Section 10A .. The Contemporary Church/
The Emerging Church

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What is the Emerging Church?
Overview of the Emerging Church Movement and Some of The Leaders

Jack Zavada

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The emerging church is a faith movement that questions many of the beliefs of traditional Christianity, while radically redoing centuries-old worship practices.

Much confusion surrounds the emerging church because writers often use the terms "emerging" and "emergent" interchangeably. Strictly speaking, "emergent" refers to Emergent Village, a website and social network that connects those following this conversation. The water is further muddied because some call leaders and followers of this movement "Emergents."

However, all agree that "conversation" is the term that best describes the emerging church, for there is much talk, much questioning, and much free exchange of ideas. The topics of the conversation are diverse but center mainly on how to "do" church and the validity of established evangelical Christian doctrines.

The Emerging Church and Young Seekers
Although the movement has no official start date, several emerging churches were founded in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Solomon's Porch, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is a good example. Founding pastor Doug Pagitt saw thousands of college students in the area and knew they had dropped out of traditional church services. Pagitt offered them something different.

Instead of preaching from a pulpit, Pagitt sits on a stool and engages the participants in dialogue. Instead of rows of pews facing forward, Solomon's Porch has sofas, arranged in a circle. And instead of organ music and 500 year-old hymns, this church has guitars and contemporary music.

Other churches in the movement hold young texters' attention by projecting fleeting visuals to illustrate messages, accompanied by fast-paced discussion. Some include activities such as signing one's name on a cross or walking a labyrinth. Worship may engage the senses with incense, candles, and bells.

While some of these new ways of doing church services are a departure from evangelical Christianity, others resemble ancient symbols and rituals of Roman Catholicism.

IPS Note - See target="_blank" onClick='alert("ON-site link will open in a new window. To return here, simply close the new browser window.")'Walking The Labyrinth
The Labyrinth, touted as a medieval tool for the Postmodern Age, originated with pagan spirituality, was directly imported from a Cathedral where the focus of worship is the Black Madonna, and was introduced to the western church by a Den of Vipers called Grace Cathedral. Yet, discernment being at such an all time low, thousands of Christians are embracing this age-old occult practice.

The Emerging Church and Postmodernism
At the heart of the movement is the postmodernist belief that absolute truth does not exist. That idea flies in the face of evangelical Christianity, which holds that God and the Bible are the sources of absolute truth. [See Section on Postmodernism]

This open-minded concept of many truths appeals to young seekers with friends who are Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics and atheists. Pluralism rejects the evangelical teaching that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven, which many think is judgmental and intolerant.

IPS Note -See The Case For Christianity
It is tragically true that few of those who believe 'all spiritual beliefs are valid paths to God" seem to have made an in depth study of various religions to see if their claims are based on fact, or fairy dust.There is far more evidence in favor of the Bible being true, than there is for any of the other 'holy books' like the Qur’an, the Bhagavad-Gita, the writings of Confucius, or the Book of Mormon. This evidence includes it's humanly impossible authorship, it's candor about the faults and failings of it's main characters, fulfilled prophecy, and it's archaeological and scientific accuracy... none of which are seen in the books of other religions.

Rejecting absolute truth has led many emerging church leaders to question traditional Christian doctrine and the teaching of the Bible. One such leader is Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Bell challenged the existence of hell in his 2011 book, Love Wins. Bell's supporters saw the book as a breakthrough description of God's love and grace, while critics said it fostered subtle universalism, the teaching that all persons will be saved.

    IPS Note: While USA Today may consider that Rob Bell  has stuck a pitchfork in how Christians talk about damnation, his version of how love wins is completely unsupported by Scripture. The problem is that the fire and brimstone scenario isn’t either. See link to article on hell at the end of this page...

The postmodern influence on the emerging church takes truths that have been accepted as Christian doctrine for centuries and turns them into a matter of opinion: What is right for me is not necessarily right for you. The result is that some emerging churches have gotten rid of the Apostles' Creed and Nicene Creed as well as specific statements of what they believe.

The Emerging Church and Community
Rather than emphasizing doctrine, many churches in the emerging church movement focus on relationships and story. Pastors stress living the way Jesus lived, with love and respect toward others.

    IPS Note: I never have figured out how people have come to the conclusion that Jesus never said a stern or unpleasant word. Anyone who has actually read their Bible will know that Jesus and the apostles often used some very harsh language when dealing with the wolves, some of whom were considered respected religious leaders of the day. SEE

Life is viewed as a journey, with each person living their own story. Participants try to foster a welcoming, nonjudgmental atmosphere within the local emerging church community.

This nonjudgmental attitude, in some cases, causes a lack of enthusiasm for evangelizing. People curious about the community are befriended, but winning them to Christ might be viewed as coercive. Also, since emerging churches steer away from statements of absolute truth, it makes it difficult to express to an interested person exactly what the community believes.

The Emerging Church in the Future
The emerging church movement is global but unofficial. It has no organization, headquarters, or uniform beliefs. Pastors and theologians who are called spokespeople are largely independent and agree in some views but diverge widely in others.

The size of the movement is unknown. It has spread through books, conferences, and the Internet. Many in evangelical Christianity have expressed criticism of the emerging church ranging from mild disapproval to outright hostility.

While it may be too early to predict whether the emerging church will evolve into a denomination, the movement's distrust of statements of absolute truth make that seem unlikely. In the end, the emerging church's future may lie not in the effectiveness of its leaders, but in whether its members can find lasting fulfillment from questions rather than answers.

Some of The Leaders of The Emerging Church Are
Brian McLaren (below)
Rob Bell (below)
Doug Pagitt (below)
Tony Jones (below)
Tony Campolo (separate page)
Dan Kimball (separate page)



Brian McLaren
Is Brian McLaren a Cutting Edge Crusader or Line-Crossing Heretic?
By Jack Zavada

Brian McLaren is cutting edge. Or he has crossed over the line--way over.

People's opinions of McLaren, a prolific author, speaker and former pastor, seem to depend on their view of the emerging church movement. Those who think the emerging church borders on a cult see McLaren as a heretic who is trying to turn Christianity into a feel-good fellowship of inclusivism where all faiths are equally valid and doctrine is a dirty word.

Those who embrace the emerging church see McLaren as a hero, a cutting edge crusader who questions judgmentalism, orthodoxy, the Bible, and the way evangelical Protestants lay a claim on God and conduct their lives.

Brian McLaren the Questioner
Like Rob Bell, another leader in the emerging church, McLaren asks a lot of questions but doesn't always supply the answers. Questioning the old way of doing things is part of the emerging church movement.

    "We're trying to deal in healthier ways with a rapidly changing culture," McLaren told BeliefNet. "I don't actually like the term 'emerging church' because it sounds like it's one set of denominations as opposed to others. For me it's more a matter of conversation; it's a group of people talking together and asking questions together about what it means to practice our faith in this new context."

McLaren feels questioning is the way to make the church relevant to the under-30 generation. In an interview with Terry L. Heaton, McLaren said, "Well you know one definition of a heretic is someone who thinks for himself, and I am trying to think for myself. But another definition is someone who tries to cause schism. I'm not trying to cause schism. I'm a pastor. I value unity. Every opportunity I get I encourage people to have generous attitudes towards people, especially people with whom they disagree."

Most of McLaren's questions have come from his dozen or so books, which cover topics ranging from laying the groundwork for the emerging church to personal spirituality, to the the Postmodern church. In his lectures throughout the world, Brian McLaren has challenged Christianity's interpretation of hell as well as its stand on homosexual relationships.

IPS Note: However there are huge problems with how ‘hell’ is understood in the Christian world. The belief that Hell is a place of unending torment has been so strongly held throughout the history of Christianity that few have dared to challenge it. Besides which, since most modern challenges have come from the cults, a person who dares to question the traditional viewpoint runs the risk of being labeled a cultist. However, the deeper one delves into the subject the less persuasive the argument in favor of the traditional view become. For example, there is not a single verse in the entire Bible that says anything remotely similar to "everyone has eternal life; it is only a matter of where each will spend it." Yet, this is what most of the church believes, assuming that the idea has its origins in the Bible. It does not. Additionally, Christians routinely take the word "death" to mean eternal life in hell, and the word "perish" to mean "never perish". However, it is totally pointless to embark on a investigation unless one is prepared to set aside one's denominational presuppositions, and other biases, and rely strictly on what the Word says. This seems to be easier said than done for many, if not most, Christians. See What and Where is Hell?

Evangelical pastors and bloggers think McLaren's rejection of some traditional Christian positions goes beyond mere questioning, putting him on shaky theological ground. John Piper, author and Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, believes McLaren has gotten so far from the Bible and the gospel that he is heading toward heresy.

Brian McLaren the Missional
McLaren calls himself "missional," a term for someone sent into the world to do the work of Jesus Christ; that is, not expecting people to come to the church.

He has gone out physically, speaking and teaching in Europe, Latin America, Africa, and Asia. His lectures have taken him to such universities and seminaries as Yale, Princeton, Fuller, George Fox, Biblical, Asbury, Western, Mars Hill Graduate School, Wesley, and Dominican.

He has gone out through memberships on the boards of Emergent Village and Off the Map. McLaren has also gone out electronically, through appearances on Larry King Live, Nightline, CNN, FOX, PBS, as well as his own blog www.brianmclaren.net.

Brian McLaren the Pastor
Brian McLaren was born in 1956. He received his BA in English from the University of Maryland in 1978 and his MA in 1981. After teaching college English for five years, he quit in 1986 to become founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church, in the Washington, DC-Baltimore area.

McLaren describes CRCC as innovative and "transdenominational." After pastoring for 20 years, he left in 2006 to devote all his time to writing and lecturing. Throughout his career, he has been active in networking and church planting and has helped in the development of several new churches.

The face of global Christianity has changed, McLaren stresses, and that reality needs to be addressed. Instead of white males dominating churches, pastors are increasingly people of color, including women. He notes that Africa, Asia, and Latin American have more Christians than North America.

Cedar Ridge Community Church, part of McLaren's legacy, celebrates diversity in its values statement. CRCC makes a conscious effort to avoid the "looks like me" comfort zone of many traditional churches.

McLaren and his wife Grace live in Florida. They have four adult children.

IPS Article On Brian McLaren
Please click HERE for an article originally intended to be a critique of one of McLaren's later books, The Secret Message of Jesus which, however soon expanded to include a Biblical refutation of the primary points of his teachings, which are found spread over several of his books and writings. Including His belief that.

    1) God's kingdom is not a literal, physical kingdom that will be established on earth. See What And Where is Heaven?

    2) Jesus will not physically return to earth. See The Seventh Trumpet Part IV of The End Of The Age ...

    3) God's “will” actually means the “dream” God has for this world, and “eternal life” means does not mean life without end

    4) The message of Jesus was good news- not just for Christians, but also for people of other religions, including New Agers, agnostics, and atheists, In other words, unbelievers and pagans can be saved without explicit faith in Christ

    5) The book of Revelation was not written about the (then) distant future, but was the first century way of talking about the challenges faced by the early church. ie. The Roman Empire.

    6) Judgment is generally a good thing, because it means the coming of truth and justice into our world

    7) Salvation emphatically does not automatically mean "save from hell" or "give eternal life after death" See Salvation

    8) Christians have been "brainwashed" to read Genesis through Greco-Roman bifocals, but "these stories aren't intended to be taken literally"

The article is not meant to be ‘light reading’, but is an in-depth comparison of McLaren's primary tenets and the teaching of the Bible. In other words, here is what McLaren says, and this is what the Bible says. Since there is absolutely no agreement between them, it is entirely your decision as to which of the two you are going to believe. If, after this, you are still not convinced that McLaren is one of the very dangerous wolves that Paul warned the church about, then I am not sure that any more can be humanly said or done.



Rob Bell Biography
Author and Pastor Rob Bell Attracts Both Fans and Critics
By Jack Zavada

People familiar with Rob Bell have one thing in common: They have strong feelings about his teachings.

Bell is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grandville, Michigan but has received international attention from his books and his NOOMA video series.

His books include Velvet Elvis, Sex God, and Jesus Wants to Save Christians, coauthored with Don Golden. However, it's his 2011 book, Love Wins, that has generated the most controversy.

Love Wins: Fans and Flak
The complete title is Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. While Bell's supporters love the book, a strong backlash has broken out from critics.

Bell lists Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, as one of the book's fans, along with Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California, the world's largest Protestant seminary. Peterson wrote,

    "In the current religious climate in America, it isn't easy to develop an imagination, a thoroughly biblical imagination, that takes in the comprehensive and eternal work of Christ in all people and all circumstances in love and for salvation. Rob Bell goes a long way in helping us acquire just such an imagination. Love Wins accomplishes this without a trace of soft sentimentality and without compromising an inch of evangelical conviction in its proclamation of the good news that is most truly for all."

Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, doesn't see the book that way. Like many other critics, Mohler accuses Rob Bell of veiled universalism:

    "He (Bell) also argues for a form of universal salvation. Once again, his statements are more suggestive than declarative, but he clearly intends his reader to be persuaded that it is possible - even probable - that those who resist, reject, or never hear of Christ may be saved through Christ nonetheless. That means no conscious faith in Christ is necessary for salvation."

Also in the book, Bell questions whether hell exists as a place of eternal torment. He says God always gets what God wants, so he will eventually reconcile everyone to himself, even after death. Bell's critics say that view ignores man's free will.

Bell clearly did not expect such an explosion of negative response. He now includes a downloadable list of Frequently Asked Questions on the Mars Hill site to help readers of Love Wins "interact" with the book. In one answer he flatly denies he is suggesting universalism.

Rob Bell and the Emerging Church Movement
Rob Bell is often mentioned as a leader in the emerging church movement, an unofficial camp that re-evaluates traditional Christian doctrine and tries to view the Bible in a new perspective. The emerging church tosses out traditional church buildings, seating, music, dress codes, and conventional worship services.

Most emerging churches stress inclusivism and emphasize story and relationships over creeds. They frequently use technology such as videos, PowerPoint programs, Facebook pages and Twitter.

It's true that Mars Hill Church is located in a nontraditional setting: a former anchor store in a shopping mall. Bell had been an assistant pastor at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids before he and his wife Kristen started Mars Hill in 1999. He is a graduate of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois and Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California. The name Mars Hill comes from a site in Greece where Paul preached, the Areopagus, which means Mars Hill in English.

Bell is the son of a Michigan federal judge and played in a band before being hospitalized for viral meningitis-- which contributed to the breakup of the band. It was shortly after that life-changing experience that Bell's life did indeed change. He met Kristen in college, and oddly enough, preached his first sermon at a summer camp in Wisconsin, where he was teaching barefoot waterskiing, among other things. After college he enrolled in seminary. Today he and his wife have three children.

Rob Bell says the questions he raises about salvation, heaven and hell have all been asked before, and in fact liberal theology does go back many hundreds of years. Among Bell's most loyal supporters are young people who question conservative tradition and the so-called rigidity of Evangelical Christianity. Many on both sides have called for cool heads so the ideas Bell has raised can be discussed without name-calling.

"I have long wondered if there is a massive shift coming in what it means to be a Christian," Rob Bell says. "Something new is in the air." More on Rob Bell



Doug Pagitt Biography
Pagitt Sees Theology as ‘Ever-Changing’
By Jack Zavada

Doug Pagitt is one of the more controversial leaders of the emerging church movement, an ongoing conversation that questions many aspects of traditional evangelical Christianity. Pagitt, as well as fellow emerging church figures Rob Bell and Brian McLaren, have all drawn criticism from traditional Christians for their views about the nature of hell and their ideas that theology is an "ever-changing" thing.

Pagitt challenges the doctrine that heaven and hell are places. He defines hell as "disconnection and disintegration with God." He also sees Christianity as an evolving system: "Christianity is not a stagnant belief, and it's not about uniformity."

While Doug Pagitt and others in the emerging church question orthodox Christianity, they are unconcerned with specific statements of their own faith. Solomon's Porch, the Minneapolis, Minnesota church Pagitt founded in 2000, addresses that issue this way:

    "You will not find statements of what our community believes on this site. Belief is a dynamic lived reality and doesn't lend itself to website statements."

Instead, the site has a list of 23 "dreams" for the church. Like the emerging church movement, Solomon's Porch has its own vocabulary, calling itself a "Holistic Missional Christian Community."

Doug Pagitt and Solomon's Porch
Located in south Minneapolis, Solomon's Porch is one of many seeker-oriented churches in the Twin Cities. The area is home to one of the largest college campuses in the United States and has thousands of students who have dropped out of church or are frustrated with traditional church services.

Solomon's Porch rarely refers to itself as a church. It doesn't hold "services" but "Sunday Gatherings," usually in the evening. And, its worship is anything but traditional. Participants sit on sofas arranged in a circle, facing one another. There is no pulpit. Pagitt, the pastor, sits on a stool in the center. Rather than giving lecture-type sermons, he leads discussions and welcomes any type of question.

Pagitt took on traditional Christian preaching in his 2005 book Preaching Re-imagined: The Role of the Sermon in Communities of Faith. He coined the term "speaching," saying traditional sermons are a combination of preaching and giving a speech--a one-sided affair that sets up the pastor as an authority figure with more power and information than his listeners.

As in other emerging churches, Solomon's Porch stresses participation and relationships. Fast-paced computer images and contemporary music keep the digital-age young people involved.

Doug Pagitt, Social and Theological Entrepreneur
On his personal website, Pagitt refers to himself as "a social and theological entrepreneur."

He was born in 1966 in the Minneapolis area, earned his BA in Anthropology in 1988 from Bethel College and his MA in Theology from Bethel Seminary in 1992.

In addition to founding Solomon's Porch, he is also one of the founders of the Emergent Village, a social network of Christians around the world. While the two are often confused, "emerging church" properly refers to the focus of the movement, an ongoing conversation questioning established Christianity, while "emergent" is properly applied to the organization known as the Emergent Village, a communication network and conferences. The members and dialogue of the two often overlap.

Doug Pagitt has also written or contributed to the following books:

    •Church in the Inventive Age

    •A Christianity Worth Believing

    •Church Re-Imagined

    •Preaching Re-Imagined


    •An Emergent Manifesto of Hope

    •The Post-Evangelical


    •Listening to the Beliefs of the Emerging Church

He owns a property management business and a wellness center in Minneapolis, and is co-owner, with Tony Jones, another emerging church leader, of an event production company called JoPa Productions. He is also a speaker and consultant for churches, denominations and businesses in the U.S. and globally.


Tony Jones Biography
Tony Jones Gives Specifics to the Emerging Church Movement
By Jack Zavada

Tony Jones' new book, The Church is Flat, gives the emerging church movement something it sorely needed: specifics.

Jones is one of the founding voices in the emerging church movement, an ongoing conversation that questions much about traditional Christianity. Critics, however, say Jones and his colleagues challenge the way evangelicals do church without offering alternatives. Jones' 2011 book changes that.

Tony Jones Analyzes the Emerging Church
The full title of the book is The Church Is Flat: The Relational Ecclesiology of the Emerging Church Movement. If that sounds a bit eggheaded for the average reader, it's because the book is a "slightly amended version" of Jones' doctoral dissertation for his Ph.D. in practical theology at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Jones studied eight churches within the emerging church movement, analyzing practices and theology common to all eight. He identified the four common practices as worship, preaching, communion, and community. The five practices of virtue shared by the churches are theology, hospitality, priesthood of all believers, creating art, and sacred space.

The Church is Flat spells out much-needed specifics for the emerging church movement. Jones believes that eventually the movement will be institutionalized, and while emerging church leaders avoid statements of faith, some guidance will prove valuable for the future.

In the book, Jones also explores the work of German theologian Jurgen Moltmann and introduces a new emerging church buzzword, "relationality." As might be expected, the academic style of the text makes for tough going at times, but the takeaway for those curious about the emerging church movement is details on what is actually going on behind the doors of churches that place themselves in this new wave of Christianity.

Tony Jones Grows as a Theologian
Jones is theologian-in-residence at Solomon's Porch, the Minneapolis, Minnesota church founded by his friend and business partner Doug Pagitt. The Church is Flat was published by their company, JoPa Productions, LLC.

He received his B.A. from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire in 1990, majoring in classics. In 1993, Jones earned his M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California in systematic theology/postmodern philosophy. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary.

From 1993 to 1997, Jones served as executive director of YouthWorks Missions. He was ordained in 1997 at Colonial Church of Edina, Minnesota, a member of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches. Following his ordination, he was minister to youth and young adults at that church until 2003.

Jones and Pagitt founded Emergent Village in 2005. That social network serves as a communications vehicle for the emerging church movement. Each year it hosts the Emergent Village Gathering near Santa Fe, New Mexico, three days of conversation and activities. Jones was national coordinator of Emergent Village until 2008.

Tony Jones Explores as an Author

Jones' 13 books cover a wide spectrum, as he explores theology and offers different tools for people to use in their search for God. He covers spiritual classics such as Pilgrim's Progress, The Confessions of St. Augustine, and Practicing the Presence of God, to instruction on contemplative prayer.

In Divine Intervention: Encountering God through the Ancient Practice of Lectio Divina, for instance, Jones returns to the ancient tool of divine reading, practiced in Catholic monasteries as early as the sixth century. This way of praying the Scriptures involves reading, meditating and "resting" in the words of the Bible.

Jones covers other mystical customs in his 2003 book Soul Shapers, such as centering prayer and labyrinths. Jones relates how to use such exercises in youth ministry.

Many of Jones' recommendations have been incorporated into emerging church worship, which tends to be interactive and rely on visual images and art. Because the emerging church movement attracts young people who are dissatisfied with traditional church, services often center around questions and dialogue rather than conventional worship patterns.

In addition to writing, Jones acts as a church consultant and lecturer. His work has taken him across the United States, to Ireland and Africa.

Tony Jones was born in 1968, is married and has three children.


The Contemporary Church