God is love”)
    “On Christ the solid rock I stand
    all other ground is sinking sand”
    i agree, but but remember the rest of the song . .
    “i dare not trust the sweetest frame”
    Some would argue that there are plenty of FRAMES (constructs) that are not as authoritative as the person of Christ and to trust in them with the same level of certainty would be idolatry and an insult to God.
    Wouldn’t you agree?

  • andrew Jones says:

    if you are reading this . . . i just want you to know that my hair is now half-way towards a mullet – just a little more length on the back, and rigorous cutting off the top, and I will be entering Mullet City.

  • Thank you very much for updated information.

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