Please Don’t Stereotype The Emerging Church

December 5, 2006 — 118 Comments

Warning: Long post ahead….

I rarely, rarely ever try to specifically talk about someone in a negative light, and I hope this isn’t negative against a person, but about their opinions. I received from a friend a mass letter going out to supporters of national radio preaching ministry. He sent it to me to read since the whole letter was about "the emerging church".

I was really dismayed and saddened to read this letter he sent out. It was a fund raising letter for his radio ministry which I went on his radio ministry blog and found that my name was actually listed in his list of who he sees as emerging church leaders. So this became personal, since he mentions me on his radio blog and also raised my interest more in what he was saying in the letter.

Unfortunately, what I read in the letter was, in my opinion, hyper-exaggerations with nothing listed or a specific emerging church cited to back up his claims (at least in this letter). If I was a radio listener and didn’t know what the emerging church was about, after reading the letter I certainly would have my fear raised to find out how to avoid them as the letter says they are a "threat" and "the danger is real". Many of the descriptions in the letter of "the emerging church" were ones that I commonly hear over and over again and most of them are much like a stereotyped cartoon caricature. Sadly, for the grandparents and parents and all those reading this letter, this stereotype is all they end up hearing which then forms their opinions. Let me show some examples of what he wrote in this letter:

"People who are drawn to the emerging church generally place high value on ambiguity and mystery. They reject the notion that God’s Word is clear, and anyone can understand its meaning. That means every doctrine you and I find precious is subject to new interpretation, doubt and even wholesale rejection. Everything is being questioned and deconstructed. Unlike the noble Bereans who used Scripture to test what they were taught and refine their understanding of the truth, people associated with the Emerging Church regard God’s Word as too full of mystery to warrant handling any truth in a definitive way."

As I read this I am asking "What emerging church is he possibly talking about?" In our church, we actually use the Acts passage about the Bereans as one of our staple verses about what we try to do.  He says that the Bereans are commended as they used to Scripture to "test what they were taught", so why is it wrong when emerging leaders continue to do what the Bereans did? I learned from this very radio preacher in my early years in ministry that I should not just accept anyone’s teaching but to constantly be looking into the Scriptures and testing everything as the Bereans did. That is what I see many emerging leaders doing, so I am not sure what is wrong with that. I will comment on his words about doctrine and mystery in the next section.

He continued:

"The result is a movement that thrives on disorganization, lends itself to mysticism, distrusts authority and dislikes preaching, feeds intellectual pride and recognizes few (if any) doctrinal or moral boundaries. You can see why the movement is so appealing to college-age people young people – it is fleshly rebellion dressed in ecclesiastical robes."

Again, as I read this, I am thinking "Who in the world is he talking about? " That is so unlike any emerging church I have ever been to. It is describing something that really doesn’t exist. When he says that emerging churches "dislikes preaching", I have been to a dozen or more emerging churches and in every single one, they had preaching for at least 30 minutes long, and usually more like 40 minutes, sometime 45 minutes. In every one of them, they may not all have been teaching through entire books of he Bible (but several do), but they were teaching long sections of Scripture, not just isolated verses pulled out of context. People at the emerging churches I have been to had Bibles themselves with them or provided for them. Several of them had teaching handouts or notes. I don’t know what he is saying that they don’t like "preaching". They may not like angry forms of preaching, or pastors whose preaching is more about being moral police to the world than about being a follower of Jesus type of preaching, or preaching that is not based out of the Scriptures but out of the pastors opinion – but to say that emerging churches don’t like preaching? I can only assume he has never actually been to an emerging church. I only see a renewed hunger for the Scriptures and teaching in emerging churches. Many have participation in preaching where questions are asked (like Jesus did in His teaching) so the learning and retention goes higher than just a one-way presentation. Many emerging churches I know offer theology classes and I don’t know what he is talking about when he says "they don’t like preaching".

I also don’t know what he is talking about when he says they "thrive on disorganization". Most emerging churches I know have leadership structures, teams, multiple home communities or house churches in addition to the weekend gatherings – which cause a need for a great deal of organization, leadership, accountability and structure. There might be some very small organic type of emerging churches out there that can be disorganized, so maybe he is thinking of some of them? But the ones I know are highly organized, even more so than many other churches because they involve more people in decision making than just the senior pastor, so it causes the need for a more organized structure than just a top-down type of structure. So, again – in my experience I have not seen a single emerging church which "thrives on disorganization", quite the opposite.

When he says they all "lends itself to mysticism" – again, in every emerging church I have ever been to I have never seen any "mysticism" in how I imagine he is thinking of it. There is no mantras or mindless chanting or rubbing crystals or whatever he may be thinking. There is a lot of prayer in emerging churches, so maybe he is equating praying in worship gatherings with "mysticism"? I don’t know.

He says that emerging churches "recognizes few (if any) doctrinal or moral boundaries". Again, I am surprised he didn’t take the time to go on some of the web sites of emerging churches – as he would have discovered that within a few mouse clicks he could have found that on almost every emerging church there are very clear "This is what we believe" doctrinal statements listing specific theological beliefs held to by the church. So where he is getting the information that most emerging churches don’t hold to doctrines? All the emerging churches I know believe in the inspiration of the Bible, the Trinity, the atonement, the bodily resurrection, and salvation in Jesus alone. You go on their web sites and you quite often see the Apostle’s Creed or Nicene Creed listed. So to say emerging churches don’t have doctrines is very incorrect. There may be an isolated few that don’t, but the majority do. Put this to the test and go look on some emerging church web sites, and you will easily see why he is wrong with this. In my experience I don’t know of any emerging church who does not believe that God has revealed truth for us to know. I don’t know of any emerging church who doesn’t teach doctrines in their church. The stereotype that most emerging churches do not believe in truth, or that emerging churches don’t hold any doctrinal positions is plainly a myth and an urban legend.

He says that emerging churches recognize "few if any..moral boundaries" and that is why "it is so appealing to college-age people – it is fleshly rebellion..". Again, who the heck is he talking about here? The emerging churches I have been to call people out on sin and un-Jesus-like behavior regularly. They confront those who are not taking care of each other, or being greedy and hoarding to themselves, or when they are not involved in the social justice the Bible so clearly speaks of that we should be involved with, or about repentance from all types of sin issues. I was just at an emerging church who called people to repent and allowed them to get on their knees in repentance. In our church a few months ago we taught a whole message on repentance. I listened on-line to a series in an emerging church that was on sexual purity and sex being designed within the covenant of marriage and sharing how sex outside of marriage would be sin. We did a whole series on this in our church and just 2 weeks ago in the sermon taught our position on homosexual practice. I don’t see emerging churches ignoring sin or repentance. So, I am wondering who where are these stories coming from? He doesn’t list a single emerging church who does these things, he simply paints a picture of mystical, anti-preaching, anti-doctrinal, anti-organization churches in a broad stereotypical way.

There was more to the letter, with similar things. But I better stop here, as this is already a very lengthy post. I seriously am not trying to be defensive, but it is hard not to when I see my name on the list on his web site, and the assumption is then all leaders listed are in churches like he described in the letter.

I would have hoped that the pastor would have done his research, visited emerging churches or called and asked leaders to describe what they do, or what doctrines they hold to. I think he would have learned from D.A. Carson’s over-generalization in his book on the emerging church of how he narrowly portrayed the whole emerging church according to one or two leaders instead of the whole of everyone – as so wonderfully pointed out in a recent lecture by theologian Scot McKnght.  Scot actually has been to emerging churches and knows many of the leaders, so his critical analysis was really insightful of the book D.A. Carson wrote.

As Scot McKnight pointed out, "the emerging church" is not about one, two or three people. I travel a lot and I talk to a lot of people in what I would consider as missional emerging churches all across the country. There may be a very small percentage that possibly are ones this pastor would be concerned about, but the majority, not the minority, of "emerging churches" are absolutely nothing like he described. To his defense, perhaps this information was given to him by ill-informed students or others giving these descriptions of churches that don’t really exist, or if they do they are the rare ones, not the norm.

For those with concerns or for those who hear all these descriptions of "emerging churches" like the one in this letter, I would lovingly like to challenge you to to please actually check the sources of who is telling you about them. When someone starts saying with authority "This is what the emerging church is like..", ask them if they have ever been to one. When I read all these very weird things said about emerging churches, ironically it is never based on anyone’s experience who actually visited one. When I ask someone where they heard these descriptions of emerging churches, it all comes from other sources, who have never been to an emerging church either.

These stereotyped descriptions about "the emerging church" going around like the ones written in the letter are like an urban legend. They are stories and caricatures that developed on the internet and repeated so many times over and over in various circles that it eventually becomes thought of as a fact. The Scriptures say in Matthew 12:36 that one day we will have to give an account to all the words we say, and I think we should be choosing our words very carefully when we accuse people of almost being heretical, like the letter pretty much was doing.

I just get so weary of these types of things. At the conference I blogged about in the last post, the same questions arose. I am all for always, always wanting to hear from people if something is going astray somewhere with me or our church, so I can be in constant check. So I never want to discount someone coming with an outside perspective and I always be open to listening. There are things in emerging churches that do need to be pointed out corrected or questioned, and that does happen. It should be happening in all of our churches, not just emerging churches. We all need to never be closed to caring and concerned people asking questions or correcting things as we all make mistakes. But this letter was not doing that. It was simply an alarm and warning letter re-stating these consistent caricatures and overblown stereotypes as facts – that will be read by many people who will then assume they are all true. Thus reinforcing the stereotype to good people who probably don’t know any different and won’t do research to see if what the letter said was accurate or a stereotype and over-generalization.

If you know me, you might be surprised I wrote this, as I normally don’t get defensive and I apologize if any of this is not coming out as loving. I am trying to write in love as best I can – but maybe by posting this, some may hear that they shouldn’t believe all the hear about the emerging church until they check one or two out themselves or talk to a leader themselves to see if letters like this one have truth or not or are about isolated churches or leaders and not the majority which aren’t like what is normally depicted.

This past summer we had two students from the seminary the pastor teaches at show up at our church for a visit. Afterward, one of them said "This is nothing like we thought it was going to be." And they said how at the college the stereotype written about in the letter is what they hear on campus.

So, if there any critics or people who have these impressions of emerging churches, talk to one of us. Ask us questions. Visit our churches. You might be surprised when you actually find out what our beliefs and practices actually are. You’ll probably go after visiting one "Where is the mysticism? Where are the new-age mantras? How come people here are reading Bibles? I didn’t know you had sermons? You seem very organized, not disorganized and filled with chaos and rebellious like I heard. Your core theological beliefs are like the core beliefs at our church, I didn’t know that?" etc.  You might be shocked that all the stories you hear about what most emerging churches do, are not real for the overwhelming majority, but more of an fictitious overblown stereotype that has developed.

I am being redundant, but please – next time you read on the internet or hear someone speaking on "the emerging church" and what it is like, ask them: "Which specific emerging churches have you actually been to? Where have you actually seen them doing these things you are describing? Have you actually seen people chanting and practicing Buddhist meditation?  Have you been to an emerging church that didn’t have preaching? Or are these simply things you heard somewhere? If you did see them, what specific churches have you seen these things in? Is it one church or only one or two church leaders you are then making a conclusion it is the same for everyone else? Have you asked the leaders of emerging churches for doctrinal statements to see what they actually believe, or do you lump everything in together and assume the majority of emerging churches all believe the same thing?" Be a Berean and test those who are teaching things about "the emerging church" to see if what they are saying is actually true.

Please don’t make a conclusion or talk about "the emerging church" based on reading or hearing about only one or two people and think the whole "emerging church" is all the same. Even the leaders you probably are critical of always are saying they don’t represent everyone. None of us represents everyone. But, please ask us questions, please visit our churches. Don’t fall into believing urban legends or over-generalizations without checking them out. Please don’t stereotype the emerging church anymore.

Oh Lord Jesus. Come quickly. What a mess we sin-tainted human beings create. Please forgive us all.

Dan Kimball

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author of "Adventures in Churchland: Finding Jesus In The Mess of Organized Religion" and "They Like Jesus But Not The Church" . On staff at Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, CA.
  • Kelly Burch

    It is saddening when people pass judgement on others without entering into the journey with them. You are right…it is hurtful when people pass judgement without taking the opportunity to be fully informed. I had somehting like that happen to during the summer…I am still in the process of healing.
    You are loved Dan…

  • Cantu

    Hi Dan:
    So does this mean I should leave my black hooded cape and crystal prayer rocks at home this Sunday? Just wanted to check with you. Being the mystic that i am and all.
    I HEART the Kimball’s.
    (oh and for those of you that don’t know me…I was joking.)

  • Mark Jaffrey

    With you all the way on this one. One of the major values I see in the emerging church is authenticity. Maybe this is why false accusations and criticism based on misinformation hurts so much, because we go out of our way to try to be authentic in everything we do.

  • Paul

    Unfortunately, ignorance is not bliss. It’s more like a little puppy that leaves messes for others to clean up unawares. I am sad that one more leader in the kingdom has let their feelings cloud their judgment in a way that hurts others and the kingdom itself.
    Dan, I have never met you, but I see you as a pioneer. Unfortunately pioneers have big targets on their chest for the natives to shoot arrows at. I’m sure you know what to do with arrows (especially flaming ones).
    God bless you.

  • phil

    Bravo, Dan. You put so many of my thoughts into words here.
    I think a lot of this boils down to trust between generations. I don’t want to reinforce the EC = gen X and younger idea, but I think there a lot of older people in Church leadership who just don’t trust the next generation’s ability to lead at all. It’s really not any different than in business and politics. Look at the people at the top who just refuse to hand over the reins. I think people need to realize that Christ will lead the Church where it needs to be, but it may just look different than what we think it should.
    I have to admit that I haven’t been to a lot of different Emerging Churches, but I do talk to a lot of different people. It seems people I know who have grown up in the Church are all grappling with a lot of the same issues. I think we are struggling to make the faith our own. I posted this on another blog that was critical of the EC in many of the ways you mentioned, and I’m sure they thought I was duped for saying it. I for one am very grateful to writers like you, Rob Bell, Brian McClaren, etc. (I’m not saying you all should be lumped together, because I think each has a unique message) for the main reason that it has spurred me to study the Bible more and take my faith more seriously. Does that mean I agree with every single thing these authors write, of course not. But I don’t agree with everything that C.S. Lewis wrote either. I think to dismiss someone completely because of a few statements you read online is very foolish, and I just don’t understand that thinking.
    One other note. I, for one, am pretty sick of Christian Radio. This is actually what started a minor controversy in our church. Someone heard something about Rob Bell on the radio – something that really had no basis in truth, and that led to us being banned from using the NOOMA videos at all. Not that I used them all the time, but occasionally I would, and I had so many people come and tell me afterwards how much they appreciated them, and how they made them think, and so on. I had kids ask to borrow them – kids who wouldn’t touch anything else “Christian”. Now because someone heard something somewhere that tool is banned. It’s very frustrating sometimes…

  • Joy

    SO glad you addressed this so eloquently. I found this article by Mr. Mac several days ago. I was pretty livid.
    I am posting a link to this on my blog. This was GREAT!!

  • Chris

    There are so many cases of Christians no acting in the proper manner of Matthew 18:15-17 where it says: “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” D.A. Carson has made it a point of attacking chosen Christian groups without first going to them and talking with them about it first. He seems to feel safe behind his pen like many critics. Be encouraged Dan! The enemy loves to attack when we press toward Christ! Thanks for all you do!

  • Scott Harris

    Thank you Dan.
    I was asked to speak to a panel of denominational leaders in my tribe on Emerging Leaders. Afterwards, one old, gray-haired, man approached me and said, “That reminds me of the first church I ‘pioneered’.
    Makes me wonder; could the disconnect be nothing more than semantics? Or does the emerging generation have more in common with the old-timers and hardly nothing in common with the boomers?
    This may be too simplistic on my part, but inside the Church there seems to be a pronounced disconnect among generations that doesn’t seem as drastic in any other subculture.

  • Winston

    I wanted to say that one of the main reasons I am part of Vintage Faith is that it takes the scriptures more seriously than any church I’ve attended. It seems strange to me that people would go around accusing a church that is so traditional in its beliefs of being a Cult.
    I wonder if the origin of the problem is that Vintage Faith (and presumably other emerging churches) takes scripture so seriously. If Jesus REALLY meant that we should “disciples of all nations” then we should do our best to do it. Which may mean following Paul’s example who swallowed his cultural pride (for Paul, as a Pharisee, the Jewish sect most comitted to maintaining Jewish Cultural distinctiveness this must have been difficult to say the least) so that he could communicate with his mostly non-Jewish audience. Similarly, in increasingly post-Christian America the Church may need to set aside some of its cultural norms (a process which can be no less painful for us) to accurately and intelligably represent Jesus.
    This is a actually a good thing because many aspects of Church in America are as stiffiling, inauthentic, unnecessary and beside the point as specific rules on how many steps you can walk from your house on the Sabbath. Like the Pharasees, we have heaped additional requirements on the Word of God while often missing the point the Church too has become excessively judgemental, inauthentic and hurtful, especially to people outside the Church, who we have no business condemming.
    Seeking to authentically follow Jesus in a new cultural context often leads to new questions. Answering these questions SHOULD lead to a distinctive theology that may or may not be compatable with theology developed in the 1500′s to answer questions that were important then (much as those questions were different and lead to different answers than those faced by Augustine).
    For example, one of Luther’s main complaints was the selling of indulgences, which was common in his time and isn’t really a problem now (although there are still people who abuse the Gospel for profit and they should be condemmed for doing so). However, revisiting Pauls writing on meat sacrificed to idols is something that comes up in my life and the lives of people around me (for those of you in the midwest, yes, I am serious).
    I expect that as the emerging church movement/conversation matures it will develop many new contributions to Christian theology that build on what has come before. This can be scary and can lead to error, but it can also correct error and is necessary if we are to truly follow God.
    I should point out that I don’t speak for Dan here and he is much more theologically cautious than I am.

  • Sivin

    I hear you Dan. And what’s troubling is that sooner or later these misconceptions will come to Malaysian soil (which in some ways already has in bits and pieces) Lord have mercy

  • Smittie

    Much of the Emerging Church wants to gut Christianity of everything back to the second chapter of Acts and reinvent the church based on its own interpretation of that second chapter and pop culture. Evidence of this can be seen even here as Dan denigrates the church pew even to the point of building a theology that precludes the pew. Conversations with other emerging church members about hymns also elicits strong opinions.
    For many outside the emerging church movement, attending an emerging church service is a challenging experience to say the least. In many cases the service looks more like a party hosted by Goths. The music is far louder than many are used to or care for. Emerging Church services are generally aimed at a crowd that seems to have adopted ADD as a positive strength to be nurtured.
    While I agree with much of what the emerging church leadership is espousing, I have often found emerging church members to have a cynical attitude toward churches outside the emerging church movement. They think they are doing it better, more righteously than others.
    Peter and the original eleven didn’t trust Paul. Paul didn’t trust Barnabas and Mark on the second mission. I have to guess that the established church had some interesting things to say about Martin Luther on or about the first of November.
    By the same token, it is well that the Christian church as a whole cast skeptical eye toward movements within the church. Supposedly solid Christian movements have gone wrong in the past and will in the future.
    I have to wonder how much of your own counsel you have followed in writing this article, Dan. You chastise an unnamed pastor for not doing his research yet, throughout your missive I get the distinct impression that you have not made the effort you call for to understand his position. You make assumptions about where his information might have come from which implies that you don’t know. Maybe he does not understand the Emerging Church from your perspective in the same way that you do not understand his.
    Some well known, well respected pastor writes a letter that talks about a church movement, based on his understanding of that movement. Pastors within the movement react to the letter without delving into the perceptions of him who wrote it. The conversation escalates with few taking the time to dig in and understand.
    Using Google, I was able to determine the pastor under discussion here. I went to his web site and read what he had to say about the emerging church there. From the short piece that is there, I get the clear impression that he is concerned about the emerging church based on the popularity of and proclivity toward one branch or segment of the emerging church. Reading the article there, I do not think that the pastor is painting the entire emerging church movement with a single brush. Rather, I think the pastor is expressing concerning about a particular segment of that movement and the popularity it is gaining.

  • Paige

    These times are testing. Just as I read through your post I could FEEL the blood levels a rising!I persoanlly have learned so much from you and EC leaders (from a distant). I felt defensive too…
    Isn’t it easy to retreat to defensive our nature?…
    BUT DON’T. Keep being the disciple who Jesus made you to be. Keep testing your values, your churches, your methods of ministry (like the Bereans). Keep loving the hell out of people:)
    Perhaps you can talk with this person or invite him to come to your church to ask questions, talk to people, find out if there is FRUIT. I think that some sort of dialogue should take place between Emergent Church leaders and this individual…And not in the spirit of defense, but in the spirit of teaching and educating someone who has really never experienced what he claims to know about.

  • Lukas, UK

    Unfortunately the man in question has a bit of a history in this area. He wrote a book a few years ago absolutely slating the Charismatic movement with outlandish examples such as a woman who taught her dog to bark in an unknown bark. I would have thought he would have learnt something from the criticism he recieved back then.
    He is an excellent New Testament scholar, but his critiques of contemporary Christian movements tend to be ill-informed assaults on straw men rather than nuanced, well-researched and thoughtful critiques. It sounds like his response to the emerging church will simply follow his established pattern in this regard.

  • Jody

    I would like to comment as one who was influenced by the “hearsay” Dan talks about. Over a year ago, I probably would have rolled my eyes and warned others about the EC. Without actually having visited one. It was different and edgy and, based on rumors, dark and given to prayer labyrinths and repetitive mantras and the like. Spooky stuff that mainstream evangelicals like myself couldn’t fathom without wetting ourselves. When I began to question a non-essential doctrine, my position was not respected or encouraged in the faith community I was a part of, and among other reasons, I left. For 6 months I refused to go to church ever again because I was afraid that if I questioned doctrine I would never be taken seriously or I would not be allowed in any sort of ministry. When I finally started missing fellowship and having discussions about faith, I started searching for a new church. I knew precious little about the EC, so I read Dan’s book and a few others to gain insight into why The EC was so heretical and dangerous. I couldn’t really dig anything up. Were there some things I would do differently? Yes. Were they essential to being a Christian? No. The stuff I disagree with is so minor and so non-essential to faith I would be embarrassed to even voice the opinions, so picky are they. However, I KNOW that if I brought my minor concerns, or even major concerns, to most EC leaders I would be welcomed and respected and I would receive attention to my concerns. I do not fear that an EC leader would make fun of my concerns or gossip behind my back. They would engage with me.
    While I was still looking for a church, I was intrigued by VIntage FAith, but I held back because of the rumors I heard. I am ashamed to admit I never even visited. Not even once. I drove by on many occasions. Does that count?
    I didn’t think so.
    Ultimately, God led me to the exact right church He wanted me at. I thought my “new” church was edgy, too. And there were/are things I would do differently. But I know I can approach the leadership and express concerns and be heard. I’m not just a warm body in the congregation.
    So my sincere apologies for never giving V.F a chance. Dan’s reputation precedes him and depending on who you hear it from it could be great and humble and gentle or it could be “dangerous.” Usually the ones who describe the “gentle” Dan are the ones who know him or went to seminary with him or whatever. I used to be kinda of afraid of Dan. Silly, I know. Until I did some (only some) research on my own did I see Dan’s intentions and I saw him as a brother in faith instead of one who should be avoided. Maybe I’ll swing by Vintage Faith some time, but for now I don’t fear for the souls who go there. I am confident that much thought and prayer is given on behalf of that community, and they don’t need me stomping through the front door with a whip in my hand.
    Wait on the Lord for all things and be encouraged in the work He has for you.

  • phil

    Your post is refreshing to me. I think a lot of people are getting a lot bad information. I think if more people like you actually got to know the people they’re attacking, there wouldn’t be nearly as much tension.
    It’s kind of like when I was growing up, I was always taught that, for the most part, all Catholics are going to Hell. When I went to college, I actually met some Catholics who genuinely loved Jesus and actually showed more fruit in their lives than a lot of the Christians I knew from home.
    I think we all could use more grace when dealing with each. I echo Dan’s prayer at the end of his post.

  • Rick

    Clearly he should have done his homework. Especially in regards to you. Your writing/views are out there for all to see.
    That being said: I think you can turn this into a positive. You and other Emerging leaders, such as Tall Skinny Kiwi, need to consider how to better clarify your overall message. The impression is, and will continue to be: Emerging Church= Emergent Village. I know, I know, you (and others) have tried to clarify the difference time and time again. However, it apparently is not sinking in. As you have mentioned before, the name similarity is a problem.
    Futhermore, part of the problem comes from the many responses you and others get that quote McLaren and put him on a pedestal. Face it, he is a controversial figure. For many, McLaren= Emergent Village= Emergent Church.
    Finally, there are the responses you and other get that flirt with universalism, speak of our failure to perceive absolute truth, etc… Likewise, when one of the creators of a popular Emerging website writes a book questioning essential doctrines, that does not help either. Yes, he was blasted mainly by Scot McKnight, but the fact that he felt comfortable enough to write the book says something.
    I think the Emerging Church can and will do great things. However, leaders such as you, Andrew Jones, Stephen Shields, etc… should take this opportunity to figure out a way to get from under the P.R. shadow of E.V.
    Start a new leadership organization with a more effectively clarified message? Maybe.
    Reach out to those sympathetic, but perhaps not necessarily directly involved, in the goals of the Emerging Church (Tim Keller, Steve McCoy, perhaps even Driscoll)? Certainly.
    Continue with your great blog and writings? Absolutely!

  • billy

    Thanks Dan for your heartfelt appeal. As a pastor of an emerging community, thanks for pointing out how destructive these characterizations can be. Add me to the list of faith community practitioners who would be willing to answer any and all questions by the fearful critics.
    Another thought: Is this a tactic to sell books?

  • jon

    your response here in no way comes across as being angry or unloving. i only see someone who is deeply disturbed by the opinions of one person who could in fact influence many others to be divisive and not do their research. i appreciate your thoughts and am glad that you’re trying to set some things straight.
    and your message on sunday was one of the best i’ve heard you give. i feel it’s exactly where the church needs to be (the whole outward focused part). so thank you.

  • iMonk

    I admire your courage in making a humble and truthful reply.
    You will be savaged, Dan. There are few limits on what will be said about anyone who takes the stand you’ve taken. I hate to say it, but it’s boringly predictable. Your eloquent post stands on its own. When they say you are being evasive and whining, let your words stand as they are for the reasonable to read.
    God be with you.

  • ::conversation outside the bubble

    Emerging Churches

    Dan Kimball has an awesome post going on about a well known pastor who sent out a massive mailing that is yet another attempt to spread darkness about the emergent churches.
    My sole point is simply, they simply dont get it.
    Check D…

  • Jason

    What I don’t get is things like this are the very stereotypes that have ruined the “Christian” name already.
    “Why they like Jesus and not the church” – This is PRIME example #1. Ridiculous. This is why I hate names and I hate following names. There are so many variations of “emergent” and “emerging” and post modern, etc, etc. No one has it all right, and no one has the church all right. Jesus, and Him alone.
    I am pretty well tired of being churched my whole life, which is exactly what this person is trying to do by these antics.
    Stand tall, stand proud, we try to follow Jesus and LOVE WINS!

  • ryan

    all the best in weathering the barrage you will likely face. I lived in an apartment complex (near UCLA) with many who attended MacArthur’s church, and I at one time went to the student group associated with it. Egregious misrepresentation is common fare with Johnny Mac and his cronies; the ‘Straw Man Fallacy’ the common ploy. I found this to be the case with charismatics, , Roman Catholics, non-six day creationists, non dispensationalists, Arminians, High Church Calvinists, those who appreciate Karl Barth….you get the idea. Fare thee well brother.

  • Wolf N. Paul

    This highlights a problem which I have been thinking about for some time.
    Why is this movement called “emerging” or “emergent” church?
    What is emerging here that hasn’t been here for the last 2000 years? Why does it invent new words like “missional” when there are good existing words like missionary and evangelistic which everybody understands?
    If you choose to label yourself in a fashion that implies that what went before was somehow deficient, not as valid, or not as good, you should not really be surprised if people react negatively, before they even take the time to examine what you actually believe and do.
    In those “emerging” churches whose doctrinal statements and overall practices seem biblical to me, I really don’t see anything so radically new that it requires a new name, and especially one as provocative as “emerging church”.
    There have ALWAYS been people in the church of all traditions who were concerned with meeting the lost and unchurched where they are at — they probably called it a missionary or evangelistic emphasis rather than “missional”, but ITS THE SAME THING, and by giving it a new name you are just arousing the suspicions of those like JMcA who have a defensive and “guardian of the faith” mindset.
    Not that this excuses inaccurate characterizations on the part of JMcA or anyone else.

  • centuri0n

    Dan –
    Let me say, first of all, that I personally appreciate the length of this post. Sometimes, you gotta say what you gotta say.
    Second, I am sure a few people will see me posting here and think, “oh boy: the TRs have arrived,” and either blank out or grab a bag of pop corn and a Coke for what will ensue. I’ll bet this post will be a disappointment for those in the latter group.
    Here’s why I’m posting: I admit I don’t share your optimism about the emerging church, but it’s because I grew up in NY and I don’t like to be optimistic about anything. However, I also don;t doubt that your church, Dan, is exactly what you describe.
    Here’s my question, which you can answer as you see fit: do you think your church is (a) one of the churches Dr. MacArthur is on about, or even (b) characteristic of the “emerging” movement? I ask that question sincerely, and let me context it briefly.
    This fall I attended a workshop for Christian retailers, and there was a breakout on emerging & Emergent. In the panel discussion, there wasn’t one person (all but 2 were pastors of emerging churches) who had the kind of church you describe, above. I kinda felt sorry for them because the crowd was full of fundies and “that kind” of baptists — and they had a lot of dancing to do, especially when one of them characterized baptists as reducing the book of Romans to 4 propositions and a prayer.
    So the context of my question is really about sample size. Dr. MacArthur thinks he has sampled the emerging church properly and represents the majority of those churches; you think that, whatever his sample size, your church is emerging but “not like that”. Do you think your church is (a) one of the churches Dr. MacArthur is on about, or even (b) characteristic of the “emerging” movement?
    Thanks for thinking about this out loud.

  • centuri0n

    Oh shoot — I forget that your name is in that letter. :-)
    Let me rephrase: isn’t it possible that Dr. MacArthur has made a mistake about you personally and your church while still representing the main-line of the movement correctly?

  • phil

    This is starting to remind me of an episode of the Simpsons.
    Principal Skinner: “For privacy’s sake, lets call her Lisa S…wait that’s too obvious. How about L. Simpson”
    Oh well, Dan, at least you tried.

  • FTM

    Hi Frank…
    “Let me rephrase: isn’t it possible that Dr. MacArthur has made a mistake about you personally and your church while still representing the main-line of the movement correctly?”
    Hmmm…. Nope! :-)
    I really don’t think so.

  • Kyle

    Thanks for your words. It is clear you are striving to honor and follow Jesus, and that’s what’s important.
    In defense of Dr. MacArthur, let me say, as one who received the letter you have discussed, that the letter is not an end in itself; rather, it is a letter sent to supporters of his ministry introducing the topic of a free CD offered to supporters. In other words, he has not laid out the entire case in this introductory letter. This I’m sure he does on the CD he offers, and since it’s free, I assume most who received the letter will order the CD.
    I will grant, however, as several have pointed out, that though Dr. MacArthur is a gifted and important voice in Biblical scholarship, he does have a tendency to be unfair to groups or “movements” with whom he disagrees – no matter how valid his disagreements may be.
    Let’s pursue this discussion with honesty and humility, and with the spirit of Christ.

  • andrew (tall skinny kiwi)

    dan – thanks for the post, Redundant? yes but necessary.

  • Jfred

    I used to be a regular listener to MacArthur’s scolding preaching,and good friends with some of his followers. Why is it that the faith he inspires is so judgemental? And talk about a thin-skinned bunch. Try challenging them on their doctrine, like why does MacArthur and his sycophants so stubbornly adhere to the premillenial dispensational doctrine of the end-times? These guys actually think that they are going to be the raptured remnant. I’ve never once heard MacArthur, or any of his flock, talk about the persecuted church or the biblical mandate to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. John MacArthur sorely needs to repent of his righteousness!

  • Anonymous

    Vintage Faith: Please Don’t Stereotype The Emerging Church

    I rarely, rarely ever try to specifically talk about someone in a negative light, and I hope this isn’t negative against a person, but about their opinions. I received from a friend a mass letter going out to supporters of national radio preaching mini…

  • molly

    As someone IN a fundamentalist church gathernig, I have no doubt (no doubt!) I will hear about this letter of MacArthur’s, just as I hear about all the other misinformed rantings against the emerging movement by other popular leaders. And nothing I can say or explain will matter, becasue GOD speaks through the big boys. *sigh*

  • centuri0n

    Dan –
    See: this is actually my attempt to understand the complaint which you are putting out here which has been repeated a lot. So bear with me.
    Given that Dr. MacArthur has not done justice to “emerging”, has anyone ever fairly criticized “emerging”? If so, who?
    Thanks again for fielding questions from someone who probably isn’t going to agree with you in the end.

  • centuri0n

    Let’s imagine you’re right about your complaint for a minute. Even if this is unquestionably true, what were the major issues confronting the American church in the last 35 years? For example, are you willing to take your complaint and place it in the context that all kinds of baptists — SBCers, indies, fundies, missionaries, landmarkers — have been the largest force of hands-and-feet missionaries to the whole world in the last 35 years?
    See: I think that, on the one hand, you have a small point — that baptists have become fighters and not lovers. That point is small only because it is obvious — anyone can make it, so it’s not like it takes a Barna poll to figure it out. We have, as Mark Driscoll has noted, become experts at contending for the faith — so much so that even our evangelism is frankly pugilistic.
    But that -small- point leads to -serious- and -large- issues. On the one hand, the authority of Scripture would be an abandoned truth if not for the fighting fundies. That’s a large issue, a serious issue.
    But on the other hand, you can’t spread the gospel by punching people in the stomach. If we believe the authority of Scripture, we have to -submit- to that authority in all things, and not just in the “contend” verses which account for about 0.1% of the whole Bible. We have to, for example, not try to make the Government do what ought to be handled in our churches — like the matters of divorce, sexual misconduct, and absentee parenting.
    In that, you’re right: Dr. MacArthur’s life work has not been about “social justice”. But the question of social justice — like the definition of such a thing — requires that we first have some kind of basis for defining that justice apart from the whims of men. Tony Campolo says he’s in for social justice — but he means “authoritarian redistribution of wealth”; James Dobson says he’s in for social justice — but he means “authoritarian, secular enforcement of my moral code”. Are they both right? More importantly, aren’t they both wrong?
    Listen: the last 35 years are not the next 35 years — but what we did right in the last 35 years cannot become an excuse for missing the next 35 years by overcompensating. It is right to admit we have a faith practice right now which has a big head and big meat hooks for hands; it would be tragic to try to lop off our heads and break off our fingers because that kind of faith now requires some other kind of abilities, some other practical means.
    The Gospel is still the most important thing. The question is how we keep it there — and I think the problem of what “emerging” and “emergent” means is part and parcel of the answer to that question.
    I have more to say, but I’ll start ranting. Thanks for thinking about this with me.

  • Chris L

    Thanks for the post, Dan.
    Historically, you might take a look at the Restoration Movement churches which came about in the early 1800′s, as there are a number of similarities to the ECM.
    Grace & Peace,

  • phil

    I know your question is addressed to Dan, and I don’t presume to speak for him. But when you say “has anyone ever fairly criticized “emerging”, it’s kind of a loaded question.
    I think one of Dan’s main points was that the “emerging church” is not some homogeneous entity. It can vary from region to region, and even from church to church. To criticize a whole movement based on a few churches, or even a few books loses credibility with me.
    I’m sure there are churches that fall under the “emerging” category that have some practices I think are wrong, but to outrightly dismiss the whole movement in the way Mr. MacArther’s letter does is pretty irresonsible. To me the dangerous thing is that he is trusted by many people, and I’m sure that the average Christian radio listener for the most part does not take the time to research a lot of his claims. They will take him at his word. In doing that, they are indicting a lot of people who shouldn’t be indicted.
    There is another thing that bugs me about the whole idea of these types of “open letters” that find there away around the internet – most of the time, it’s none of the writer’s business what’s going on in a church somewhere else in the country. I think that the way pastors are busy taking stands against this, that, and the other thing is really a disctraction for them most of the time. They are responsible for their congregation, not the gatekeepers of truth for all Christendom. This is why churches have boards and the such – so issues such as what is correct teaching and proper worship can be dealt with in-house.
    I guess my main point is this – the privilege of criticism comes through relationship. What I see on the internet through blogs and the like is a lot of unfair criticism without any attempt at real relationship for the most part.

  • St. Paul’s Blog

    Don’t Stereotype the Emerging Church

    Dan Kimball has posted some excellent thoughts asking that people (specifically John MacArthur) Please Don’t Stereotype The Emerging Church. It is amazing to me how often in Christianity we set-up straw-men (often other Christians) and then tear them d…

  • St. Paul’s Blog

    Emerging Church Stereotypes

    Dan Kimball has posted some excellent thoughts asking that people (specifically John MacArthur) Please Don’t Stereotype The Emerging Church. It is amazing to me how often in Christianity we set-up straw-men (often other Christians) and then tear them d…

  • Jfred

    Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Another favorite target of MacArthur and Co. is N.T. Wright and those who are willing to listen to the so called New Perspective on Paul (NPP). MacArthurites claim that the whole gospel is jeopardized by this view, ultimately leading toward Rome and heresy. I would say they’ve made an idol of this teaching, similar to rapture teaching. The clear message is that if you don’t share their beliefs you are dancing with the devil.
    Social justice is mocked in these circles and dismissed as “social gospel.” Well, according to the ESV Comprehensive Concordance, there are 135 citations for “justice” alone, while “justified” is only mentioned 30 times.
    So, who is not being biblical? At MacArthur’s big pastor’s conference earlier this year, not one speaker addressed issues of social justice, or the persecuted church.
    It’s amazing to me how the very guys who claim to be so biblical, almost never talk about something that is one of the main things in the NT.

  • Mike Morrell

    I agree, Dan: People should spend time with actual emerging churches (or at least their websites–start with the 900 on ) before rushing to judement and passing such rhetoric off as reality.

  • Mike Morrell

    I think people should check out these churches before rushing to JUDGEMENT, too! Even though Jude-ment is appropriate, considering how often Jude and II Peter are invoked by folks in such settings.

  • John Carlson

    I remember JM saying the same things about the Willow Creek/seeker churches back in the 90s – many of his accusations which were false and stereotypes. It was obvious he’d never attended or researched first hand. To my dismay, I see certain emerging leaders taking the same sort of shots at seeker churches (of which you can not help but associate with Willow Creek of course, where I came to Christ and was on staff for 10 years) and many of them are false stereotypes that are not accurate at all. (As I witnessed in several Mark Driscoll videos online.) A young adults pastor recently came on staff at our church straight out of seminary having all sorts of misconceptions of Willow and seeker churches from what he’d heard and read, yet he’d never really attended one before and certainly not Willow. All this to say, we’re all guilty to some degree. None of this does any good for the body of Christ at large. When will we stop?

  • Shaun Groves

    Throughout your post you say “I don’t know” in response to questions like “Is that what he’s thinking?” Why not ask him??
    As a recording artist, pastor, speaker and writer I sometimes – like all public figures – have folks ask themselves “what did he mean when?” And I, (like you right?) want to be asked that question. I don’t want someone posting those questions on a well-trafficked blog OR asking those questions in a letter sent to a massive fundraising list.
    I may be oversimplifying – idealistic maybe – but it seems like much of the friction between emergent and not-so-emergent would fizzle quickly if both parties (especially the leaders of both parties) would simply ask each other these questions. You know, face to face. Pick up a phone and dial his number. He’s easy to find. (As are you so he should have done the same.)
    Ask HIM what he meant. Explain to HIM what you and yours mean. Agree to disagree even, but why not talk and get these “what is he talking about” questions answered.
    Sure, I understand the compulsion to set the public record straight. But in the process he’s no wiser about you or the emerging church and you’re no wiser about him. You both assume, to some degree, to understand the other – though, at least you’ve admitted there’s much you don’t understand about his rhetoric.

  • David Booker

    I of course can’t fully understand the U.S. context of this debate but it rang a lot of bells for me in the U.K.
    I guess we have two streams of emerging church here – one group clearly mission minded and seeking to find a way of expressing christian truth to groups who can’t get into the culture of the existing church because of they way we do things. The way many of our Church ‘do church’ is closer to the way middle class victorians worshiped rather than anything i read in scripture – so why should people need to become victorians to worship?!?
    But we do have another group of emerging churches who do seem to be guilty as charged. Small groups of like minded 25-35 year olds who are fed up of existing church so have created a church not for outsiders, but so they can feel okay in it. They are into having ‘freedom’ and are welcoming as long as you are just like them, there just doesn’t seem to be much cost to it – only being made to feel good.
    Maybe you don’t have this second kind with you – if not then thank God and take the letter as a warning, even if it is unfair. Maybe it might at least help people stay focused on creating church for outsiders and not creating it in their own image.

  • Paul

    When I read about things like this (and I’ve only read Dan’s extracts) I think here is someone who is trying to be helpful in good intentioned but bad researched ways – seriously I think this dude is trying to help, is probably confused, puzzled, worried that these emergent types are drifting off from theirmoorings or busy dismantling their foundations.
    The former conservative in me knows that one of the callings/charge almost of anyone with any authority in the modern conservative church is to stop people straying from the heard, to keep on the straight, narrow and true and that means agreement with structures/forms/theology that has arisen during modernity. To move away from these forms can therefore look distinctly like a move away from God, the faith etc, afterall if these forms are now symbolic of our christian identity to change them is I guess in his eyes, maybe, like renouncing them.
    I also think there is a problem in terms of language, mystery for instance is the room for me to admit that God is God and I don’t understand, know all the answers etc. That to someone else can look fundamentally flawed, heh we’ve got the bible, it tells us the answers, or at least the answers that we see through the interpretation grid we use. Language therefore becomes something of a problem, not just the words but the understanding of those words.
    Now I don’t want to make this about polarisation, I am not saying modern bad, post-modern good, mystery good, insight/answers bad… cos that would be just dumb – major HT to neo conservative evangelicals and their whole engagement with apologetics for instance, what a great model of really trying to engage with the philosophicals at the time using the grid they had to use…
    So what I guess is my response:
    1) be nice to this guy, let’s not start up any new divisions, any fresh attacks, grumbles etc – let’s just say some of what he says is probably true to some degree for some of us at some times
    2) is this an excuse to engage in dialogue, we could drop him a line, say heh thanks for your thoughts, i appreciate you caring but this is my good experience and these are some of my worries about EC
    3) just what our those EC flaws – we ain’t perfect so a good chance for us to examine ourselves and say hmmm maybe we just aren’t very good explaining ourselves? Maybe we are too enamoured with x but not with y, maybe we grumble hear about this or react against that instead of learning/building/reconstructing?
    4) practice forgiveness – people will i am sure fine this hurtful/personal/annoying etc. It would be easy to dislike/disassociate ourselves from this person and grumble about dinosaurs/dictators/dipsticks and why they should shut up or ship out to their own religion hopefully with 1 or all 3 of the d’s in the title – the first dictatorship of dinosaur late in the day dipsticks… or we could recognise that we are all brothers and sisters in christ, all pretty dumb and as part of this great big God family are called to bare the marks of suffering servanthood, love and compassion. That might mean forgiving people who don’t know what they are doing, even if they haven’t asked for it and are infact trying to kill us off…
    5) as Dan has suggested here is a chance to live beyond our fears and invite each other to share our spaces – we need a deep church, one that encompasses ancient, medieval, modern and post-modern, we need to practice differences within a common. tradition not conformity. As God does new things we should not forget the old things, we need both doctrines of immediacy and mediation.

  • robert g deyo

    Thanks for the warning

  • Touchstone

    The sense I get from John MacArthur, here and elsewhere reminds me of the apprehension of many leaders about “communism” as an animating force behind Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. To be sure, there were communists in the mix, and various other kinds of nasty hangers-on, seeking opportunistically to harness the energy from the groundswell of the movement.
    But the movement wasn’t about that.
    It was possible to build a completely factual argument against the American civil rights movement as a communist plot against American democracy. And such arguments *were* made. There *were* communists at work in the movement, and their goal was not freedom, but destruction.
    Similarly, given what I’ve seen in the emerging churches I’ve attended, and emergent circles I’ve been in, a factual case *could* be made that the Emerging Church Movement is an all-out assault on the Gospel, and the authority of scripture. There’s no denying that in *some* cases, that was and is a fact.
    But just as the American civil rights movement had some unfortunate fellow travelers, so does the ECM. To focus on these elements, though, was to widely miss the point, the basic thrust of the message.
    So too, with the ECM, there will be embarrassing and deplorable nodes in the network for MacArthur and others to point at and scowl (rightly). But to focus on these as representative — even nominally — of the movement as a whole is to thoroughly misunderstand it.
    The ECM I’ve come to know is something I’m not thoroughly comfortable with, either. But maybe that’s a good thing. In any case, the doxis and praxis being developed are much more “reformational” than “deconstructive” to the modern evangelical/reformed establishment. MacArthur seems to have missed that, and is trivializing the issue with his assessment.
    Lastly, I suggest that this is precisely the point where objections should be lodged, and firmly, in this debate. Not to provide a cathartic outlet for ECM frustrations, but to forestall and diminish as much as possible the confusion and misinformation that gets spread like this. It’s one thing to slug it out over scripture, exegesis, theology and praxis. It’s quite another to paint a picture of the debate that’s a fiction. *Nobody* is served or edified by that.
    It’s a needed, healthy argument. But I think the first order of business for both camps is to put in place safeguards that will avoid a prolonged exercise in talking past each other. From what I can tell here, MacArthur is pursuing a track that virtually guarantees a large downstream harvest of talking past each other.

  • Candace

    It seems to me this sort of thing is similar to those who would say all Baptists have brown hair. There are many churches or denominations that have gone astray from teaching the truths of scripture. This whole business reminds me of the statement Paul makes when addressing the Corinthians about saying “I am of Paul” or “I am of Apollos”. Why do we even categorize ourselves? As far as I am concerned there are two categories I find in the scriptures, those who follow God and His truth and those who do not. We are so eager to separate ourselves from those who teach false teachings that we look like hypocrites to the world. What was the purpose of the letter? Seems to me it is another effort to speak out against one thing in order to prove a belief in the truth. There are two things that are sad to me about this issue. The first is that we ought to be of the same mind and spirit within the body. The second is that effort is wasted on fighting each other. We should not be caught off guard by the vast array of teaching in churches that not based on scripture because the scriptures tell us it would be this way. It is my prayer that we would show others our faith by our works as James puts it. The bottom line here is that mincing words comes so easily but being the people God has called us to be and loving our brother is the evidence of what we believe. I pray that the abundance of teaching leading away from the truth would motivate those who love the truth to demonstrate it by actions not words. God bless your Dan as you strive to lead by example and teach the inerrant Word. Your heart and the things God has set before you to do over the years has always been a blessing. Fight the good fight, keep the faith and finish the race.

  • Smittie

    So many comments from people condemning John MacArthur based only on Dan’s excerpts. Everyone calling for others to ‘experience’ the emerging church before they comment but none of them following they own counsel and finding out exactly what John MacArthur’s position is.
    At least a portion of MacArthur’s position on the emerging church is online in two articles:
    Part 1
    Part 2
    In his articles, John MacArthur quotes Mark Driscoll, who identifies himself as having been a part of the Emerging Church movement. Mark in this article
    identifies several reasons why he distanced himself from the Emerging Church movement. These reasons seem to coincide with MacArthur’s position. In his own articles, MacArthur differentiates a segment of the Emerging Church as the source of his concerns.
    I’m all good and well with setting the record straight but the first requirement there is to understand the record. I’m not all that convinced that anyone here has taken the time to do that.

  • Dan

    Hi Smittie -
    for your info. I actually did email the radio ministry several months ago when I heard they were writing something. I was hoping to have some dialogue and clarification of what I was sensing was going to be exactly what is happening from bits and pieces I read about back then. But they never responded to two attempts that I made to contact them.
    I also went and bought the CD which was an hour long profile of the forthcoming book for the most part. So I think I have personally gone to the best length I am able to, to “understand”. I can say that what is posted here which was said in the letter, is almost nothing compared to the even more dramatic things said on the CD. There are good points made on the CD, so it is not all bad or all incorrect and there are some “warnings” I would totally agree with that were said that we should be very discerning about.
    But I can say that I would not correct anything I wrote on this post after listening to the hour long CD as it is only more of the same stereotypes that were written in the letter with an even more abrasive and over-the-top tone. There were no specific examples of one single church, only “here’s what they do in emerging churches” but don’t mention specific churches. They do focus all their opinions on one leader/author as DA Carson did, and they also quote Steve Chaulk and the quote about “divine child abuse” and equate that with what the emeging church all believes. However, if they were at all familiar with Steve C., he is not seen as an emerging church leader and the representative from England of Emergent Village (where Steve is from) on his blog even said that it is wrong to consider Steve C. as part of the emerging church leadership. But in the hour long interview it is very strongly stated he is representing the EC and how we throw out the atonement as something we believe. In the summary, it was said all of the EC is heretical, a fad, doesn’t use the Bible and all the things in the letter but even more.
    Anyway, just some response to your concerns that an “understanding” is not being attempted.

  • superstar

    thanks for trying to bring sanity to the ongoing issue of christians attacking christians. thanks for being a peacemaker.
    it’s obvious that you don’t want to deal with the reality that john macarthur will be held accountable for creating division in the body of christ due to his ongoing critiques of everything that he disagrees with and with inadequate evidence and understanding of those things he has chosen to critique. this has been a pattern throughout his speaking and writing career. it might be best that you defend him on your own web site and not try to persuade people on this blog to give him credit for what “he really says.”

  • Timothy Wright

    I have a lecture by Charles Colson speaking at a L’Abri conference talking about his exchange with Brian McLaren and saying that McLaren doesn’t agree with propositional truth. Thst something is true regardless whether you believe it or not.
    I remember reading the letters that Colson/McLaren wrote to each other and many people I know say those letters were the first time they started having questions of integrity about Emergent Villiage.
    They are in a no win situation and only time will till who believes what, when it becomes clearer then the criticism will come fast & furious.
    Spencer Burke has a new book that is getting a lot of heat. I don’t know what it says, but I know I need to read it and then comment, not the other way around.

  • Gummby

    Dan: in your post, you said things like “[acting like Bereans] is what I see many emerging leaders doing,” “[A church that thrives on disorganization, lends itself to mysticism, distrusts authority and dislikes preaching, feeds intellectual pride and recognizes few (if any) doctrinal or moral boundaries] is so unlike any emerging church I have ever been to,” and “I have been to a dozen or more emerging churches and in every single one, they had preaching for at least 30 minutes long . . .In every one of them. . .they were teaching long sections of Scripture, not just isolated verses pulled out of context.”
    For the morbidly curious (or those of us who like primary sources), could you provide some of the websites of those churches, and I guess (maybe as a way of answering Centuri0n’s questions as well) tell us why you thing those churches are representative of the Emerging Church? Thanks.

  • DanO

    Hello Dan,
    I came this way via Scot McKnight’s blog. Although I don’t attend an explicitly “Emerging” Church, my impression is that the stereotypes that you address in this post, are generally misguided (as you argue). Such criticisms, voiced in such a way, don’t tend to move the conversation forward.
    However, I do have a few concerns about certain elements that appear to be “general trends” in the Emergent conversation (if one can even speak of “general trends” in a conversation that is so broad and incorporates such diverse people). I have voiced those concerns here: Since, in this post, you encourage those with questions to come and talk to you and ask you personally, I thought I would ask if you could address these things. If you had the time to do so, I would be very grateful.
    Grace and peace.

  • Subverting Mediocrity

    Dan Kimball on Emerging Church Criticisms

    Found this article by Dan Kimball responding to some criticisms by a radio ministry who recently sent out the typical support-our-ministry-the-world-is-about-to-implode-because-of-this-great-threat letter.  (Whether or not one thinks the emerging chur…

  • Nate Myers

    Two thoughts.
    1) MacArthur’s less confident in the ability of the church to sort out the truth than he is himself.
    He knee-jerk reacted to Rick Warren, he has now knee-jerk reacted to the ECM, and (if history is consistent in leading us to anticipating the future), he will knee-jerk react to anything else that doesn’t agree with John MacArthur’s grasp on truth.
    Isn’t it a little pretentious to suggest MacArthur is “unleashing God’s truth, one verse at a time”? What makes his interpretive lense any more clear than an EC disciple? His acceptance of propositional truth? His last name? His massive church? MacArthur simply needs to step back from the front of the stage a bit. His spittle’s getting all over my new glasses.
    2)If one wants to offer a sound critique of a movement, it might be helpful to spell the names right. (see: Erwin McManus, not McManis)
    You know, I tend to stay away from these MacArthur-types because they simply think they’ve got it all together. My awareness of the fall and our brokenness as humanity leads me to fundamentally be suspicious of a triumphalistic approach to “truth” or “gospel,” as well as a deeply deficient approach to conversation (I’m gonna ram this down your throat and leave).
    Thanks for continuing to engage this topic, Dan. Your witness continues to bear fruit. And I think you were very clear in this post; saying what needed to be said in a straight-forward, tough-love manner.

  • Chris Cote’

    I’m the pastor of a formerly IFCA church, ThM grad from Dallas Theological Seminary, and a product of Highland Park Baptist Church where Joe Stowell was pastor before leaving to become President of Moody Bible Institute. My wife Cami went to the Ward Presbyterian–the church instrumental in the start of the Evangical Presbyterian denominational offshoot, and went to school at the Master’s College started by MacArthur. All of this to say that, this type of thing from the traditional, mainstream church is precisely what has led to an “emerging” understanding of Jesus, the church, and a life of faith in our personal spiritual lives. My increasing sense as I listen to those who come from and reflect the church and faith of my youth is that I’ve suddenly discovered a naked emperor proudly strutting down the street. I’m grieved. But, I’m also hopeful. To mix literary references, I just feel like I hear the music of the true piper playing for the first time, and it is very good. I don’t want less of Jesus, or orthodoxy/praxy–I want more of it. I wish the “pipers” I grew-up listening to were playing something closer to the Divine tune.

  • John Santic

    Dan, thanks for the response. It is saddening when people cause division in the body because they can’t see past the neat box they’ve put everything in. The posture of owning truth is a dangerous one that I recall got the Pharisees in much trouble.

  • Mark DeVine

    I appreciate your post and suspect and realize that I must be careful as I write and speak and blog on this subject. I teach theology in a Southern Baptist Seminary and serve as bi-vocational pastor of an inner city church that I am trying to have merged with an emerging church(or at least I thought it was). Two principles of fair play I teach my students; 1. You cannot critique what you have not understood and 2. you typically cannot understand what you have not engaged sympathetically.
    I am reading the Gibbs/Bolger book now at the recommendation of Scott McKnight. I was concerned that churches like Driscoll’s and (Keller’s and others by implication I expect) did not “make the cut,” as it were. McKnight says that EC is about ecclesiology not theology. So are their ECs holding to reformed theology? Gibbs/Bolger quote someone sympathetically as identifying going back to the reformation” as one of the non-emerging responses to the post-modern context. This confuses me when I see some of these churches embracing core values of the Gibbs/Bolger criteria who do not use loud music of take on Dave Letterman style antics in preaching. Their sins seem to be that they are reformed in theology, they are growing fast (and thus ostensibly being found more relevant by Gen Y than some of the smaller authentic ECs) and they reach a generational demographic. Yet Jacob’s Well in Kansas City is very generational, but is not reformed. The pastor is on the board of so he is in I guess. It is very confusing but I will keep reading, blogging and surely I will understand more by and by.

  • Phil Monroe

    Dan, your post reminds me of issues some of us Christian counselors face in the church. Biblical counseling is criticized for being narrow-minded and harsh. On the flip side, Christian psychology is criticized for being theologically sloppy and full of heresy. While I agree with Mcknight’s recent words at Westminster (that you should try to describe your opponents in ways that they could recognize and agree) I think it is also useful to consider why the criticisms are made in the first place. What about us gives rise to these misinformed and charicatured descriptions? Sometimes the followers/disciples of a movement are part of the problem (they have a piece of what we said, but run with it in ways we would not agree). But then if we see patterns of our followers moving in directions we might not like, we might do well to ask why that is. Do we unintentionally encourage it? We, the faculty at Biblical Seminary, are trying to teach/disciple our students to think and act in accord to the mission of God. One of our self-assessments is to look at some of the ways our students run with our ideas and to see if what we see lines up with what we intended…
    I guess I’d like to see more of this self-reflection in the missional/emerging church dialogues. I do hear it in private conversations, but less so in public ones.

  • Steve Thibault

    I enjoyed a seminar you gave at the NYWC in Charlotte. At that convention, I listened to Tony Jones define what the emerging church was in his seminar entitled, “What is the emerging church?” As the spokesperson for the emergent village, he explained the great diversity that does exist within the churches calling themselves emergent/emerging. However, he was quite ambiguous when it came to doctrinal issues, in fact, saying that the emerging church has no doctrinal position. So, while it is true that churches within the “movement” have statements of faith, Jones refused to be pinned down on any one doctrine. He made statements such as, “I wake up every morning and question the very existence of God.” Those kind of statments will obviously cause many to question the movement. Jones also noted how the movement does not hold to any creeds or councils. He explained how truth was not absolute and not proposotional. Again, one can understand why many will question the emergent village. I’m not stereotyping, I heard the Mr. Jones make these statements, so while he may not have done his homework completely, I can understand MacArthur’s concern.
    I was very interested in learning more about the emerging church, so I purposely attended your seminar and Tony Jones’ seminar and theology forum. After the forum, I walked away confused. There was no real common ground. The interpretation of Scripture was simply left for any and all to decide or themselves, and that was supposed to be the great beauty of the forum. Yet, when we allow that to flow to its logical conclusion, we have little if any foundation, as any Scriptural truth (event, character, doctrine, etc.) is up for one’s opinion.
    So, Dan, I haven’t visited an emerging church yet, but I have listened carefully in person to Tony Jones whatever that matters.
    Thanks for your passion to making the Gospel relevant and real in teens!

  • Dan

    Hi Steve -
    That is a wonderful comment and I appreciate the tone and heart. I won’t speak for Tony who is a good friend, about his comments at the YS Convention, but I know he publicly says that “Emergent Village” has no doctrinal statement. Emergent Village however, is not representative of the holistic emerging church, as Emergent Village is a network of people, not a church or a denomination. So for Emergent Village to not have a doctrinal statement is not an issue (to me). However, if you go on most emerging church (the individual churches) web sites, including even many on Emergent Village’s coordinating board itself, you will see a mix of Creeds and actual doctrinal statements posted on their individual church web sites, including Brian McLaren’s church who has a fairly in depth doctrinal statement (where he still goes, but he is not the lead pastor anymore). You can see Karen Ward at Apostle’s Church has the Nicene Creed posted, Tim Keel’s church Jacob’s Well has the Creed posted etc.
    So, I see a mix of both listing Creeds and full out doctrinal statements on many churches I would personally consider “emerging churches”.
    I think many emerging churches use the Creed, usually the Nicene Creed as it his some core beliefs stated in creedal form such as:
    - there is one God
    - the one God is Father, Son and Spirit
    - salvation is through Jesus
    - Jesus born of Virgin Mary
    - Jesus was resurrected from he dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father
    - Jesus will come again one day in judgment and there will be a future resurrection of all
    So, those are some pretty hefty core doctrines to be publicly declaring are a churches beliefs -So the criticism that emerging churches don’t hold to doctrines or doctrinal statements is not accurate when you look on many of the emerging church web sites and what they believe as individual churches.
    Hope this makes sense!

  • Steve Thibault

    Thanks for the quick response. As dialogue continues between those within the emerging churches and those without, and as people like me try to honestly and accurately understand the movement, you need to remember folks are going to hear/read statements that will cause great pause.
    If I identify myself with a movement, I will have to be ready to answer for statements made by “key” leaders. And with such great diversity within the emerging church, I will inevitably be put into a camp (even stereotypically) that I do not belong.
    Thanks again for your time and clarification.
    God bless!

  • Mason

    I have done some extensive research on both sides of the emerging church. I agree with this radio pastor. You pointed out that he didn’t mention any names of the churches that practices the things in which he spoke of in his letter, but the one thought that was in my mind the entire time I was reading your comments was, “What are the names of the churches that Dan saw?” To post that in the manner that you did was highly hypocrytical. I was reading over some of the comments posted as well and found that you posted only comments that agreed with you. Talk about passing judgement. I also couldn’t help but read one of the Scriptures Posted by: Scott Harris | December 06, 2006 at 09:30 AM and I was curious if you went to the guy who wrote the letter as the word suggests or did you just impulsively and out of anger write the huge blog. I am not doubting what your church is doing, but I am calling the hypocrisy out. I am in no place to tell you how to run your church, but as one of your own suggested Matthew 18:15-17, I am taking it to heart and bring it to you.
    Thank you Dan

  • Mason

    My bad on the misquoted person. It was actually Chris who used the Matthew 18:15-17 verse not Scott. I apologize.

  • phil

    If you read the responses below, you’ll see that Dan actually tried to contact the man in question two times. Also, you would see that there are comments that are posted that are not agreeing with Dan.

  • Jason Hesiak

    You said: “I am being redundant, but please – next time you read on the internet or hear someone speaking on “the emerging church” and what it is like, ask them: “Which specific emerging churches have you actually been to? Where have you actually seen them doing these things you are describing? Have you actually seen people chanting and practicing Buddhist meditation? Have you been to an emerging church that didn’t have preaching? Or are these simply things you heard somewhere?”
    I’m sure this wasn’t funny to you, but it struck a funny bone in me. Have you seen “Fog and Shadows”, by Woody Allen. “The vigilantes are coming. Look out. There’s a killer on the loose. The vigilantes are out to get the killer.” “Uuhh…What killer? Huh? What should I do? Is he gonna kill ME? And what vigilantes? Who are the vigilantes? Where are they?” Later…”Whos’ THEY? What vigilantes? YOU’ve jointed the VIGILANTES!?” “Yeah, you better watch out. There out to get you.” “Get ME!?…me…uuhhh…what…what do I have to do with the vigilantes…or some killer? What CAN I do? I don’t understand. And who are the vigilantes?”
    I sympathize…as far as I can in my position…I’m not even a pastor. Anyway, God bless, :)

  • Chuck Warnock

    You’re in good company. John didn’t like Rick Warren and The Purpose-driven Life either. Looks like Johns-way-or-the-highway, as the saying goes. Personally, I like mystical — what is more mystical than the God-incarnate thing? I also thrive on disorganization, which could also be called life in the Spirit by some. And, last but not least, Jesus did not have a doctrinal statement either. He just did stuff. Keep doing the stuff, as John Wimber used to say.
    – Amicus Dei

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  • Greg Lygon

    New wine doesn’t suit old winos. They’ll always say the old is better. Just don’t cast any pearls before . . . oops! Almost said something unkind.
    Chalk it up to the Apostles’s Screed.

    Of soul, spirit and song,
    Gregory Lygon
    Ravenwood Music Services, LLC
    AAA/Contemporary Folk Singer Songwriter
    Nominated “Best Instrumentalist” Contemporary Folk by WAMA, 2003

  • Fatherpo

    I was involved with an emerging church and have been very disappointed. When I first heard of the emerging church and what the movement stood for, I thought “wow! It is about time.” I always thought and still do think that the original intent of the emerging church was what Jesus Christ wanted.
    The longer I investigated and read and talked to the people in my city who were involved with the emerging church, it appeared there was an intentional attempt to NOT bring up the name of Christ and to “back off” as to what scripture had to say. When a pastor of any church especially the one I was attending cannot come out and say that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation, but to leave it up to the listener to decide, there is something wrong. Scripture was repeatedly left up to the listener to interpret and scripture did not lay down any hard and fast facts. I am a 50 year old former post modern thinker and hold every church leader up to a very high standard. Any words coming from ANY church leader are critically scrutinized weighing what they say in light of what scripture has to say.
    The one thing I learned most and if anything admired is the way emerging church leaders I have been in contact with can take scripture and the meaning of that scripture and twist it, redefining the words and meaning to say something different.

  • Fatherpo

    I was involved with an emerging church and have been very disappointed. When I first heard of the emerging church and what the movement stood for, I thought “wow! It is about time.” I always thought and still do think that the original intent of the emerging church was what Jesus Christ wanted.
    The longer I investigated and read and talked to the people in my city who were involved with the emerging church, it appeared there was an intentional attempt to NOT bring up the name of Christ and to “back off” as to what scripture had to say. When a pastor of any church especially the one I was attending cannot come out and say that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation, but to leave it up to the listener to decide, there is something wrong. Scripture was repeatedly left up to the listener to interpret and scripture did not lay down any hard and fast facts. I am a 50 year old former post modern thinker and hold every church leader up to a very high standard. Any words coming from ANY church leader are critically scrutinized weighing what they say in light of what scripture has to say.
    The one thing I learned most and if anything admired is the way emerging church leaders I have been in contact with can take scripture and the meaning of that scripture and twist it, redefining the words and meaning to say something different.

  • Bill

    OK, I read the original post by Dan and it sounds like criticisms of the emerging church are coming from legalistic folks that refuse to acknowledge God’s will for society and the changes that have taken place specially in the last 30 years. I would like to ask what world are people living in? Didn’t they notice the changes that took place starting in the 1960′s? Do they know that we don’t live in a society where divorce is illegal like prior to 1970? Do they know that over 40% of americans are born out of wedlock? Do they know that the majority of women today are not housewives and have jobs outside the house? Do they know that there are more women in Medicine and Law school than men? Do they know that women in the western world are financially independent like never before and don’t need men or the traditional family structure to support them? Do they know that the country of Germany is run by a woman? OK, I’m done with the questions.
    So let me say if christians know all these things I pointed out above they ought to realize that the truths of yesterday are no longer truths today. When society goes through a major change like the one that started in the 60′s everything that is in the bible ought to be challenged and re-interpreted, God expects us to do so. The bible gives us three great truths that are eternal and unchanging, everything else is up for re-interpretation. They three truths that never change are:
    1) Salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (the substitutionary atonement)
    2) Christ’s first commandment to love the Lord our God above everything else
    3) Christ’s second commandment Love your neighbor as yourself
    Beside these three biblical truths, pretty much all other biblical moral guidelines need to be tested whether they still apply or not. The challenge is how does our faith work in a new world, where women are more educated than men and laws have been enacted that give her equal rights with men, where the traditional family of the man being the breadwinner is rarely seen any more, where divorce is rampant, where loving relationships between men and women don’t follow the marriage covenant, where female leadership is seen in business, government, and the family, etc. It is abundantly clear that the emerging church has to deconstruct biblical passages, it is a biblical command to do so in order for people to come and know Christ. So sure, new moral guidleines need to be explored since yesterday’s moral absolutes are useless today, the laws of the United States have changed with regard to marriage, divorce, abortion, homosexuality etc. It’s a whole new world here. And it is the will of God that societies progress, and God expects us not to be legalistic and stuck in the way previous generations lived. This was the mistake the pharisees made.
    Christians in the past were late in recognizing that slavery was not the will of God, instead the bible was used to justify slavery. Christians that criticize the emerging church are for the most part defending old customs and institutions that God chose to destroy with the revolution that started in the 1960′s that brought women out of the family and into the workforce, this was a godly movement as powerful as the elimination of slavery in the 19th century.

  • Bill

    Now I thought a bit more about my last post and I realize that I should have questioned some of the changes that took place in society.
    Since the 1960′s society has gone through phenomenal change. Divorce and remarriage are rampant, gay rights have been legislated, and society as a whole has become accepting of the gay lifestyle. These lifestyle changes which contradict what scripture teaches are the result of unbelief. The abandonment of faith in Jesus Christ and his biblical teachings have caused this changes in society.
    So the emerging church should not accept society’s changes, specially when they depart from scripture, but try to influence it and call sinners to repentance. So christians and the church have to be missional to a generation that has rejected the teachings of Jesus Christ. If the emerging church accepts the world as is, then it will open itself up to criticism from other christians. And sadly some emergents have gone too far in accepting the world as is, without calling sinners to repentance so that they can become saints through faith in Jesus Christ.

  • Jason

    I’m not invloved in or very knowledgeable regarding the ECM, but here’s my $.02. Brian Maclaren seems to be the spokesman for the ECM whether others in the movement agree with him or not. That being the case, it seems that the book excerpts from John MacArthur *do* apply to Brian Mclaren. Have you ever listened to his views on core Christian beliefs regarding salvation, sin, hell, and judgement? He promotes a social gospel that borders on universalism, replacing subtitutionary atonement with God’s inclusive kingdom now on earth, and that’s how many perceive the entire ECM. Contextualizing the message for today’s culture is fine (style), but changing the message (Jude 3) has the *potential* to be aberrant or heretical, so one must be careful if they choose to totally deconstruct everything that is believed…

  • Quinzy

    Thanks Dan for the great words. I struggle with the internal debate of when to respond to people in regards to the emergent movement, and when to let people live in their misconceptions and generalities. I recently blogged about this and had a number of mixed opinions and actually had one guy “praying for the salvation of my soul”.
    I ended my post with the following statement about what I want the emergent label to carry, or at least the label I want to describe me and my friends:
    “We seek. We challenge. We ask the questions that will shake our faith. Because it is our deep desire to become an authentic follower of Jesus Christ.”
    I guess in the end, I hope I can move beyond the need to be labeled and to label others.
    The Quinzy Report

  • The Casual Observer

    Dear all:
    I am not a believer…
    those who know me and this journey i have been on, would say “I am close”
    but I would say, “but no cigar”.
    but I have to say, after reading many articles on this EC and John Macarther and critics vs proponants of the EC “movement”, if I had to base my decision on the interplay between those who have a problem with the Movement vs those who don’t I’d have to say the following:
    in the words of Eric Cartman:
    “screw you guys. I’m goin ham (he says “home”, but the o sounds like an “a” in smart a$$ little way”.)
    If I believed in Jesus, i’d ignore all yall.
    One time, several years back, when my “journey” about the deeper things of life first started, some christian person told me that if I couldn’t speak in tongues, or if any christian could not speak in tongues, they ‘were not saved” and going to hell.
    Another, some time later, told me, that if I, as a woman, didn’t wear something on my head during church services, I was unrepentant and a hellbound sinner.
    I said, “even if I believe in Jesus Christ”.. He said yes.
    I pulled an eric cartman and said “screw you guys” for like a year.
    Then, it dawned on me, somehow, that God and people cannot be confused. I’ve said some stupid things in my life. Things i totally believed in, and so I decided to try to do my best to focus on God.
    But as for how that will “show itself” or “play itself out in reality”.. Just now that there alot of us watching all of you-you being the “church”-regardless of denomination or “movement”.
    There is an EC church in my town and I plan on going this sunday (march 4th) but i’ve been to their website and so far, I’m not impressed. I see wishy washy written all over it.
    But i’ve visited the baptist church in town and I got stared down because I didn’t wear a dress. I’m sure there are some well meanin folk in there, but that wasn’t very christ like either.
    If I accept God and Jesus, I’d just as soon serve in a soup kitchen -and tell people God and Jesus. I’d talk about what the Bible says about lying, gossiping, homosexuality, marriage between a man and woman, drinking to excess-all the stuff….
    but i’d stay away from all of you.
    I want to show the love, without sacrificing the truth. Some of the truth I don’t like, that don’t mean it aint true.
    I still am reconciling myself to it, because alot of it I still do and feel not ready to stop yet (like Bible says “the body is a temple” but I smoke and drink to excess and I do other thngs not appropriate to mention on a nice website like this…)
    but people tell me that will all change with Jesus in my life..
    Maybe… only time will tell.
    but after that, in the meantime, I’ll be watching many of you-at different times and different places, sliding in and out. maybe I”ll come back again, maybe I won’t…
    but this bickering like this and name calling—-oooooooweeeeeee….
    yall can keep it..
    Yours truly,
    The casual observer

  • sam

    It’s John MacArthur. He thinks he has the corner on orthodoxy. I’ve been to Grace Community multiple times and have friends who have been part of it. There ain’t much grace shown there. John MacArthur has gotten locked in his own intellectual pride, just listen to his sermons and his Bible, yes the “MacArthur Study Bible”. Who the heck has teh audacity to have a Bible with their notes typed in! He is not even a scholar!
    I’m feeling like your first commenter…”screw you guys” lets just be the church, because the Spirit of the risen Christ is still moving. I gurantee not losing any breath from guys like Jonny Mac.
    Did you see that Mac has a commentary series covering like every book of the Bible? Seems cultish to me…

  • jose

    hi Casual observer:
    Your post on Dan Kimballs “vintage_faith” really touched me.
    I have been a pastor and missionary for almost 25 years. About 6 years ago I left the church I had started because my 17-year-old daughter told me “dad, this church has nothing for me!” and started a journey of trying to learn what it really means to follow Jesus in the world and live in the kingdom. We started a couple of house churches, and along the way, worked on getting our family healed from church life.
    Now I am getting my PhD at a South Florida University … and you reminded me of most of my good friends in grad school. Really nice people who are very open to God, who drink (and occsionally smoke) to excess…along with other things that we won’t mention in a nice email …. I find that I enjoy them more than I used to enjoy most of my ‘church’ friends.
    I also smoke cigars, and to my embarrassment, occasionally drink to excess (embarrassing for a 25 year career pastor/missionary). Like last year, at my oldest daughters 30th b-day party…. I had just finished a grueling 6 months writing my master’s thesis…while my wife was going through chemo-therapy for stage 4, metasticized breast cancer…5 or 6 of my unchurched, non-Christian but God loving grad students were there….along with my family and our house church…. I don’t remember the last 30 minutes (rum on the rocks)… but I had a GOOD time! My son-in-law took me home…. he said that I kept giving everyone the thumbs up and smiling and saying “it is GOOOOD!”
    I also don’t have to worry about the other stuff to excess because of how happily in love I am with my companion of 33 years, and the mother of my children, (my best friend). There are photos of us at if you want to see her.
    I want to apologize to you that we Christians (and especially the church in all of her forms) have not given you a better impression of what it means to follow Jesus. Perhaps because Jesus did not come for the healthy, but for the sick, and he is a healer…. church people are more damaged than the average population. More messed up, more dysfunctional. Because of Jesus…and hopefully in some cases, because of the church… we may be relatively better off and more whole than we would have been without Jesus and church, but that doses not mean that we don’t have lightyears to go yet in our own salvation jouney. In some ways, you may be further along, even thought you don’t call your self a Christian. At least you are humbly aware of your various excesses…most Christians are in denial about theirs.
    I hope you had a good experience in the EC church you visited last Sunday. Whatever the case, don’t give up on your journey toward God, and don’t let us Christians get in your way. St. Augustine said, “The church is like Noah’s Ark, if it was not for the storm outside, you would not be able to stand the stink inside.” I find that the truth in that statement is just as great today as it was in the 5th century.
    I like your idea about working in a soup kitchen, telling people about the love of God and Jesus rather than going to church. I have some friends who live in a slum in Rio de Janeiro doing exactly that. Because they love Jesus, they live in a slum and work with abandoned street children.
    I may be wrong, but I would not worry too much about going to church if I were you…EC, Baptist or any other kind. You can do that if you want to…but the main thing is to read the life and teachings of Jesus, try to put them into practice, and find 2 or 3 other seekers on the same Journey as yourself…and meet with them…maybe in a Starbucks, maybe in a bar or billards place. Go through the teachings of Jesus and talk about them…pray together. Resolve conflicts as they arise. Try to live the way you think Jesus would want you to live…try to avoid excess…and when you fail, admit it and move on without making too much of a big deal about it.
    I’ll be praying for you….please pray for me (and especially my wife, Debbie) as well. Let us know if there is anything we can do to encourage you.
    love and blesings,
    jose in miami

  • t

    these blogs are so risky…so easy to gossip and slander

  • gracie

    amen, Dan.
    Call me sheltered and naive, but until the day I saw that cartoon in your 14 May 07, I had no idea just how divisive an issue this is. But it was my research into just “who is this John Macarthur” that lead me to your site in the first place. After what transpired yesterday, elsewhere, I prayed heartily and the answer to that quest is to commend my worries on it to God as it is His already.
    But since your hospitality to me was welcoming before, let me tell you a bit about how I ended up going to an “emergent church”.
    I selected the church I go to, which is affiliated with the Seattle Mars Hill church, by serendipity: I couldn’t find the one I had been recommended and on the way home, I saw the sign for “my” church, right on the very street I live on. I looked up their doctrine of faith on the web and it was sound: bible based, believe in the blood, nothing “weird” about it. I didn’t know about “emergent” at that point. As I mentioned before, the church service is refreshing: old hymns, Puritan prayers, great 45-minute long sermons straight from the Bible, copious preaching on sin and hell, and all paths lead to the cross. In fact, it’s quite conservative by Left Coast standards. Even so, I wonder if Mr. Macarthur would, on a visit to our wee house of worship, be looking at how the people are dressed and the fact that a few tots (2-3 year olds) might fuss at inopportune times. But if he did happen to come with an open heart, he would see and hear the point of what we are doing: we are here to see our own utter depravity, know that salvation is through Christ, and praise God in all his glory.
    I go to a church and not a movement. If the particular church I go to ever veers from Christ’s message, I’ll not blame “the emergent church movement”. Rather, it’s God moving me along to the next glory.
    I sure needed to say this. Thanks for the forum. As a final aside, scripture for tomorrow’s service is Luke Luke 6:27-36, “Love your enemies”. God’s work on us never ceases! Amen.

  • Houston from Houston

    So I started reading “The Truth War” by Johnny Mac after some guy challenged me to read it. He said that when I read it I should ask myself “is this true?” And I can’t say that what I read there was any more true than what I read in “A New Kind of Christian”.
    —sadly I couldn’t finish Johnny’s book.
    There are a few things that trouble me when I read/hear any critiques of Christianity in the post-modern tempo or the Emerging Church:
    1) I hate when people say that we don’t believe in absolute Truth. I fully believe Jesus meant what he said in John 14.
    2) I also don’t like it when people claim to have identified and exposed all the flaws in the Emerging movement. To say they can fully identify what the Emerging Church is seems a little faulty. I’m not sure if most of us in the Emerging generation even know what Emerging is except that we are Emerging… and for the sake of using that buzzword for all it’s worth… Emerging.
    3) And when I’m told that I reject scripture… well… I just go nuts and start breaking things.
    BTW Dan, if you read this, I’m really digging “Emerging Church”. I started reading “Emerging Worship” a few years back, but I didn’t know what the heck was going on. Post-modernism seemed scary. I felt a lot like how I imagine MacArthur and others feel now. Modernism made me feel so certain and comfy in my black/white right/wrong us/them world.
    I just need to say this though… Thank Jesus for guys like Johnny Mac. I know he leads people to Jesus. And we all need to celebrate the work of everyone on our team.

  • Philip

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  • Kazmierz

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  • Szymon

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  • Mathias

    Well well well… Not bad, not bad… Can better? ;) ;)

  • Tim Hill

    This is one of the best laid out statements about this tendency of those outside the emerging church discussion to apply blanket criticism.
    I just saw this in full force on an emerging message board where I post frequently, and it left me pretty discouraged. After reading this I feel much more encouraged. Thanks for your willingess to share your heart about this!

  • Brian

    Great article Dan. I wholeheartedly agree that we (I would not consider myself part of the Emerging Church movement) stereotype members of the EC movement.
    I would also challenge those within the EC movement to be very careful not to stereotype those of us non-EC folks.
    We’re all on the same team and it would benefit us greatly to recognize that.

  • Karolina

    Just wanted to say hello

  • James Hayes

    The truth is not a book or set of beliefs. The truth is a person. That person is the Lord Jesus Christ.
    Everyones focus seems to be way off.

  • Will

    Very skillfull Dan. You follow Len Sweet’s advice to speak out of both sides of the mouth. If you don’t want to be associated with emergent antinomianism and heresy find something else to call yourself! Why insist on calling yourself something that stands for something so hostile to biblical orthodoxy? What would you think of someone who called themself a Scientologist but who rejected Scientologist beliefs and castigated those who critiqued all Scientologists with too broad a brush since they were not guilty of the strange beliefs of “some” misguided Scientologists? As I see it, the Emerging Church Movement is becoming very skilled at dissimulation and chameleon-like deception.

  • Dan

    Hi Will,
    Not sure what else to say to your comment as you aren’t listing anything specific, just another generalization so I don’t know how to respond. If you have specific questions or specific and actual observations about something I wrote or do in our church, please let me know – I would be happy to address them with you. Thank you!

  • Steve Smallwood

    Keep up the good work–you’re in good company! Jesus–”Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5:11,12)
    Unfortunately, those reared and trained in modernity tend to elevate all “t”ruth to the level of “T”ruth. And they equate their way with the ONLY way…sad!

  • James Hayes

    I once saw a Baptist preacher in a parking lot raise his Bible to the sky and yell “If Jesus comes back and contradicts what is in the Bible, I won’t believe in him!” Sadly, people clapped at that statement. (It was in the church parking lot.)
    To that individual, and too many preachers out there today, the Bible is an idol. It is a lens to see the world thru. The Bible is scripture, but it is not God. The Bible did not create us. With the Bible being given the attributes of God, is it any wonder most of Christians don’t know God?
    The emerging church movement to me comes across as a tool. And as any tool, it can be used for good or ill. From Dan’s book I know he is careful to make sure the spirit behind is God’s, not man’s. “Test the spirits.” so to speak. When I was first saved, I went to a Baptist Bible camp. One night there, they played a Mylon Lefevare (sp?) video. Afterwards an old lady got up, I think one of the staff, and condemned as not being of God because it was rock and roll. I naively spoke up and said it is the spirit behind it that counts. Although it got discussion going, I have encountered way too many people like that since. Anything different from they want, it gets knocked down. And a lot of them are in power in the Christian religion.
    I think the emerging church is the answer to the lack of God in the modern church. If the modern church had God, there would not be a need for the emerging church.
    Dan, enjoy life and don’t let them get to you. Be blessed.

  • Gustaf du Plessis

    Dan, in your blog you say that you will answer honest and sincere questions. I have an honest and sincere question – before I get to that I do understand that you are an individual who can only answer my question from your own personal perspective – so I understand that your view will be different from another, yet I really want to know – You are writing about 30 – 45 minute sermon preaching in EC. What style would you implement – now I know from own experience that narrative preaching can work, yet sometimes you still miss your audience – to be honest they get tired of that too, and don’t tell the elders, but I as preacher get quite bored with it as well. I do feel that as preacher I have a duty to reach my audience – I just can’t find any real answers. I will be sorry if you feel that it is off the point, or that I abuse your blog (most probably am), I just need some help!

  • Allen and Travis

    From what I have learned so far, the emerging church movement was born out a criticism of established churches. When emergents stop criticizing other churches, maybe emerging churches will stop being criticized.

  • rico

    Dan, please don’t stereotype the traditional evangelical church. Oh, sorry… you did! I’m reading your book.

  • Patrick

    Dan – do you believe in a Hell that involves eternal conscious torment?

  • Bob Robinson

    This book is simply unbelievable. Thanks for your insightful words here. Since I’m ministering in a church that has quite a few people who greatly respect MacArthur, I knew it would be inevitable that I would need to write a review of this book.
    You can find this five-part series at Vanguard Church (
    1. John MacArthur’s Post-Enlightenment Philosophical Understanding of “Truth”
    2. Is Rob Bell a Godless Man, Condemned by God?
    3. Is Postmodernism Primarily Concerned with Truth?
    4. Straw Men – The Emerging Church is Filled with Hard Postmodernists
    5. MacArthur Fits His Own Criteria for an Apostate

  • Walter

    Super site ! Bravo au webmaster qui a su rendre le site tres interressant.Continue comme ca ;)

  • Allen

    Who cares who is right and who is wrong?? Seriously we have lost the plot, we spend more time debating theologies then actually caring what our lives are saying. Are we going to die and get to heaven and God go high five guys you were so good at arguing theology. To what avail? To what avail?

  • Opalance

    Well, now I’m certainly confused about this whole movement. Everything I hear about from sources outside of it claim it’s a nebulous, truth denying group that holds little value to scripture and revels in un-orthodoxy for the sheer fun of it. However the people from within the Emerging church sound like they are just another denomination with Pentecostal leanings.

  • Jeff Schwerdtfeger

    Indeed, Today on Klife— A local christian radio station, there was a show called pastors perspective the hosts are two respectable sounding Calvary pastors. One was joking with his wife about a trip to store where the wife wanted to buy a box of tea candles on sale. Her husband (the pastor) on air said why would you want to buy that — an emergent church in a box. What the heck. Back to the issue of christians attacking christians.

  • Tillie

    It was a great pleasure for me to visit and enjoy your site. Keep it running!

  • Jenna

    Dan, you mentioned how the emerging church is not into the “mystical”, but just focus on prayer. I read a quote made by you that you promote labyrinths and have used them. If that is true, is that not mystical?? Mysticism is not just “crystal balls” and “chanting”. Labyrinths’ origins are in the eastern religions!! Where in the Bible does it say that we are supposed to use man’s methods to deepen our relationship with God?? It doesn’t!

  • Dan

    Hi Jenna,
    Thanks for commenting. If you trace the origins of most of so much of what we do in churches today (pulpits, organ music, pews, the style of preaching, church architecture etc.) it all comes from pagan origins that were adapted into Christian worship. We would need a long time to discuss “mystical” but nothing we practice in our church is more than directly praying to God. If you ever visit, you probably would be surprised at how many inaccurate stereotypes have been cast. So if you are ever near northern California, please come and see for yourself and I would love to meet you and chat.

  • Ethan

    This is a really neat article. I enjoyed reading it and learned a few things. Thank you!

  • Roy

    One day someone will read the Bible and actually believe what is written in there and will prove all of the emergents and evangelicals wrong by living out the truths of the Word of God. My prayer for emergents is for them to repent and stop playing games with the world (1 John 2:15-17) and to return to true biblical faith that seeks to evangelise the world to the truth that Jesus is the only way, the only truth, and the only life.

  • Philip

    It continues to amaze me the bigoted fear of some individuals. The disconnected stereotypical rhetoric of the few is really having a negative impact on the Kingdom. Quick example. We had a wonderful blog written about our community, here in south Florida. We had experienced a “secret worshiper” like those secret shoppers they came, worshiped, took notes, photos, talked with different people in the community, all with us being unaware of what they were doing. After they had worshiped with us they told us what they were up to. It was really cool. Later, I was out to lunch with a group of people from our community and someone mentioned that the “Secret Worshipers” called us an Emergent church. Then a person who has been a part of our community for a number of months, had a look of fear over her face. She stated, “I didn’t know we were one of those Emergent churches”. She was genuinely scared because of the past articles, programs, etc that had attacked this movement and lumped us all in one category based on who knows what. I could almost see the wheels turning in her head. “Could this be like what they said?” Why are we spending so much time blindly attacking each other? Thank you Dan for stepping up as a leader in this important time in the history of our faith. Don’t let these wacka-doos get you down.:)
    If any of you are interested in seeing what the “Mystery Worshipers” had to say about our “Emergent” community here is the link

  • Fred Wolfe

    My name is Fred Wolfe, a Pastor at an “emerging church” in Largo, Florida. I would like to submit my blog to you for your review and possible listing. If you have any questions, please let me know.
    Fred Wolfe

  • Mike James

    THE Church needs more movements like you. A non-evolving church is a dead church. Ask the people in Sardis and Laodicea.

  • revsteve

    I’m going to be speaking on this issue to our Young Adult group next month and was wondering what you consider a “fair” approach to understanding the Emerging/Emergent church? How have you broken this down in the past? Are there simple resources available to help in preparation?

  • An Intrigued Onlooker

    I find it deeply interesting that only one person responded to what is arguably the most significant comment left on this blog post…and that was from a man living a very irresponsible self-proclaimed Christian life.
    Here are the most telling lines from The Casual Observer’s comment:
    If I believed in Jesus, i’d ignore all yall.
    Just know that there are a lot of us watching all of you-you being the “church”-regardless of denomination or “movement”.
    i’ve been to their website and so far, I’m not impressed. I see wishy washy written all over it.
    i’d stay away from all of you.
    this bickering like this and name calling—-oooooooweeeeeee…. yall can keep it.
    Am I the only one that is convicted by this unbeliever’s observations??? Do you not understand that what (s)he wrote is a stinging rebuke and a call to live out genuine, consistent, relevant, responsible faith??? Shame on us! If the EC movement really wants to be relevant, quit bashing other Christians (no matter how provoked you are or how much they deserve it!) and be an example of something different…something more like our Lord Jesus Christ.
    May God have mercy on us all…we sure need it. It’s a good thing He is powerful enough to save sinners in spite of what they see in the ones He’s already saved.

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  • MichelleBurrill

    I just now read this post. I don’t even know what an “emerging” church is. All I know is that the 1st time I went to Vintage Faith, I thought “This is home.” I’d never seen such a real, genuine church. Real, genuine, while simultaneously not compromising. Very clear on truth and studying the scripture and Jesus. No mysticism or moral questionability at all.
    Of course you have the right to defend yourself when your name is being misrepresented somewhere else. You did a brilliant job with this post.

  • Matthew

    This is really interesting and helpful Dan. Grace and Peace.

  • joseph

    Very good article however many of the big name emergent heroes (McClaren, Bell, Miller,Pagitt, ect…) all have said things that any historical orthodox Christian would have good cause to be fearful. It is generally wrong to generalize just like not all calvinists (or even most) are hyper-calvinists who hate evangelism, missions and prayer. But in my experience many young people who are involved in the emergent conversation do have some general simililarities in that they deny sola scriptura, are very hesitant to talk about sin as defined in scripture (not moral police but how can one present the Gospel without talking about sin) and are incapable of having any serious theological conversation (its always I read a book where he said… or I felt … or I feels like God is telling me… The spirit lead me to… ect…). That’s not everyone I have encountered but it has enough to make me stick with my Reformed church even though I am partial to the atmosphere of some good emergent churches.

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