Emerging Church Panel Discussion

A podcast worth listening to: Emerging Church Panel discussion from a publishing perspective at the Christian Book Expo in Dallas a week or so ago. Or watch the video here. I will avoid giving my usual comments that authors are not necessarily leaders and much of the emerging church is held hostage by the American publishing machine and that people who live in classrooms and can only access knowledge through books may not be the best positioned observers . . etc. Suspending those criticisms, and putting them aside, this is an absolutely must-listen-to podcast on many levels.

Scot McKnight, who responds to Kevin DeYoung on the panel with more gumption than normally characterizes his writings, is brilliant and insightful as usual. On the emerging church, in which he references his previous talk at at Westminster, he says:

1. We recognize that there is massive diversity.

2. It’s creative. Relevant is not the point.

3. Its a safe place for people who have questions.

4. It has unfortunately been caught in the cross-hairs of a culture war.

Well said.

And let me agree again with Scot on the failure of Don Carson’s book to adequately and accurately portray the emerging church. Saying that Steve Chalke is the most influential leader in the emerging church in the UK is like saying Borat is the most influential leader in Kazakhstan. Despite commonly held perceptions from the uninformed [according to Wired.com, Borat actually IS the most recognized representative of Kazakhstan], its just not true. And that is not a slam on Steve Chalke who is a well-respected Christian leader in his own right.


Tony Jones is articulate and clear. We disagree on a few issues, he and I, but here he speaks clearly about what he believes and why and I encourage his critics to listen to him on this panel.

Kevin DeYoung shares his heart and his concerns. Although I agree with Scot that Kevin’s opening remarks are neither accurate nor charitable, Kevin voices the concerns of many and for that reason is worth taking seriously – which I probably should have done when I first came across his book, Why They Don’t Say Emergent

Alex and Brett Harris play the youth card and the outreach card but whenever I play the same cards, the emerging church seems to come out on top – not so much the traditional church. Besides, teenagers in USA are generally not starting their own expressions of church until they are in their twenties so it might be premature to suggest they will opt for or against either traditional or emerging. Most likely, they will be influenced by both but will not have the resources to start unsustainable models of church or mission.

Thought: Jesus died for our sins – story or statement? Both! One gave birth to the other. And the gospel is expressed BOTH in narrative and propositional terms. There is no competition going on. It is at once a story [and a story that actually happened] and a million statements that follow and describe it. Alex and Brett are right to say that the next generation do not want to and probably will not have to choose between the two.

To further mess with your mind, check out the totally different kinds of comments and reactions on Tony’s blog with those on Pyro. And check out the confusion of the “emergent” label from a retailer’s perspective here – something that has given many of us pause in recommending the use of “emerging” or “emergent” in trying to accurately communicate the heart of a new movement.

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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.


  • Mimi says:

    Anyone else find it a bit uncomfortable when the high schooler called out Tony for his comments on Driscoll?
    Having someone half your age speak truth into your life is always pretty awkward.

  • Emily says:

    I think McKnight is right on with his comment that the critics of emerging are the ones framing it for the majority of people (and framing it in a way that only highlights the BIG and most liberal names).

  • Emily says:

    And I think the Harris brothers and Kevin are right to say that though it might be regretful, those are the names the masses know. What can be done about it?
    And, not as a dis to Driscoll, but it was scary to here one of the brothers say that they thought he was a middle ground. I don’t even think he would be very flattered by that.

  • Ranger says:

    Your “thought” at the end is spot on. It’s like both sides get so huffy about defending their side that they don’t consider both being true.

  • Becky says:

    Andrew – I have always applauded the US Emergent for efforts to help those seeing God in black/white start painting with a more multi-colored palate. That’s why I endorsed “Coffeehouse Theology” (Scott McKnight did the forward) because I felt Ed did a great job in helping present these discussions in a low key format.
    This should be reframed as an “Evangelical” book expo – the discussions appear to be framed with that audience in mind. A host of US Christians don’t fit into that paradigm. Also, I’d like to echo Ranger’s comment – I keep meeting people who just want to explore what it means to follow Jesus and in the 21st century.

  • matybigfro says:

    I think ita pretty fair for tony to be open about his side of the driscol emergent split – mark bangs on about it a fair amount and there is always 2 sides to every story and it never helps for only one side to be told either both sides should agree to shut up or they should both have to deal with the story their oposite tells.
    I think i shared with Tony the fustration about how the Harris’s talked about being both orthodox and socialy orrientated as if thats not what’s happening in emergent and as if they have the authority on orthodoxy ( although I do think tony should have got over it sooner and started talking about the idea of generative relationship that is possible between those who may not agree what orthodoxy looks like).
    I wish scot or tony would have simply agreed with them that having both is cool and often what emergent is while also giving room for people with questions.

  • Adam S says:

    I agree that Scot’s first comments defending the broadness of emergent were useful. I also think the brothers have a good point when they say that they are interacting with what is most popular and Scot is right that what is most popular has been made in part by the Dialogue with people that disagree. But get on with it.
    The questions were probably the most helpful. I don’t know anything about the two brothers but I thought they did ok for being so young. What I wonder about is how they got the platform to speak. They are obviously intelligent, but at their age they will likely have major changes in direction (I know I did between 16 and 36-my age now).
    I do think the father’s question was probably the most telling. He wanted to protect his children from the conversation. That is exactly why his kids will likely need the conversation because the older Christians around them don’t want to have it.

  • Helen says:

    Andrew, thanks for posting about this discussion. I watched the video recently and found it very interesting.
    I’m glad Scot said Kevin’s opening remarks were neither accurate or charitable.
    I don’t think “those are the names we’ve heard of” is an appropriate reason for authors who claim to write well-informed books to ignore the rest of the emergent spectrum. Unless they are going to give their books titles like “Why I reject a common but inaccurate stereotype of the emergent movement”
    I liked Tony’s description of what he believed. The way Kevin kept pushing his particular version of the gospel sounded too self-righteous to me and that turned me off.
    I was surprised Tony mentioned personal issues as a factor why Mark Driscoll split with the Emergent movement. Even if it’s true, it’s probably best to take the high road and not say things like that in a public discussion. Mark’s theological distance from Emergent is more than sufficient to explain the split so it’s not as if personal reasons need to be brought up. Especially from the side calling the other side out as uncharitable :). With all due respect to Tony, who I do respect very much.

  • May God touch your heart and soul my Brother in Christ.
    I was a Trappist’s monk on a Monastery in France some years ago, now, I’m doing a new foundation of a little community in the sud of Portugal.
    Just to say tank’s for this land-blog, where I can also find fellowship and communion in Christ. Your’s Brother Victor

  • victoria says:

    Oh, this is interesting! I attended this discussion IRL, though I was unable to listen to the whole thing. It was quite a tension filled room at certain points. I really came away with more questions than answers.

  • robbymac says:

    Kevin was blunt. Not sure that equals “uncharitable” or “inaccurate”. I thought he showed a good level of restraint.
    Tony and Scot disappointed me with both their evasiveness to Kevin’s written concerns (and the Harris’ concerns, as well), and their angry and pejorative treatment of the other panelists.
    Honestly, while assuming I’d have some differences with the Harris’ (never heard of them before), if I had to choose Christianity’s best hope for the future — based solely on this video — I’d opt for the Harris twins.

  • andrew says:

    good thoughts, robby.
    i think scot was referring to kevin’s book which ignored people like you and i who would subscribe to a far more “conservative” theology and gave rather a skewed and uncharitable [and therefore inaccurate] picture of “emerging church” – which is why some of us no longer recommend the term to everyone.
    evasive? i guess tony was on the gay issue but perhaps he didnt speak out becuase he was representing the emerging church which, in my estimation, would mostly disagree with his conclusions on that subject.

  • robbymac says:

    hey andrew,
    I read Kevin’s book, and I actually didn’t feel ignored; I suspect that’s mainly because Kevin was coming at the dominant writers/voices of the emergent publishing crew, which like it not, drives a great deal of the conversation (and obviously, I’ve read a significant number of their books as well).
    I guess I saw Kevin’s book (and his comments in this video) as addressing the theological concerns of not only evangelicals but also quite a number of people who would normally self-identify with the broader “emerging conversation”.
    {aside: I’m starting to avoid the word “conversation” recently, as well as “emerging”} 🙂
    And the concerns that Kevin lists in the book, while obviously from a strong Reformed viewpoint, I found to be valid questions about the theology of the dominant writers/voices.
    When I said “evasive”, I was thinking more of Tony’s angry words about being “clear about the Gospel” near the end of the video. He wasn’t clear. He said it’s about God reconciling us through Christ. Which is clear on one hand, but not really on the other. Everyone on that panel would agree that God is reconciling us through Christ. But what does that actually mean?
    Kevin & the Harris twins would probably talk about Jesus being the only way to the Father, repenting of sin, coming out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, surrender to the Lordship of Jesus, etc. Tony’s answer of being “reconciled” wasn’t really answering the questions that were being put to him. It was a biblical verse, but it certainly didn’t answer their questions/concerns nor did it “prove” anything no matter how loudly and angrily Tony said it.
    That’s what I was referring to when I used the word “evasive”. 🙂

  • andrew says:

    fair enough. thanks robby.
    it was said a while ago that there were two liberation theologies – one in the academies and the other on the streets.
    its possible and probably that there are many emerging church conversations – certainly one in the book publishing world that interacts with itself [Zondervan published Mclaren, Chalke, AND Carson] but not necessarily with what is happening on the streets.
    thus . . . our reluctance to use the word “emerging” or our wholesale dumping of the word to allow greater understanding of what is actually going on which is wider, deeper, longer, fuller and will never be represented accurately by a single voice and probably not by a mega-church pastor (bell), a novelist (miller) a willow-creek attender (mcknight – even though he does very well) or a princeton student involved with a single network among the hundreds.
    and having knocked kevin deyoung, who sounds like a lovely Christlike guy, he actually has read more and interacted more than almost any other well-read critic. he even mentioned wolfgang simson in a recent talk at Calvin, and frank viola, which tells me he is on the right track and his critique is valuable.

  • Jim Martin says:

    I was present for this panel discussion at the Christian Book Expo. I agree very much with your take on the discussion. I thought Scot did particularly well.
    One of the difficulties of that morning was the crowd. The crowd was less than expected and my sense was that for many this was an introduction not only to the issues but to the panelists as well.
    Nevertheless, as you noted it was a good discussion and well worth listening to.

  • Emerging Church Panel Discussion

    Just been watching an Emerging Church Panel Discussion I came across via TSK. Brings out a number of important issues, not lease beng the tendancy of supporters and critics to talk past one another. If I am hearing this correctly,…

  • Becky says:

    Andrew – and let’s not forget that the names you all mentioned are marketed to the evangelical wing of the faith spectrum and except for Chalke, they’re based in the US. I’m not saying mainliners and Pentecostals would never read Donald Miller but check out these guys’ speaking schedules and it’s geared to a specific market. And much of this crew tends to attract an audience with a Masters degree or better.
    BTW-not to defend my publisher but Rob Bell and Shane don’t self-identify as “emergent” nor does Zondervan. According to the Publisher’s Weekly article that came out in September 2008, the only two publishers who identified as “emergent” were funding emergent book tours – http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6590681.html

  • Andrew Kenny says:

    Thanks for the link.
    Yourself and some of your readers may be interested in seeing the 9 minute discussion about Brian McLaren, the Emerging Church and Postmodernism in general that I posted on my blog at
    They include heavywights such as R C Sproul and Ravi Zacharias. Like many of these discussions it is one sided so I would encourage any your readers would defend him .
    Peace and Grace

  • Drew says:

    Helen commented:
    “The way Kevin kept pushing his particular version of the gospel sounded too self-righteous to me and that turned me off.”
    These types of comments are what actually scare conservative evangelicals the most. There aren’t different versions of the Gospel. There is the Gospel of Jesus Christ as communicated in Scripture. Period.

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