The Second Coming of Emergers

With all the renewed conversation about the emerging church that is blanketing the web once again, I thought that I would enter the “conversation” in a somewhat atypical way.

Some are proclaiming the death of the emerging church saying, “The emerging church is dead—at least in nomenclature, if not in spirit.” Others such as Scot McKnight, Andrew Jones, and Dan Kimball are calling this a nominal death, believing the name itself is no longer descriptive of the original intent of the group, but that the principles expressed will move on. Scot’s post had the spirit of a “call to arms” of the emerging ethos. Others, such as Brian McLaren and Tony Jones may to be holding on to its designation with some hesitant resolve (if you you will allow me to combine those two words).

For those of you ready to sing a courtesy dirge, for those who are preparing their “I-told-you-so” sermon for this Sunday, for those who are breaking out the campaign, hold on. Put the cork back in. I don’t think this type of celebration is yet in order. In fact, I think that this is simply setting up for the second coming of emerging.

To me, this is a good thing that has been in the works for the last few years. It is a natural result of any attempts to reform. The movement is correcting itself. As a result, we see emergers distancing themselves from one another. It is interesting to see the way they are distancing themselves. There are no rope burns on either side. Really, it is just a matter of starting a walk together, holding  the hands of many shared concerns. But while this walk initially allowed some close associations, the ever so slight angle of the direction has proven that they were never really headed the same way to begin with. Its a matter of geometry.

How about a chart to describe this! (Start from the bottom).

(Click to Enlarge)


Notice that here the idea of emerging—sociologically, ecclesiologically, epistemologically, theologically, and politically—had yet to define itself. This period represents a group of Evangelicals (or former Evangelicals) who were generally dissatisfied with the direction of Evangelicalism as a movement, believing that is has become a self-contained subculture, losing its values and mission, prostituting its purpose to politics and corporate America. The younger emerging movement joined hands here, made connections, wrote books together, and started blogs, all playing the same background melody.


At this point, the movement proceeds forward, and begins to pronounce the message gaining a significant following. Reaction by traditional Evangelicals causes the ethos of emerging to put song to the melody. It is here that distinctions between emergers begins to surface. It was not sabotage, manipulation, or deceit in the ranks, but just a natural self-defining that revealed that those hands being held began to lose their grip. Here is where the distinction between “emerging” and “Emergent” began to arise.


Now we have a situation where the former alliances have turned awkward. Hands can no longer be held as it becomes clear that the melody alone was not enough to keep the band together. The spit occurs and those who hold to more traditional theology attempt to disassociate from their more radical friends. As part of this change, many drop the name “emerging” and politely leave it to those who are progressively moving outside of historic Christianity.

2008-2010 (Prophetically Stated)

Former associations are forgotten. Traditional Evangelicals begin to embrace what they believed to be a prodigal son and begin to listen to their concerns. Why? Because they are no longer called “emergers” and they are no longer associated with Brian McLaren. With this sacrificial lamb gone, Evangelicals are now ready for the second coming of emerging, recognizing that it is and, for some, was always meant to be a revitalization of the best of Evangelicalism. The more radical progressives continue to distance themselves from traditional Christianity.

As we can see (if I am correct), the general disdain for the way things are (the primary ethos of all things emerging) does not create life-long bedfellows. All movements, reforms, and vitalizations meet militant antagonism at their inception. It is during this time that they further define and reinvent themselves. This is the way it has always been with every attempt to reform.

Have we seen the end of emerging? Not by a long shot. The name may be gone, but the ethos, for good and ill, has and will continue to serve the church during this time of reformation. Let us pray that we all continue with great wisdom, having a voice and an ear.

16 Responses to “The Second Coming of Emergers”

  1. I have no major problem, in and of itself, with the emerging church movement. I believe some helpful aspects have been emphasized. But I am so wearied of hearing things in regards to the emerging church. It’s talked about from some as the next best thing since sliced bread, or, at least, the Reformation. And for those on the other side of the fence who are opposed to such, it’s talked about as if it is the agency by which the anti-christ will arise, or at least very heretical. Hence, every one loves to talk about the emerging movement. I wonder if there is something more important to discuss in the 21st century?

    There is no doubt reform would have to come to the emerging movement. Because it is such a ‘movement’, it is necessary to bring reform. When our message is not that of the kingdom rule of God, and when we don’t build on the rock of the King of the kingdom, things will shake and fall and have to be re-ordered in accordance. Every ‘ism’ and every ‘movement’ is basically a reaction to something or someone that went before. The kingdom of God is the message that stands and can never be shaken. Hence, our need to build on such an unshakeable foundation.

    Hopefully there will be some serious consideration of building things on the unshakeable kingdom (Hebrews 12:27-28), rather than on a few ideas in direct reaction to the modern (first half of 20th century) enlightenment of defined dogma.

  2. Great chart! Great summary observations!

  3. CMP-
    Gotta love the chart!

    My only hesistation with this chart is that it is divided
    from 2008 into 2 groups (neo-liberal/revived Evangelical).
    I am not sure there may not be a group(s) that will also come forth that won’t fall in with either. They may hold tightly to the historic faith, but will not necessarily agree with Evangelical lines.
    I think such a group may be smaller than the Evangelical group, but have a presence none-the-less.

  4. My knowledge of this concept “emerging church” is quite limited, so I will preface my remarks as incipient and tenative.

    If by “emerging church” the idea(s) is/are to “break down the hedges” that separate Christ’s church from the world or liberal/neo liberal/social gospel ethic(Harnack) then I am totally and adamently opposed.

    If the ethos of the “emerging church” is to devalue the confessional unity of Christ’s church as defined by the Nicene and Chalcadonian creeds (as well as the Apostle’s creed), then I am opposed.

    If by “emerging church” the social order as defined and dictated as binding and canonical for Christ’s militant church contained in the Scriptures is to be slackened and replaced by/with a questionable hermeneutical principle using Colossians 3:11 as its guiding and determining feature, then I am opposed.

    If the dicta and aggenda(s) of so-called and would be present day apostles and prophets is to be elevated above and against God’s inspired, Spirit filled and HOLY foundational and irrefutable apostles and prophets, then I am opposed.

    If the goal of the “emerging church” is another Woodstock mentality or all encompassing and inclusive yuppee shallowness, then I am opposed.


  5. See the “C” in CMP stands for chart :-)

  6. “hesitant resolve” perfect description of the liberal half

  7. Michael,

    I wonder why you called Brian MacLaren a “sacrificial lamb” on the emergent side when in fact as I see it he is indicative of the internal yet present apostasy from Christianity within the liberal ranks. MacLaren reminds me of Spong!

    Further you observe: “The more radical progressives continue to distance themselves from traditional Christianity.” Was this the goal of the “emerging church” to streamline and distance itself from the radical and apostate left while at the same time maintaining the historical roots and continuity of traditional historical Christianity?


  8. Vlad, good questions. It is impossible, at this point, to speak of “the” goal of the emerging church. This is one of the reasons why the spit is occuring. In its infancy, the emerging church was nothing more than a dissatified group of Evangelicals who did not like the corperate mentatity and inauthenticity of Evangelicalism.

    The best I can do for an understanding of the emeging church is lead you here:

  9. So Michael, are you coining the term ‘revived Evangelical’? Will you now call yourself a revived Evangelical, or are you stickin’ with ‘historic Evangelical’?

  10. Michael

    Thanks for the chart and the comments, as always very astute and thought-provoking.

    “All movements, reforms, and vitalizations meet militant antagonism at their inception. It is during this time that they further define and reinvent themselves. This is the way it has always been with every attempt to reform.”

    This is not only very true, it should be expected and encouraged as a sign of a healthy maturing process. It is in a way comparable with the birth and emergence of the charismatic movment. At its inception there was a period of militant antagonism, with a large number of Christians almost believing it to be the spawn of the devil…some still do!! Yet following its growth, development and maturity, I would contend that the best of the charismatic movement has had a profound and healthy impact on the church whereas the worst aspects sometimes has to be seen (or heard!…who can forget the infamous animal noises surounding certain aspects of the “Toronto blessing”) to be believed. Similalry the best aspects of Reformed Evangelical Christianity have had a deep and profound impact on the church. The worst aspects, eg a dull formallism which successfully manages to engage the mind/intellect whilst simultaneously by-passing the heart and soul, can make a person yearn for the odd animal yelp on a really bad day!

    Also there is a danger when making negative comparisons with the original Reformers, as surely they went through a very similar process themselves. There is a worrying tendency to view the Reformation and its various leaders through rose-tinted glasses, conveniently forgetting that there were as many divisions, distinctions and stormy arguments as the Reformation unfolded which make some of the fallout from today look like a stroll in the park by comparison. We only have to look at how Arminius was treated when he had the temerity to question some of the teachings of John Calvin and his later followers. I get the feeling that there are some who would not be too unhappy to see Brian McLaren meet a similar fate! My own personal view (and it is purely a personal one) is that the church needs the Arminiuses and McLarens of this world to shake up the church and rouse it from complacency, lazy theology and inflexible dogmatism. I reckon that last sentence has got folks hammering out a furious response on their keypads!

    I was also very interested Michael in your take on the future implications of all this. Please could you enlighten me a bit more on the distinction between a “missional” Evangelical Christian and an “emerging revived” evangelical Christian as it would help me to locate myself more accurately on the map/chart! At present I feel as though I could apply either category to myself.

    I need to tread a bit carefully here, as you may respond by coming up with a whole new category of “beyond the pale” especially for the likes of people like me!

  11. Vlad –

    The emerging church is, in its essence, a movement within many Christians formerly of a defined evangelical church that were not satisfied with the lack of life expression in such churches, or at least the perception of the lack thereof (as CMP noted in the article above). The emerging church especially wanted to know how to become relevant to the emerging generation, that generation which is coming up, or even presently with us. In the late 90’s, it was concerning how to reach the ’emerging’ generation of postmodernism, though it had been around for a while. Unfortunately, the church generally takes a couple of decades to catch up to what is going on in the world. So, with that in mind, emerging church, in and of itself with that intent in mind, is not evil or bad, something to be opposed, unless we don’t want to reach the current generation.

    It is just that many standard evangelicals, more of the traditional and/or mainline denominations, have been somewhat opposed to and questioned the emerging church movement because of it’s lack of defined theology as traditionally held by Christians from the ‘modernist’ era (first 5 or 6 decades of the 1900’s). You can click on that article CMP posted above, or read this one by him as well –

    The gist is that emergers don’t try and empirically define every doctrine. The purpose is pursuing and loving Christ.

    It is the emergent ‘village’ that has really been seen as the more liberal section/arm of this movement, though they are now seen as a separate group, as CMP noted in his chart.

    I guess the next big question is not how to reach the postmodern generation, but to be praying and considering how to reach the next generation, whether we call it the post-postmodern generation or whatever.

  12. I am not predicting a name for the future of the emerging and Emergent churches. The “revived Evangelical” and “neo-Liberal” are just descriptors that will eventually go by some designation. I imagine that the McLaren Jones clan will retain the name emerging, which will become increasingly identified with the liberal strand of emerging.

    I remain Evangelical of the historic variety. This simply means that I think Evangelicals need to root themselves more deeply in our historic lineage of the rest of the church. Our roots go through the Reformation, but are not in the Reformation completely.

  13. Hi Michael,

    Hope you are well and blessed these days.

    Your in-depth series defending sola Scriptura has just been brought to my attention by one Ken Temple (a Baptist pastor), on my blog. I’ve looked it over and it looks like it a very respectable piece of work indeed.

    I’d like to critique it at length, from my Catholic perspective. Perhaps you and your readers would enjoy interacting as I go along, either here or on my blog, or in both places. You’re all most welcome on mine, and will be treated with respect. Ken just implied (and not just as a joke) that Catholics are mentally ill because we believe in the infallibility of the Church, but that’s okay; we have a lot of fun and tease each other, and he can be a very entertaining guy.

    I eagerly look forward to dialoguing with you (if you want to) and interacting with your series. It’s refreshing to see a vigorous Protestant treatment of this all-important issue of authority and Holy Scripture, that is not from an anti-Catholic perspective (i.e., the position that denies that orthodox Catholics are Christians altogether).

    I commend you for your thoughtfulness and zeal. I admire it, and respect the effort you have put into this. I also enjoyed our past interactions.

    No promises on how soon I can do this (right now I’m working furiously on a new book of mine, trying to finish it, and it is extremely laborious), but it is on my agenda. Maybe I’ll do some sort of beginning this weekend, but my family is busy doing some things then, too. After my book is finished it will definitely be a high priority, because I regard this as a truly fundamental, presuppositional issue between Catholics and Protestants. Everything else rests (in both systems) on how we come down on this.

    God bless,


  14. Just a few thoughts here:

    1) I completely reject any mentality that believes that the way to reach a postmodern generation is to become postmodern. The only message for the church to give to a postmodern world is that postmodernism is unbiblical, followed by the gospel. I say this from the perspective that a person cannot be postmodern, and a Christian simultaneously; for if they were, they would not be able to affirm biblical truth, state that Jesus is the truth and the only way, or even that they are “truly” a sinner. A postmodern worldview should be shed after conversion, and to try and make the church postmodern so they will feel more comfortable with the cross is unbiblical. When emergent leaders refuse to state that homosexuality is sin, that hell is a real place of eternal torment, etc…, they are no longer a Christian – in any camp. They are simply scattering, rather than gathering, because their message is no longer Christian.

    2) The church does need to be careful to remain as the scriptures describe church and its order and ordinances. In addition, it must remain completely passionate and unwavering in its preaching of the Word of God, without sugar-coating, or softening the message in any way – it must be the crux of the gathering.

    3) Having said that…if a church wants to remove the pulpit, and put in couches rather than chairs or pews…I have no scriptural basis to speak against that…as long as the Word of God is completely and fully preached! The whole council of God!

    SE Wilson


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