Introducing The Emerging Church
In our present day, the "emerging church" movement has arisen. This article is an attempt to introduce Barnabas Ministry readers to this movement.

In order to understand the emerging church, one must give some thought to the times we live in. The emerging church is an attempt to get the church "up to date" with the times we live in. This citation from
the Emergent Village website is a good introduction to what underlies this movement:

Emergent invites you to explore this story. To come into this conversation with us. Many thoughtful Christians agree: the modern, colonial world is coming undone and a new postmodern, postcolonial world is emerging.

This complex and many-faceted transition calls for innovative Christian leaders from all streams of the Christian faith around the world to collaborate in unprecedented ways. We must imagine and pursue the development of new ways of being followers of Jesus … new ways of doing theology and living biblically, new understandings of mission, new ways of expressing compassion and seeking justice, new kinds of faith communities, new approaches to worship and service, new integrations and conversations and convergences and dreams.

Perhaps an easier way to look at the emerging church is that it is trying to overcome the flaws in the church that are related to modernism and modernistic approaches to faith. In that sense, the emerging church is an attempt to position the church to address the issues of the post-modern age. As a result, leading advocates of this emerging approach articulate several important values that are in stark contrast to how churches typically are:
There is a subset of the emerging church known as the emergent church. This branch tends to be more liberal in theology, often to the point of seriously questioning historical elements of the Christian faith. But this does not characterize the entire emerging church.

This emerging church movement brings something valuable to the table- a new perspective on expressions and understandings of faith and a sensitivity to the post-modern culture we find ourselves in. It is always important to distinguish the gospel from the culture, and transitions from one culture to another make this more evident.

But it is evident that these issues are also reactionary and sometimes muddled in problems themselves:

I welcome and enjoy what the emerging movement brings to the table. It's a stimulating, necessary discussion and we can benefit from it. All new generations must express faith in their context; it is not just a privilege but a duty. More than that, post-modernism is real and needs to be addressed.

But as post-modernism is by definition a reaction to modernism, post-modern churches react to modern churches. It cannot be escaped. It thus is at risk to inherent all of the problems that previous reactions have had, most dangerously what I call "one true wayism."

This tendency towards one true wayism (ironically, a very modernist tendency) in the emerging church is illustrated towards the end of Dan McLaren's book "The Story We Find Ourselves In." The book climaxes with this exchange after these characters lament everything from bad religion to damage to the environment and racism:

But I resisted the urge to minimize her sadness, and instead, agreed with her. "You're right," I said. "There's a lot of crap out there." Then I gave her a good-natured pat on the back and said, "I guess that's why the world needs a new breed of pastors like you and me. We'll finally get it right." (The Story We Find Ourselves In, Brian D. McLaren, p 189)

Am I the only one who sees the irony here? For all its promise, the emerging church is dragging around a lot of what it would call modernism. This is potentially another "one true wayism" but in an infant stage.

I hope that the emerging church continues to pursue bringing the gospel into the post-modern age. It is an exciting process. But I'd be wary that there is significant potential for abuse and disillusionment in this movement, just like any other movement.

Copyright © 2006 John Engler. All rights reserved.

Send a letter to the editor concerning this article