Why They Don’t Say Emergent

“Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be”. Absolutely hilarious! I only read the sampler PDF, cheap and stingy as I am, but what I read was really funny and actually quite clever.

223 Emergent CoverHeres a couple of guys practicing, as far as I can see, emerging-missional ministry in a fabulously Reformed way and at the same time telling people why they are not ’emergent’. You have to see the irony of the whole thing! Especially funny is the use of postmodern graphics on the front cover and then an innocent rib-poke at postmodernism. Beautiful! Classic! And the fact that it poses as an “anti-emergent” book gives it an automatic thumbs up by virtually every critic under the evangelical sun.

I haven’t read the whole book and I have never met these guys – at least if they have shown up to any of our Emerging church roundtables or events, then they probably didn’t introduce themselves – but what I briefly googled about them seems great and I think I will like them when I finally get to meet them one day.

Ted Kluck is a well-received writer. I don’t know much about his ministry – whether emergent ministry principles are employed or not – but his writings certainly take the necessary relevant form. Kevin DeYoung is Senior Pastor of University Reformed Church that supports “green” church planting and portrays its worship as “missional”. His church is described with words like “mission minded” and “pilgrim” which is all very good. The missionaries sent out from his church seem to be doing wonderful contextually sensitive work overseas – exactly the same qualities and signs I would look for in an emerging-missional ministry back in the home country. And I was especially impressed with URC’s one officially sponsored mission agency listed on their website – which I will not name due to its sensitive nature but you can look yourself. And I bring it up here because its a great example of what “emergent” looks like . . . without using the tag.

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Their sponsored ministry [still unnamed here] seems like a really well-run holistic effort, reaching out in “areas of social, family, vocational, and physical needs, through services in education, health, and counseling.” They play Middle Eastern music on the website and use “Storytime” in the community which I imagine works a lot better in communicating to the Eastern mindset than a 3-point propositional oratory. Their half-day immersion experience includes a visit to the Mosque at prayer time and listening to the Imam, which is exactly what I was doing a while ago. All sounds very post-colonial to me. I love it! So cool to see a traditional church allowing this level of cultural engagement and a style of communication that is narrative and not purely propositional . . . as is appropriate in this context.

Did somebody just say “Propositional”?

The real fun starts when a new Christ-Community starts forming from a very different non-Western culture like this, and they decide NOT to attend a Western style church where people dishonor God by leaving their shoes on for worship and placing their scribbled-on Bibles on the floor as if it were an ordinary book, and to . . well you get the picture. Rather, they start to form a community colored by their existing culture and allow Christ to build it His way.

But churches and missionaries who do this under the “emerging” banner get creamed for it.

Roger Oakland in his harsh critique against the emerging church called “Faith Undone”, critiques what he calls ‘emergent missiology’ in which groups like YWAM allow their converts or ‘Messianic Muslims’ to visit the mosque and say their daily prayers but accept Christ as Savior. These new converts, Roger quotes from Charisma magazine, “continued in a life of following the Islamic requirements, including Mosque attendance, fasting and Koranic reading, besides getting together as a fellowship of Muslims who acknowledge Christ as the source of God’s mercy for them”.

Although I applaud Roger Oakland for a criticism that at least lands in the right place, I cannot agree with Roger’s conclusion that the results are “disastrous”. I also think Roger’s either/or approach to engaging culture is quite juvenile compared to the more typical 6 stage scale many missionaries in emerging culture try to employ when considering the level of cultural engagement [from C1 as traditional church using outsider language all the way to C6 representing a full immersion and perhaps in danger of syncretism]

But generally speaking, what Roger condemns as “emergent missiology” is just the same old missiology that has been around for a very long time and it could probably be embraced by Reformed folk under the banner of sensitive contextual mission strategy . . . IF it doesnt have the horrible word “emergent” attached to it. Its more a matter of word-play than compromise.

So the moral of the story, as I see embodied here, is to fully obey Jesus by crossing barriers with the gospel and to do it in a culturally sensitive way so that a new community starts to emerg . . .ooopps . . . i mean. . . organically mature . . . while remaining simply structured and using existing appropriate native forms of organization, communication and cultural manners, all to honor God who has sent us just as He sent the Son . . . and never ever ever ever ever ever EVER use the word “emergent” or you will not be invited to speak at a Reformed conference!

As if that matters to you.

And it reminds me of that post I wrote called “How your Emerging Church Can Stay in Calvary Chapel, Inc.” This also reminds me of when James MacDonald told everyone why he was not emerging but the sound track on his website was a special theme song composed by none other than emerging worship leader David Crowder. LOVE IT!!! I took a screen shot that still makes me laugh.


And this book will make you laugh also. Everyone seems to like it. I haven’t read a bad review yet. Even Don Carson liked it, although he might have missed the irony. I might have to forgive the publishers for not sending me a review copy and just buy the whole book to see what else they authors say.

If you have never read a book on emergent theory, [and if I was critiquing this book a bit more seriously, i would question whether the authors had or not – but then i have only read the first two chapters] then I recommend Steven Johnson’s Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software as well as the best book on how emergent theory impacts the church on mission which is, of course, Kester Brewin’s Signs of Emergence.

Blurb for Kester’s book – “Drawing on the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ, as well as urban theory, art, and social practice, Kester Brewin calls the church to dispense with tired structures and re-emerge as a networked, bottom-up organism that is responsive to the needs found in the urban environment.”

hmmmmmm . . . . if emergence finds a basis in the incarnation of Christ, and we are told to consider the ant and its emergent behavior (Prov. 6:6) . . then why is it such a bad thing???

SORRY – my mind was slipping away to the BIBLE for a brief distracted second there . .

right . . back again . .

And if your reading list of emerging or emergent books contains no books at all on the missiology that informs it [what DO they teach people in Seminary these days???] then just start picking up any books you can on mission and get your head around the idea that we all have to think like missionaries in our own culture if we are to fulfill the Great Commission in our back yard and see new communities of Christ appear . emerge . . . get planted . . . whatever you call it . . .

Anyway, Ted and Kevin . . . congrats on a great book. May you continue what you are doing and never be “emergent.”


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.


  • ed cyzewski says:

    It just goes to show how labels can get in the way of people who generally would otherwise agree. Josh Brown posted a little while back on the importance of people who call themselves emergent doing their homework, and I think the missiology homework is key. I think Christians can find a lot more consensus when we talk missionary principles than if we started tossing around emergring, reformed, etc.–however helpful those titles may be at times.
    Here’s hoping and praying for more dialogue, understanding, and collaboration, even if we can’t use the word “emergent”.

  • Abraham says:

    I’m confused by the sorts of endorsers they chose.
    Who are they trying to sell this book to? It would seem like the audience they’re shooting for is people who already hate all things “emergent.”
    But if that’s the case, then what’s the point?

  • I’m in a circle where I have to be very careful of my church lingo. “Emerging” seems to be more and more acceptable, but at the “gent” on there, and you either (1) Don’t believe in Hell, (2) Are a complete relativist, or (3) Practice eastern cultic worship.
    So I stay underground when I’m back home (but not in the Twin Cities, where being “Emerging” is like being middle class).
    But I’m wondering–I listened to the podcast these guys gave, either on emergent village or josh and nick podcast perhaps. Are you suggesting that they are being purposefully ironic but letting the publishers bill them as an “anti-emergent” book? They seemed pretty clear in their distance from Emergent and seemed unaware of the irony you have found in their own words. Just wondering.

  • andrew jones says:

    or am i being more ironic than i should be?

  • becky says:

    Andrew – as we’ve discussed in the past, you also have those of us (esp. in the states) who use “emerging” because “emergent” has come to mean that stream postevangelical emergent church with an emphasis on independent church planting doesn’t resonate with many working in mainline churches esp. those of the Anglican variety.
    As I’m an avid flyfisher, I described this to someone using a fishing analogy (well Jesus was a fisherman) – the emergent streams seem to be akin to fresh and saltwater. The ultimate goal is the same (catch fish) and the overall concept remains the same but the gear, techniques, etc. are radically different.

  • David says:

    andrew, you are just more iconic than you should be. 😛

  • David says:

    oh… as you have demonstrated, the emergent wink is still the most revolutionary response to the critics such as like.

  • J. R. Miller says:

    Interesting take.
    Have you written some stuff that gives your definition of “emergent”? I would be interested in read your thoughts.
    [TSK: JR, the name is used different for churches and missions in every country so i try to limit my audience to avoid confusion. when in usa in 2005, i jotted down some thoughts that i used when i briefed a group of mission and Foundation leaders. here and there are more links to more resources.
    Snippet: “Emergent”, as it is used in “emergent theory”, is a name given to the phenomena of how new organizational structures progress from low-level chaos to higher level sophistication without a hierarchical command structure. Emergent theory explains how birds change direction, how slime mould moves, how ant colonies are built and how Amazon.com knows so much about us. The process involves constant communication and feedback among the lowest level of organization, pattern recognition, local action affecting global behavior, and takes into consideration the element of unpredictability in a chaotic system. Solomon was wise in suggesting that we observe the ways of the ant and be wise (Proverbs 6:6) And the emerging church has been wise in allowing the vocabulary from emergent behavior to give a window of insight to the traditional church.]

  • bradm says:

    The fact that you like some of what they do at their own churches and that emergent folks do similar things doesn’t make them emergent. I guess I fail to see the irony.

  • andrew jones says:

    sorry if it is not clear. The irony thats sticks out to me is this:
    take what you know of emergent theory (google it and find some principles from computer science or business or agriculture) and then put those emergent principles up against:
    1. the mission agency supported by Kevin’s URC in close proximity to the supporting church [hint . . . oh my . . what similarities!!!]
    and 2. a church like Rob Bell’s Mars Hill which actually did not “emerge” in the same way and might come up short on the list of emergent characteristics
    and then . . have the people from number 1 write a critique of number 2, calling them emergent in a critical way and calling themselves non-emergent but at the same time . .
    ahhh . . am i ruining this by spelling it out?
    must run off to play badminton. pick it up later. bye.

  • Interesting that you call David Crowder an “emerging worship leader.” Has he called himself that, or are you staking your claim? lol.
    [TSK: matthew – i have no idea if he uses the word to describe himself and maybe now that he is established as an artist, he could no longer be considered emerging.
    but back when he used to do conferences with us and his pastor (Chris Seay from Young Leaders/Emergent) around the USA, the word “emerging” seemed to fit.]

  • Well, Andrew, you might be spoofing everyone but I read that book, talked with one of the authors, and I didn’t take away anything other than a serious critique of emergent. In fact, I’d say they are calling anything that smacks of liberal theology “emerging/emergent.”
    [TSK: Thanks Scot. I take that as a challenge to read the whole book and i look forward to doing so in the near future. The confusion with liberalism is unfortunate. I would be curious to know where they get that from. It certainly is not the conclusion i have drawn in my journeys although i have met some liberal folk that have also joined this mission into the emerging culture.
    but then . . i have also met some liberal folk that pray. thats doesn’t mean evangelicals should not pray
    But Scot, I am not spoofing. I am deadly serious in appreciating and celebrating the good ministry that Kevin’s church is doing with their Middle East outreach and i really do think it exemplifies best practice and personifies emergent characteristics]

  • eric Blauer says:

    Well…the style of the website of URC is sure “modern” not a pomo bone in its body.

  • eric Blauer says:

    Well…the style of the website of URC is sure “modern” not a pomo bone in its body.

  • ally simpson says:

    so what is “postmodern graphics” then?
    Honestly i would enter the discussion but you know what i see?
    Just another couple of dudes with some opinions who want to try to make their point. Call it emerging, emergent, not emergent, whatever ……………its all an enigma wrapped inside a riddle or whatever the crap Spacey says at the end of that film!! ha

  • andrew jones says:

    or better yet . . . just DO it and expect that the new will always be suspect and whatever name people give it will be short-lived so try not to name things.
    Jesus didn’t name his movement. I can see why.
    for an understanding of postmodern aesthetics of the 1980’s vs. internet aesthetics, see Lev Manovich in “The Language of New Media”

  • ally simpson says:

    What about a movement that had no name? great point Andrew.
    I guess that is virtually impossible, if you don’t name it then someone will.
    It just seems that emergent/emerging is such a broad term and its boundaries seem very blurry, almost undefined, in the same way that evangelical has become mighty hard to nail down these days, its kinda funny to see so many people trying to define their team and in doing so creating other new teams with tiny little differences

  • ally simpson says:

    oh and forgot to say, i knew what you meant by Postmodern graphics, i didn’t articulate well enough that i think the term in relation to art/media/graphics is a crock of sh@t!
    My mother always told me to tell the truth!

  • andrew jones says:

    i think rather that the term is dated, and we no longer use the term “postmodern” to define art. but back in the day it had meaning and still does. check out manovich – his description of webpage aesthetics in contrast to postmodern is quite good.
    and yes, people will always throw names at us [like “Christians”] and its always hard to know whether to stick with the name or to leave it when the label no longer fits.

  • Andrew,
    What struck me was that this book did four things:
    1. Critiqued liberal trends.
    2. Call liberal trends emerging.
    3. Critiqued liberal trends as emerging.
    4. Ignored moderate and even conservative trends among “emerging” types.
    The book is well-written, mostly fair and balanced, but I didn’t agree with the decision to seek for liberal trends and call them the emergent group. As you know well, I am one of those folks who think the emerging movement is actually broad and includes all sorts. Some of whom are quite conservative theologically.

  • andrew jones says:

    i know that, Scot. If this is the direction of the book, then I would say it is ill-informed.
    In my experience, theologically conservative churches that start a church planting project in the emerging culture are happy with the result and the new plant carries the essential DNA of its mother church, even though it may look different.
    And likewise for a liberal church that wants to plant one. But I don’t come across many liberal churches that want to play and if they did, they would probably not want me – with my evangelical protestant convictions – to give my oversight or counsel over the process.
    And you are right – the book seems really well written, and funny, and casual, and fair in a fun, elbowing kind of way, and the two guys seem like they are worth getting to know. Glad you got to chat with one of them.

  • J. R. Miller says:

    I found your short series where you give your best “definition” of emergent, so I will read that.

  • andrew jones says:

    ahhhh . . that was for a magazine in 2004 – link here. hope it is still helpful and not too old.

  • metamoses says:

    Well done, Andrew!
    I posited a crackpot theory on my blog about “emergent/emergence” becoming a catch-all scapegoat for stuff (theological, scriptural, cultural, etc-al) church people don’t agree with- regardless of actual evidence to link said stuff with emergence. Sad to see its in effect already and that i (or whomever i subconciously stole it from)didn’t make it up.
    BTW- noticed the term “emergent leader” being used often in the book excerpt, but doesn’t the term “emergent leader” nearly cancel itself out? How does that work?

  • andrew jones says:

    good point on leadership. In emergent theory, leadership happens momentarily – like a lead goose leading the rest of them for a quick turn – but then transfers to the next “leader” who is positioned in the right time and place.
    much more of a group thang than a superstar thang.

  • ally simpson says:

    Andrew, check this link, hehe i think he has a point, dont you? perhaps this could apply to emergent!

  • andrew jones says:

    yes – but some of us were leaving the “postmodern” word back in the 90’s. it has been coming back to haunt us and you will notice that i almost never use it.

  • ally simpson says:

    oh heck dont take that personally my good man! 🙂

  • andrew jones says:

    sorry . . . i took off my SILLY hat for a second there. appreciate the humor.

  • John L says:

    We can hold on to most truth claims w/o separating ourselves from others who hold different opinions. The African Anglicans refused to meet with the Western Anglican delegates because of their differences over homosexuality – Kevin and Ted see this as healthy. I see it as a failure. On many levels.
    Your response to this book, TSK, is embracing and healthy. We need a far more robust understanding of not just ecumenical embrace, but universal embrace. Jesus subverted via inclusion, and blasted religious rigidity.
    More broadly, we need more than a “truth claim” understanding of loving one’s enemy – we need to feel it and live it like our very breath. We love ourselves into the Kingdom.

  • Mike Morrell says:

    Thanks for this, Andrew. I weigh in here.

  • Josh says:

    Does any of this back and forth endless blogging about the emergent debate ever feel like it should be linked to the warning in 2 Timothy 2:23 – “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” And what about the apostolic instructions we have received to cast out urepentant, sinning people in our churches? Is ANY church actually do this?

  • Sarah says:

    Of course, my understanding from the beginning has been that “emerging” and “emergent” were two different things…the latter simply a stream of conversation within the former. There are many of us in the emerging church who do not choose to identify as “emergent” because we see it as progressively sexist and racist, especially after the issues surrounding the creation of the new Emergent Village web site.
    The emerging church still seems open, un-institutionalized, free of the limits 2,000 years of men’s theology has placed on faith. “Emergent” seems to be returning to the hierarchical structures that oppressed or segregated marginalized people of faith. So I will (and do) practice emerging, missional church while rejecting the “emergent” label.

  • andrew says:

    “Emergent” seems to be returning to the hierarchical structures. . . ”
    Sarah, before you reject the “emergent” label, you may want to see how others use that word to describe the LACK of static hierarchy in organizational structures and the idea of emergent hierarchy (like wikipedia) or dynamic hierarchies.
    again, STeven Johnsons book is good or look at wikipedia link

  • Sarah says:

    I have read the wikipedia link (thanks!), and wanted to clarify–I’m talking specifically about the label “emergent” which has arisen within the EC community. I’m sorry to sound bitter, Andrew, but I have been bitten too hard by those calling themselves “emergent” from within EC to blithely stand by while they organize us to death.

  • Sarah says:

    And maybe I should clarify THAT even more–I mean Emergent US. I think it has different connotations in other places.

  • andrew says:

    are you talking about the organization known as Emergent Village?

  • Sarah says:

    Having attempted to work within the confines of that site, I do tend to associate the men involved with it as “emergent” and as representing a thread of thought within the emerging church that desires a more organized approach to the movement.

  • andrew says:

    fair enough. sorry if i was snickery towards you in my last comment.
    is snickery a word?

  • Scott Hill says:

    Wouldn’t it make sense to actually read the book before you decide how you feel about it. I read the sample PDF a few weeks ago and finished the book last week. I think if you would read it, not just what others said about it then it might lend to the credibility of someone who is supposedly on of the leading emergent bloggers on the net.

  • andrew says:

    good point. thanks.
    but this is not a book review and my thoughts here are not about his book but rather about their ministry which i have looked into as much i can on the web.

  • Dwight Davis says:

    I’ve read this book and I’ve met the authors, they are in no way emergent. They did read a lot of emergent literature in the process of writing this book.
    Not to be a fanboy or your typical evangelical hater, but you should probably read a book before making comments like this on it.

  • andrew says:

    thanks Dwight. I have since read the book and i still think that contextual ministry among Muslims that i blogged about above has a lot of emergent phenomena.
    maybe people should read books on emergent theory before publishing their thoughts on the use of the word in church circles.

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