The Emerging Church is a term used to describe the new type of Evangelical Christianity that seeks to respond to the current social and cultural trends of postmodernity. Those identified as being Emerging, Emergent, Friend of Emergent, Vintage etc. are numerous and wide-ranging. For this study I will focus upon those authors who discuss the “collapse of modernity” and seek ways the church can respond to this new social situation. While this will force this study to consider figures who would not in any way self-identify themselves with the emerging movement, I believe that this will bring some background and clarity to the issues at hand.

The emerging movement is largely the product of the main evangelical denominations. While it is acknowledged that the emerging movement also effects the mainline denominations, it is not seen as being as large an issue as in the evangelical churches. Since the mainline denominations are largely thought of (most strongly by its own members) as being the most modern of Christian churches, this discontinuity may seem disconcerting. Without falling into the fanciful, some speculation on the reason behind this may be useful. Firstly, all of Protestantism, whether evangelical or mainline or fundamentalist, grew up in the age of modernity. The Age of Modernity is conveniently dated to 1500-present, largely congruous with the birth, rise, and organization of all Protestant groups. This is acknowledged by one of the most popular leaders of the emerging movement, Brian D. McLaren,[1] though he does not explore the implications of this. The logical implication is that any religion based upon the culture, philosophy, ideals, and society of the modern worldview will collapse when that worldview collapses, or at least that is what the theoretical apocalypticists of Protestantism will say. Those most set into a modernist system then, such as the mainline denominations, are unable to change to meet the growing demands of post-modernity, which is why their churches are populated only with gray heads. Secondly, as a rebuttal to the first argument, it can be noted that the mainline denominations are heavy on the social gospel message and light on dogma, which are two aspects of late modernity which survives well into post-modernity. Many mainline denominations which have an active youth component are those which are most involved in social issues. Mainline denominations then don’t need the emerging movement because they are already offering two things which the emerging movement emphasizes, open theology and social activism. Thirdly, and perhaps this is most important, and this is what the emerging movement leaders keep on pointing out, the evangelical (and fundamentalist) churches, for all their rhetoric against the evils of modernism: humanism and science, are remarkably modern. This becomes even more clear the more evangelical and fundamentalist leaders rail against post-modernism, seeking to return to the values of modernism. Broadly it is clear that all of Protestantism is largely dependent upon modernity, though in different ways in different denominations, the mainline feel comfortable in it, the evangelicals feel that they are in it and don’t know what to do about that, the fundamentalists don’t feel they are in it and do not seek to change.[2] Broad generalities aside, it is this dependence upon modernity which emerging church leaders seek to address and correct.


The Evangelical Dependence on Modernity and it Emerging Answer

The emerging church leaders identify a few key points where they believe the evangelical church has wrongly become the slave of modernity. Though it should be pointed out that as a new movement there is little homogeneity between the leaders when it comes to the finer points of theology and whether this theology should be changed. Nonetheless, there are some common themes.

To begin, modern evangelicalism is accused of reducing Christianity to a set of rational propositions. Christianity is, according to modernist theology, a set of beliefs with which one aligns oneself. Showing these beliefs to be rational and cognitive is of utmost importance. The emerging church leaders respond that this downgrades Christianity to little more than a set of affirmations, which in the post-modern world becomes equalized as valid along with all other sets of affirmations. Not only that, post-moderns do not want a set of cognitive beliefs, they want a way of life. Hence, emerging church leaders have coined the term “be-living”. While moderns have a list, with which one must believe that, post-moderns want to believe in. It can be argued, as the post-modern leaders do, that “believe in” is the common formulation used in the Gospel of John, which seems to be a cognate of the phrase favored by Jesus in the Synoptics, “follow me.”[3] In the emerging church then Christianity is largely seen as relational based instead of propositional. While this may seem similar to the language of Jesus as personal Savior, it is actually quite different. Like in any relationship, there is a constant and ongoing discovery of the intricacies of the other person, the other is not completely known. This ongoing discovery, with God along with other people, is what the emerging church leaders emphasize.

This relational based Christianity makes up a major portion of emergent church theology. The second thing the emergent church leaders will accuse modern churches of is engaging in hit and run evangelism. As one emerging church leader put it, modernist churches wanted us to be warrior evangelists, when we should be (for it is far more effective in the post-modern world) gardener evangelists.[4] Gardener evangelists have an ongoing relationship with non-Christians, not solely in order to evangelize to them, but in order to have a relationship with other persons. As one member posted on an emerging church discussion forum:

My personal definition of evangelism involves building relationships with people. I think the best way to lead someone to Jesus Christ is by allowing that person to see, over what could be an extended period of time, the ways God works through your life….Successful evangelism is letting God call the shots….Dialogue is the first step. My wiccan, atheist, and agnostic friends know I am not going to smother anyone with tracts or pressure. Trust is extremely important. I hate nothing more than the feeling that someone is befriending me just so I’ll join their church. It needs to be more than that. Evangelism is about caring for individuals as individuals.[5]

In modern society the “come to church” evangelism worked, but not anymore. Now it is “come to Christ” evangelism which brings people to church. The post-modern world is also largely a post-Christian world. Many young people have experienced modernist Christianity and have made a conscious refusal of it. Yet, they are still looking for a spirituality to connect to. In order to share Christ with them, the emerging church leaders say, you can’t simply invite them to church or give them a four-part presentation of the Gospel. Rather, “Evangelism is a process that occurs through relationship, trust, and example.”[6] While seeker churches have coined this method under various names, relationship evangelism being one of the most popular, it should be noted that the emerging church leaders are reluctant to reduce this way of evangelism to a mere method. Firstly, because evangelism and relationships is seen as being intertwined, “relationship evangelism” is not simply one of many methods. Secondly, because the relationship one has with Christ should make such a profound impact that this relationship overflows into impacting those with whom one has a relationship with. As another blog writer said:

Well, from my personal experience, evangelism should be within the context of both relationship and discipleship….Let’s stop trying to force people or argue with people about why we are right because that doesn’t really lead anyone into a relationship. Too many times we followers of Jesus Christ come off as arrogant, dogmatic, snotty know-it-alls. It isn’t that non-believers don’t want anything to do with God; they usually don’t want anything to do with us and our darn churches.[7]

Furthermore, emerging church leaders believe that modernist Christianity, by focusing on salvation as the way to get to heaven when you die, has reduced the gospel into simply another aspect of our consumer culture. Having faith in the gospel gives us a ticket to heaven, and this aspect of the gospel has been heavily emphasized in its advertising.[8] In contrast, the emerging church leaders redefine evangelism as making disciples. As another member of an online emerging church discussion forum put it when asked about the Great Commission:

  • The commission is not to make churchgoers, adherents of the Four Spiritual Laws, or any number of other categories. It’s not to make people who are assimilated to our culture or subculture. It’s to make DISCIPLES of Jesus. Discipleship isn’t necessarily exclusive of all of these categories, but we should never mistake other categories for discipleship.
  • This commission involves “teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” I don’t think there’s any way to do this in a hit-and-run encounter or via anonymous tracts. It requires ongoing relationship.[9]

As a result of this, emerging church leaders are even questioning the classical Evangelical forms of Christian conversion. Brian D. McLaren bluntly states that in the Bible there is no such thing as “accept Christ as your personal Savior” nor the “sinner’s prayer.” Also, in the Bible being forgiven of your sins is the starting line, not finishing line, of salvation. Further, calling others to be followers of Christ is not just the way get them to go to heaven when they die, but it is the way “to experience the glorious realities of being in Christ and experiencing Christ in themselves.”[10]

Experiencing Christ is the goal, and this has a profound impact on how the emerging church revisions things like “church” and “worship”. The emerging church leaders critique modernist Christianity for allowing church to be treated like a gas station, a place where people come once a week to get a fill up to live the rest of their lives however they would like.[11] This is perhaps a true assessment of some large churches which fixate upon numbers of attendees without having in place a real way to disciple the people into a deeper spirituality, but it sidesteps the elephant in the room: praise songs which are increasingly self-centered and preaching which is increasingly self-help lectures do little to enable people to worship God. Perhaps because these are aspects of the emerging church’s closest cousins, the seeker-sensitive mega-churches, these things are glossed over. Nonetheless one emerging church leader gave this personal example of what post-moderns are seeking in worship:

“I didn’t come to this place to be lectured by a Tony Robbins clone. I thought I was going to meet God here.” These rather blunt words came from a girl in her twenties whom I found pacing the hallway of a contemporary church building during a worship service. She was obviously not happy, so I had approached her to ask if she was okay. It turned out that she had come to the worship service at the invitation of a friend but hadn’t realized that “church” was going to be a long talk that reminded her of self-help motivator Tony Robbins. After about twenty or thirty minutes, she was both bored and disillusioned. I asked her what she had been hoping for. “To pray,” she told me. “To hear some encouraging music. To quiet my heart and connect with God.”[12]

Post-moderns, the emerging church leaders point out, are very spiritual people. Therefore, when they walk into a space void of any spiritual imagery or symbols instead of feeling safe in the environment, like modern seekers are supposed to feel, they feel that the environment is irrelevant to their spiritual needs. As one post-modern person commented when faced with a contemporary seeker-sensitive church, “It didn’t look like a church in there; it looked like a Wal-Mart.”[13] Instead of this sterility post-moderns want something experiential. As another emerging church leader explains,[14] “Post-moderns want a God they can feel, taste, touch, hear and smell—a full sensory immersion in the divine.” Because of this recognition of multi-sensory worship emerging church leaders have sought to incorporate into their gatherings participatory and experiential ways of worship. The use of candles, lectio divinia, incense, darkness, prayer corners, responsive readings, and so forth are some of the more traditional elements that the emerging church leaders suggest be brought into the worship space.[15] More creative elements would be one church that brought in a truckload of sand to spread over the floor and then invited the people to take off their shoes and imagine themselves in desert praying like Jesus did.[16] The same church also used artwork and dance in their services as modes of expressing worship to God.[17]

This experiential worship is not to be thought of as another worship gimmick. The emerging church leaders denounce the modern churches for offering only entertainment, songs and games, and never offering the real spiritual substance of Christianity in any meaningful way. One emerging church leader, after surveying the broad appeal a liturgical and contemplative setting such as Taize has for young people in a post-Christian society, says:

Let’s not be content to fill every minute of our gatherings with noise, videos, and talking, only to send people away disillusioned and still hungering to connect with their maker. Or worse yet, let’s not let them leave thinking that what they just experienced is all there is to Christianity.[18]

As one person posting on an online discussion forum put it:

Every week millions sit in things called worship services next to those they do not know, hearing from those that do not know them. The tithe has become a modern indulgence, paying for someone else to do the works of Christ in the world. Worship itself has become nothing more than a smorgasbord, a spiritual buffet, based more upon the current musical style and emotion than the real awe of God. In our American Bandstand mentality, we rank our worship as if it were something that could or should be measured.[19]

Again, the consumer aspect of modern Protestant worship is critiqued. The seeker churches have taught that one should go to the church that is right for you, which fits your needs. This obscures the fact that people are exceptionally bad at evaluating what they need from what they want or what makes them feel comfortable. The post-modern leaders have little answer for this quandary. After all, they are largely seen as advancing a seeker-sensitive worship style for people in the “young, post-Christian” category.[20] One answer is the imperative to move away from equating “ministry” with a “style” and to move away from worrying about how to do church and simply be the church.[21] By making one’s focus Christ and the right worship of him, along with one’s relationship with others, church becomes less of a business model[22] and more relevant to one’s spiritual growth as a Christian.


Emerging Leader’s Thoughts on orthodoxy

Not only are the emerging church leaders dramatically rethinking their approach to church and worship, but they are also dramatically rethinking theology. The new emphasis on relationships and spirituality has forced many emerging church leaders to rethink and reformulate much of traditional Protestant theology. One of the most adventurous theologians of the emerging church leaders is Rob Bell. Bell believes that theology is an ongoing process:

In fact, Luther’s contemporaries used a very specific word for this endless, absolutely necessary process of change and growth. They didn’t use the word reformed; they used the word reforming. This distinction is crucial. They knew that they and others hadn’t gotten it perfect forever. They knew that the things they said and did and wrote and decided would need to be revisited. rethought. Reworked.[23]

This innovation in theology makes many traditional modern Protestants very uncomfortable about the emerging movement. To them, emerging theology betrays classical Protestant theology and thereby is considered to be dangerous, and even non-Christian.[24] The emerging church leaders, for example, call into the question the Protestant conception of Sola Scriptura. Bell says this about the Bible

…it wasn’t until the 300s that what we know as the sixty-six books of the Bible were actually agreed upon as the ‘Bible’. This is part of the problem with continually insisting that one of the absolutes of the Christian faith must be a belief that “Scripture alone” is our guide. It sounds nice, but it is not true. In reaction to abuses by the church, a group of believers during a time called the Reformation claimed that we only need the authority of the Bible. But the problem is that we got the Bible from the church voting on what the Bible even is. So when I affirm the Bible as God’s word, in the same breath I have to affirm that when those people voted, God was somehow present, guiding them to do what they did. When people say that all we need is the Bible, it is simply not true. In affirming the Bible as inspired, I also have to affirm the Spirit who I believe was inspiring those people to choose those books.[25]

While it is clear that the Protestant theology of Sola Scriptura is not very firm, for all the reasons Bell pointed out, it is revolutionary for a popular Protestant pastor to accept those reasons and reject Sola Scriptura. One of the reasons why Bell may be willing to do this is because he holds to a strong narrative theology of the Bible. Bell says:

The Bible is a collection of stories that teach us about what it looks like when God is at work through actual people. The Bible has the authority it does only because it contains stories about people interacting with the God who has all authority.[26]

The authority of the Bible rests solely in God, who not only worked through the people in the Bible, but also through those who formed the biblical canon and lots of other people as well. Bell takes a very generous approach to who these people are:

I am learning that my tradition includes the rabbis and reformers and revolutionaries and monks and nuns and pastors and writers and philosophers and artists and every person everywhere who has asked big questions of a big God.[27]

While some have complained that this destroys the traditional way authority is ascribed to the Bible,[28] this narrative approach fits nicely into the post-modern emphasis that truth is found in narrative. Because of this focus on the narrative to convey meaning Bell is able to say that “the greatest truth of the story of Adam and Eve isn’t that it happened, but that it happens.”[29]

This focus upon narrative frees Bell to, as he says, repaint the Christian faith.  Some have said that by repainting Bell is actually drawing heresy, bringing Hegal, Bultmann, and Barth into a postmodern context, creating what is termed “Postmodern Liberalism”.[30] While Bell’s theology is clearly a departure from modern Protestant theology, whether or not it is classical heresy is another matter.

One aspect of Bell’s theology which is often brought up as proof of his heresy is his thoughts on heaven and hell. Bell does not reject a literal hell, but redefines those there:

Heaven is full of forgiven people. Hell is full of forgiven people. Heaven is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for. Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for. The difference is how we choose to live, which story we choose to live in, which version of reality we trust. Ours or God’s.[31]

This, perhaps, leaves open the idea of universal salvation, that all will be saved in the end. On this topic Bell says:

Well, there are people now who are seriously separated from God. So I would assume that God will leave room for people to say “no I don’t want any part of this”. My question would be, does grace win or is the human heart stronger than God’s love or grace. Who wins, does darkness and sin and hardness of heart win or does God’s love and grace win?[32]

The idea that love and grace are stronger than human brokenness is very orthodox, but that this grace wins over most people in the end does not fit neatly into Protestant soteriology.

This idea of universal grace is extended to how Bell views missionary activity. Like other emerging church leaders he criticizes the ideas of hit and run evangelism and moments of conversion. He presents instead the idea that all people, being in the image of God, can live in the reality of God’s forgiveness:

If the gospel isn’t good news for everybody, then it isn’t good news for anybody….And this is because the most powerful things happen when the church surrenders its desire to convert people and convince them to join. It is when the church gives itself away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return, that the way of Jesus is most vividly put on display. To do this, the church must stop thinking about everybody primarily in categories of in or out, saved or not, believer or nonbeliever. Besides the fact that these terms are offensive to those who are the “un” and “non”, they work against Jesus’ teachings about how we are to treat each other. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor, and our neighbor can be anybody. We are all created in the image of God, and we are all sacred, valuable creations of God. Everybody matters. To treat people differently based on who believes what is to fail to respect the image of God in everyone. As the book of James says, “God shows no favoritism. So we don’t either.”[33]

Because of this, Bell has been accused of advocating a new kind of “social gospel” along the lines of Rosenbausch.[34] Bell does speak of heaven as coming down to the present earth:

For Jesus, this new kind of life in him is not about escaping this world but about making it a better place, here and now. The goal for Jesus isn’t to get into heaven. The goal is to get heaven here.[35]

A close reading of Bell makes it clear that this statement should be interpreted primarily within the emerging church rejection of salvation as “fire insurance” and the renewed emphasis on the importance of interpersonal relationships. While there is a very strong social dimension to this, Bell points out that the gospel parable of the sheep and the goats also casts heaven and hell in primarily social terms.[36]

Brian McLaren raises similar issues about the current Protestant understandings of hell. For McLaren, the problem with hell is that it is usually understood as divine retribution, it is a way to coerce people into accepting God’s kingdom.[37] Not only that, he also have problems with God as Creator creating creatures which will be doomed to this capricious punishment. He asks:

Does it make sense for a good being to create creatures who will experience infinite torture, infinite time, infinite—you know, never be numbed in their consciousness? I mean, how would you even create a universe where that sort of thing could happen? It just sounds—It really raises some questions about the goodness of God.[38]

This rejection of double predestination is also a rejection of the “hell and damnation” style of Protestant fundamentalism. Because of this shift, emerging church leaders also rethink the meaning of sin, human sin, and theological anthropology.

Rob Bell, in a blatant rejection of the doctrine of original sin as it is understood in current Protestant theology, says:

I can’t find one place in the teachings of Jesus, or the Bible for that matter, where we are to identify ourselves first and foremost as sinners. Now this doesn’t mean we don’t sin; that’s obvious. In the book of James it’s written like this: “We all stumble in many ways.”…We all make choices to live outside of how God created us to live. We have all come up short.[39]

Defining sin as a choice to live other than how God intended us to live is perhaps helpful, but saying that we are not, ontologically speaking, sinners, is a radical departure from Protestant theology, or most western theology completely. McLaren also has a problem with the conception of sin, but it is because sin has shifted from its original meaning, which he believes is correct interpersonal relationships, to a new and dangerous meaning, that God wants to kill us. McLaren explains:

…sin is incredibly serious. But I think we have shifted why it’s so important….We have a vision that the real problem is God wants to kill us all. And we’ve got to somehow solve that problem….it then minimizes the concern about injustice between human beings. That becomes a peripheral concern. But what if that’s God’s real concern, from beginning to end, see?

Sin then becomes defined as doing injustice against another human being. Doing injustice against another human being is also against the plan of God, so that it can be thought of as a sin against God as well, but that does not concern God as much as the unjust action.

This relational aspect of sin also leads the emerging church leaders to have a new perspective on anthropology. Not only are we to relate to each other correctly in order to live the way God wants us to live, but we must also treat each other as if the other person was God. Bell says:

The writer of Genesis makes it clear that in all of creation there is something
different about humans. They aren’t God, and they aren’t going to become
God, but in some distinct, intentional way, something of God has been placed in them. We reflect what God is like and who God is. A divine spark resides in every single human being.[40]

Furthermore, Bell says, “God calls us to respect the image of God in all of God’s image bearers.”[41] This high theology of the image of God in man leads some emerging church leaders to advance an idea which seems to be very similar to theosis. Finding and following the spark of God within and respecting that others also have this spark. While this is quite different from normal Protestant formulations of theology, some find more troubling Bell’s reliance in this matter upon Ken Wilber, a perennialist.[42] McLaren has also been accused of holding perennialist ideas when he said:

I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish contexts.[43]

Although McLaren later clarified this comment by saying that what he meant was that Christianity has become equated in many parts of the world as being in integral part of the immoral American culture. Leading others into a relationship with Jesus should be done within their own native context.[44]

Related to this, some emerging church leaders have been accused of holding to panentheism. McLaren uses this term, though he does not build a complex theology upon it. McLaren says:

Incidentally, if Christian monotheism is true, pantheism might not be so much false as it is “not true yet,” for Christians believe that history is flowing toward a goal in which God is in everything, and everything is in God (see, for example, Ephesians 1:10, 22-23; 4:6, 10), a vision not unlike that of one version of pantheism (panentheism to be precise).[45]

Believing that God is everywhere is very controversial to McLaren’s critics, who believe that this belief does lead to pantheism and confuse it with being similar to theosis. The critics believe that this is the underlying problem which leads the emerging church leaders to question the doctrine of vicarious penal substitutionary atonement.[46] While some do call into question the validity of interpreting substitutionary atonement as the only soteriology presented by Scripture, this has more to do with their belief in universal grace than panentheism.[47]

In the end, emerging church leaders consider theology to be best when it is apophatic, which may explain why they seem to shy away from any systematic theology. Bell says that when it comes to Christianity language is ultimately a poor way to explain it:

The Christian faith is mysterious to the core. It is about things and beings that ultimately can’t be put into words. Language fails. And if we do definitively put God into words, we have at that very moment made God something God is not.[48]

This shying away from definitive statements of theology is not only to protect a sense of God’s unknowability, it is also because theological debates are seen as creating divisions. In the fundamentalist Protestant world where churches split over the smallest points of doctrine and new denominations seem to arise faster than they can be counted, theological arguments are seen as something best to be left behind. McLaren has this to say about theology:

Gregory of Nyssa…said, Only wonder understands; concepts create idols. And for…so many of us who have grown up in evangelical contexts, where we argue about God in ways that would make you think that we have great confidence in our words to capture God that we’re ready to pillory somebody who doesn’t use words just the same way we do. You know, I think we are especially prone to this idolatry of ideology and idolatry of words. And I think there is a certain sense that our atheism is a desire to disbelieve the words we keep saying about God because we know that God has to be better than those words.[49]

Putting an absolute stake in a theological formulation, then, leads to atheism. A harsh judgment, but perhaps a useful one. For example, many Protestants will repeat again and again like a mantra the phrase, “The Bible is the Word of God” without stopping to reflect on what that phrase, and the words of the phrase mean, without which they are unable to sufficiently explain what this doctrinal point means, only that one should believe it. Moreover, attempts to explore this phrase, historically, linguistically, or creatively, will be attacked as being heretical or liberal. This theological dead-end would be enough to drive most reflective people into atheism.


Emerging Leader’s Thoughts on Orthodoxy

The emerging church leader’s explorations into classical Orthodox theology such as apophatic theology, theosis, panentheism, and universal grace has led some of them into dialogue with Orthodoxy. Others, however, seem to largely miscognizant of the finer aspects of Orthodoxy. One emerging church leader mistakenly noted:

Sometimes the Pentecostals and the neotraditionalists haven’t only won; they’ve become one….A whole charismatic movement in California joined the Orthodox Church, calling itself the Antiochian Orthodox Church.[50]

Lacking citation, it is difficult to track the background of this error, though it may be safely assumed that he meant to speak of the non-charismatic Evangelical Orthodox Church which joined, not created, the Antiochian Orthodox Church.

Others are actively talking to Orthodox people, most notably Frederica Matthewes-Green who was invited to offer a chapter in a book about the future of the emerging church.[51] Matthewes-Green’s theological training is largely limited to her time in Anglican Seminary, though she holds her own when it comes to Orthodox theology. She seems to be picked largely because she is comfortable with narrative frameworks[52] and because she adds feminine diversity to a male-dominated chorus. Like many other emerging leaders, Matthewes-Green is also criticized for being weak on the doctrine of substitutionary atonement[53] and forensic soteriology.[54]

Most emerging church leaders, because they believe that Christianity includes numerous expressions of theology and worship styles are more than willing to pick and choose portions of Orthodox theology and practice without accepting Orthodoxy as a whole. As McLaren said in response to Matthewes-Green:

Although I am not convinced that the Orthodox path is the right one for everyone, I do believe that it offers all of us radically different resources – old, but new for many of us – to deal with the problems that confront us on all sides.[55]

The question then becomes whether the emerging church will use the “resources” of Orthodoxy so extensively that they eventually become, for all intents and purposes, Orthodox.



I wonder if the multi-sensory and mystical dimension of worship is not simply an aspect of post-modernity, but simply an old idea that has begun to be socially acceptable. The Victorians, after all, at their height of enlightened and rational Christianity, were also heavily involved in alternative forms of mysticism: séances, magic circles, spiritism, etc., along with the occasional splinter of charismatic and emotional Christian movements. These tendencies were present then, though it seems that they were forced underground and into obscurity by the Enlightened folks. It seems to me that this tendency has continued in repressed form until now, when the emerging church leaders become willing to open their doors to these people and incorporate their spiritual needs into Christian expression. This would explain why the emerging church does not fit into neat generational boundaries but seems to be more due to upbringing. Those brought up within a strict “classical Judeo-Christian” framework continue to function within the “modernist” model of rational and propositional faith. Those growing up in a post-Christian framework are free to express their innate need for experiential spirituality.

Also, Orthodoxy should be aware of these current trends, both in ecumenical dialogue as well as the reception of converts. Firstly, that Evangelical churches of the emerging movement and their supporters are much more open to discussions of spirituality, liturgy, sacred space, and corporate prayer than their modern antecedents. Hence, there may be growing ground to have fruitful dialogue with these Evangelicals. Second, the emerging movement pinpoints a growing number of people seeking a spiritual connection to the divine. Orthodoxy should be aware that a number of converts may have been initially attracted to Orthodoxy because of this spiritual experience. While this is not wrong, it is useful to keep in mind that those seeking a mystical union with God may turn out to have a very shallow Christian faith a few years later when the mysticism wears off. Thirdly, the emerging movement points out that a great number of young people are post-Christians who mistrust and reject western institutionalized Christianity. This poses both a danger and an opportunity. The danger is that converts to Orthodoxy may simply have decided to become Orthodox because of what it is not: western, rational, and familiar. The opportunity is that the Orthodox church is uniquely poised to reach this large number of non-Christians with Christ. It is telling that the vast majority of Orthodox converts are previously members of a Christian denomination. Orthodoxy has long been content with letting Protestant churches do the evangelism and conversion of secular people, picking up the pieces of those cast out at the end of this process. Among the post-Christians Orthodoxy can perhaps engage in real and fruitful evangelism, offering a stable Christian environment that leads the post-Christian into an ongoing relationship with Christ. Current trends in Orthodoxy to make Orthodoxy more institutional, more rational and more reasonable are not only inimical to this mission, it is also perhaps aping after an already passé philosophy.

The convergence of Evangelicalism in its emerging form and Orthodoxy will present, perhaps, new opportunities and challenges for both. Orthodoxy will not be seriously considered by the emerging church leaders as a viable form of Christian faith if it remains within ethnic ghettos or outdated and unhelpful ways of doing things. Likewise, the theological future of the emerging church appears uncertain. The influence of Reformed theology to temper the growing eastern Christian theology of the emerging church leaders is strong. Whether the, often vitriolic, theological criticism of the emerging church leaders is enough to stop or backtrack their theological explorations remains to be seen. If Reformed theology does not win out over the theological explorations, it is possible that Protestantism will split along these lines. Also possible is that theological explorations will lead the emerging church leaders into heresy, such as the heresies of New Age or perennialism. Whatever the case may be in the future, Protestantism is changing, and it remains to be seen if it will be for the better or the worse.

[1] Brian D. McLaren and Tony Campolo, Adventures in Missing the Point: How the Culture-Controlled Church Neutered the Gospel (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003) 250. Others have pointed out that this dilemma is not only bound to modernism, it is also Eurocentric, see Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003) 43-44.

[2] For a lengthy and nuanced study of the relationship of Protestantism with modernity in the past study see Robert E. Webber, The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002) 15-19.

[3] Leonard Sweet, Brian D. McLaren, and Jerry Haselmayer, A is for Abductive: The Language of the Emerging Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003) 42-43

[4] Spencer Burke, Making Sense of Church: Eavesdropping on Emerging Conversations about God, Community, and Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003) 144-145.

[5] Spencer Burke, Making Sense of Church 149.

[6] Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations, 281.

[7] Spencer Burke, Making Sense of Church, 150-151.

[8] Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations, 282-283.

[9] Spencer Burke, Making Sense of Church, 150.

[10] Brian D. McLaren and Tony Campolo, Adventures in Missing the Point, 19-20.

[11] Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations, 222.

[12] Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations, 185.

[13] Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations, 134.

[14] Leonard Sweet, Soul Tsunami: Sink or Swim in New Millennium Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 115.

[15] Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations, 135-148.

[16] Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations, 111.

[17] Artwork should not be thought of primarily as religious paintings. When the emerging church leaders mention art in worship they seem to be referring instead to expressive art expressions which may or may not contain religious symbols. This is quite a departure from prior evangelical views of the arts. As a personal example, as a young teen I was in my Baptist church during “office hours” when a woman from a local art gallery came in offering framed prints of mostly pastoral scenes to the church. The pastor responded by flatly asking “Are they even Christian?” Whether a field of wildflowers can be considered to be Christian has no easy answer. Though if the prints were Christian art they would still have been rejected for being too “Catholic”. Besides Sunday School illustrations, most churches like this are completely devoid of any art. To bring art into the worship service, especially abstract art, is a radical break with Protestant tradition.

[18] Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations, 145.

[19] Spencer Burke, Making Sense of Church, 88.

[20] Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations, 63-65.

[21] Spencer Burke, Making Sense of Church, 93.

[22] One online message board writer compared the approach of most modern churches to be similar to operating an Amway business. See Spencer Burke, Making Sense of Church, 151.

[23] Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006) 12.

[24] See John MacArthur’s critique of McLaren’s theology which aired on Christian syndicated radio, See Ken Silva, “Dr. John MacArthur Speaks on Brian McLaren and the Emerging Church” July 17, 2007.

[25] Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006) 68.

[26] Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, 65.

[27] Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, 14.

[28] It has been pointed out that Bell speaks favorably of Marcus Borg, who said that the Bible is a human cultural product and not directly produced by God. See Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, 19, 180, and 184.

[29] Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, 139.

[30] See Casey Freswick, “Postmodern Liberalism: Repainting a Non-Christian Faith. A Christian Critique of Rob Bell’s Velvet ElvitThe Outlook, 56:1 (2006) 16.

[31] Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, 146.

[32] Vic Cuccia, “An Interview with Rob Bell” July 3, 2007.

[33] Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, 167.

[34] See Ken Silva, “Emerging with the Social Gospel” December 13, 2005.

[35] Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, 148.

[36] Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, 148.

[37] Brian D. McLaren, “Conversations About Hell”

[38] Interview with Leif Hansen, January 8, 2006,  Unofficial transcript at

[39] Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, 139.

[40] Rob Bell, Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007) 19.

[41] Vic Cuccia, “An Interview with Rob Bell” July 3, 2007.

[42] “Velvet Elvis – A doorway to the New Age” in Coming from the Lighthouse, July 3, 2007.

[43] Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006) 260.

[44] See

[45] Brian McLaren, Finding Faith: A Self-Discovery Guide for Your Spiritual Quest (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000) 118.

[46] Ken Silva, “Emergent Church: Brian McLaren and Panentheism” January 11, 2006.

[47] Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, 146.

[48] Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, 32.

[49] Interview with Leif Hansen, January 8, 2006,  Unofficial transcript at

[50] Leonard Sweet, Post-modern Pilgrims: First Century Passion for the 21st Century World (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman and Holman, 2000) 72.

[51] Frederica Matthewes-Green, “Under the Heaventree” in The Church in Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003) 143-190.

[52] Her book Facing East is a very good example of the post-modern idea that personal narrative can convey a message of truth.

[53] Frederica Matthewes-Green, “Under the Heaventree” 173.

[54] Frederica Matthewes-Green, “Under the Heaventree” 174.

[55] Frederica Matthewes-Green, “Under the Heaventree” 181.