What is the "Emerging Church"? Is the movement another fad that is currently popular but will be soon forgotten? Certainly, we can recall many recent crazes of our own lifetime. It seems, in their search to be relevant, many pastors and church leaders are always seeking new methods to grow the church. The contemporary church is inundated with those seeking new methods and means of church growth. Whatever pragmatic approaches allow one to accomplish church growth, it is accepted. However, time and again in the Bible it is primarily the preaching of the Word—the enunciation of words—that God uses to draw the lost to Himself.
The latest postmodern trend was the purpose driven church. Today it is the “Emerging Church.” If you simply type “Emerging Church” into your favorite search engine, you will find numerous web pages stating that worship should be a holistic and mystical experience using candles, images, stained glass windows, and even darkness to promote spirituality. The emphasis in Emerging Churches is upon mystical and sensual worship experiences that foster unity, as opposed to doctrinal truth that divides. For example, one of the main leaders of the movement, Brian McLaren, has praised those who are seeking unity between Evangelicals and Roman Catholicism. It is no wonder then that McLaren expressed in his book, A New Kind of Christian, that the Bible should not be regarded as authoritative or infallible. The accepted practice in the Emerging Church is an image-driven message as opposed to a Word-driven message. Of course, such practices will only contribute to a great lack of discernment in the church, and acceptance of counterfeit Gospels resulting in unsanctified churches that do not edify and equip the saints for the work of ministry.
The past decade has indeed seen many fads and trends come and go. However, not all the styles are based upon sound, biblical doctrine. Actually, the reason for the plethora of so many styles in the church is that Christians have been vulnerable to “winds of doctrine” that have no biblical basis. According to Timothy, the last days would be characterized by “winds of doctrine” that are actually “doctrines of demons,” which will influence Christians to apostasy and accept ideas that “tickle their ears” (1 Tim 4:1; 2 Tim. 4:3).
Expositional Bible teaching is not the means of success in the Emerging Church. On the contrary, “Today seekers are hungry for symbols and metaphors and experiences and stories that reveal the greatness of God.”[i] Times are changing, and it is believed that the Emerging Church has the answers for this generation. However, what will emerge from this movement? Will it be a movement that values experience more than the Word of God?
Dan Kimball stated, “we must rethink virtually everything we are doing in our ministries.”[ii] The reason is that spirituality in North America has changed drastically over the past decades. The term “post-Christian era” is now being used to describe the contemporary generation. Kimball began his book with a criticism of the modern “seeker-sensitive” movement that he stated was successful in attracting a generation of “baby-boomers” to Jesus with its sterile environment, loss of transcendence, and preacher-as-motivational speaker model. Kimball is correct that this church model creates a sense of consumerism among the congregation. Often when people leave a “seeker” church, the feeling is that they have attended a Broadway play. In other words, they have a program, an opinion about the show, and not much else. There is no genuine encounter with God, just an entertaining way to pass an hour. Kimball argued that the teaching in such churches is near its lowest point, as it has become preaching like a “self-help guru Tony Robbins-like teaching with some Bible verses added.”[iii] Those in attendance too often appear self-focused, and the evangelism of the church is irrelevant and weak. For this reason, Kimball believes the church needs new pioneering methods to reach the current generation for Christ.
Kimball’s greatest protest against the “seeker” movement is not that there is an antagonism toward biblical teaching or that the preaching is too shallow, but his criticism is that the movement is fundamentally irrelevant to the desires of today’s generation. In other words, those in their 40's may enjoy clever dramas and skits, bright lighting, and singers in color-coordinated outfits, but today’s young people want something different. Today’s young people desire “authenticity.” They want a multi-sensory spiritual experience and to be reminded that Christianity is an ancient faith.
However, is the church to base its beliefs and worship on experience or the Word of God (cf. John 8:31-32, 43)? It should be obvious that the Emerging Church is based on experience and not grounded in God’s Word. God’s Word is secondary to the primary emphasis upon sensual and experiential worship in the Emerging Church.
Certainly, one does not question the sincerity of the Emerging Church movement to evangelize the postmodern generation, for they sincerely believe the movement is biblical and is what God would have them to do. One cannot argue with people’s sincerity. What one can do is examine the emphasis and practices of the Emerging Church. One should also admit that worship is a fundamental of the Christian faith, but such worship must never supersede or be contradictory with God’s Word. An emphasis on extra-biblical experience that deviates from Scripture is certain to bring deception with it!
[i] Rick Warren, “Forward,” in The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations by Dan Kimball (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003) 7-8.
[ii] Ibid. 13-14.
[iii] Dan Kimball, Emerging Worship: Creating Worship Gatherings for New Generations (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004) xii.