On Defining Emerging Church (updated)

A lot of people are trying to define the Emerging Church at the moment.

– Freddy does a good job giving Some Words to Clarify The Emerging Church.

– Papa G begins a series of thoughts called What is the Emerging Church?

Justin Taylor (a Reformed blogger who actually DOES get out and meet people) has just written a short 10 part series on The Emerging Church which is a good place to start. [See links to all 10 at ScottZeller.com]
-Justin is now hosting a new series called “Dialoging With the Emergent Church Movement” Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 Part 4. Your dialog with Justin would not go wasted.

[UPDATE] Phil at BaldBlogging is doing a series. Jump in at No. 8 and work backwards.

I gave it a shot nearly 2 years ago at the request of a magazine, resulting in What is Emerging Church? A year earlier, I had done the same for a UK mag. I didn’t have a lot of success but I responded with Emerging Church Definition 1, 2, 3, 4 and additional thoughts. I have also blogged some thoughts on the emerging church, including: Emerging Church Vocabulary, History and Criticism (2000-2004)

 Tallskinnykiwi Images Pagittfront

[image from Liquid Thinking, Emergent Collector Card Series]

– Someone wants my opinion on Jeffery Jue’s paper “What’s Emerging in the Church?” but it seems too far removed from my world and my conversations to devote any time to it. Jeff was recently quoted on emerging church by the Philadelphia Inquirer, which was picked up by EmergentVillage.

As for me, I am not aware of Jeff’s connection to the emerging church, nor of how many emerging churches or training events he has experienced. I am guessing either none or very few. His charge of the emergent church abandoning absolute truth is, as I have said before, absolutely NOT the truth and I wish people would stop parroting everything they read in one or two poorly-informed books. DJ Chaung knows him personally and might be a better person to ask.

This might sound a bit mean but i do not believe that any of our Reformed-Presbyterian-Fundy critics will fully understand the emerging church without a visit a to the bookshop or library, in particular, the section labelled “Missiology”. My experience is that most of them have not tackled the missiological challenges of a biblically informed contextualization in their own culture, let alone the emerging culture. If they were to do some homework in this area, we could probably have some fruitful conversations and they might stop saying we are lacking in intellectual rigor and depth. Even better, of course, to actually get out of the library and attend one of our training or gathering events. Or have a coffee with an actual person. And I guess DJChaung will be that person for Jeff.


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.


  • iggy says:

    In my conversation with the “Reformed-Presbyterian-Fundy critics” as you put it, I have found some of the same criticism about McLaren and his view of lack of knowledge or whatever they are saying he has with the history of the church. The funny thing is even though BM is the so-called Evangelical of the year (did he get a cool hat with that title?) they are surprised that we seem to “think” for ourselves, and not just pull a “party” line.
    I do see the value of history. I see though not through the skewed eyes of a denomination or the purified version of the missions of America. I see it that it must be taken in from many perspectives and somehow one must decide what really happen. Did Washington cross the Delaware? I don’t know, I wasn’t there. But history does say he did and I will accept it. Does it play a big part on my life? I would say indirectly that if he did not we may be still connected with England more than we are today. Yet, in my day to day, nitty gritty… it matters not. So also I see with church history. Luther did a great thing… and many think he is perfect in his teachings… I think he was a layer with some great things and some not so great. The same with John Calvin, James Arminius and many others… Layers of a collective revealing of truth in the Bible. The issue then is to sort it out. I see that the message of Brian and others is that we need to give grace and understanding as we do it.
    People not in the emergent movement (which is still have trouble calling it a movement as it seems to cause a little gag reaction in me) do not get that one can accept others were they are at in their theology.
    The issue of absolute truth is still a tricky one also. In my talks (emails and on forums) with John O’Keefe, it took me a while to grasp that emergents are not anti absolute truth but that our perspective of truth is tainted… and without a relationship with Jesus we would not know or recognize truth at all, none the less Absolute Truth.
    In a way I see we emergents grasp history from a deferring perspective. One of understanding no one knows for sure… We look like we are tossing out many theological doctrines as if we were kids discarding old toys, yet, if moderns would take the time to listen and not be so defensive… they may begin to see what we are saying.

  • andrew says:

    well said, Iggy!

  • iggy says:

    “In a way I see we emergents grasp history from a deferring perspective.”
    This should be “differing perspective”.
    I might as well add differing as in more honest in our approach to it. We do not accept one perspective but see in many we can get to the core and essence of what did become history.

  • futuristguy says:

    i guess i see the dialogues about defining ’emerging church’ as working toward paradigms from the topside down, and i am working from the base-side up. so, perhaps it is off point from what people want to discuss and define, but i think some better questions to explore first, before settling on a definition of ’emerging church,’ relate to what constitutes the base-level process(es) we use for integrating information, and then how paradigms arise coherently from various processing styles, and what the processing styles in Scripture are, and then how close our paradigms fit with Scripture. in my opinion, that is a lot harder work than talking at the level of structures and methods and activities, but it would make it more clear in the long run. of course, i’m biased. i’m trying to work at the lower levels of defining different processing styles, and then working up the scale to core integration points, then structures and strategies, then methods and models, and then to activities and interactions. i just find we don’t have great vocabulary or training in talking about systems and paradigms, and so maybe that’s why there is a lot of focus (in my observation) at the surface levels. but surface stuff – activities, methods, models – keep shifting or people keep trying to tweak ’em, and that may work for a while but i think we need deep-level paradigm work to ensure long-term change. okay, semi-rant over. back to the regularly scheduled dialogue … 😉

  • bob hyatt says:

    Love the emergent trading cards… but I’m fairly sure that Pastor Driscoll would take great offense to being given an 8.5/10 on the McLaren Scale!
    (and he wouldn’t be hoping for a highe number!)

  • futuristguy says:

    hee-hee … only one card in the 2003-2004 “community” card set? oooh, the deliciosity of the irony?! okay, so not all about emergen-cy is seriosity, or would that be series-osity? by-gosh-ity. oops…

  • djchuang says:

    Yes, I’ve had quite a number of occasions to meetup with reformed people (including Jeff Jue) and mainstream evangelicals, many of whom do have concerns and questions in trying to understand the emerging church conversation, particularly the emergent strain, and often try to get at it from a definitional standpoint. Another common concern is the question of absolute truth.
    The thing of it is, there is no particular consensus among those who claim a friendship with “the church that is emerging” regarding its definition nor its position on absolute truth. Some who are part of this friendship and conversation do believe in absolute truth, and that is not the point of the conversation anyways.
    Many of the critiques I’ve seen thus far, have come along the lines of: hey, emergent is not reformed, or emergent is not fundamentalist evangelical. Okay, so? It’s not uncommon for reformed theologians to critique any non-reformed perspectives as: reformed theology has a particular understanding or conviction on thus and so, and any deviation from that is therefore problematic. I suppose of the axiom is presented as reformed theology being right, and anything non-reformed is thus wrong, well, that might be all there is to be said.

  • + Alan says:

    Not sure if you’ve read it Andrew, but I’ll “humbly” link to this article, constructed from 3 blog posts, in Next Wave that I did about the wider emerging church phenomenon. Maybe it will be helpful to some. Read it here. Peace to Scotland.

  • My sister asked me what the emerging church is the other day, so I came up with this. I’m sure it’s all been said before by others who stated it better, but that’s my take for my sis, who is at the same conservative evangelical college I went to.

  • Anthony says:

    I’m a student of Jeff’s at Westminster and I’m also the person in charge of creating an emerging church conference for next fall for our student body. We’re planing on bringing in McKnight, Horton, Franke, and one of our missiologist John Leonard in order to create both an introduction to the movement and a conversation on the relation between mission, theology, and culture. So as I write this to you I’m coming from a friendly perspective.
    Jeff is our modern Church history professor, I think it was probably the burden of being relevant to his domain of interest in that class as well as his conversation with his friend that led him to write what he did.
    Jeff conveyed to me in a discussion over lunch that he is looking forward to giving more thought to the movement and developing not only negative criticisms but also positive ones as well.
    I think DJCHUANG is basically right when he says that many in the Reformed community weigh the value of new things by how much they agree with Reformed theology. There is a smugness that we could probably lose, I’m PCA and a MDiv student so when I say this I do so from an insiders perspective. But listen brother the Emergent Community needs to be careful as well so as not to say that other movements, like the Reformed one, are not missional or are merely missional to churched culture. Lets all speak with words full of grace and seasoned with salt.
    As to the nature of Missiology at my campus. Well I’m in our Urban Mission program, it was founded by Harvey Conn and Manuel Ortiz. There is a good missional presence at Westminster Andrew. Our campus is actually comprised of 35% asian and I believe 5% African, and many other students from places like Ireland, UK, Spain, etc.
    Andrew if you want to read someone who’s Reformed and Missional, and someone who I believe began to see aspects of the emerging church before it emerged check out Harvey Conn’s writings. He passed away a couple years back but I think you’ll love his missiological reflections. He served prostitutes with the gospel in Korea, he was eventually cripled for life by local pimps. A powerful example bro.
    I have been so encouraged by the conversations you host here brother, keep it coming man. In Christ, Anthony

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