Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Emerging Church

This is a somewhat uncharacteristic post for me. I recently wrote a summary of the emerging church for a class at school and thought that it would be a good essay to share with the world. If you have been introduced to any part of the emerging church movement, then this post will certainly cause you to have thoughts that I encourage you to share. Either way, this phenomenon is pertinent to every believer in the American culture today.


            The emerging church phenomenon has changed a reasonable amount of the church ministry landscape in America over the past decade. The concept of the emerging church was formulated with the purpose of addressing the post-modern philosophy, along with its various aspects, that have emerged in the United States’ culture. Titling the movement as “emerging” creates a banner under which several branches identify. Mark Driscoll, one of the chief spokesmen of the movement describes the emerging church as consisting of liberal emergent churches, monastic and communal home churches, trendy evangelicals, and Reformissionists (which is what his church claims to be).[1]
            Perhaps the biggest misunderstandings concerning the emerging church movement are that (a) it is, in fact, a movement and (b) it is separate from the term “emergent,” which refers to specific churches.
            Just as the charismatic “movement” has become trans-denominational and varied in degree, so is the emerging church movement. Acts 29, the emerging church planting network started by Driscoll says that its goal is to “[network] with men in different denominations and networks for the kingdom good of the city.”[2] The description continues,
Acts 29 is not a model or a style. We have classical church plants with a preacher and a congregation, we have video-delivered sermons, we have missional community models, replants, and existing churches that want to plant churches with us. We seek to be a movement of church-planting networks - that is, decentralized and empowered networks to lead men of all different types of churches in order to make disciples of all people groups.[3]

            Obviously, this self-description has certain implications. Firstly, the fact that this network (which is the leader in producing emerging churches) has no set methodology proves that it has flexibility working in and out of different cities and denominations across the country. Secondly, their focus is on diversity and multiplication. At an Acts 29 Boot Camp in St. Louis last month, three of the six speakers were minorities and the selection was intentional.[4] A mark of the emerging church (at least in the Acts 29 camp) is that churches should look like cities-- populated and diverse. Lastly, and most dangerously, this movement has shaky safeguards against false doctrine. This is evidenced most blatantly by the associations made by Acts 29 pastors.[5]
            It is important to note that “emerging” is different than “emergent.” The titles are confusing and, at the end of the day, unimportant. Driscoll started out on the same page with those in the emergent camp (Rob Bell, Brian McLaren) but broke away when their theology progressed into liberalism. Thus, the emergent church represents skeptical and unbiblical theology, as seen in books such as Love Wins, Velvet Elvis, and others. “Emerging” refers to a style, or method, of church and “emergent” refers to a theology that is left of center.
Theology and Contextualization
            The emergent church branch is essentially symbolized by the Emergent Village, which is a skeptical movement emulating neo-liberalism, as evidenced by its values.[6] Rob Bell’s Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan serves as a prime example of an emergent church. Their “doctrinal statement,” which appears in the form of a theological narrative on their website, discusses man’s sin but mentions nothing of hell or any kind of eternal punishment. The only time judgment is brought up is in their eschatological beliefs which is stated as follows:
We believe the day is coming when Jesus will return to judge the world, bringing an end to injustice and restoring all things to God’s original intent…God will wipe away all our tears. Our relationships with God, others, ourselves, and creation will be whole. All will flourish as God intends. This is what we long for. This is what we hope for. And we are giving our lives to living out that future reality now.[7]
            The communal/monastic branch of the emerging church is quite strange in its beliefs, rendering it few in number. Some of the beliefs (known as the Twelve Marks) of New Monasticism, led by Shane Claiborne, are “relocation to the abandoned places of Empire,” “nurturing common life among members of intentional community,” and “commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.”[8]
            As stated, monastic contextualization is not incredibly popular; however, Claiborne, the leader in this doctrine, has spoken at many conferences across the country, including the popular Urbana Conference in 2009.[9] Interestingly, Chris Heuertz, who is of the same persuasion as Claiborne, is speaking at the Urbana Conference this year (December 27-31).[10] [11] The Urbana Conference is a part of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, which, like emerging churches, is inter-denominational. The Urbana Conference, which has been gathering every three years for decades now, is currently seeking to gather thousands of students “to follow Jesus by committing their lives to God’s global mission.”[12] 
            This third branch of the emerging church is the broadest in nature. Driscoll has described this type of church as being one that enhances the quality of the music and causes the atmosphere of the church to be appealing to the post-modern mind.[13] Though it is inconclusive as to whether or not all “trendy emerging churches” agree with the forthcoming statement, David Murrow speaks to the necessity of a church’s quality in his book Why Men Hate Going to Church:
Why is quality so important? Because church growth depends on people inviting their friends. Men will not invite their friends to a church service that’s corny, hokey, or half-baked. John Lewis has dubbed this the ‘cringe factor’-- defining it as ‘what happens when a Christian finally gets up enough nerve to invite his unbelieving friend to church, and the Christian quietly cringes through the service because of the off-key singing, out-of-tune piano, bad acoustics, malfunctioning microphones, and disjointed sermon.’[14]

            Murrow then goes on to talk about the church’s image, branding, and d├ęcor which makes it, as Driscoll says, “trendy.” This section of Murrow’s book is specifically talking about mega churches and it is likely that most trendy emerging churches are large, if not “mega.” Therefore, it can be deduced that the trendy emerging church is one that is evangelical in theology, but very image-driven in its contextual ministry.
            Mark Driscoll, whose name has been necessarily overused, is at the core of the Reformissionist branch of the emerging church because he is the founder of it. The word is an infusion of “Reformed” and “missional.” Acts 29 churches are typically this way because they are Reformed in their theology, but very contextual in their outreach.
            The heart of the Mars Hill Seattle contextualization comes from their belief that Jesus was the perfect missionary. A missionary is one who comes into a foreign culture to spread the gospel. Thus, Jesus left the culture of heaven, came to the earth’s culture by emptying Himself (Phil 2:4-6) and taking on human flesh in order to convey God’s message to His image-bearers. Driscoll says that he and the other leadership at Mars Hill are missionaries to the Pacific Northwest and they should contextualize with the people in that area as they would in any other area of the world. His views are expressed in more detail in a recent message he gave titled “Jesus is a Better Missionary.”[15]
Relation to Other Movements
            It is quite curious that although emerging churches are very focused on reaching post-modern people in their culture that they are still somehow very much against seeker-sensitive churches for the most part. It could be said that emergent churches are more aligned with the seeker-sensitive movement due to their sacrifice of theological positions (which is also a characteristic of seeker churches).[16] Acts 29, evangelical, and monastic emerging churches all reject the idea behind seeker-sensitive churches because of their methodology that seemingly keeps truth minimal and elevates style.
            Emerging churches are not connected to fundamental churches because their methodological ideals could not be any farther apart. In the eyes of Driscoll and the boys, fundamentalists are the Parasitical sect of today’s Christianity and, in turn, they become the butt of many of his jokes. Fundamentalists like John MacArthur do not appreciate this kind of tomfoolery from the pulpit.[17] [18] In turn, fundamentalists disconnect themselves from the emerging church movement, sticking to their own methodologies of contextualization in their churches.
The Future
            The emerging church movement will not last forever. Many of these pastors are young (under 50), cool (stylish clothes, use social media), and energetic. Eventually, the pastors will turn grey, the style will seem forced and not genuine, and the energy level will undoubtedly decline. It is possible that others will carry on in the tradition of Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, Steven Furtick, and the other emerging pastors around America, but the movement has bound itself to the culture, so as the culture changes, the movement will change. As Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun,” (Ecc 1:9) and no culture or method is “new,” but just a different version of an old concept. Thus, the emerging church concept will continue adapting within the movement and one can only hope that there will be enough sensible believers to hold on to conservative theology. 

[3] Ibid.

[4] I heard this personally while at the boot camp. Much was said about race and ethnicity. It is clear that there is an “Affirmative Action” mindset among these ministers.

[5] Mark Driscoll was fine with T.D. Jakes’ presence on James MacDonald’s Elephant Room conferences which were “by Christians and for Christians.” Driscoll approved of Jakes’ Trinitarian theology in the latest volume of the video series. Also, Matt Chandler recently spoke at the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta alongside a female pastor and television producer Mark Burnett, whose faith is unclear. 
[14] Murrow, Why Men Hate Going to Church, 137-138

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