Is the Emergent Church “All Dead” or “Mostly Dead”?
I frequently see people mention that the Emergent Church failed and that the Emergent Church died. The Miracle Max scene from The Princess Bride came to my mind because it seems that a lot of people believe the emergent church is “all dead”. I believe that it was only “mostly dead” which means that it was “slightly alive”. Okay, maybe I’m stretching a little to make the comparison but I like the movie and I can reference it!
I believe the movement actually did a lot of damage. I hope to show in this series that the Emergent Church did not die and that it did not fail. I believe it has had a Hydra effect and branched off into two similar but slightly different groups. The two groups are Ex-Evangelicals and Post-Evangelicals. This article is primarily focused on the connection between the emergent movement and the Ex-Evangelical Community.
I encountered the Exvangelical Community on Twitter in January 2018. I tell this story and give the details in this article. I interacted with those in the community and observed them until June 2018. I began to notice similarities between the emergent movement and the Ex-Evangelical Community.
You may or may not be aware of the Emergent/Emerging Movement and the impact it has had on the church. It is not my intention to go into exhaustive detail on the emergent church but some knowledge of its major tenets will be helpful in understanding how it relates to what is now known as the Ex-Evangelical Community.
The Emergent Movement
When I hear the word “emergent”, I think of a community that claimed to place a high emphasis on:
Jesus and His love for the oppressed.
Jesus and His love for all people (some suggest the you don’t have to be a Christian to be saved).
Sharing stories and experiences in conversation.
Welcoming all to the communion table.
Spirituality and “spiritual practices”.
Modern feminism (they claim that female pastors are biblical).
I also think of a community that placed a low emphasis or even disdain on:
The Jesus that calls to repent and believe.
The Jesus that made exclusive claims.
The Jesus that speaks of sin and Hell.
Scripture that is not in red letters.
Certainty and absolute truth.
Sound doctrine and theology.
Studying the Bible using the grammatical-historical method of hermeneutics.
The emergent movement was a progressive Christian movement that preached another Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:3-4). It was essentially the blending of Christianity and postmodernism.
Here is how Berean Research defines the Emergent Church:
“A label that has been used to refer to a particular subset of Christians who are rethinking Christianity against the backdrop of Postmodernism.” … “Members of the movement often place a high value on good works or social activism.” (Encyclopedia & Wikipedia)
Emergents “hold to traditional Protestant theological distinctives while rejecting the structures and styles of institutionalized Christianity.”
Emergent church leaders usually adopt the principles of social justice, liberation theology and collective salvation. Some leaders also incorporate elements of Universalism, the Seeker-Friendly Movement, and even New Age Spirituality.
Emerging Church groups contain some or all of the following elements:
- Highly creative approaches to worship and spiritual reflection. This can involve everything from the use of contemporary music and films through to liturgy or other more ancient customs. …
- Does not like to spend money on church buildings. Prefer meeting as “house churches” or in temporary structures such as stores and warehouses.
- A flexible approach to theology whereby individual differences in belief and morality are accepted within reason.
- A more holistic approach to the role of the church in society. This can mean anything from greater emphasis on fellowship in the structure of the group to a higher degree of emphasis on social action, community building or Christian outreach.
- A desire to reanalyze the Bible against the context into which it was written…”
- A reading list that “consists primarily of Stanley Hauerwas, Henri Nouwen, T. Wright, Stan Grenz, Dallas Willard, Brennan Manning, Jim Wallis, Frederick Buechner, David Bosch, John Howard Yoder, Wendell Berry, Nancy Murphy, John Franke, Walter Winks and Lesslie Newbigin (not to mention McLaren, Pagitt, Bell, etc.) and your sparring partners include D. A. Carson, John Calvin, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Wayne Grudem…”
- Political concerns are “poverty,AIDS, imperialism, war-mongering, CEO salaries, consumerism, global warming, racism, and oppression and not so much abortion and gay marriage.”
- Support women in all levels of ministry including women pastors.
- Prefer theology narrative instead of systematic.
- Following Jesus is living the right way, not believing in the right things.
- Eschatology: Building the kingdom of God on earth.
Now read over this section again and ask yourself if these beliefs and practices have really died out. I think you would have to agree that these beliefs have actually become more prevalent today.
How I Learned About the Emergent Movement
I don’t believe there were any emergent or emergent-influenced churches in my area when I was growing up. Although, I do remember watching Rob Bell NOOMA videos in youth group some time between 2004 and 2006. Someone had given me a copy of Donald Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz” at some point in youth group. I remember I had gotten a few pages into the first chapter and I realized that I didn’t like it. I wanted to learn about God and the Bible but the book was just stories based on Miller’s life and experiences.
I didn’t really know what the emergent movement was until I came across Chris Rosebrough’s Fighting for the Faith program in 2012. He exposed and refuted the false teachings of well-known emergent leaders like Rob Bell, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, and Brian McClaren. These guys are still around and their works have influenced many people to deconstruct their faiths.
A summary of the core presuppositions and beliefs of the emergent movement:
Truth is not objectively found in God’s Word or in God Himself. Truth is found in conversations that are shared in community. Truth is found in the stories we share with each other in community. Christianity is not about “believing the right things”.
Similarities and Differences
There are some similarities and some stark differences between the emergent movement and the Ex-Evangelical Community.
Both find truth in personal experience and stories rather than objectively from God and His Word.
Both deny absolute truth.
Both advocate for social justice issues.
Both encourage doubting and deconstruction.
Both deny the gospel (I explain this point and define the gospel later on in this article).
The key difference between the two movements is that those in the emergent movement still claimed to be Christians, the Ex-Evangelical movement is composed of atheists, Agnostics, progressive Christians, and people who have joined other religions.
Consider what Ex-Evangelical leader Christopher Stroop writes:
Ex-Evangelicals are not rebranded Christians. Many of us are not Christians at all; we are a group that consists of progressive Christians, people who have joined other religions, agnostics, and atheists, some of whom are quite vocal as atheists. What brings us together is what Blake Chastain, who coined the term “exvangelical” to use as the name for his podcast, describes as “a shared sociocultural heritage.”
Those who identify as exvangelicals specifically claim to have left “toxic Christianity”. Many also claim that “American Evangelicalism”/”White Evangelicalism” is abusive and believe that those who hold to “abusive fundamentalist Christian beliefs” (like inerrancy, TULIP/calvinism, proselytizing, claiming that Jesus died on the cross for sins and that we need to repent and believe) must be politically and socially marginalized.
Christopher Stroop continues describing the Ex-Evangelical community below:
Exvangelicals’ paths out of Evangelicalism are often slow and painful. The break takes time and effort because, as opposed to merely desiring respectability while holding to bigoted beliefs and #ChristianAltFacts, we chose to stare the toxicity and pervasive abuse of Evangelicalism in the face, to recognize our complicity in the vast systemic harm that Evangelicalism does (to ourselves and others, particularly to women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community), and then we changed our beliefs. We changed our beliefs despite facing a heavy social cost, because that is the respectable and moral thing to do. Becoming an ex-Evangelical requires profound transformation, not cosmetic rebranding. No cheap grace…Ex-Evangelicals are, as a rule, deeply concerned with understanding the relationship between conservative theology and authoritarianism. And here’s the rub. The theology of Evangelicalism–even when shared by a small minority of progressive Evangelicals–is inherently authoritarian.”
Those in the emergent movement were often more subtle. Their message wasn’t “We must advocate for the marginalization of “toxic Christianity” and warn others about the threat of Christofascism, Evangelical authoritarianism, and White Evangelicalism with its manipulation and gaslighting tactics” but was more along the lines of “Let’s rethink, reconstruct, and deconstruct what we’ve been taught about Christianity.”. They were seen as people who claimed to simply be asking questions and wanting to have conversation.
The Error of the Emergent Movement
It is certainly good to ask questions. We should be like Bereans and compare what people say about God to what God says in His Word. We shouldn’t blindly believe what anyone tells us is the truth. I’m a proponent of critical thinking. However, Emergents had postmodernity as their presuppositional lens. There is no absolute truth according to this worldview.
According to this movement, it didn’t matter if you rejected the idea of sin, the idea of Hell (even though Jesus taught more about Hell than he taught about Heaven), or rejected substitutionary atonement (Emergent often referred to penal substitution as being divine child abuse). They would say that it is more important that we love others and share stories together than divide over and debate theological dogmas and doctrines.
There are definitely certain beliefs that are non-negotiable in order to be a genuine Christian. CARM does an excellent job of fleshing this out:
The Bible itself reveals those doctrines that are essential to the Christian faith. They are 1) the Deity of Christ, 2) Salvation by Grace, 3) Resurrection of Christ, 4) the gospel, and 5) monotheism. These are the doctrines the Bible says are necessary. Though there are many other important doctrines, these five are the ones that are declared by Scripture to be essential (I call them primary essentials since the Bible declares them as essential).
This is the gospel:
Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel I preached to you, which you received, on which you have taken your stand and by which you are being saved, if you hold to the message I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
1 Corinthians 15:1-4
Anyone who denies this gospel is not a Christian.
Now non-essential beliefs may not be essential but they are important. I go into more detail about the importance of theology and sound doctrine in this article. Believing in sound doctrine and refuting false doctrine is a theme throughout the New Testament. False teachings/false teachers are mentioned in many books. These come to mind: Jesus talks about it in Matthew 7, 2 Corinthians, Colossians, Philippians, Galatians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Jude, 1 John, 2 John, 2 Peter, and Revelation all either directly reference false teachings or warn about the dangers of false teachings.
To Be Continued…
This article gives you some important background details. I will reveal the connection in the next article.