This arti­cle con­sti­tutes the sixth install­ment in a series adapt­ed from the author’s under­grad­u­ate the­sis, An Ancient Future Church?: An Ortho­dox Exam­i­na­tion of the Post-mod­ern Chris­tian­i­ty of the Emer­gent Church Move­ment. Fol­low the link above to start from the begin­ning of the series.

Brian McLaren is regard­ed as the most influ­en­tial voice in the Emerg­ing move­ment, most­ly through his writ­ings and exten­sive, glob­al speak­ing sched­ule. McLaren, along with Alan Jones, is among the most notable pro­po­nents of the rad­i­cal wing of the move­ment. Although from two dif­fer­ent tra­di­tions — McLaren being the found­ing pas­tor of the non-denom­i­na­tion­al Cedar Ridge Com­mu­ni­ty Church and Jones being the Anglo-Catholic dean1 of Grace Cathe­dral in San Fran­cis­co — they both share a vision of a reimag­ined, new Chris­tian­i­ty, a Chris­tian­i­ty that in many ways bears no rela­tion to that which has been passed down from the Apos­tles. Between them, they have pub­lished a mul­ti­tude of books but it is in McLaren’s A Gen­er­ous Ortho­doxy and A New Kind of Chris­tian­i­ty and Jones’ Reimag­in­ing Chris­tian­i­ty that they have laid down their vision of the future of Chris­tian­i­ty – albeit one that is informed by their inter­pre­ta­tion its past.

The com­mon theme that runs through the writ­ings of both McLaren and Jones is that of a sub­tle agnos­ti­cism towards his­tor­i­cal Chris­tian­i­ty, in par­tic­u­lar­ly that of it as a revealed truth. Again, as with most emer­gents, their stance is gen­er­al­ly in oppo­si­tion to con­ser­v­a­tive evan­gel­i­cal­ism of a North Amer­i­can vari­ety, so most Ortho­dox would agree with their oppo­si­tion to cer­tain tenets of Protes­tantism.

McLaren is merely the natural result of the processes taking place within Western Christianity for centuries, with all sources of authority successively  being discarded.

 How­ev­er, their reac­tion against Protes­tantism does not lead them towards more tra­di­tion­al Chris­t­ian teach­ings but instead in the direc­tion of lib­er­al­ism and plu­ral­ism. Also preva­lent in McLaren’s writ­ing, in par­tic­u­lar A New Kind of Chris­tian­i­ty, is his fre­quent ref­er­ences to the ‘Gre­co-Roman cap­tiv­i­ty’ of Chris­tian­i­ty, in which he sees the Bib­li­cal nar­ra­tive dis­tort­ed by Pla­ton­ic and Aris­totelian per­spec­tives of the first-cen­tu­ry Roman Empire, in par­tic­u­lar regard to the teach­ing on the Fall. Although this is a typ­i­cal and clichéd Protes­tant crit­i­cism of so-called ‘post-Con­stan­tin­ian Chris­tian­i­ty,’ McLaren places most main­stream Protes­tants with­in this cap­tiv­i­ty also.  Remain­ing focused on McLaren, we can see that his decon­struc­tion­ist view of his­tor­i­cal Chris­tian­i­ty is at the core of his thought. In effect, he does not appear to believe that ortho­dox, or his­tor­i­cal, Chris­tian­i­ty is what it should be. In fact, his ‘ortho­doxy’ con­sists of claim­ing not to know the entire truth. He writes:

Sit down next to me in this lit­tle restau­rant and ask me if Chris­tian­i­ty (my ver­sion of it, yours, the Pope’s, whoever’s) is ortho­dox, mean­ing true, and here’s my hon­est answer: a lit­tle but not yet. Assum­ing by Chris­tian­i­ty you mean the Chris­t­ian under­stand­ing of the world and God, Chris­t­ian opin­ions on soul, text, and cul­ture… I’d have to say that we prob­a­bly have a cou­ple of things right, but a lot of things wrong, and even more spreads before us unseen and unimag­ined. But at least our eyes are open!

To be a Chris­t­ian in a gen­er­ous­ly ortho­dox way is not to claim to have the truth cap­tured, stuffed, and mount­ed on the wall. It is rather to be in a lov­ing com­mu­ni­ty of peo­ple who are seek­ing the truth on the road of mis­sion and who have been launched on the quest by Jesus, who, with us, guides us still. Do we have it? Have we tak­en hold of it? Not ful­ly, not yet. But we keep seek­ing. We’re find­ing enough to keep us going. But we’re not fin­ished.

In fact, there is noth­ing Ortho­dox, or even ‘ortho­dox,’ about this view. From an actu­al Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian per­spec­tive, one that sings “we have found the true faith” at every Divine Litur­gy, it does a great dis­ser­vice to the Holy Fathers who shed their blood to defend the doc­trines of true Chris­tian­i­ty from dis­tor­tion and heresy. Of course, McLaren does not claim to be Ortho­dox, and his per­spec­tive is trag­i­cal­ly symp­to­matic of much of mod­ern, lib­er­al Chris­tian­i­ty and to a large degree, a con­sid­er­able seg­ment of the emerg­ing move­ment. How­ev­er, it can­not be held against McLaren that he holds such a view – he is mere­ly the nat­ur­al result of the process­es tak­ing place with­in West­ern Chris­tian­i­ty for cen­turies, with all sources of author­i­ty suc­ces­sive­ly  being dis­card­ed, one after anoth­er. With the loss of Holy Tra­di­tion, the mind of the Fathers, and even a respect­ful view of Holy Scrip­ture, it is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine any oth­er result.

Along with his view that, basi­cal­ly, Chris­tian­i­ty in what­ev­er form we know it can­not be com­plete­ly true, McLaren also advo­cates ‘gen­der-neu­tral’ pro­nouns for God, ‘nuanced’ views on uni­ver­sal­ism and sex­u­al moral­i­ty, and holds the opin­ion that peo­ple can be ‘fol­low­ers of Jesus’ with­in their own reli­gions, whether they are Jews, Mus­lims, Hin­dus, or some oth­er reli­gion. These views are not, how­ev­er, exclu­sive to McLaren, or the emerg­ing move­ment for that mat­ter, being quite endem­ic with­in mod­ern lib­er­al Protes­tantism. Despite all of this, McLaren does affirm, at least accord­ing to his web­site, tra­di­tion­al Chris­t­ian doc­trines such as the Trin­i­ty, the incar­na­tion and vir­gin birth, and the death and res­ur­rec­tion of Christ. The ques­tion of how he under­stands or ‘inter­prets’ these doc­trines is anoth­er ques­tion.

What McLaren has instead achieved is the creation of a politically-correct, neutered religion, which has no substantial message

What has made McLaren so influ­en­tial in ECM is his style and approach. By try­ing to shift away from the ‘Gre­co-Roman nar­ra­tive,’ as he calls it, and devel­op­ing a more ‘Jew­ish’ Chris­tian­i­ty, McLaren believes that he is avoid­ing dog­ma­tism, judg­men­tal­ism, denom­i­na­tion­al­ism, hypocrisy and an ‘us-ver­sus-them’ men­tal­i­ty, replac­ing it with inclu­sive­ness, dia­logue, sto­ry­telling and plu­ral­i­ty, if not syn­cretism. What he has instead achieved is the cre­ation of a polit­i­cal­ly-cor­rect, neutered reli­gion, which has no sub­stan­tial mes­sage and although he him­self appar­ent­ly holds to the tra­di­tion­al doc­trines men­tioned above, his approach allows for the com­plete dis­card­ing of them by oth­ers.

While McLaren main­tains some accep­tance of tra­di­tion­al Chris­t­ian teach­ings, despite his seem­ing­ly con­trary views regard­ing the truth­ful­ness of it all, his friend Alan Jones goes even fur­ther with his spec­u­la­tions. His book Reimag­in­ing Chris­tian­i­ty has been laud­ed as a clas­sic by lib­er­als and emer­gents and con­demned as a hereti­cal text by con­ser­v­a­tive evan­gel­i­cals. Despite his dubi­ous views on the Trin­i­ty, Christ and the vir­gin birth, he received great praise from McLaren for this work. Oth­ers who laud­ed Jones’ book include Richard Hol­loway, the for­mer Primus of the Scot­tish Epis­co­pal Church and a ‘born-again athe­ist.’

Alan Jones says, “I believe in the Bible and the creeds, but not literally, and I am no atheist."


To quote and com­ment on all of the dif­fi­cult and trou­bling state­ments found in Jones’ book would be the work of anoth­er paper entire­ly but as a demon­stra­tion of the doc­trines con­tained there­in, some of the most sig­nif­i­cant will be includ­ed here. When dis­cussing nar­ra­tive and sto­ry­telling, he reveals a view of the Holy Scrip­tures which is at odds with tra­di­tion­al Chris­tian­i­ty: “Are the words attrib­uted to Jesus in the New Tes­ta­ment real­ly his?  My approach has always been skep­ti­cal with regard to the text and open with regard to the tra­di­tion.” His skep­ti­cism also reach­es beyond the Scrip­tures, to the Creed and the doc­trine of the vir­gin birth: “I believe in the Bible and the creeds but not lit­er­al­ly, and I am no athe­ist. I love the tra­di­tion and am nur­tured by it. I have a great devo­tion to Mary the Moth­er of God but am agnos­tic about her lit­er­al vir­gin­i­ty – or, to put it blunt­ly, I couldn’t care less about it.” Like­wise, the heav­en­ly hosts: “Every day I invoke the pro­tec­tion of holy angels but I hear no flap­ping of wings. Belief in angels is a way for me to affirm the pres­ence of God in a per­son­al way… Angels are a metaphor point­ing to some­thing real, and the only way to get to that real­i­ty is through poet­ry, myth, and metaphor.”

His views on the per­son and divin­i­ty of Christ are also ques­tion­able, with just enough typ­i­cal­ly vague lan­guage to avoid open­ly appear­ing hereti­cal: “We call Jesus divine because he makes vis­i­ble the mys­tery in his liv­ing, dying, and ris­ing to new life. He shows us that we exist only in rela­tion­ship with each oth­er and that the secret of life is found in giv­ing it away.” He goes on:

 

The ques­tion “Is Jesus God?” is not like ques­tions such as “Was Abra­ham Lin­coln from Illi­nois?” The ques­tions sound the same, but the lat­ter ques­tion is eas­i­ly set­tled by mak­ing a few inquiries. The ques­tion about Christ’s divin­i­ty is a far larg­er one, about how we inter­pret the world. We don’t know what life means until we have learned how to turn it into a sto­ry – a myth. A myth, in this sense, is not some­thing untrue, but a sto­ry with­out which the truth could not be told.

He writes: “Each of the monotheistic religions has its own peculiar neurosis… Christianity is sadomasochistic.”


Of course, skep­ti­cism in regards to Christ’s words in the New Tes­ta­ment will of course lead to dif­fi­cul­ties in answer­ing Christ’s ques­tion of “Who do you say that I am?” 2 This is the conun­drum that lib­er­al Chris­tian­i­ty finds itself in. Jones’ gen­er­al opin­ion of Chris­tian­i­ty shines through in many of his remarks, and it does not come across as pos­i­tive. He writes: “Each of the monothe­is­tic reli­gions has its own pecu­liar neu­ro­sis… Chris­tian­i­ty is sado­masochis­tic.” “And con­cern­ing Chris­tian­i­ty, I am not inter­est­ed in its sur­vival, in its adapt­ing to the so-called mod­ern world. Chris­tian­i­ty doesn’t need any­one to save it. If it has any truth, it will con­tin­ue. If it hasn’t, it deserves to die.” The fol­low­ing anec­dote recount­ed by Jones effec­tive­ly sum­ma­rizes his world­view.

John Shep­herd, the dean of St. George’s Cathe­dral in Perth, West­ern Aus­tralia, invit­ed the abbot of the Bod­hinyana Bud­dhist Monastery to preach at the ser­vice, which was a Eucharist – the cen­tral Chris­t­ian sacra­ment, and the abbot accept­ed in full knowl­edge of this.  Abo­rig­i­nal dancers led the pro­ces­sion into the cathe­dral and lat­er led the offer­to­ry pro­ces­sion to the altar. Dur­ing com­mu­nion, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Jew­ish, Hin­du, Mus­lim, and Baha’i faiths read pas­sages from their sacred writ­ings, and after com­mu­nion an Abo­rig­i­nal read­er offered a dream-time reflec­tion. Was this Chris­t­ian? The answer, as far as I am con­cerned, is “Of course.”

 

Although he writes in his book that “I real­ly do believe that Chris­tian­i­ty, as I have received it, has a full­ness of truth, which I can­not find in oth­er tra­di­tions” many of his state­ments and obser­va­tions shown above bring this into doubt. None of what Jones writes is ground break­ing, orig­i­nal, or specif­i­cal­ly emer­gent, being more root­ed in the rad­i­cal­ly lib­er­al Chris­tian­i­ty that has devel­oped since the 1960’s, but his view of Chris­tian­i­ty as a nar­ra­tive, or sto­ry, and shed­ding of dog­mat­ic absolutes, cou­pled with the incor­po­ra­tion of many spir­i­tu­al tra­di­tions from both tra­di­tion­al Chris­tian­i­ty and oth­er reli­gions, brings him well with­in the spec­trum of ECM, par­tic­u­lar­ly the Emer­gent stream. Those peo­ple who have left ‘dog­mat­ic’ denom­i­na­tions, or tra­di­tion­al Protes­tant church­es find much to latch onto in his writ­ings as a much-need­ed way to artic­u­late their new views.

As Jones writes, “I’m wait­ing for a more gen­er­ous and inclu­sive ver­sion of the Old Sto­ry to emerge.” This is the ‘new kind of Chris­tian­i­ty’ McLaren writes of, which is being sought by those on the extreme wing of the emerg­ing move­ment. Although ECM has its tra­di­tion­al, doc­tri­nal-mind­ed Protes­tants, a good pro­por­tion of the move­ment is ful­ly behind Bri­an McLaren and sim­i­lar thinkers from the Emer­gent stream in their search for a rad­i­cal­ly rede­fined Chris­tian­i­ty. How­ev­er, based on what Alan Jones thinks Chris­tian­i­ty is, and his descrip­tion of the con­ven­ti­cle in Aus­tralia, this ‘new Chris­tian­i­ty’ will not real­ly be Chris­t­ian in any rec­og­niz­able sense at all.

Is the Emerg­ing Church Move­ment Dead?

With all the dis­cus­sion and debate rag­ing about ‘the Great Emer­gence,’ the rise of ECM, and its grow­ing influ­ence on main­stream Chris­tian­i­ty, it is inter­est­ing to see that many of its pro­po­nents (or for­mer pro­po­nents) deem that the move­ment has already died a death and is fin­ished. Like all opin­ions and beliefs in ECM, this is far from uni­ver­sal, and is dis­put­ed by many. As the final sec­tion of our overview of ECM, we will look at the var­i­ous opin­ions as to why this may be the case.

Of all the blog posts and arti­cles on this issue, the most in-depth have been from C. Michael Pat­ton, a blog­ger for Cre­do House. He iden­ti­fies six points as to why he believes that ECM is dead, most of them being their inter­ac­tions with evan­gel­i­cals, who are ECM’s tar­get demo­graph­ic, at least among the ‘churched’ pop­u­la­tion. His points are that:

1) The lead­ers lacked tact in address­ing evan­gel­i­cals

2) they were unnec­es­sar­i­ly offen­sive towards them

3) they failed to iden­ti­fy with them

4) they tol­er­at­ed het­ero­dox the­ol­o­gy

5) ECM lead­er­ship was not uni­fied

6) Evan­gel­i­cal lead­er­ship nev­er real­ly cared about engag­ing with them.

Patton com­pares the first three points with a failed coup attempt, in which the emerg­ing upstarts failed to con­vince evan­gel­i­cals to lis­ten to their mes­sage, pri­mar­i­ly because many emer­gent lead­ers spoke down to them, or even mocked evan­gel­i­cal­ism. Rather than find­ing com­mon ground in the idea of ‘always reform­ing,’ which is a core com­po­nent of Protes­tant thought, they instead asso­ci­at­ed evan­gel­i­cals with fun­da­men­tal­ism (some­thing that a num­ber of emer­gents were flee­ing from) and belit­tled them. Evan­gel­i­cals, who might have aligned with ECM’s posi­tion on many issues, instead became defen­sive and reject­ed the emer­gent lead­ers.

Pfour and five go hand-in-hand, as it is the Emer­gent stream’s tol­er­ance of lib­er­al posi­tions on both the­o­log­i­cal and moral issues which led to many rup­tures in the move­ment, and the even­tu­al aban­don­ment of the ‘emerg­ing’ label by many in the Doc­trine-Friend­ly stream. Many of the more con­ser­v­a­tive ele­ments of ECM have instead adopt­ed the term ‘mis­sion­al’ to express their inten­tion of return­ing to the roots of their involve­ment with ECM. Dan Kim­ball, who was an ear­ly leader in the Doc­trine-Friend­ly stream, sums up his dis­as­so­ci­a­tion with ECM:

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… After a while, some with­in it began focus­ing more on the­ol­o­gy and even some core issues of the­ol­o­gy… the whole cen­tral focus of evan­ge­lism to emerg­ing gen­er­a­tions was lost, in my opin­ion… A lot of the things dis­cussed and then even becom­ing beliefs is pret­ty lib­er­al the­ol­o­gy… it is pret­ty much clas­si­cal extreme lib­er­al­ism in a new, cool­er wrap­per.

The final and sixth is the nat­ur­al con­clu­sion to the first five: most seri­ous evan­gel­i­cal lead­ers and schol­ars did not ful­ly engage with ECM, part­ly due to its propen­si­ty to speak down to evan­gel­i­cals and seem­ing inabil­i­ty to present a unit­ed front on impor­tant issues, and part­ly due to their own refusal to open up their the­o­log­i­cal doc­trines to debate.

In anoth­er post, Pat­ton blames ECM’s ambi­gu­i­ty in regards to the­o­log­i­cal and moral issues as a major part of the movement’s fail­ure to become more influ­en­tial among tra­di­tion­al Protes­tants. Alle­go­riz­ing it as a plane flight, he writes:

The emerg­ing church asked Chris­tians to re-think their faith. They asked us to decon­struct our beliefs. They asked us to doubt every­thing. They asked for us to take a ride in the emerg­ing plane and fly for a bit… How­ev­er, the emerg­ing plane nev­er land­ed. It soon became clear that there was no des­ti­na­tion. There was no run­way on which to land and the emerg­ing plane did not even have land­ing gear. The decon­struc­tion hap­pened with no plans of recon­struct­ing. The emerg­ing jour­ney became an end­less flight that did not have any inten­tion on set­ting down any­where. Many peo­ple jumped out, sky­div­ing back home. The rest, I sup­pose, remained on the plane until it ran out of gas.

A sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of the Doc­trine-Friend­ly stream ‘sky­dived,’ most notably Mark Driscoll, who is now most­ly asso­ci­at­ed with Neo-Calvin­ism. One of the more astute com­men­ta­tors on Patton’s arti­cle not­ed that ECM’s desire to find ‘authen­tic tra­di­tion’ and con­ti­nu­ity with his­tor­i­cal Chris­tian­i­ty opened up the path to Neo-Calvin­ism for many for­mer emer­gents, an opin­ion with which I am in full agree­ment.

Howev­er, despite the more con­ser­v­a­tive ele­ments of ECM retreat­ing back into evan­gel­i­cal­ism, or rebrand­ing as mis­sion­al, Bri­an McLaren and oth­ers still think the move­ment is as active and vibrant as ever, although the ‘con­ver­sa­tion’ has changed. Writ­ing in 2012, he states that “If we use Phyl­lis Tickle’s term “Chris­t­ian Emer­gence” or “Emer­gence Chris­tian­i­ty” to describe a broad phe­nom­e­non that is occur­ring across the spec­trum of Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ties, I think the move­ment is stronger than ever.” He goes on to state that he believes that influ­en­tial fig­ures in evan­gel­i­cal and charis­mat­ic move­ments have forced the move­ment under­ground.

In Ganiel and Marti’s recent research, they find them­selves in agree­ment with McLaren that ECM is “not only viable but shows some signs of spread­ing.” They believe that the “RIP ECM” debate is a healthy sign that ECM is matur­ing away from its ini­tial reac­tionary posi­tions. One of the main argu­ments against McLaren’s opin­ion is that the Emer­gent Vil­lage web­site and blog has dis­ap­peared, when it was once the hub for much ECM dis­cus­sion, par­tic­u­lar­ly the Emer­gent Stream, as well as a whole host of oth­er blogs, which have either van­ished or dried up. It could be sug­gest­ed that this was a delib­er­ate move, made just as ECM seemed on the verge of becom­ing a denom­i­na­tion, or at least a recog­nised and estab­lished move­ment with a hier­ar­chy, in its own right. In this regard, by appear­ing to be ‘dead’ by dis­solv­ing its focal point, ECM could be stay­ing true to its anti-estab­lish­ment prin­ci­ples.

So, although some have dis­tanced them­selves from the Emerg­ing label and the sole semi-offi­cial organ of ECM has seem­ing­ly fold­ed, a num­ber of the indi­vid­u­als asso­ci­at­ed with ECM con­tin­ue to be high­ly influ­en­tial and sought after for con­fer­ences and gath­er­ings. Most impor­tant­ly, the ideas and con­cepts asso­ci­at­ed with ECM are still preva­lent in many quar­ters and, if Ganiel and Marti’s assess­ment is cor­rect, con­tin­u­ing to spread, even if they are not overt­ly being labelled as ‘emerg­ing’.

“What, then, is the Emerg­ing Church?”

Having now looked at ECM from a vari­ety of per­spec­tives, using a selec­tion of pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary lit­er­a­ture, we are able to see that Fr. Damick’s state­ment from the begin­ning of this the­sis is thor­ough­ly accu­rate. How­ev­er, despite the dif­fi­cul­ty in being able to iden­ti­fy what exact­ly ECM is with exac­ti­tude, we are able to high­light spe­cif­ic themes that are present in much of the analy­sis and also to make sev­er­al con­nec­tions between the vary­ing per­spec­tives. From this, we can present a syn­the­sized analy­sis along with our own con­clud­ing view­point.

It cannot be emphasized enough that ECM is neither a formal organisation nor a new denomination, but instead a pan-denominational movement with adherents in probably every major Protestant group

  Besides the wider view of Phyl­lis Tick­le, which encom­pass­es of all West­ern Chris­tian­i­ty and its var­i­ous groups, most of our sources, and the major­i­ty of ECM com­men­ta­tors, lim­it the descrip­tion of Emerg­ing Church to a spe­cif­ic move­ment orig­i­nat­ing with­in evan­gel­i­cal Protes­tantism and, to a degree, with­in the fun­da­men­tal­ist move­ment, most­ly in reac­tion to the lat­ter but try­ing to remain with­in the extend­ed fam­i­ly of the for­mer, some­times refer­ring to itself as ‘post-evan­gel­i­cal.’ It can­not be empha­sized enough that ECM is nei­ther a for­mal organ­i­sa­tion nor a new denom­i­na­tion, but instead a pan-denom­i­na­tion­al move­ment with adher­ents in prob­a­bly every major Protes­tant group, includ­ing some lead­er­ship fig­ures, such as pas­tors, sem­i­nary teach­ers and oth­er nota­bles. In a sense, it is more akin to a ‘think-tank’ than a for­mal organ­i­sa­tion, or in the lan­guage of ECM, a ‘con­ver­sa­tion,’ with gen­er­al­ly few actu­al com­mu­ni­ties based on emerg­ing thought (although the ones that do exist are well-known and influ­en­tial), but many indi­vid­u­als influ­enced and inspired by emerg­ing thought being spread through­out more tra­di­tion­al parish­es and com­mu­ni­ties.

DeVine’s study, analysed above, gives the clear­est expla­na­tion for the movement’s dis­tin­guish­ing fac­tions – Doc­trine-Friend­ly and Doc­trine-Wary, or Emer­gent. These two groups, although not clear­ly demar­cat­ed, form the most notable con­stituent parts of the move­ment. In this, we can con­nect the more spe­cif­ic out­look of the major­i­ty of ECM com­men­ta­tors and crit­ics with Tickle’s wider, more inclu­sive view, in that we can draw cor­re­la­tion between these two fac­tions and the Mag­is­te­r­i­al and Rad­i­cal fac­tions of the main Protes­tant Ref­or­ma­tion. Anoth­er com­par­i­son, more famil­iar to Ortho­dox, would be the Ren­o­va­tion­ist move­ment in ear­ly twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Rus­sia, which con­sist­ed of both mod­er­ate and rad­i­cal ele­ments.

In either com­par­i­son, both fac­tions are born from a gen­uine desire to change what they per­ceive as insti­tu­tion­al prob­lems in their church­es, albeit with dif­fer­ing approach­es. Much of the writ­ings of ECM adher­ents show that they have a seri­ous desire to make what they believe to be nec­es­sary changes for their church­es to con­tin­ue to func­tion and, in par­tic­u­lar, reach out in our con­tem­po­rary social and cul­tur­al cli­mate. In order to achieve this, ECM has made exten­sive use of post-mod­ern thought and post-mod­ernist approach­es. For both fac­tions, this has man­i­fest­ed itself as a more inclu­sive eccle­si­ol­o­gy, with a strong focus on com­mu­ni­ty-build­ing, as opposed to the ‘pro­grams’ asso­ci­at­ed with seek­er-friend­ly church­es.

It is within the more radical elements of ECM that we find another prevalent aspect of the movement, which is its anti-authoritarianism

  As part of the ‘post-evan­gel­i­cal’ drift away from mod­ernism and the rigid­i­ty asso­ci­at­ed with it and as a move towards a deep­er and more authen­tic spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ence, ECM as a whole has incor­po­rat­ed and adopt­ed many prac­tices from tra­di­tion­al forms of Chris­tian­i­ty, incor­po­rat­ed with more mod­ern forms of media, such as audio-visu­al pre­sen­ta­tions and new forms of wor­ship music influ­enced by con­tem­po­rary cul­ture. As well as how they wor­ship, they have also advo­cat­ed change in where they wor­ship, with many com­mu­ni­ties advo­cat­ing the mov­ing of the wor­ship space from a church build­ing to a dif­fer­ent envi­ron­ment, such as a bar, cof­fee shop, arts space, con­vert­ed malls and the­aters, claim­ing sec­u­lar space for the sacred and man­i­fest­ing the church com­mu­ni­ty in a more mis­sion­al sense. It is these prac­tices which iden­ti­fy ECM ‘across the board’ in both its more con­ser­v­a­tive and more lib­er­al quar­ters.

ECM can be seen as a reform movement that started in response to the staid modernism of evangelical Protestantism, its outdated approaches to both mission and worship and its affiliation with the Religious Right.



It is with­in the more rad­i­cal ele­ments of ECM that we find anoth­er preva­lent aspect of the move­ment, which is its anti-author­i­tar­i­an­ism. This was high­light­ed in the stud­ies of both Car­son and Ganiel and Mar­ti. Although much of the above-men­tioned prac­tices are in protest against the per­ceived staid prac­tices of Protes­tantism, the Emer­gent stream takes its protest into the the­o­log­i­cal sphere, and even open­ly goes against tra­di­tion­al evan­gel­i­cal doc­trines. This most­ly focus around the doc­trine of sub­sti­tu­tion­ary atone­ment, some­thing that the Ortho­dox also have strong dis­agree­ments with, but also extends to more ‘uni­ver­sal’ teach­ings, such as the vir­gin birth, the inspi­ra­tion and reli­a­bil­i­ty of Holy Scrip­ture, church hier­ar­chy, the nature of the Trin­i­ty, and the divin­i­ty of Christ. There is also a ten­den­cy to lean towards uni­ver­sal­ism and, to a degree, syn­cretism among some of the Emer­gent fac­tion.

In sum­ma­ry, ECM can be seen as a reform move­ment that start­ed in response to the staid mod­ernism of evan­gel­i­cal Protes­tantism, its out­dat­ed approach­es to both mis­sion and wor­ship and its affil­i­a­tion with the Reli­gious Right. Emer­gents sought to re-engage the sur­round­ing cul­ture by both using con­tem­po­rary cul­ture and tra­di­tion­al prac­tices in order to con­duct mis­sion­ary work and cre­ate new, enthu­si­as­tic and authen­tic com­mu­ni­ties in a post-mod­ern envi­ron­ment. How­ev­er, as with all reli­gious reform move­ments, the move­ment slow­ly grew into two fac­tions, with the more lib­er­al emer­gents becom­ing anti-author­i­tar­i­an and, it can be said, icon­o­clas­tic, in their approach. Reac­tion against these ele­ments was strong from con­ser­v­a­tive evan­gel­i­cals and pro­po­nents of ECM with­drew their sup­port as a result. At the time of writ­ing, the major­i­ty of the con­ser­v­a­tive fac­tion have ‘rela­belled’ them­selves as ‘mis­sion­al’ and have dis­tanced them­selves from the ‘emerg­ing’ label. The more lib­er­al ele­ments con­tin­ue their work, although on a seem­ing­ly small­er and less vis­i­ble scale since the demise of Emer­gent Vil­lage as a semi-offi­cial organ. ECM con­tin­ues, although its cur­rent form is one that oper­ates more at a grass­roots lev­el than the for­mer nation­al- and inter­na­tion­al-con­fer­ence lev­el. The ideas spread by ECM dur­ing its most influ­en­tial peri­od are still around, and by all accounts, slow­ly spread­ing. As has been dis­cussed above, the move­ment is not over, but the con­ver­sa­tion has changed slight­ly.

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