Defining the emergent church is like trying to nail Jell-0 on a wall. Thus, it would be better for me to tell you why I studied it, what I studied, and what I learned, both positive and negative.
I began my study in 2007 because I was beginning to hear how bad the emergents were. At the time, I was in Bible college, and teacher after teacher was telling me to watch out for the emergents. They were terrible, so-called Christians, with trashy theology and really great coffee. Some said they were wolves in sheep’s clothing. They might even be false prophets. So I, being the curious intellectual, grew interested. For my mind and my heart’s sake, I needed to look into these matters and see if my teachers were right.
I began my study by searching for places called The Emergent Church. Oddly enough, I couldn’t find a single church with that name. This intrigued me. My teachers were talking about the emergents like they were a new denomination, or one church in a big city somewhere; but from day one, I realized this was not a single, cohesive group, with a big sign and a big building. It was more like a movement–like a bunch of Christians from all denominations who just began talking and realized they had things in common. At that point, I had to determine who the leaders were, or rather, who was associated with this whole emergent…movement. I made a list of names and began gathering all the information I could on them. I visited their websites, I bought their books, I downloaded their podcasts. And I didn’t want to hear just one sermon or read one book and make my conclusions. I wanted to hear the people’s sermons over the course of a few months. I wanted to see what they taught and who they let teach while they were gone. I wanted to read every book they had written, and I even read some articles from different journals and magazines. Not only that, but I wanted to hear what others said about them. I began to gather that “the emergents” were somewhere on the left, and my teachers and people like them were on the right. So I listened to people on the right to hear what they had to say. I even called a guy who was a pastor near the place where one of the “emergent” pastors taught, just to see what he thought of that dirty “emergent.”
After doing all that, I eventually came to some conclusions. I had 5 things to applaud and 5 things that were concerns. I applauded:
- The emergent leaders were making people think. They were challenging the status quo.
- They were attune to culture. That is, they knew what was going on in the front lines of government, business, education, etc.
- (Tying in with 1 &2) They were well-educated, both formally and informally.
- They cared for people.
- They were passionate about social justice.
I was concerned because:
- They seemed to be losing the centrality and importance of Jesus in their efforts to affirm the good in other religions.
- They sometimes digressed into arguments over words and missed the big picture in the process.
- They went too far left in their effort to correct the things wrong in the right (although I feel this has become more balanced in the past couple years).
- Sometimes they wouldn’t stand for anything, which reminded me of the quote, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
- Some of them were trying too hard to be trendy and/or relevant.
With that, I finished, and we honored a moment of silence.