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Postmodernism and the Emerging Church Movement

Pages In This Entry:

  1. Postmodernism and the Emerging Church Movement
  2. Emerging Church - Distinctive Teachings and Goals
  3. Emerging Church - Methods
  4. Emerging Church - Standard Communication Strategies
  5. Emerging Church - The Church’s Proper Role in Postmodern Culture – Light of the World
  6. Emerging Church - Some Leading Figures in the Emerging Church movement
  7. Emerging Church - Some Leading Voices Opposing the Emerging Church movement
  8. Emerging Church - Glossary of Emergent Terms For Those New to the Conversation
  9. Emerging Church - Conversation versus the Bible And Non-“Emerging” Christians: Truth
  10. Emerging Church - Conversation versus... : Scripture
  11. Emerging Church - Conversation versus... : Faith
  12. Emerging Church - Conversation versus... : Doctrine
  13. Emerging Church - Conversation versus... : Lifestyle
  14. Emerging Church - Conversation... : Ministry
  15. Emerging Church - Web Sites
  16. Emerging Church - Recommended Books
  17. Emerging Church - Footnotes

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Appropriate Response to the Emerging Church Movement

© By David Kowalski

Looking out of the windows of our homes we respond indifferently to the presence of dirt on the ground. Should that dirt makes its way into our homes, however, our feelings change and we proceed to sweep it out because it does not belong there. In John 2:14-16 [1] , after passing passively through the streets of Jerusalem, Jesus’ passivity gave way to angry expression as he proceeded to sweep clean the house of God. John says in verse 15 that when Jesus saw the money changers “He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple.” It seems that while God opposes all error and sin, he is especially passionate about expressing this opposition when error and sin come into his house and when his children are affected. In Galatians 5:12 Paul models the heart and actions of a servant of God responding to an internal corruption of the church as he says “I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.” The intensity of his response is dictated by his zeal for God and his love of the Church. Servants of God feel the inappropriateness of God’s house being defiled. God’s shepherds feel responsible for guarding the flock. This divinely inspired, holy passion compels an appropriate response when God’s house is trashed and his people are deceived.

Unfortunately, many evangelical shepherds, who have passed from a prophetic to a professional model of ministry too readily welcome wolves into God’s flock if those wolves are decked out in the latest, trendiest garb. The cutting-edge heresy that is being welcomed by many Evangelicals today is known as the Emerging Church movement. While many participants in this movement undoubtedly know and love Christ, and while many of their criticisms of evangelical tendencies are well founded, their concessions to relativism inevitably lead them downward to serious doctrinal and moral deviations that they bring into the household of God.

The Emerging Church movement consists of a diverse group of people who identify with Christianity, but who feel that reaching the postmodern world requires us to radically reshape the church’s beliefs and practices to conform to postmodernism. Postmodernism is a term that has been dissected and broken down into various schemes of subcategories and there is not absolute unanimity among postmodern thinkers. Nevertheless, there are certain defining characteristics of this phenomenon that grew in the late twentieth century out of some elements that always existed in modernism. [2] Grenz and Franke summarize postmodernism as “…the rejection of certain central features of the modern project, such as its quest for certain, objective, and universal knowledge, along with its dualism and its assumption of the goodness of knowledge. It is this critical agenda, rather than any proposed constructive paradigm to replace the modern vision that unites postmodern thinkers.” [3]

Postmodernism rejects the basic premises of modern epistemology. [4] In modernist thought perception corresponds to truth and language refers to an independent referent. [5] Douglas Groothuis describes the correspondence theory of truth as the assumption that “A belief or statement is true only if it matches with, reflects, or corresponds to the reality to which it refers. For a statement to be true it must be factual. Facts determine the truth or falsity of a belief or statement.” [6] For Groothuis, this theory harmonizes with the presuppositions he finds clearly implied and presupposed in Scripture: “The Bible does not relate a technical view of truth, but it does implicitly and consistently advance the correspondence view in both testaments.” [7]

The referential theory of language is the view that language refers to something objectively real in the mind of the one who communicates. Communication is not seen as ambiguous verbalizations that can have various private meanings for each hearer independent of the author or speaker’s original intent. Just as Groothuis finds the correspondence theory of truth presupposed in the Bible, Justin Taylor finds the referential theory of language similarly presumed in Scripture:

Nothing could be clearer from the New Testament, it seems to me, than the idea that God has given us universally true doctrinal revelation that can be understood, shared, defended and contextualized. ‘The faith’ has been once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). We are to guard the ‘good deposit’ entrusted to us (1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14), instructing in ‘sound doctrine’ and rebuking contrary doctrine (Titus 1:9; 2:1). False doctrine is associated with conceit and ignorance (1 Tim 6:3-4), and we are commanded not to be tossed to and fro by its winds (Eph. 4:14). [8]

Postmodern rejection of these two principles causes them to “deconstruct” the language of texts (including Scripture), redefining the words and reinterpreting the texts to mean whatever they feel as they have an encounter with the text’s language.

Although many aspects of modernism cannot blend with Christian faith, the correspondence theory of truth and referential theory of language harmonize with the presuppositions of Scripture. God intended real, objective meaning in the Bible. Scripture has no real value to us beyond subjective moments of “inspiration” if we do not believe its narratives and propositions connect with reality or that each author’s original intent is the ground and goal of our interpretation. Contemporary, biblical scholars who adopt these elements of “modern” epistemology, embracing the correspondence and referential theories and incorporating them into their hermeneutics, are not thereby embracing a wholesale adherence to all of the beliefs of secular modernism. Although Emerging Church leaders accuse Evangelicals of being culture-bound to modernism, Evangelicalism has in many ways been a countercultural movement rejecting, for example, modernism’s strict empiricism that disallows miracles or revelation. Only classic, theological liberals have accommodated modernism in all of its views.

Postmodern epistemology has serious practical consequences as it leaves no foundation for objective beliefs – a position called “postfoundationalism.” In spite of the ingenious efforts of skilled, postfoundationalist theologians to construct a theology that “has universal implications,” all postfoundational thought eventually succumbs to some form of skepticism or relativism. Thus, within postmodern thought no truth or morality can be “normative.” That is, no person or “scripture” can authoritatively tell postmoderns what is true or right for them. “Truth” and “morals” are found in the context of a specific community and they vary from one community to another.[9]

Thus, while generic “spirituality” is more acceptable to postmoderns than it has been to moderns (partly because the absolutist claims of science are losing ground everywhere but college science departments) any exclusive claim to revelation-based truth or morals is now thought to be arrogant and philosophically untenable. Postmoderns believe espousal of absolutes is an illegitimate attempt to manipulate others and exercise power over them. No one who embraces this epistemology has any room for others’ proclamation of an ahistorical, [10] objective, universally authoritative meaning of a scriptural text.

It is not an oversimplification to say that postmodernism is hostile to the objective and exclusive claims of biblical Christianity. While Christians must be sensitive to the culture they find themselves in, and while we must contextualize our methods to reach those in that culture, we must never alter the Gospel itself to fit the prevalent worldview of any given culture. [11] Postmodernized Christianity is a seriously compromised “Christianity.”

I contend that the Emerging Church movement is guilty of this kind of compromise through embracing postmodern epistemology and accepting this epistemology’s practical implications. Emergents’ efforts to accommodate postmodernism by shaping theology to suit culture (as opposed to merely adapting methods to reach culture) have been every bit as disastrous as liberal scholars’ accommodation to modernism. This accommodation follows the removal of a theological foundation (an objective basis for faith) with the rejection of “bounded-set” theology (borders for orthodoxy). With no foundation or boundaries it becomes practically impossible to say what is or is not Christian truth or conduct as there are no objective definitions or limits to faith or practice. Culturally arbitrary opinions are all that remain. Any belief or standard may then be questioned or changed. In a postmodernized faith all beliefs are valid to those who hold them. Brian McLaren, for example, says

I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish contexts … rather than resolving the paradox via pronouncements on the eternal destiny of people more convinced by or loyal to other religions than ours, we simply move on … To help Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, and everyone else experience life to the full in the way of Jesus (while learning it better myself), I would gladly become one of them whoever they are, to whatever degree I can, to embrace them, to join them, to enter into their world without judgment but with saving love as mine has been entered by the Lord. [12]

Any thoughtful consideration of the removal of the foundation and the boundaries for Christian faith must conclude that this postmodernization is fatal to biblical faith, stripping the term “faith” of any real meaning and opening the door to substantial change in fundamental beliefs. These changes can be found most prominently in the soteriology and eschatology of emergents. After they have undergone emergent accommodation to postmodernism, doctrines such as atonement and judgment no longer resemble the biblical teachings Evangelicals believe are non-negotiable. The collection of quotations from emergents found later in this article should give the reader an idea of the extent to which heresies have been entertained in the movement.

The effect of the emergent movement’s presence in the body of Christ is equivalent to both an autoimmune disease (such as multiple sclerosis, in which the body attacks itself with harmful consequences) and an immunocompromising disease (such as AIDS, in which the body lowers its defenses to external pathogens). The Emerging Church movement acts like an autoimmune disease, stripping Christian terminology of its biblical meanings, and it acts like an immunocompromising disease, disarming the body’s defenses against foreign invasion. The result is that this movement represents a deadly influence within the Church which requires a decisive response from those who recognize it as such.

While many participants in this movement such as Dan Kimball acknowledge that the terms “emergent” and “emerging” are essentially synonymous in popular understanding, and while many scholars such as D. A. Carson use them interchangeably, some participants in the movement see a distinction in meaning between the two. Mark Driscoll and many of the churches listed on the Acts 29 Network website ( consider themselves “emerging” but not “emergent” because they associate “emergent” with the more liberal and antinomian positions of Brian McLaren and Emergentvillage. This more conservative minority may be characterized by some but not all of the criticisms offered in this article. An even smaller minority of “emerging” bloggers consider the “emergent stream” too conservative and structured. [This paragraph was edited on Aug. 8, 2006]

Just as there is diversity in postmodernism at large there is diversity in the Emerging Church movement and there are many things within it that are in themselves good. To isolate the essence of emergent we will disregard the diverse elements they do not necessarily hold in common with each other. Emergents differ on many peripheral theological and practical issues. Thus, these issues do not help define the movement in spite of their being a real part of the movement. We will also disregard those elements emergents do hold in common with Evangelicals outside of the movement. Emergents share many things with non-emergents such as a belief in contextualization, caring for the needy, friendship evangelism, and fellowship. Consequently, these commendable elements are not part of the distinctive essence of emergent regardless of the legitimate place they have in the movement. This leaves us with the distinctive teachings and goals elaborated below.

If we think of this distinctive essence of emergent as a lake, we can observe that some people, such as Brian McLaren, are swimming in its deepest spot, while others, such as Scott McKnight, are wading in the lake at a shallower depth. Still others (perhaps John Ortberg and Rick Warren fit this description), seem to enjoy boating on the lake and occasionally drinking its water, enjoying friendship with the movement while maintaining a distinctly Evangelical identity.

© Copyright 2009, David Kowalski. All Rights Reserved. Do not republish. Published at Apologetics Index by permission.

Written by David Kowalski

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38 Responses to “Postmodernism and the Emerging Church Movement”

  1. [...] Just in case you were wonder what the Appropriate Response to the Emerging Church Movement was, here it is. [...]

  2. [...] The Apologetics Index has published an article on the emerging church, “Appropriate Response to the Emerging Church Movement” by David Kowalski, who writes, Unfortunately, many evangelical shepherds, who have passed from a prophetic to a professional model of ministry too readily welcome wolves into God’s flock if those wolves are decked out in the latest, trendiest garb. The cutting-edge heresy that is being welcomed by many Evangelicals today is known as the Emerging Church movement. While many participants in this movement undoubtedly know and love Christ, and while many of their criticisms of evangelical tendencies are well founded, their concessions to relativism inevitably lead them downward to serious doctrinal and moral deviations that they bring into the household of God. [...]

  3. [...] This is in addition, of course, to other articles that I have already highlighted, such as “Absolutely Not! A critical look at the emerging church movement” by Phil Johnson, and Anton Hein’s entry in Apologetics Index titled “Postmodernism and the Emerging Church Movement.” [...]

  4. [...] 1. Marko’s post comparing tactics in 1930s Germany and the religious right. 2. A rare, and a little bit tongue-in-cheek, rant by TSK about Calvary Chapel, Inc. 3. A critique of the emerging movement by David Kowalski at Apologetics Index. 4. Dan Horwedel lobs a little bomb on why he’s no longer emerging. Points worth pondering. (HT: Br. Maynard) 5. John Frye’s insightful, but maybe unheeded, warning about theological police. A good read (and check out the photo of his granddaughter; John must be older than us!). 6. Brad’s got a good review of Pete Rollins’ new book, How (Not) to Speak of God. 7. What about you? Do you think “suck” and “retard” should be used in sermons? Check out Karen’s response. And read the next day’s post, too, about Bush’s language. 8. One my students, Ms. Amanda Munroe, is in Niger Africa this summer. Here are some reflections and pictures. 9. Brad Bergfalk reflects on local church responses to youth who have been to summer events and get all fired up. 10. And I have a handsome son and a pretty daughter-in-law. [...]

  5. Adrian says:

    David, Thank you for writing this article. According to Ephesians 4:14 deceptions are to come, however, we must follow the "truth" of the Scripture in love. The Emerging Church movement is a deception from Satan, to draw people away from the fundamental truths of God. I'm glad to read your artilce in this regard. Blessings!

  6. R Coward says:

    The list of "leading voices opposing the Emerging Church movement" should include John MacAruthur's Master's Seminary where their Faculty Lecture Series for 2006 addressed the Emergent Church problem with 5 timely messages.

  7. Nick Reeve says:

    I have read some of the comments and the article by David Kowalski. I am not sure whether I would care to identify myself with the emergent church or not. I am reading Brian Maclaren's book, Generous Orthodoxy. I am not even completely sure whether I agree with every utterance he makes. I am, however, pleased that he uses the word generous. I suggest a deeper more nuanced examination of postmodern theory would demonstrate that 'postmodernists' generally value different things. They are,you are correct in saying, extremely sceptical about foundationalist epistemology. The classic statement from Lyotard disavows the validity of what he calls 'metanarratives'. However, he is addressing himself to the metanarratives of rationality. The objectivity of which moderns and many who proclaim an evangelical theology and faith seek is an enlightenment construction, objectivity has no secure foundation as a 'truth' within the bible. This is because objectivity means the capacity to see things removed from all context. Only god can do this. The presence of the holy spirit in the church gives us the capacity to make sense of scripture. The foundation we seek and have is infinitely securer than any philosophically constructed claim to certainty. I do understand fear regarding undermining foundations of faith, but if my argument (such as it is) is correct that can't happen since our shared faith (emergent or more traditional) is not premised on objectivity (this is philosophy) but upon faith in the revelation of God in Christ as witnessed to by scripture and through the apostles. It really does come down to choice and belief (any other way would violate the grace and freedom of god)As for emergents and their dance with Satan, they are not "wolves" and should not be characterised as a 'disease'. That is not generous or gracious. The emergent movement has many flaws but consists of brothers and sisters in Christ.

  8. Ben says:

    I am an 26 European, raised up in a "pastor home", around american missionaries.

    I have tasted the good and the bad of both "traditional" and "Emergent", and i have come to believe that articles such as this do no good.
    Yes there may be flaws, in both settings, but the truth is, I became an "emergent" without even knowing it was a movement, out of simply digging deep in Acts, and feeling the need to go back to what is essential in my own relationship with Christ, and as well as the body, and finding no fulfillment in mere religious or traditional rituals as you wanna call it.
    I experienced great things in my life, things the "traditional" setting, just ignored. I have also seen how when you try to force an "emerging setting" it's bound to fail. I was drawn to a certain group off people naturally, and we all felt the same. We didn't discuss anything, no rules no nothing, we just followed God's voice, and eventually discovered the whole deal with "Emerging Church", and "Post Modernism".
    I too felt angry at some of the mistakes the church as made along the way, but instead of burning bridges, today I am building them.
    There are people out there in the real world, who have really difficult time in even setting foot on a church, and we have to face that fact. Most of the people I am trying to reach, can not do that, specially in a country so severally damaged by catholicism, their view on anything related to Christ is totally off, so I ask you: "how are you even gonna approach them?"

    I deal with Punk Rockers, Metal Heads, Hippies, Anarchists... Do you really believe they can be reach by some one in a suit with a leaflet? Do you think they can be reached by some one who has "conformed" with the ways of the system? Do you know their reality? They are against everything "the system" stands for...I'm not passing judgment, but this is my reality. I'm not saying these people are right, but I do know they choose a life of simple things, things they perceive as genuine, and that is all they want. I believe Jesus is what they need, but I am not gonna sit and see them waste their lives. I have an amazing relationship with both worlds, traditional, and emergent, and I see my self as a bridge builder. Theology is great, but not for all people, and while you spend time discussing and researching on things like, and the you do, these souls keep going to hell.
    I don't believe God has created us to look the same, and be the same, and I embrace that difference, as long as the essential it the same, and that is the same heart as Christ.
    I love the fact that I grew up in a church, it made me who I am today, and I still attend a "normal" church and have such duties as leading worship, etc, but there is a bigger world out there and I am reaching people no one else is reaching in my country, so please don't confuse respecting some one else's opinion, belief, with compromising with it.

    Try to see the Kingdom as a whole, focus on what God has for your life and pursue that, if it's right for you, who is to say it isn't? If God confirms that, if scripture confirms that, invest you energy and time on that, and love your brothers in Christ.
    I believe great things can happen when we learn to work together.

  9. David Kowalski says:

    I appreciate those who read the article and respond, even if they disagree with me. Ben, you should read the comment above yours (which was written by Nick) to see what the real issues are. None of the critics of EC that I am familiar with (and I have read many) take exception to peripheral issues such as clothing or methodology (if we exclude the issues related to postmodern spirituality not even addressed in my article) in the movement. Most Christians are in favor of contextualizing methods in order to reach a given culture. The problem found in EC is that some Christians are changing their epistemology to suit the surrounding culture. This has very serious consequences. Once we embrace subjective, postmodern epistemology we redefine faith as something which contains no real certainty. Once certainty is abandoned we have no objective, ahistorical, universal guide to belief and practice. The result is that "Christianity" becomes whatever each individual wants it to be. My article here shows that the tendency that follows the embrace of postmodern epistemology is that individuals choose a "Christianity" that is popular with postmoderns. This inevitably leads to a rejection of essential doctrines such as atonement and judgment, and leads to a changing of biblical standards such as the injunction against homosexuality. You read me wrong if you think I am trying to say we should not contextualize methods or that I do not believe that any EC participants are true Christians. I am simply saying we should not surrender the gospel message to suit the tastes of the world (see another more concise article I have written at This is the real issue. As long as you believe in the biblical Gospel I have no quarrel with you or anyone else. Those who reject the Gospel have the intellectual right to do so, but it is dishonest for them to dissimulate and pretend that their "new gospel" is the Gospel of Jesus Christ which is taught in Scripture. Those who test such "new gospels" are not behaving in a sinful manner. I have been quite disturbed by the tendency in EC to be tolerant of everything except criticisms of their movement. Disagree with me if you will, but it is dishonest to twist my words (or anyone else's) to make it seem I am criticizing things I really approve of and it is not Christian to suggest that I have no right to critique a given movement's teachings.

  10. Matt Tucker says:

    Not a bad article but there were a few things I have learned lately I though I would share. First, there seems to be this constant switching between using "emerging" and "emergent", but they are two different things, I believe and I have an article by Scot Mcknight which helped me work through some of the confusion, if you are interested. I agree there are some worrisome things said by those in the emergent movement (Brian Mclaren and those associated with him), but there are also some good things I see as well, and I think we need to be challenged by it. But at the same time, if we are going to be worried about the emerging church, we should also be worried about the evangelical church, as I think it has its own problems as well. Where parts of the emerging church have gone to far one way, parts of the evangelical church has gone to far down the road of "religion" and "phariseeism" (might be a better word, can't think of it), and have missed the point as well. There is probably a lot more I could say, but I don't want to be long winded. The only other thing I will mention is about Steve Chalke. In the article I mentioned, Scot Mcknight wrote Jason Clark, Emergent UK leader and asked about him, and the reply was that though he was friends with Chalke, Chalke denies being a leader of the UK movement and also it is said that he never has been part of the movement.
    God Bless

  11. Gilbert Evans says:

    The problem with modern day Christianity is that we are subtly being moved away from "...the SIMPLICITY that is in Christ." The Gospel of Christ is nowhere near as complicated as people are making it out to be. The greatest apostle of them all Paul put it simply that he wanted to know nothing except Christ and Him crucified. Shouldn't we be the same???

  12. David Kowalski says:

    In response to Matt I would agree that I could have said more about those who consider themselves "emerging but not emergent." I am not sure which article by McKnight you are referring to but I have yet to hear of Scot discussing one of the chief difficulties in this semantic confusion which is the fact that many participants in the movement such as Brian McLaren use the terms interchangeably. Many others in the movement acknowledge that the two terms are synonymous in popular usage (and usage determines meaning). When one tries to divorce the Emerging Church Movement from the "emergent" distinctives such as postmodern relativism the result is nothing that could be said to constitute a movement. I think people such as Mark Driscoll would be wisest to call themselves something other than "emerging" for these reasons. Evangelicalism does have its flaws as the Church of any time has. Nevertheless, the term is used to identify those who hold to biblical orthodoxy and morality. The core of EC seems to be an accommodation to worldly preferences that makes biblical orthodoxy and morality things that may be dispensed with. I believe this tendency by EC participants is far more problematic than the flaws within Evangelicalism. There seems to be great controversy over whether or not Chalke is part of the movement and I have heard people quote Chalke and prominent leaders both ways on this. I believe Chalke's emergent theology and association with emergents are sufficient to consider him part of the movement although perhaps with some kind of qualifier attached.

  13. R. Keatley says:

    I appreciate the criticisms highlighted here and understand the dilemma Evangelicals face with the Emerg-church (my word...encompasses Emerging and Emergent but I understand the differences that some like to make with these terms). I have heard it said that "post-modernism declares defeat before the first shot is fired" and there may be some truth to that (at least at this stage) however I think some of the post-modern writers such as McLaren are looking at modernism like the pre-modern view that the sun revolved around the earth. If modernism (and time will tell) falls into disfavor as much as people like McLaren think, then we are in the wrong boat and should rightfully say so. You can argue and say "well I don't care how much the way I approach my faith falls into disfavor" but the reality is since our faith is tied to the proposition that the Bible is God's word if you start to question that proposition over time your faith crumbles. I think McLaren sees this and is actually trying to save Christianity, not destroy it. People made similar statements about Martin Luther in his day.

  14. David Kowalski says:

    In response to R. Keatley I would insist that Christianity should not be bound to modernism or postmodernism. Both have presuppositions that harmonize with the biblical teaching and both have presuppositions hostile to scriptural teaching. Just as liberal theologians advocated a complete surrender to modern epistemology, emergents advocate a surrender to postmodern epistmelogy which is in many ways at odds with the Gospel. This alien epistemology necessarily leads to uncertainty in faith and compromise in doctrine and morals. Thus, one can be a homosexual pantheist who disbelieves the message of the cross and still be "saved" in emergent teaching. This does not save Christianity; it redefines it according to the world's tastes. I still reserve the right to disagree with people such as McLaren and say so.

  15. chris Symonds says:

    well written David Postmodernism by its definition implies no final truth. If this is so then there is no truth on which we can rely. The word truth has no meaning and should not be used in postmodern dialogue.

    I have some close friends and collegues who are part of the Emergent Church Movement they are by and large doctrinally sound in their approach to the Gospel and its implications.

    I think what many in the movement do however in their attempts to contextualise the Christian message is remove the need for repentence and conformity to the Christian life. In the area where I live there is a great need to contextualise the gospel through dialoge as a way of introducing the non churched to Christian language and concepts. This needs to be done because the terms salvation sin and repentence have no meaning in the context of their every day lives.

    We often mistakenly assume as Christians that everyone we meet on the street will have some familiarity with the language and concepts we use. However in my own experience this isn't true of many people even in Western culture. The issue here is talking to people and introducing out beliefs to them without compromising Christian standards.

    Though this may be the case it is not justification for throwing out everything we have done for 2000 years and completely rejecting the classical epistimology or idea of antithesis which the bible relies on as the basis for right and wrong. We are called to be salt and light to the world how can we be if there is nothing to distinguish from the world?

    Back to my opening statement that postmodernism means no final truth. It is in fact the destruction of truth. I note some of the above comments regarding punk rockers and head bangers such as the heavy metal subculture. No, they may not relate well to someone in a suit however they still conform to the laws of society and acknowledge law enforcement and can identify relavent authorites. In the same way they still dialogue with other subcultures and understand their norms and values and they still have within their own subgroups a sense of right and wrong. Most importantly they grow up and move on from these groups as they mature. I would think that anyone who is still doing exactly the same thing they were doing 25 years ago has become unhealthily isolated from the rest of society and is stunted in their maturity.

    So because we do mature change grow up and move on from one stage in life to another it is reasobale to think that we can all relate to other subgroups and even change our alliances as we rub up against ideas that challenge our own. To reach those other groups does not mean I should give up my own identity to reach them. I am 43 I have been through the heavvy metal scene I still own a leather jacket but I would look ridiculous with long hair and a mega death T shirt at my age.

    Postmodernism is a subtle form of syncretism the further you get into it the more it dulls your senses to what is different or what is right and wrong.

  16. The ultimate termination of the emerging theology will come via rejection from the crowd that they are trying to reach. They are trying to relate to a generation with no absolutes by eliminating their own absolutes. This is an effective method at first, but is untenable and ultimately doomed.
    At the end of the day the postmodern generation will choose an organization, leader, movement or event that reinforces their views the strongest. The true Jesus will never suffice. Until the emergent leaders drive pre-teen girls to the abortion clinic and force them to have an abortion (whether they need it or not), burn an American flag to protest lack of federal funding of gay marriage, handcuff themselves to trees, key SUV's to protest climate terrorism and rig voting machines to vote for socialist candidates, these "converts" will never truly convert.
    Right now, the emergent/emerging church is the enemy of traditional evangelicalism. As such, the postmoderns are befriending the enemy of their enemy. Just as the communists allied with America to stop Hitler only to build massive weapons of mass destruction aimed at our living rooms, so too the postmoderns befriend a movement critical of fundamentalists only to arm up and convert or destroy the movement. The emergent leaders who don't understand this don't truly understand their focus group very well.
    What is the point of being postmodern if eventually someone says you can't do something?
    Eventually, these leaders will be forced to actually make a decision on an important issue and go on the record with it. When they do, if it is not within the hypo-narrow requirements of the postmodern open mindedness, they will be rejected by them. If the leaders decide in favor of the postmodern views, then they will be banished by the church to the dung heap of all aberrant heretical movements forever. This is the precise reason that asking them to make a decision on something as simple as homosexuality is like trying to dig a ditch with a pencil sharpener. The leaders are smart enough to know that if they answer questions, their target audience abandons them or the church excommunicates their ridiculous theosophies. So they continue to promote gelatinous postulations while concluding nothing in order to sustain their ultimately futile system.
    In conclusion, the emergent movement will sacrifice the truth in all its forms in order to give birth to a foundationless system which attracts a group of people who will not even remain true to this bastardized redefinition of Jesus and the church. Hoisted up by their own petard, the leaders will find that in the end, the emergent movement crumbled under the principles of its own obsequious disengenousness.

  17. Rebekkah S. says:

    I think there is an ignorance about the emerging church movement that is leading to a lot of dissention among believers. I consider myself to be a part of this movement. The emerging church movement is a movement that primarily seeks to change the church model. It is a change in ecclesiology. This is universal in the emerging church movement. All other theology is NOT universal in this movement. Everyone I know who aligns themselves as part of the EMC (emerging missional church) absolutely believes in absolute truth. I believe that Jesus is both God and man, the only way to salvation. I believe the Bible is the Word of God. There is no central doctrine uniting the EMC. It is a church reformation movement. I totally disagree the theology with many who are part of the movement, but there is no one leader who speaks for all. In fact, most people who are part of EMC disagree with pluralism, inter-spirituality, or relativism. I believe that the teaching of these things is total heresy.

    So, please don't turn the emerging church movement into a denomination, assuming that there is a central doctrinal system. There isn't. There is a desire to change "the way we do church." That's it.

  18. BlueNight says:

    The modernist epistemology is indeed flawed, as it is built on a flawed model of reality. The reality that God gave us to live in (for the first hundred years of forever) is made up of the physical, the logical, and the emotional. Only the physical and the logical are objective; the emotional is subjective at its very core, and attempts to objectivize people's emotions always end badly. In the case of modernism, identities (the emotional equivalents of definitions) are entrenched by a system, and people who don't conform fall out of the system.

    I know a young Christian man who was deeply scarred when his father told him Rock'n'Roll was of the Devil, a jungle beat spawned in pits of damnation in Hell itself. This young man had found God in the music, and someone else's experience was forced upon him.

    The emerging church is (from what I've read) about a different experience of an infinite God. As Rebekkah S. (above) says, it's about ecclesiology.

    When Ben Franklin invented the lightning rod, many churches did not put them up, because (as everyone knows) lightning is an instrument of God's punishment. Indeed, God punished those churches for rejecting accurate knowledge of the world He created, by allowing lightning to hit their unprotected steeples.

    The cultural shift to postmodernity is about reframing, redefining, and redesigning. As with any cultural shift, there will be churches too accommodating, which end up heretical, and churches too resistant, which end up empty. Generation X is the last Modern generation; it CANNOT be the last generation of the Church.

  19. RealStefcho says:


    What matters is that i) Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came to Earth to cleans us of our sins (for ALL men are sinners) and ii) the Word of God (Scripture) is the only true guide to what Christ requires of us... Do NOT listen to false preaches who re-interpret the Bible!

    2 Corinthians 11:3-4 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, our thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.

    1 John 2:22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.

    Only Jesus Christ can make us reightwous before God - no man can do this, and no amount of good will or good deeds. These are the teachings of Jesus Christ our Lord.

  20. There is so much to be said against the ideas, mission, beliefs ect. EC that time would'nt allow us to do into full detail but one one lady wrote "There is a desire to change the way we do church."
    Without being sarcastic that seems to be Obamas motto for the u.s.
    The sad thing is ,with all they want to change the emerging church is taking the gospel a different direction than what is told to us in the gospels !!! Along with the change has come the taking out of the cross, not much said about the Blood, mentioning "sin" or using the term sinner is totally out of the question. "Hell" is truly a dirty four-lettered word. The EC does'nt want to be offensive so they can bring in the bodies & the bucks rather than being interested in the soul of man & and mans eternal destiny !!! This cotton candy gospel is leading people to hell in a hand-basket & the leaders of this movement will truly stand accountable for leading people in such a way !
    In response to the young lady " There Has to be a central doctrine!!!!" Jesus had a central doctrine !The problem is the EC wants to believe what ever they want to without any confrontation !
    If you really don't know what you believe, there is no doubt that you don't even know where you're going !! There has to be doctrine, There has to be truth, there has to be absolutes and without those 3 things we have no Bible !!One last note Paul said in 1 Timothy 6: 3,4,5 " If any man teach otherwise and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the DOCTRINE which is according to godliness; v.4) He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strife of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings ,v. 5 perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: FROM SUCH WITHDRAW THYSELF."
    That pretty much describes the EC and the new gospel they present and Let me add, paul also said that if anyone preaches another gospel, Let him be accursed !!! It's time for the true church to stand up & come out from among them and be separate regardless of what it may cost us !!I would encourage those that are involved in the EC to get in a bible believing church, one that won't comprimise the truth & know that if you know the truth, the truth will set you free !!! God Bless !!

  21. isaac bennett says:

    I'll add my 2 cents. There are so many "E" words flying around that I can't keep them all straight. I don't know all the "ins and outs" of the EC, but I can recognize that adapting the contextual meaning of the bible to accommodate cultures that may have a hard time accepting the scorching truth of scripture is dangerous. Is not the Word like a hammer and like a fire? Does it not offend every heart, every culture? Are social cultures born in heaven and therefore noble enough to bend truth for the sake of their preservation? Does the Word not demand the impossible; yet made possible through the blood of Jesus? We can only know a tree by it's fruit. We can only observe the lifestyle of a person living the EC ideology since we as humans are incapable of seeing into the minds and hearts of men. Does it produce holiness in the vessels who subscribe to it? What activity does it produce? Most importantly, if I jump into the EC will my heart be prone to live out what Jesus commanded in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5,6, &7)? Prayer, the Word, fasting, giving, and forgiveness- are these taught as the centerpiece of daily action? Scripture shows that history is only changed through prayer and fasting, and the human heart is only sustained in Godliness by the same. I'm not interested in anything that would simply give me fuel to judge the "other guy" down the road. If everyone had the same heart-standard/lifestyle of the leaders of the EC, would our nation(s) be turned upside down (Acts 17:6)?

  22. iSpec says:

    The evangelical movement is entrenched in security, pleasure and power. I won't even talk about the Pastor/CEO's. Instead, let's discuss their disciples, the average born-againer whose 'accepted Jesus as their Saviour' while never encountering Jesus Christ the Lord. Their mortgages, investments and vacations would shame the aristocracy of previous generations. And how 'bout the treasure of evangelical movements heart, the bloated and idolatrous legacy structures built across North America? If only their were a Luther, a Wittenburg and a door for me to compile about 95 gripes.

  23. Erik says:

    I am just now reading about the "Emergent Frontier" in Tony Jones' book ("The New Christians:..."). I had not heard of it before. I am not a scholarly or well-read theologian. I am relatively new to living as a Christian, although I have claimed to be Christian for years. I disagree that the Emergent Church is heresy, Satanic, or blasphemous. It saddens me to read that type of response. I listen to lots oc talk Christian radio, and when politics is involved, the "Christian" radio show hosts suddenly don't sound so Christian anymore, like this response to the Emergent Church. I pray. God responds. I don't always like or agree with God's answer at first, but He is always right. Did you pray about this before you wrote it? Who am I to judge you if you did or did not or really listened to God's response or not. I am just a man. All I know is that as a Willow Creek churchgoer, I don't see conflict with what is taught there and what I am reading about the Emergent frontier. It sparked me to be more assertive with my Christian actions. I find myself inviting discussion instead of avoiding it about my Christian faith, understanding, and humble possible misinterpretation of the Bible. I am starting an informal small group to discuss the merits of interpreting the Bible in the "Emergent" way. And I will pray before and after each such gathering to be sure I am staying on God's path for me.

  24. It is apparent to me that the emergent church could be paving the way for the Church of Revelation 17.

  25. Steven Zahm says:

    Hi David:

    In your analysis and critique of the Emergent Church movement you quote Brian Maclaren as follows.

    I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish contexts … rather than resolving the paradox via pronouncements on the eternal destiny of people more convinced by or loyal to other religions than ours, we simply move on … To help Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, and everyone else experience life to the full in the way of Jesus (while learning it better myself), I would gladly become one of them whoever they are, to whatever degree I can, to embrace them, to join them, to enter into their world without judgment but with saving love as mine has been entered by the Lord. [12].

    I understand your use of this quote to prove a point however, this is a little (actually alot) like proof texting. What I mean by proof texting is that a person takes a certian position (presuppositionally) and proceeds to find textual support for that position. This kind of proof texting almost always includes the lifting out of context of the text--(in this case a quote accurately reproduced) in question and without further information or analysis make a conclusion of what the author of the text meant. It means, in this case, ignoring the author's meaning as Maclaren in other places has stated his meaning of that quote. He says that the meaning is related to the fact that in the Buddhist, Hindu and Jewish religions there is a substantial cultural component. These religions, and many others, not only inform the adherents as to spiritual matters but cultural matters as well to the point that it is difficult to separate what is "religious" from what is cultural. As an example, in Muslim cultures, the Koran and it's various interpratations determins civil law, and other culturally normative behavior. Maclaren's position is that to attempt to separate these Christian converts of these various religions from what is normative for them, and not us in the West, is hubris. And, I can see that this is not far off the biblical mark of Paul becoming "all things to all men." In fact Paul is an excellent example of a Christian who applied an appropriate postmoderm conceptual approach to his evangelism. He was a Roman before Roman audiences, a Jew with Jewish audiences and so forth.

    I would ask you to consider that in your analysis and critque, you refrain from using the word heresy too much. In some ways we are all heretical in some area of our beliefs. The other thing you did is you cherry-picked quotes, lifted them out of context and then drew conclusions based on your understanding--I believe that is called sloppy at best and and at worst, dishonesty. You have slandered you brothers and sistern is the Lord. Did you attempt to contact Maclaren and ask for clarity or comment? If so, where is his response. Have you read his other books where he explains in more depth his beliefs and discovers that his understanding is growing and changing? It is all too easy to make the charge of heresy, but more often than not, it is an excuse for laziness on the part of the one calling others heretics and have not done the hard work of thouroughly invistigating a pretty serious charge. A charge that in days long past required and considerable amount of research, discussion and debate and usually a council or two to determine if the charge was warranted.

  26. David Kowalski says:

    Space forbids a thorough response to all those who have commented since my last post but I do appreciate the interest shown in the article. I will only say at this point that I have done more research on this topic than some people seem to think and I have dialogued with emergents more than some people assume. I would remind Steven that Paul became a Roman culturally to evangelize them. This meant calling Romans to repent from the ignorant and errant religion found in their culture and turn to the gospel which Paul was unashamed of declaring as the only way of salvation. For a fresh look at this topic I reccomend DeYoung and Kluck's book "Why We're not Emergent." Blessings to all who take the time to read each section of this article as well as the one at!

  27. Glen May says:

    The Pastor at my church spoke regarding the Emerging Church last week. He was saddened, but not amazed, that these men, like others throughout history, that he knew personally, where spiritually broken and deceiving the masses with false teaching. Man has always looked for ways to lift ones self up, to be recognized and admired. Throughout history men have given their opinions regarding the word of God, and from this, some have spawned new religions and doctrines. The sad problem is that once a man has tasted the power of being followed, even if they know it is wrong, seldom will they speak up to redirect the sheep back to the true Cross. Maybe it is the cash, the interviews, the accolade, the flattery, but one thing is for sure, it is certainly carnal. The Word of God clearly states their is but one way to the Father, period. The other "religions", whether from a priest's tradition or a creative man's daydream or a simple type-o, started institutions that have lead many to their spiritual doom, and how sad it is, to know that they are forever separated form the presence of God simply for being deceived. Rest assured, man will never stop looking for a bigger better deal, one that serves them and makes them look smarter than all the rest, a new take on and old idea….”yeah, that’s the ticket, I think I’ll write a book”. This issue is about one thing, man.

    I was sent an e-mail from a good Christian man today, whom I respect. He wrote that this was one of the best e-mail he had ever received and was proud to send it on. It was an e-mail about a prominent man in the “New Emerging Church”. The man in the e-mail went on to expound about his new fame regarding his book and the illness of his wife and how this potentially deadly illness served to make her a better person and build her character. Well, how sad for his wife. I have been around for a while and I have come to understand that when God wants to communicate to a man He touches that which he holds dear, like in the story of Job. In this man’s case, his wife. Had it changed this man’s heart and lead him to redirect the lost sheep to the Cross? Or has even the illness of his precious wife not shown him that God loves him so much that He would turn her over to the destruction of her flesh so that he might learn of his iniquity and turn from it. Soon the Spirit and His church will be removed from this earth and the Emerging Church will be but one of the institutions left behind to face the music of the Tribulation period. Lets hope that these men that have enjoyed the riches and fame of this “new religion” will have the heart to tell the truth when their churches are still filled to the brim looking at one another wondering why they are still there.

  28. Marty says:

    Great article! Glad to hear it doesn't pull any punches. Now into the abyss! I think that we need to keep some of the TECHNIQUE of the emergent church, not turning away punk rockers, etc., but we need to establish a sound CORE, that is the doctrinal point of view. Of course the rocker is not going to respond to a tract from a man in a suit, but he might to a video from GODtv.

    The emerging church is just confused about the approach to the world. They figure that they have to compromise the content for the vehicle.

  29. Child of God, Brother of Christ says:

    From personal study of Christ's life and much prayer and talk with other believers, I am convinced that the emergent church movement is vital to those that are following Christ right now. The emergent church movement doesn't seek to take away from Christ's sacrifice or say that there are other ways to God, but rather looks at Christ's relationship with God and seeks to model that as closely as possible, taking how Jesus lived in scripture and translating that into proper living today. Need we be reminded that Church is not a building, it's not Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Church of Christ, etc. but rather is the collective body of people who are pursuing that perfect relationship with God the Father through the sacrifice and example of His Son Jesus. I'm sad to see the responses on here. Maybe this is why people don't desire Jesus. We've shown people that Jesus is doctrine. We've made our Bibles greater than Christ. Has the church build golden calfs out of comfort? Out of doctrine? Don't be so quick to write your brothers and sisters in Christ off. If you disagree, fantastic. Express your concerns in LOVE not in outrage saying that this is a cult of Satan. One of Satan's greatest tools has been the division amongst God's children. May God bless our eyes with discernment, our ears with openess, and our mouths with love.

  30. Resentful says:

    Last I checked church was for the broken, it was for those are screwed up. Blessed are the poor in spirit, not "blessed are those who have God figured out".

  31. Jon says:

    David, it seems as though you've bought right into the notion of the "perspective from nowhere", which is a modernist tendency. I'm referring specifically to your responses in numbers 10 and 15 above. Your comment that "liberal theologians advocated a complete surrender to modern epistemology" is interesting because you are essentially doing the same thing here. You suggest that the EC is running their reading of the Bible and their theology through Pomo lenses which is bad. You suggest that liberals run these things through modern lenses which is also bad. The question is David, which lenses are you running things through? To say "I run things through the Biblical lens, unaffected by culture" will not do at all. This is the "perspective from nowhere" that I just mentioned and the problem is that it just doesn't exist. Your critique devolves into something like, "If you'll just run things through my modernist lenses then you'll see how we should run things through modernist lenses". I don't think you'll find many who have fought their way out of that box who want back in.

  32. Tim says:


    I have been reading more on the emergent/emerging church movement and find myself very distrub by what I see. To this, am I mistaken or not, does not Orgins express such ideals?


  33. David S. says:

    Both postmodernism and the "emerging church" movement are merely the fulfillment of Paul's prophecy foretelling a generation that refuses to put up with sound doctrine.

    What controversy?

    Who is surprised?

    These people are heretics and rebels. And they blaspheme. It's as simple as that. Case closed.

    Whatever the sins of Evangelicals may be (or not), nothing is gained by the wholesale betrayal of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, as these postmodernist emergents have done.

  34. there seems to be a lot of criticism of movements. yet, paul says to the romans that whether christ is be slandered or praise, his name is still getting out there. the presupposition of the criticism is that there is one right way and all the other are wrongs. jesus said to some of his friends that you can have all the right answers and still never get close to god. he also, in many parables, has a go at the religious system of his time for look at right and wrong and not caring for those in need. could that be happening here? and so, is there a right and wrong, and if there is, since all humans are flawed how do we know who is mostly right? and when you find that out, how do we know who to believe? it is about surrender, not looking around and pointing fingers. love wins.

  35. mike docherty says:

    Hi David

    I think this is a misreading of "emergent" thought. If I've followed the argument correctly then I think what they are saying is not that they think postmodernism is correct (see for example, in the "About us" section of the site there is the following statement, "We suspect postmodernism has as much or as little in common with Christianity as Modernism did." ) but that postmodernism is becoming the dominant culture within our society. The gospel doesn't change, epistemologies might, but they have never been central. We live by faith not by sight, ours has never been the way of empiricism which is so key to modernist thought.


  36. Jeremy M. says:

    I have just begun researching the emerging church movement because someone labeled me a "closet Emergent". I had no idea what that meant. This article is one of many I've found while searching.

    My spiritual journey the last few years has brought me to a place where I've stripped back so much of what I thought I knew about God and church to the point where I've simply asked, "God, if I were the only one on this planet, what would I need to know?"

    The answer, best I can tell, is: God created me. He loves me and, because He gave me the free will to choose, wants me to love Him and, through the power of His Holy Spirit, endeavor to live a life without sin.

    And as far as I can tell, not much else matters.

    Having a "proper" understanding of theology and doctrine is certainly no pre-requisite to a relationship with God. That notion reminds me of the radio host who said without first having a theologically correct (i.e. his) understanding of the Trinity, one could not receive salvation. To believe such things seems quite the height of hubris.

  37. Bruce says:

    The problem with the Emergent Church, and the emerging movement, is that, like evangelicalism, and virtually every other -ism, it takes itself too seriously. All the while, God is probably laughing hysterically. Why form a whole new movement, that starts out to be spontaneous, and eventually becomes the rigid doctrine it is trying so hard to distance itself from. It's human nature to worship structure over depth. Why, instead of creating a new religion, not just say, "Hey, we've been too darned rigid, let's loosen up a little bit. and not take ourselves, and all this doctrine stuff so seriously?"

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This post was last updated: Jan. 13, 2013