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There is good and bad in the emerging church movement. Not all emerging church pastors are the same. In fact, some of them contradict each other on a variety of issues. You might have one emerging church pastor say you don't need to believe in the resurrection of Jesus and another would say it's an essential. You might find one saying something like, "I don't think we've got the gospel right yet ... None of us has arrived at orthodoxy."1 Then, another appropriately says, "Jesus died in the place of sinners, sometimes called penal substitution. Though Jesus was sinless, he died for our sins, and death is the penalty for sin."2
If you thought of emerging churches on a scale from good to bad, you'd have churches filling in the whole thing. Some are so liberal they might not be Christian while others are extremely orthodox doctrinally. The movement has a wide variety of pastors, church styles, theological positions, and methods for reaching the lost. So, it is isn't appropriate to lump the whole emerging church into one huge mound and condemn or approve of the whole. We need to look at individuals and churches and not judge the whole by the words of a few. I agree with D. A. Carson who said,
"Because the emerging church movement is remarkably diverse, penetrating criticisms that apply to one part of it are sometimes inappropriate to other parts ... the things I find encouraging and hopeful in the movement are not found everywhere in the movement."3
Off with their heads!
It didn't take very long after I announced that I would be researching the emerging church for e-mails to come in telling me how it needed to be done. There were suggestions of all sorts, mostly very negative ("Condemn it all"; "Of course, you're going to expose it as satanic, right Matt?"). The emails that were most troubling were those that automatically and openly condemned everything in the emerging church movement. As with any topic I study, I like to get as much information as possible before making decisions.
I assumed that some of the people making these strong condemning judgments had likewise studied. But after some dialogues with some of them, I discovered that wasn't the case. Just because they weren't going to do the heavy lifting of studying actual emerging church writings, it didn't mean I didn't have to either. So, I purchased a number of books authored by emerging church pastors and non-emerging church pastors. I wanted to get a good balance.
It is one thing to sit in a chair in front of a computer, read some books, and write articles about individuals and their churches without having interacted with them. It is another to actually go to the churches and talk to the pastors. So, that is exactly what I did. As of June 30, 2007, I've attended three self-professed emerging churches and spoken face-to-face with two of the pastors: Dan Kimball and Karen Ward. Since that date, I've had Doug Pagitt and Mark Driscoll on my radio show. So, you could say I'm going straight to the horses' mouths.
As you read the articles in this section please understand that I'm trying to be fair, accurate, and true to biblical revelation as well as attempting to properly represent individuals with whom I have spoken and/or read their material. Undoubtedly I will displease some with my opinions because I don't automatically condemn the entire movement and everyone in it. Then again, I will please others for being, hopefully, fair in my analysis.
Does CARM approve or disapprove of the Emerging Church Movement?
CARM does not approve or disapprove of the emerging church movement as a whole because there is no single, official representative of the emerging church nor is there a single, official doctrinal statement from "the Emerging Church". Nevertheless, CARM approves of certain proponents within the movement (i.e. those who hold to doctrinal fidelity, desire to reach the lost, etc.) and disapproves of others (i.e., those who hold to doctrinal infidelity, political correctness, etc.). As you know, there is good and bad in most every theological movement.
Below I've offered a small grid of good and bad within the emerging church. But please understand that not every emerging church participates in every aspect of the following grid.
|GOOD within the movement||BAD within the movement|
|Contextualize the Gospel||Watering down the Gospel|
|Speak the cultural language||Use culture to dominate the message|
|Different media of expression and focus||Media used in unbiblical ways|
|Provides absolutes in a nonabsolute world||Absolutes of doctrine are optional|
|Focused attempt to reach the lost||Reaching the lost trumps truth statements|
So, as I attempt to analyze the movement, its pastors, its goals, and its language, I hope that you will be informed and edified in the process.