“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, Running down on the beard, The beard of Aaron, Running down on the edge of his garments. It is like the dew of Hermon, Descending upon the mountains of Zion; For there the Lord commanded the blessing—Life forevermore.” Psalm 133
Psalm 133 is one of the shortest Psalms, but also one of the most poignant and powerful. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brethren to dwell together in unity!” King David chose one of the most powerful images for the unity of God’s people – the anointing of Aaron the first High Priest of Israel.
“Also Moses took the anointing oil, and anointed the tabernacle and all that was in it, and consecrated them. He sprinkled some of it on the altar seven times, anointed the altar and all its utensils, and the laver and its base, to consecrate them. And he poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him, to consecrate him.” Leviticus 8:10-12
God rescued His people from slavery in a foreign land and unified them as one people who would carry God’s banner to the promised land. Moses poured so much oil on his brother that the oil ran from the top of Aaron’s head to his beard and onto the edge of his garments. The anointing of God set apart every part of Aaron for the great work he had been called to accomplish.
One of my biggest personal disappointments as a Christian has been the lack of unity among Christians. I read Psalm 133, John 17, Romans 12 and 14, Ephesians 4, and Philippians 1 and 2 and wanted to experience the beauty of unity with other believers. I’ve taught and written about the importance of unity in the Church since becoming a Christian almost 45 years ago … but … I don’t want unity at the expense of truth. Unfortunately, that is what we have been witness to for far too long.
In our previous post about Ecumenical Unity, we looked at the danger of Christians shedding truth for the sake of unity. As our series about Christian Unity continues we will look at concerns about Emerging Unity.
The Investigation Begins
I wanted to be a news reporter from about the age of eight and never lost that dream. What do you do with dreams? You do the hard work of making them a reality. I got my first full-time job as a reporter in 1968 and took the “theories” of college into the “real world” of crime scenes, city council meetings, fires and accidents, and hard-nosed investigative stories. I quickly learned that investigations were the kinds of stories that were important, exciting, and sometimes dangerous.
The best investigations are those done with “first-hand” information. That’s when the investigative reporter talks with eyewitnesses and looks at “original” and “primary source” materials and information. It is time-consuming, complicated and often confrontational. Most journalists don’t do investigative journalism for those and other reasons. However, I believe it’s extremely important to do for the welfare of society.
The investigation into the next two types of “Christian unity” we are currently seeing in and around the Church are based on original/primary source materials and information. I’ve met and talked with people who are involved in the unity movements. I’ve read their books and materials, attended their conferences and watched their videos and listened to their podcasts and other audio materials. I want to know what people believe based on what they say they believe, not on what individuals who are biased against a movement say about that movement.
I personally believe Christians should be deeply concerned about each of the following unity movements within the Church. However, my concern is not because someone else said they are concerned. I’m concerned because I talked with people in those movements, heard what they said and read what they wrote. I’m concerned because of what people in those movements believe and are doing about what they believe. That’s based on comparing what they think and do to the clear teaching of God’s Word.
My investigation is finished (for now) and it’s time to report my findings. I’ll begin with some history of each unity group, what leaders in those groups believe and say, and why Christians should be concerned.
I had the opportunity to speak personally with people in the Emerging/Emergent Church movement. I found them likeable, but personality is not the issue. What is the issue is how members and leaders of the movement are attempting to change the long-held orthodox beliefs about God, the Bible and the Gospel of Christ for the purpose of developing unity within the “faith” community.
I also had the opportunity to speak personally with Dr. Norman Geisler, well-known theologian, professor, apologist and philosopher, about the Emerging/Emergent Church movement. He presented a cogent and well-structured argument about E/EC during a presentation I attended in 2014. We talked about several points of his presentation at the end of the meeting and continued our discussion via email. Dr. Geisler participated with several other Christian scholars in writing an important book titled Evangelicals Engaging Emergent (Edited by William D. Henard and Adam W. Greenway, B&H Academic, 2009) and I will share pertinent information from that book during our study.
My goal for you in this series is to be as informed as possible about the E/EC movement so you can recognize it and address it in any way God’s Spirit leads you.
What’s In A Name
Some people say “emerging” and some people say “emergent.” What’s the difference?
The word “emerging” means “newly created or noticed and growing in strength or popularity; becoming widely known or established” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). The word “emergent” means “rising unexpectedly, calling for prompt action, rising out of or as if out of a fluid, newly formed or prominent.”
E/EC leader Tony Jones wrote The New Christians: Dispatches From The Emergent Frontier in 2008 (Jossey-Bass) and defined the terms this way –
emergent Christianity – The new forms of Christian faith arising from the old; the Christianity believed and practiced by the emergent’s.
the emergent church – The specifically new forms of church life rising from the modern, American church of the twentieth century.
the emergents – The adherents of emergent Christianity.
Emergent – Specifically referring to the relational network which formed first in 1997; also known as Emergent Village.
In the Introduction to The New Christians, Jones shares some of the history of the beginnings of the E/EC –
“On June 21, 2001, a group of pastor-theologians convened a conference call. We were homeless. Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt, Tim Keel from Kansas City, Chris Seay from Houston, Tim Conder from Chapel Hill, and Brad Cecil from Dallas had all been pushed out of the nest of our hosting organization a year earlier, and we were looking for some identity, some banner under which we could rally. We needed a name. In previous iterations, we had been called the ‘Young Leaders Network,” the ‘Theological Working Group,’ and the ‘Terranova Project.” Under that last rubric, we (and several others, including Sally Morgenthaler, Alan Roxburgh, Danielle Shroyer, Rudy Carrasco, Todd Hunter, and Jason Mitchell) had met less than a year earlier at my family’s cabin in the north woods of Minnesota and had spent a couple of days thinking and arguing and dreaming about the future of Christianity. We’d already been tagged with phrases ‘emerging church’ and ‘emerging leaders’ in years past, and those phrases came up again on this conference call. In the midst of the conversation, we settled on a variant of that word: we’d call ourselves ‘emergent … Like the electronica music of the 1980s and 1990s, the emergent church is a mash-up of old and new, of theory and practice, of men and women, and of mainline, evangelical, and, increasingly, Roman Catholic Christians. What started among leaders (a.k.a. clergy) is now spreading into the humus of everyday Christians (a.k.a. laypeople).”
In his book, The Church Is Flat: The Relational Ecclesiology of the Emerging Church Movement (JoPa Group, 2011), Tony Jones shared more about the history of E/EC –
“I come to this study of the emerging church movement not as a disinterested researcher, but as a member of the movement—indeed, as a found of the movement. In the summer of 1998, I was invited by Doug Pagitt, a former colleague in youth ministry, to help plan an event for that fall. The event was the ‘National Re:Evaluation Forum; sponsored by Leadership Network, then Doug’s employer. At that gathering, a couple hundred evangelical pastors heard from such speakers as Rodney Clapp, Carol Davis, Stanley Grenz, George Hunsberger, Jimmy Long, Sally Morgenthaler, Christine and Tom Sine, Len Sweet, Thom Wolf, and the as-yet-unknown Mark Driscoll. Original music and artwork were on display. And many in attendance felt that some kind of renaissance within evangelicalism was just around the corner. A newsletter from Leadership Network recapped the event by stating that six themes had emerged that would ‘represent a framework for discussing the church of the future, the church on the New Edge’: Community, Experience, Mysticism, Story, Leadership, and Missional … The evolution of the emerging church movement from then to now I documented in my 2008 book, The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier. Therein I argued that the primary characteristic that epitomizes the movement and makes it distinctive is epistemic humility, a phrase that will be repeated in this book. An early theme in the movement was that the churches and seminaries from which we were emerging had grown too certain about their stands on doctrinal issues, polity, and social issues.”
The Emerging/Emergent Church (E/EC) is based on “conversations,” “reflections,” “stories,” “journeys,” and “friendships.” Those are key terms in E/EC circles you will see and hear often in Emergent books, blogs, articles, sermons, presentations and videos.
Movement members I’ve talked to don’t like traditional labels like “conservative” and “liberal” or “evangelical.” They prefer the term “emergent” and “emerging.” In the groundbreaking E/EC book An Emergent Manifesto of Hope (Edited by Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones, Baker Books, 2007), the editors used the terms “emerging church” and “emergent.” Doug Pagitt wrote that “emergent” people are “a Generative Friendship of Missional Christians.”
“The Emergent imagination is at its most basic level a call to friendship—friendship with God, with one another, and with the world. This has implications in the way Emergent is structured, in the way people relate to each other with differences and agreement, and in the way the Emergent Village forms and influences communities … The Emergent concept of friendship is more than professional relationships of like-minded peers, it is an invitation to the Jesus way of life as partners with each other and co-laborers in the work of God in the world.” An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt
Look at that again – closely. These are some of the primary leaders of the E/EC movement and they say that at its most basic level the Emergent movement is a call to friendship with God, one another “and the world.”
The first thing that came to mind when I read those words in An Emergent Manifesto was James 4:4 – “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Does what Pagitt and Jones wrote look like a contradiction with Scripture to you?
“The Emergent imagination is at its most basic level a call to friendship—friendship with God, with one another, and with the world.” Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt
“Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” The Bible
Dr. Eddie Gibbs was the Donald A. McGavran Professor of Church Growth at Fuller Theological Seminary in 2005 when he co-wrote Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures.
“The ‘emerging church’ movement is perhaps the most significant church trend of our day. The emerging church offers and encourages a new way of doing and being the church. While it largely resonates with an eighteen-to-thirty-four-year-old audience–the first fully postmodern generation–it is also gaining popularity with older Christians and encompasses a broad array of traditional and contemporary churches. Emerging Churches explores this movement and provides insight into its success.” Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures, Eddie Gibbs & Ryan K. Bolger, Baker Academic, 2005
One of the earliest books I found about the E/EC movement was written in 1970 by Bruce Larson and Ralph Osborne. The book was titled The Emerging Church (Word Books), which is the same title of Dan Kimball’s book published in 2003.
Here’s a quote from Larson and Osborne’s book –
“We hear a sound of hope, a calling forth of a newly emerging Church, a demand for priority and commitment, and a word of instruction as to what the Church is to be. That voice among the voices says little to us about structure, institutional form, and traditional patterns. It speaks rather of new goals, considerable resources, and fresh strategies for the 1970’s.”
Here is a quote from Dan Kimball’s book from 2003 –
“What brings me great joy and makes the journey seem not as hard is knowing that I am not alone. So many of us out there are beginning to think the same things. So many of us sense something is changing. We don’t know exactly how to explain it, but we all know it is real. I can’t thank God enough for the friendships I have made along the road and the conversations we have had in helping one another on this journey. There are no solo acts or lone rangers in the emerging church. May our paths on this journey meet, as we truly are all in this together. Where it takes us, we cannot say. But I am eager to find out. I hope this book has helped you in some way, for the sake of the emerging church.”
Kimball’s book includes forewards by Rick Warren and Brian McLaren. Howard Hendricks, Sally Morgenthaler, Chip Ingram and Mark Oestreicher were collaborators with Kimball. The book’s full title is The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations. The “product description” for the book recommends reading The Emerging Church in conjunction with Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian.
[Emerging Unity will continue …]
We invite you to watch this video about Emerging Unity.
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