Reforming or Conforming? Chapter 9

Joyriding on the Downgrade at Breakneck Speed: The Dark Side of Diversity, by Phil Johnson. From the book Reforming or Conforming? Post-Conservative Evangelicals and the Emerging Church

Phil Johnson has written the best chapter in the book and in fact should probably have written the introduction. If you buy the book, read this chapter first and it will add light to the whole conversation. He does well in setting the scene. He acknowledges blogs as well as books (Phil is an accomplished blogger himself and quite the digital artist) and he compliments the ECM on recognizing the mega-shift of postmodernity and “sounding a wake-up call.”

Reforming ImageHe says “the movement is a typically postmodern phenomenon – deliberately diverse, perplexingly amorphous and constantly in flux.” This diversity, claims Johnson, is driven by three motives:

1. The unwitting (or sometimes intentional) adoption of postmodern values

2. A gnawing doctrinal indifference as a radical reaction to fundamentalism

3. Self-defence. Individuals are free to assert or deny anything because “Not everyone in the movement believes like that”. It is notoriously hard to pin down and criticize because there are always emerging church leaders who don’t fit the mold. I can sympathize.

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Fair enough. There really is a lot of diversity in the emerging church movement, not necessarily because diversity is the goal (I disagree with Johnson here) but because the emerging church movement is NOT primarily a theological movement but rather a missional movement – where diverse individuals aggregate around a common cause – in this case – the call of Christ towards our “emerging culture” and all that it entails. It is not “indifference” that drives it, at least it shouldn’t be, because what we believe affects and is affected by what we do.

This is where some of you will want to argue and will quote from Gibbs and Bolger’s Emerging Churches book about doctrine not being important. Yes – someone said that in the book, but I think doctrine really is important.

Johnson suggests that emerging church leaders watch out for a “thoughtless celebration of boundless diversity” and instead aim for unity. He quotes 1 Corinthians 1:10 “I appeal to you brothers in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgement”

You know what? I agree with Phil that we should strive for unity. Absolutely! But at the same time I am haunted by historical moments when the big strong church in the West demanded that the new churches in the East and South see things the same way. We called that colonialism and hopefully we have moved beyond it. We know that one day there will be people from every tribe and every nation and every tongue [talk about DIVERSE!] worshipping the Lamb. Although that diversity is not the point, it does show the ultimate significance of Jesus Christ is something not held captive by any one culture.

Its also a way of celebrating the freedom achieved by the Reformers for individuals to hear from God for themselves through the Spirit inspired Scriptures and, through diligent effort and accountability to the church across the globe and through the centuries, find a clear call from God for their lives.

Maybe “distinctiveness” is a better word than “diversity”? So is “grace”.

Good chapter, Phil. Grace to you!

The Series so far:

Reforming or Conforming? Post-Conservative Evangelicals and the Emerging Church, edited by Gary Johnson and Ronald Gleason.

Introduction by Gary L.W. Johnson.

Chapter 1 – The Doctrine of Scripture: Only a Human Problem, by Paul Wells.

Chapter 7 – Church and Community or Community and Church, by Ronald N. Gleason

Chapter 9 – Joyriding on the Downgrade at Breakneck Speed: The Dark Side of Diversity, by Phil Johnson


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.


  • Mark Berry says:

    it always frustrates me to see language get so reduced… I can’t help but spout the truism “unity does not equal uniformity!”… now I aven’t read the book but the way you describe it Johnson seems to equate diversity with division… this is not the case, IME their is more division within churches with a narrow orthodoxy than with the breadth and depth of the ECC, striving for uniformity creates hostile division (schisms) the ECC for me allows me to be in unity and relationship with people/communities who hold different perspectives… because what unites us is not some mythical universal proposition (now there’s another reduction truth = propositional!) but a love for a God beyond description and intellectual (or hermeneutical) captivity.

  • Andrew Jones says:

    i think Phil would vote on division before diversity – judging by his role in the book The Truth War – and he would probably see diversity as a sign of compromise.

  • Barbara says:

    Hi! Visitor from TeamPyro’s way here, and with the division vs. diversity question I just get one thing in mind, probably because I’ve been reading/seeing a lot about it lately – to me, the view of diversity AND unity in the Church (capital “C”, Christ’s bride) is best exemplified by the Waodani people and the Saint family (Steve, et al). Have you ever heard Mincaye speak? It is beautiful in its simplicity and its truth, and attuned to the tribal culture without compromising anything. That’s a classic example of God meeting us as our point of need – whatever that may be – and bringing us into His own way, His own Body, His own Church HIS way. Not man’s.

  • Randy Brandt says:

    safe space, if universal propositions are mythical, you have no basis for expecting Phil Johnson’s world to include the “truism” that “unity does not equal uniformity.”
    And how dare you make assertions like “this is not the case” or “now there’s another reduction”? Those propositions may be true for you, but how can you impose them on others?

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