C. Michael Patton’s Charts on Orthodoxy and the Emerging Church

The conversation at Jesus Creed on C. Michael Patton’s chart on orthodoxy and the emerging church is winding to a conclusionary pause and Patton has added more thoughts behind his attempt to map out the emerging church on the orthodoxy scale.

1. The first chart on conservative vs. liberal?


Nah. I don’t feel that time-traveling to the 1920’s dichotomy of fundamental/liberal to see which side we would land is the best way to reconnect a robust trust in the Scripture with a obedient commitment to social justice as outlined by the mandate of Jesus. I believe the story of the Bible is connected to the event – or in other words, those miracles of Jesus really happened – and so I am not a liberal. But I am also committed to the whole gospel as Jesus described it and that inclusion of justice and social transformation makes me appear suspect by fundamentalists. I prefer not to use the scale at all because its not helpful.

2. The Orthodoxy Chart?


I don’t like it Sorry. I appreciate the effort of C. Michael Patton but these charts are neither helpful nor meaningful to me. I wondered why those particular authors were chosen to represent the emerging churches (and why authors and not network or emerging church ministry leaders?) and then I noticed that the ’emerging’ and ’emergent were over to the side of Orthodox Christianity, rather than the center.

And who said orthodoxy was a fixed point in time rather than a moving target?

Shoot. What are we doing if it is not moving towards orthodoxy and orthopraxy? The emerging church movement, in my opinion, at least in my corner of the room, is at least an attempt to realign God’s mission and the mission of the church in our generation with the way of Jesus and his apostles in a manner that resonates historically and theologically with what the catholic church has traditionally viewed as “orthodox”. Patton has some good thoughts on what orthodoxy means, but I don’t think he sees emerging church movement nudging the church towards orthodoxy in the way I do. His recent posts on his view on the emerging church [which says nothing about the missiological thinking behind the movement and seems to avoid the eschatological issues that are currently being raised by McLaren, Wright and Tony Jones] show that he sees the emerging church movement very differently than I do.

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Can I share why this is a hassle for me? Can I tell you why this concerns me? I am viewing the maps from a fundraising perspective this week, and they are problematic. Any other week, I wouldn’t take them so seriously.

This week I am submitting proposals for funding for emerging church missional projects in many countries including USA. I have assured the foundations in previous briefings that these groups we are funding represent orthodox beliefs and ascribe to historic Christianity. I even ask the emerging church groups if they ascribe to the Lausanne Covenant which is a way to keep some quality control.

The groups on my list represent some very large ministries spanning dozens of countries. One group, less than a decade old, has now spread to over 60 countries. Acts 29 and Emergent Village in the USA are very small in comparison and hardly exist outside their own countries. And in case you were wondering, I am not trying to raise money for either of them. None of these ministries on my list are represented on Patton’s chart so I wonder if he has really seen a slice of the emerging church movement wide enough to draw some conclusions from, or if he has just read a few books.

So when the Trusts and Foundations, who are mostly USA based and are supporting global mission efforts through the emerging church movements see charts like that,creates dissonance because I said they are ORTHODOX and Patton has placed them right of orthodox. This not only makes me look stupid, unreliable, uninformed and potentially dishonest, it also threatens future funding to these groups and their leaders, many of whom have no idea who these “emerging” and “emergent” men are, and may not have read any of their books, even if they do speak English.

And as for Patton’s cute 20 signs you are moving from emerging to emergent, I get the humor and a few of them are funny, some might even be accurate, but I also think they are demeaning to many young emerging church people who have given up well paid careers or their salaried positions at more conventional churches to embrace a harder, starker, lonelier journey with Christ that translates to a lower standard of living. No house, no car and no gold watch when they retire. And no retirement. And not because it was cool or trendy, but because serving Christ on the margins in the way Jesus described was closer to what they perceived as orthodoxy than pulling in a hefty salary by a giving a polished oration on a big stage every Sunday and asking the new converts to foot the bill. Sure, they expect to have critics make fun at their expense but they also need a few Barnabases to salute them and tell them they are doing a good job and remind them that their sacrifice is will be remembered on the last day.

Some examples.

– I hope she forgives me for mentioning her. Barbara in Portugal, who i talked about in the post Emerging Church in Portugal, and her associates took a step of faith last year and bought some land. They work with street kids in Lisbon and are starting a community to become self-sustaining and to achieve their missional goals. They need $10,000 by April. Are they orthodox? The Evangelical Alliance in Portugal think so, which is why they are helping to support them with their limited means. What will happen if the EA folk read Patton’s chart?

– An emerging movement based in Austin, Texas need funding for their mission inside a very well known arts event next month. The chart is utterly meaningless to them and it doesn’t define them or describe them in any way. And the funders behind some of the leading people in this movement would be distraught to think they were not “orthodox” in the way they assumed. But in fact, they are quite orthodox (except in the way they dress) and Patton’s chart again is weighed and found wanting.

Anyway, enough ranting. Any other week and I would probably shrug the whole thing off. But not this week. And Michael – sorry for being really pessimistic and a grumpy old man. I like your blog and your thoughts and I will try to affirm more of your efforts in the future when i read them. And thanks for interacting with EC folk over this matter and even to make changes to your chart – it tells us you are a listener and are open, as we are, to correction.


Johnathon Brink feels that C. Michael Patton’s understanding of the emerging church is “flawed”, despite him being a nice and intelligent guy.

Dan Kimball is going on a podcast soon to sort everyone out. Go Dan!

– Pete Rollins in his book How (Not) To Speak of God has some good ideas on orthodoxy as not only right belief, but also thinking in the right way.

Steve Knight on Emergent Village gives some background to Patton’s chart.


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.


  • Man, what a great post. I especially like the paragraph where you talk about those who have “given up well paid careers or their salaried positions at more conventional churches to embrace a harder, starker, lonelier journey with Christ that translates to a lower standard of living.” I wish that paragraph could be broadcast to every Christian who has mocked the emerging church as nothing more than a hip trend.

  • David says:

    seriously … this is about survival. me and my friends are not pursuing the creation of an emerging community to ride some sort of wave. We fully expect to be underwater and gasping for air much of the time. But we see no alternative. We believe a pursuit of true orthodoxy/orthopraxy in honest community is worth our lives. No lines. This is just the way it has to be for us and our neighbours. I am continually stunned at the newfound support of hundreds and thousands of christians around the world who are also attempting to pull their heads out of the water for brief gasps. There are rafts everywhere. I’m grateful for this raft here, Andrew. Even if it is floating out there beyond the lines in international waters.

  • Thanks for posting this Andrew. Very interesting to see the different types of reaction this is getting, even from the emerging community.
    One thing that I continually have to tell people to put this series in context is that my audience is normally an conservative evangelical audience that is ready to lynch the emerging church because of one sided information about it. They think it is the devil in disguise and have never really tried to understand what it is all about. I am trying to help people understand that not all emergers are as radical, doctrinally speaking, as they have been led to believe. Yes, there are some, but I want my audience to know that they have to listen more responsibly.
    As well, my engagement with this “movement” has not merely been through books, but through true engagement for the last nine years. This engagement is not simply a critical engagement but one that understands and empathizes with the movement to such a degree that I feel a part of it to some degree. In other words, I have been in the “conversation” and find it necessary.
    I tried to distinguish for my audience what seems to be a more liberal branch of the emerging church. I feel that this is justified. They are certainly more unorthodox, but most of them, in the right context, don’t mind admitting this as long as it is nuanced rightly (i.e. outside of traditional Christianity rather than being outside of right teaching.”)
    Finally, I don’t know why you feel necessary to place me in the Left Behind box. I would not put myself so definitely in this category.
    Again, thanks for drawing attention to the discussion. I hope that this will give some context to what I did.

  • andrew says:

    thanks michael
    i did put you in the left behind box with my dispensational premillenial eschatolgy statement, based on some of what i read on other sites in reference to you. sorry. my bad. i will remove that comment now.
    and please forgive me for not seeing you as a practitioner. i have not seen you at any emerging church events in the past decade and so assumed [wrongly?] that you were just a book reader and not one to get out to meet the network leaders. maybe your chart belies the fact that you are more connected than it seems.
    and you are right to say that some emerging church people sail outside the orthodox boundaries. Spencer Burke is a good example, since he sometimes extends his reach to explore new territory and doesnt seem to value the idea of orthodoxy as
    but i hope you also see that there are thousands of emerging church people around the world who dont have a strong voice on the internet or the publishing world who would be offended as the suggestion that they are less than orthodox.
    thanks again for your response.

  • Andrew, thanks for being so gracious in your reply. I have been involved in many emerging events in Dallas, including being a member of “emerging dallas.” I have been in personal contact for some time with some high profile and low profile emerging leaders. Having said this, I would say that my contact has been humble at best, but very personal since I believe that all things emerging CAN have a major part in helping Christianity reidentify itself for better. In a sense, I think God may use it to rescue a tradition that I am very close to but is losing its focus—evangelicalism.
    Our ministry is sensitive to this issue, while not fully supporting it (can anyone?).
    God bless my friend,

  • Mak says:

    This is such a FANTASTIC post, not least of which because you point out that many of us are working missionaries “doing” missional-emerging work while raising money from a large percentage of conservative evangelicals. This sort of poppycock makes it very hard for us.

  • Matt says:

    Just a thought, but maybe it’s getting close to time to abandon the “emerging/emergent” tag in favor of something more accurate, descriptive, tangible. “Missional” and “incarnational” are helpful, specific, and inherently biblical and theological. Why not forego all the confusion and conflict over the “e” words? For the sake of selling more books? Keeping site traffic high? I’ve been ruminating over this issue of late, and am coming to the conclusion that “emerging” isn’t nearly as worth defending as “evangelical” or “Christian” (yes, I’ve had to defend the latter).
    But I’m with you that, in the meantime, it’s not helpful to overgeneralize for the sake of those in the trenches of support raising, etc. Maybe you ought to “sell” these projects as “missions” of Christ and avoiding applying the “e”. All in all, let’s keep the “conversation” about the Kingdom, and not let ourselves be easy prey for being judged by our “book covers”.

  • Mak says:

    actually matt, the emerging label is important in the other areas of our “mission”
    as for the idea that missional or incarnational is better – – I would disagree with that on the basis that most people misunderstand that as well, it’s “safer” but that’s also what makes it less effective.
    Andrew often wonders if those terms should be abandoned, I happen to think it shouldn’t but whatever. I’m more concerned with the perception in this diagram of what is considered the closest to some sort of (non existant) static orthodoxy

  • Matt says:

    The denial of “static orthodoxy” is exactly what conservatives fear about some (many?) emergents. Tony Jones’ comment at a Wheaton theology conference last year that “orthodoxy is an event” was not well received. But it is worth grappling with. I’m grappling with it.

  • iggy says:

    Superficially I can see where these charts might be seen as right… yet, I see that as far as politically, I am emerging/emergent which according to this chart means I am voting for Hillary… and that would not be true… even Obama seems to be a bit too far to the left of me.
    I think that many confuse the call for justice expressed through acts of Grace and mercy as “liberal” which to me shows how far from the “Biblical” and how politicalized at least “American” Christianity has become.
    Now the second chart, I think if we slide it more to the N. T. Wright as more centered, we might see that MacArthur and his “the Kingdom of God is only spiritual now and is to come” and “Lordship Theology is very much in the the fundy side… so again if slid more to the right, then I would agree more. I see MacArthur/Falwell/Robertson/Jones as more representing the fundy with the extreme being the KJVonly people… Though I might agree again that Spencer Burke would be just outside of orthodoxy, I see that more that it is his lack of clearly stating his position. Tony Jones would be left of McLaren and McLaren should be more to the left… I have not fully decided on Pagitt though I suspect again like Burke there is a lack of clarity of his narrative that is the issue and not his orthodoxy.
    Just my 2 cents worth… or less…

  • andrew says:

    sounds like you are having a great time with those charts. dont let my comments hold you back . . .

  • brad says:

    I have not read the back-links to this entry yet, but sometimes the gut-level responses of initial impressions and lingering questions contain important information. And my immediate thoughts upon seeing Chart #1 were that it does not work … at least, not from a PARADIGM ANALYSIS PERSPECTIVE.
    Paradigm analysis focuses first on the deepest levels of information processing and assumptions about how things connect. Then it tracks how the related values, theologies/philosophies, strategies and structures, methodological models, and behavioral practices flow from those core integration points. So – from a paradigm analysis perspective, the categories of conservative and liberal are both products of a modernist philosophy, which relies on analyzing all information and segmenting it into different categories. The essence of this approach is skepticism/splitting.
    However, the essential approach in SOME “phenomena of emergence” is synthesis/embracing/fusing, and in SOME it is paradox (a dynamic tension between analysis/splitting and synthesis/fusing). So, to capture the reality of a mixed world of analytical + synthesis + paradoxical, you actually need at least a two-dimensional system (analysis on one axis and synthesis on the second axis) or a three-dimensional system (paradox on the third axis). (And when I get farther into my “Taxonomies of Emergence” blog series, I’ll be presenting a 3D system.) (I expect to be critiqued, too – though hopefully not flamed too much …)
    My initial impression of Chart #2 is that it won’t work well for similar reasons. Core orthodoxy contains a number of paradoxes (e.g., Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human, without sin). Some streams in emergence recognize more biblical paradoxes than what appears in the usual statements of core orthodoxy – so, does this make them unorthodox? Also, Chart #2 only contains Protestant versions of “orthodoxy,” so is that saying all Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox systems are automatically heterodox, or that they cannot/do not have any edges of emergence?
    Sorry if this makes some people panic, but hey, these are complex issues and maybe part of the reason we all go crazy over what each other is saying is that we’re aiming for too much simplicity. Come on, we can handle the complexity … at least, I think so and hope so.
    Anyway, those are initial thoughts and questions …
    … plus one: Kudos to C. Michael Patton for having courage even to attempt any kind of analysis, and to help lay out assumptions that hopefully will lead to more understanding among we siblings who are at odds with one another. Rock on, on the Rock!

  • Please extend the line about 20 feet to the liberal side of the chart and draw a circle around Jesus. Nobody in Emergent has gone far enough yet.
    FYI… Jesus was a freakin liberal! Get over it Michael Patton. We should all keep moving further toward liberalism unitl we live like Jesus.

  • Joe says:

    Looking at Patton’s charts it seems to me that they just say, “Okay these guys are evangelical so we know that they’re orthodox.” No need to question or examine anything.
    True orthodoxy is a lot more complex than most evangelicals give it credit for being; not only does it include believing that the Bible is true and that Jesus is who he said he is, it also includes the elements of social justice and compassion that seem to be so frightening to the conservative/fundamentalists among us.
    Anyway, those are just my thoughts.

  • graham says:

    Andrew, I find myself in quite strong disagreement with this post.
    I didn’t actually care for the charts, simply because they didn’t mean much to me. However, your reasoning here concerns me. Am I misreading you, or are you suggesting that these groups should present/be-presented as “orthodox” to acquire greater funding?
    Personally, I would rather that more groups who see themselves as emerging were less concerned with whether or not they fit someone else’s understanding of what it means to be orthodox.

  • Mak says:

    graham – I didn’t hear that at all. I think he’s just saying that it’s this sort of communicated misunderstanding that really frustrates those of us in vocational ministry – – or bivocational in our case…and I don’t think that was a major point of contention for Andrew either.
    Matt – well, wrestling is good. but the very notion that someone’s idea of evangelicalism is the closest to an orthodox center is very telling.

  • andrew says:

    thanks mak.
    graham. we think we are orthodox. many of us represent evangelical ministries. sometimes our sphere of ministry extends to the emerging culture and the result is we end up starting emerging church structures that are indigenous and contextual.
    and all of a sudden people say AHA you must be liberal.
    just crazy if you ask me.

  • andrew says:

    but graham its a good question. i dont think emerging church ministries should compromise at all to get funding but rather stay integral and wait for a partnership to happen that matches their view and passion and understanding of God’s word. I try to match groups like this – charasmatic funders with charasmatic emerging church ministries, for example.
    my wife and i almost went overseas with IMB but even though our theology measure up with baptist guidelines, we thought differently about having a glass of wine. we chose not to go with the baptists rather than compromise on what we saw as an orthodox view on alcohol consumption. and we ended up with support from other groups who thought more like us [but not always exactly like us]
    anyway . .

  • PLStepp says:

    A few thoughts:
    1. Charts like this are useful for what they are. They are snapshots, not definitions timeless & encyclopaedic.
    2. Orthodoxy is a moving target? Yes in some ways, no in others. That statement requires unpacking.
    3. I think it’s funny; you can pretty much judge where a Christian is on these spectrums by what they think of when you say the word, “morality.” If they equate morality with restrictions on sexual behavior, they are conservative / evangelical. If they equate morality with treatment of the poor, they are “liberal”.
    Funny how Jesus refused to limit morality to one or the other, but said it was both (and more.)

  • Mak says:

    ever try to fund a ministry from emerging young people? *smirk* lol seriously though andrew, the matching up thing isn’t always so smoothly streamlined. but that’s always a good goal. the mission organization we’re a part of at the least doesn’t vilify emerging/emergent and is strongly “progressive” and has a history of this progressive attitude which is why we’re with them, so yes, on that point I agree.

  • Craig says:

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head in bringing up the issue of money. It occurs to me that the same pressures you describe around funding ministry are the same kinds of pressures that led Mr. Patton to draw up his chart. As the President of an organization that engages in the emergent conversation, but relies on funding from traditionally conservative circles, this chart helps define his kind of engagement as within the fold. The problem with this is that in order to define one’s self within the fold, it sure helps to place some others outside of the fold. That appears to be at least part of what is going on with this chart. I’m not impugning Mr. Patton’s motives, just observing that your comment about funding may be a hidden and powerful dynamic in the emergent/emerging conversation right now.
    Come to think of it I think that would be a fruitful line of inquiry in general.

  • andrew says:

    i think you are right. not that money determines our strategy, but that fear of losing it can drive many groups to make theological and missiological moves to ensure future stability rather than necessary advances for the gospel.
    and i know michael is not driven by this with his chart, but i have seen many driven by the fear of man and the security of mammon.

  • Constantino della Brazox says:

    The problem with this chart is that it ignores the Apostoicism of the Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Methodists, and Episcopaleans. As per Fundamentalism, some of us would regard it as a form of Liberalism, as it ignores Scriptural Integrity in favor of Calvinism.

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