In our last article about Christian Unity, we began looking at what’s known as the Emerging/Emergent Church (E/EC). One of the leaders of the E/EC, Tony Jones (Princeton Theological Seminary, Fuller Seminary, United Theological Seminary), defined the terms like this:

  • emergent Christianity – The new forms of Christian faith arising from the old; the Christianity believed and practiced by the emergents.
  • 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.

For historical purposes, with 2001 as the date listed by Tony Jones for the official beginning of the Emergent Church, let’s look at the writings of three of its founders: Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, and Chris Pagitt.

Brian McLaren

Time Magazine named Brian McLaren as one of the 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America in 2005. He taught college English from 1978 to 1986, then helped form Cedar Ridge Community Church in the Baltimore-Washington area. McLaren served as the founding pastor at Cedar Ridge until 2006 when he left to write and speak fulltime. During his time at Cedar Ridge, the church became known as a leader among emerging missional congregations.

McLaren says he is “an ecumenical global networker among innovative Christian leaders” ( He speaks at conferences around the world and also lectures to denominational and ecumenical leadership gatherings. McLaren says his public speaking covers topics on postmodern thought and culture, Biblical studies, evangelism, leadership, global mission, spiritual formation, worship, pastoral survival and burnout, inter-religious dialogue, ecology, and social justice (

McLaren’s first book was published in 1998 – The Church on the Other Side: Doing Ministry in the Postmodern Matrix (Zondervan). It dealt with the “conversation about postmodern ministry” at the end of the 20th century. McLaren’s second book, Finding Faith: A Self-Discovery guide for Your Spiritual Quest (Zondervan, 1999) looked at the relationship between faith and certainty. Here’s an important insight into E/EC philosophy from one of its early leaders.

“Instead of trying to tell you ‘the answers’ via dogmatic pronouncements (as many well-meaning people have already tried to do for you, no doubt), I would like to try to help you find the answers yourself. Instead of trying to tell you what to believe or focusing on why you should believe, my goal is to help you discover how to believe—how to search for and find a faith that is real, honest, good, enriching, and yours.” Finding Faith, Brian McLaren, Zondervan, 1999, Introduction

McLaren followed The Church on the Other side and Finding Faith with A New Kind of Christian (Jossey-Bass, 2001), More Ready Than You Realize (Zondervan, 2002), Adventures in Missing the Point (Zondervan, 2003, coauthored with Dr. Anthony Campolo), The Story We Find Ourselves In (Jossey-Bass, 2003), A Generous Orthodoxy (Zondervan, 2004), The Secret Message of Jesus (Thomas Nelson, 2006), Everything Must Change (Thomas Nelson, 2007), Finding Our Way Again (Thomas Nelson, 2008), A New Kind of Christianity (HarperOne, 2010), Naked Spirituality (HarperOne, 2011), Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? (Jericho Books, 2012, about interfaith solidarity), We Make the Road by Walking (Jericho Books, 2014).

Here is how McClaren described We Make the Road by Walking

“The title suggests that Christian faith is still ‘in the making’ (as Dr. John Cobb has put it). It continues to grow, evolve, learn, change, emerge, and mature … in and through us. What we shall be as Christians in the 21st century, for better or worse, will surely change what Christian faith will be in the 22nd century and beyond.”

Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why, wrote a review in McLaren’s book that it is “one of the most remarkable documents in recent Christian writings…There is no evangelizing here, and no preaching, only a sinewy, but orderly and open, presentation of the faith that holds. The result is as startling as it is beautiful.”

Rob Bell, author of Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, wrote a review in McLaren’s book that “Brian McLaren has a talent for expressing theological viewpoints in a way that doesn’t divide the camp. He gives everyone on the theological spectrum, from orthodox to progressive, something to chew on and contemplate.”

Christine Berghoef, author of Cracking the Pot: Releasing God from the Theologies that Bind Him, wrote a review in McLaren’s book that it “is a refreshing and inspiring reframing of the biblical narrative, based on modern biblical scholarship. It has deeply challenged our faith community to re-imagine what it means to be followers of Jesus.”

Wendy Tobias, lead priest for Unplugged at St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in Boynton Beach, Florida, wrote a review in McLaren’s book that “If you’re looking for a progressive, thoughtful, inspirational resource for short-term or long-term Bible exploration I highly recommend WE MAKE THE ROAD BY WALKING. I haven’t seen a more adaptable model that encourages those who gather and those who lead to experiment with what’s best for their particular situation or environment.”

In the Preface to his book, McLaren wrote –

“The title suggests that faith was never intended to be a destination, a status, a holding tank, or a warehouse. Instead, it was to be a road, a path, a way out of old and destructive patterns into new and creative ones. As a road or way, it is always being extended into the future. If a spiritual community only points back to where it has been or if it only digs in its heels where it is now, it is a dead end or a parking lot, not a way. To be a living tradition, a living way, it must forever open itself forward and forever remain unfinished—even as it forever cherishes and learns from the growing treasury of its past.”

McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy (2004) is one of his best-known E/EC books. The full title of the book is – A Generous Orthodoxy: WHY I AM A missional + evangelical + post/protestant + liberal/conservative + mystical/poetic + biblical + charismatic/contemplative + fundamentalist/Calvinist + anabaptist/Anglican + methodist + catholic + green + incarnational + depressed-yet-hopeful + emergent + unfinished CHRISTIAN. McLaren explained what he hoped readers would get from his book –

“I hope by its end you’ll find even more than you’re looking for now. The approach you’ll find here, which might be called postcritical, seeks to find a way to embrace the good in many traditions and historic streams of Christian faith, and to integrate them, yielding a new, generous, emergent approach that is greater than the sum of its parts. This approach is both ancient/historical and avant-garde/innovative … If I seem to show too little respect for your opinions or thought, be assured I have equal doubts about my own, and I don’t mind if you think I’m wrong. I’m sure I am wrong about many things, although I’m not sure exactly what things I’m wrong about. I’m even sure I’m wrong about what I think I’m right about in at least some cases. So wherever you think I’m wrong, you could be right. If in the process of determining that I’m wrong, you are stimulated to think more deeply and broadly, I hope that I will have somehow served you anyway.” From the Introduction to A Generous Orthodoxy

In McLaren’s 2011 Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words, the author called for getting naked spiritually –

“It’s about stripping away the symbols and status of public religion—the Sunday-dress version people often call ‘organized religion.’ And it’s about attending to the well-being of the soul clothied only in naked human skin. As a result, it must be a vulnerable book, tender in tone, gentle in touch. You won’t find much in the way of aggressive arguments here, but rather shy experience daring to step into the light. It’s an honest book, and I hope a practical one too, perhaps with some awkward spiritual parallels to what they used to call a ‘marital manual.’ You won’t need to agree with all the planks of my theological platform. I am a Christian, and all I write flows from my experience in that rich tradition, but you may be of another tradition entirely or of no known tradition at all. Instead of seeking theological agreement, this book invites you to experiment with the naked experience of God that provides the raw material from which all worthwhile theology derives.” From the Preface to Naked Spirituality

[Emerging Unity will continue …]

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