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Unfortunately my journey through research and writing about the Emerging Church has taken a long time, perhaps, longer than any project I've undertaken with CARM. The delays have been mostly due to traveling, a little burnout, and CARM maintenance -- not to mention those unexpected events in life that derail plans. Sometimes I was so busy that I had to focus my attention elsewhere for a month or two. But, all the distractions provide me the opportunity to think about what I've discovered in the Emerging Church. So, I now believe I understand it and its really quite simple. The Emerging Church is a conglomeration of different churches and pastors who have a wide variety of theological positions and methods for reaching the lost.
Writing about the Emerging Church is like trying to write about the shape of ocean waves. There are a lot of them, they are changing, and they are not all the same. Therefore, how do I write and analyze a large movement with so many variations within it and do it to the satisfaction of all? I can't. So, I'm not going to try. But, that doesn't mean I won't be accurate and fair to the subject matter - well, at least to the best of my ability. And, I have to confess, I am also trying to avoid countless future e-mails (from all sides of the issue) telling me how I need to alter the information once I have released these articles. So I encourage people to read the articles first.
It is one thing to read about the Emerging Church; it is another to interview actual proponents. So, I decided to go straight to the horses mouth. I drove to Seattle, WA and attended Mars Hill church and later interviewed its pastor, Mark Driscoll on my radio show, Faith and Reason. I've also interviewed Doug Pagitt over the radio as well. I drove to Santa Cruz, CA and sat in Dan Kimball's office for an hour talking theology with him (where he graciously submitted to me quizzing him doctrinally) before I attended one of his services. And, I spent about 20 minutes talking with Karen Ward at her church in Seattle, WA, before attending a service there at her church. So, after having read thousands of pages of their writings and spoken at length to several of their proponents, I think I have gained a good understanding of what the Emerging Church is and isn't.
Also, I've read a lot of what critics have said about the Emerging Church. A lot of it I agree with and some of it I think is rather vitriolic and unfounded. Granted, there are certainly false teachers within the movement, but there are also some good teachers as well.
The Emerging Church
Emerging Church proponents often use unorthodox methods for reaching the lost (candles, couches, statues, sculptures, poems, open microphones, etc.) which can be quite useful if done right. Unfortunately, the Emerging Church movement is also known for its relativism and weak theology. In some emerging writings there is an "updated gospel" that really isn't a gospel at all, but is instead a confusing deconstruction of storytelling and narrative. Some Emerging Church pastors seem to be more concerned with being nice and touching people's hearts, than with the actual truth of the Gospel that our Lord Jesus Christ gave his life to establish. But, gladly, that is not the case with all of them!
There is much wrong in the Emerging Church and there's much good in it, too. The good is that the proponents desire to reach the lost, that they want to use new methods, that they want to reevaluate how things have been done, and seek to adjust, to tweak, and modify the approach so that those in our postmodern culture can be won for Christ. On the other hand, the bad is that so much of what has been written by Emerging Church pastors is nothing more than flagrant heresy (see A list of quotes to make you shiver). There are those who deny hell, who deny the absolute necessity of faith in Jesus Christ, who deny that Jesus is the only way. I spoke with Karen Ward who told me to my face that it was okay if someone did not want to believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus! I was shocked at this severely anti-biblical teaching.
I know that there will be people who will not like what I've written. I know there will be those who have a grudge against anything and everything that appears emerging and will automatically dismiss it as an evil work from Satan. Others will think it is all good. Both extremes are erroneous.
I cannot condemn the whole movement for the heresy of a few, or many as the case may be. Nor can I affirm that it is a good movement from God because only a few of its teachers are Orthodox and uphold historic Christian theology (i.e., Mark Driscoll, Dan Kimball). Each pastor/church in the emerging movement must be examined independently of the others.
That is why I cannot offer an overarching and absolute condemnation of the entire movement. There is good and there is bad, but there's definitely enough bad in it that we need to be very wary about what is said from many of its proponents.
As I said in Read this first, before you write me, please read what I've written here in the section. If I have misunderstood something, please point it out. If I have missed a worthy quote, a heresy, or a positive that needs to be addressed, please document it and let me know. I'd appreciate it, but please don't email me to call me names and say I'm an ignorant Christian. I'll only hit the delete key.