The morphing of the Emergent movement: Can you see it now?


The Emergent Church movement is a progressive Christian movement that attempts to reduce or eliminate Christian doctrine in favor of experience and feelings. Most do not believe man can know what is absolute truth, and believe God must be experienced outside of traditional biblical doctrines.

We know the Emergent church is alive and well, although it has morphed into something unrecognizable to many who don't want to see it, and so they don't.  Founder of the movement Brian McClaren has formed the ultimate umbrella organization CANA Initiative, which is a catch-all for every emergent organization out there. And he has said that it was Rick Warren's Purpose Driven movement that really sparked the Emergent conversation.

That said, the following article is a must-read for those of you who think the emergent movement is dead. It is truly a fascinating article on the emergent movement, originally posted in the Christian Post by Chelsen Vicari, who serves as the Evangelical Program Director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy. (Images mine) Following that is more research for you to read and learn. First, the article:

Thinking the 'Emergent Church' Was Ineffective? Think Again

Brian McLaren is right. The "emergent church" movement is growing. Not as a collective group, but as a savvy, scattered chain ever-present in the fiber of the Church.

The backstory of the emergent church started in the late 1990s and early 2000s when a group of postmodern Christians found popularity emphasizing leftist political agendas over traditional Christian teaching and absolute truths.

In a recent column titled, "More on the Emergent Conversation" McLaren, a founding member of the emergent movement, wrote:

The conversation continues to grow, not by creating a new slice of the pie, but by seasoning nearly all sectors of the pie. Even where the word "emergent" is not used, ideas from emergence leaders are being considered and adopted, leading to new experimentation and openness.

Much of the Mainline Protestant world has opened its arms wide to the emergent conversation, from bishops to parachurch organizations to denominational leaders to local pastors to grass-roots activists.

America's Founding Father James Madison wrote, "I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations." Similarly, gradual and silent are emergent movement strategies. It is working. How do I know? One word: Millennials.

In McLaren's blog he noted the emergent's target of youth, writing, "Key next steps may include the creation of a national, trans-denominational campus ministry, collaborative and transdenominational church planting and "branding," new approaches to theological and ministry education, and the development of a new genre of progressive Christian worship music."

Already, the emergent church has taken shape in historically faithful Evangelical communities as youth ministry lay leaders and lay leaders, pastors, and high-profile seminary and Christian college professors and Millennials in the Church are caught in the crosshairs.

Just consider for one moment the shifting worldview of today's young Evangelicals. A 2014 Public Religion Research Institute survey found that 43 percent of young Evangelical Protestants support same-sex marriage. According to Relevant magazine, nearly 80 percent of born-again Millennials have had sex and 2/3 have been active in the last year. Even more worrisome is that The Christian Post reported that 1 in 3 Evangelical young people do not believe Jesus Christ is the only path to God.

How did this happen? Conservative Christians were looking out for liberal slogans and screaming emergent creeds. Oh no, the emergent movement was much more clever. While they will not always confess to be emergent, some will identify as part of the evangelical left or religious left. Some more prefer labels like progressive Christian. But theologically speaking, they are very much the same. There are no pronounced liberal political efforts on the surface, and often times come in the sympathetic name of "peace" and "tolerance."


Dan Kimball was another founding member of the emergent movement, but he recognized the unorthodox mission and left the fold. Now the author of They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations, Kimball shared with Relevant magazine, "When the whole emerging church discussion began, it was primarily about evangelism and mission to emerging generations…That's why I got into it, and it was fun and a thrill to be part of."

"A lot of the things discussed and then even becoming beliefs is pretty liberal theology," said Kimball who also notes the emergent's target of Millennials. "My concern is seeing younger Christians especially who don't know these theological issues were discussed before and the results of the discussions throughout Church history get caught up in thinking this is a new expression of Christianity when it is pretty much classical extreme liberalism in a new, cooler wrapper."

Here are some additional resources for your research:

It’s important to note that there are the well-known emergent leaders we’ve tracked: Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Rob Bell and Rick Warren (whom many of these leaders point to as their inspiration for the Emergent Movement). Then there is the next generation; the up-and-coming rookies who now are the prolific young voices at leadership conferences (like Catalyst and many others), that you can’t easily research because they don’t have anything questionable yet attached to their bios. But make no mistake: The leaders of old have not gone away, nor has the movement died. Instead it is shifting into a new or neo mode, making the Neo-Emergent movement even more insidious, confusion and (worst of all) appealing to a whole new audience of young Christians. It’s the same old “Hath God said” lie repackaged into a slick media marketing formula with programs helping many pastors “plug and play” with sermon topics and programs in their own churches to perpetuate the movement. Most don’t even know they’re doing it.

In their book Why We Are Not Emergent authors Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck say trying to come up with a short description of the Emergent Movement is like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. Emergent church movement teachings include questioning individual salvation through Jesus Christ, believing in the teaching of collective salvation. Many question the existence of hell as a place of eternal separation from God. some believe that all religions are viable paths to God. A growing number question the doctrine of substitutionary atonement of Jesus for sin on the cross.

Some have noted a difference between the terms “emerging” and “Emergent.” While emerging is a wider, informal, church-based, global movement, Emergent refers to an official organization, the Emergent Village, associated with Brian McLaren, and has also been called the “Emergent stream.”

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.

Other Places To Learn:

Emergent Church: White Paper

Emerging Church Resources: A Beginner’s Reference Guide

Article:  Who Are Some of the Leaders of the Emergent Church?

Emergent Church Research Links

Books about the Emerging Church

1. Emerging ChurchesEddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger (the most comprehensive resource on the EC, very readable and very done in a creative format) 2. Shaping of Things to ComeMichael Frost and Alan Hirsch (Offer both theoretical and concrete ideas about models of church that are emerging in the postmodern world) 3. Out of Bounds Church – Steve Taylor (A short easily accessible book about the emerging church) 4. A New Kind of Christian – Brian Mclaren (A short story that helps to get at some of these ideas in narrative form) 5. Church Re-Imagined – Doug Pagitt (A week in the life of the emerging church)

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