A Few Example Posts:

  • "The End of Faith: A Short Response to Sam Harris"
  • See also:
  • "A Long Response to Sam Harris' The End of Faith, by Neil Shenvi"

  • "Is John Piper the Best Answer to Emergence and Postmodernism?"

  • "Captured"

  • "The Storm is Over"

  • "If Golfing Were the Pursuit of Moral Perfection"

  • 9.08.2005

    Amorphous Thoughts on the Emergent Church

    Sometimes I’m a late arrival to the party. Believe it or not, my parents understood the scope of the blogosphere before I did. My dad has been known to say, “Better never late.” I agree with him as long as I can be on the cutting edge. But since I seem to arrive just when the cheese dip runs out, I still have to fall back on “Better late than never.”

    This week, I made my first fly-over of the Emerging Church landscape. This means I’ve taken in a broad view that leaves the particulars fuzzy--but a picture is emerging (pardon the word play here.) One thing comes to mind: I will probably not fit into the Emerging Church for one reason: I’ve never been cool. Not in elementary, junior high, or high school. Never made it into the inner ring there, and I will probably never make into the inner ring of hip, up-to-date, current, and cool cultural understanding and sensitivity. (Where is an evangelical clod to go?)

    However, I have some sympathy for the phenomenon of “emergence.” I like to think of myself as having emerged from “fundamentalism” to a more mature understanding of the Christian life. [Please, no insult implied. I’m talking about me.]
    I know the process of:

    and seeking again

    The final stage of “seeking again” seems to be the equivalent of “Emergence” in this context. The movement claims to be coming out of a variety of things only to wonder: “Where do we go from here?”

    Let me add my two cents to the “conversation.” Some folks on the Emergent side claim that they have not abandoned truth or the concept of truth. I’m glad to hear them say that. The existentialism (and nihilism) that undergirds our current “postmodern” culture has despaired of coming to truth. I fear for people in the church who may not understand the powers of despair. It seems that the Emergent Movement wants to have its cake--and its ice cream too. It wants to have truth here and postmodern angst there. Be careful that the angst doesn’t take over in the end! Especially at a time when epistemological angst is “cool.” It may be cool but can also be deadly.

    If you want to swim the postmodern waters, beware the undertows. I would offer several ropes to land:

    1. Certainty does not Equal Pride. Take the Lord Jesus Christ for example. He knew with certainty:

    Who He was.
    Where He came from.
    Why He was here.
    Where He was going.

    God is the most humble person in the universe. (John 13)

    2. Uncertainty does not Equal Virtue. Take Pontius Pilate for example. He questioned, “What is truth?” The skepticism and cynicism in his question are pretty clear to me. Yet he is responsible for a horrendous role in human history. He washed his hands but could not remove the “damned spot” of injustice and culpability (regardless of God’s sovereign plan).

    3. Equivocation is Maddening. People who have a studied ambiguity--hoping to avoid a clear cut position--are going to lose effectiveness in the long-run. Remember the profound and life-changing country song... “You’ve got to stand for something...” It is preferable to stand on truth.

    4. The Gospel can be Known. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”

    Simple. But not too simple. (No, its not.) Children can receive the Gospel. In fact, Christ encouraged us to be as such.

    Questioning everything that can be questioned will have to end sometime. You will have to land somewhere. Deconstruction can only go so far. That is why some think that the Emergent Church Movement will be short lived. Once you’ve “emerged” where are you? You will have to answer that question sometime. Right now you are in-between. The “In-Between Lands”--in my experience--are transitional, short-term places. I would pity the person who is always in-between.

    Wouldn’t it be good to admit what we really know?

    Truth is available.
    We can know it.

    The Spirit is powerful, and He can help us. Will He not convict us of sin, righteousness, and judgment? If He is the great trans-cultural communicator, He is the great trans-subcultural communicator as well.

    5. The Faith is Not Evolving. Jude 3: “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”

    The Faith is complete. “Once” means “once for all.” The Faith is complete, sufficient, unchanging, eternal, and straight from the heart of God.

    The Faith has been delivered to the saints.

    We have it.
    It is here.
    We can know it.

    The Bible is not a Rubic’s Cube without the Cheat Sheet. (Does this date me?)

    Our understanding of the Faith is always being refined, but the understanding we have is real. And it can be sufficient regarding the core issues of truth.

    I guess we can quibble over the “packaging” of ministry, but the content had better be the real thing. And it is the content that counts in the end.

    6. God is a God of Order. How many Scriptural examples are there? Let me count the ways.... The Old Testament system, although replaced, came from God. He is not against order. Even the New Testament admonition against bedlam in the church can have a secondary application here: “Let all things be done decently and in order.” (1 Corinthians 14:40) The pastoral epistles give qualifications, and even policies, for church functions and church life. Let’s not despise them.

    7. Authenticity is a Heart Issue. We humans have a natural bent for hypocrisy. Although changing one form or style in ministry for another may be helpful, it is not the cure.

    Hypocrisy can seep into anything. King David knew that God wants truth in the inward parts (Psalm 51:6). And the “Leaven of the Pharisees” is insidious. Are the non-Emergent people trapped in a world of dead ministry, twice plucked up by the roots? I think common sense would say that authentic and hypocritical people are found in all church movements.

    8. New is not Always Better. Excuse me one generalization: It appears that the eastern cultures tend to think that former generations were “better.” Hence, people in those cultures revere their ancestors more than we Westerners do. Various pitfalls accompany the Eastern view. Conversely, Western cultures seem to be permeated with the great myth that new is always better. The rebels of the 60’s were sure they were better than their fathers. (The jury is still way out on that one.) Surely my generation of the 80’s improved on the Dark Age of Fashion known as the 70’s!

    We humans tend to think that the new kids on the block have the world on a chain--and other pertinent clichés I cannot think of right now.... But does anyone between the ages of 18-22 have a right to an opinion on anything that really matters? Really? (Grain of salt. Grain of salt!)

    I do struggle with labels of “new” and “old”--as if every form of worship has a shelf-life like a gallon of milk or a bag of Cheetos.

    I am very sympathetic to the pursuit of authenticity. I have seen a lot of shenanigans in ministry and in myself. This is a needed topic of conversation! Remember, authenticity is a matter of the heart and will be judged at the end of the age, ultimately.

    9. Individuals of Different Cultures Can Communicate: This communication will take various levels of effort depending on the cultures. However, people do have a common ground from which to work: All People Bear the Image of God even as Sinners in the World.

    If culture is our philosophical starting point, won’t we simply be consumed by chasing the ever elusive “key” to unlocking the ever changing culture? I see a form of madness on the horizon.

    I agree that culture cannot be disregarded. I like some of what I hear in “missional church” thinking.

    However, I also like what James MacDonald said along these lines, especially for the American church:

    "Cultures don’t come to Christ, individuals do and the fields are more ripe for harvest than ever before. Our endless discussion of culture has become just an elitist substitute for rolling up our sleeves and getting the Good News to the people who are hurting right now! Baby Boomer, GenX, Postmodern, blah, blah, blah. The discussion itself is modernistic and we’re just talking to ourselves. How about a more compassionate extension of our own life in Christ and please . . . a lot less perpetual babbling about culture, which even when rightly observed is not the answer, duh—Jesus is!"

    10. Christianity Transcends Culture. In Acts 2, the various subcultures within the Jewish people heard the wonderful works of God in their native tongues. They asked, “What meaneth this?” They assumed a MEANING to the apparent madness. And they all got the same answer in Peters great sermon.

    In Acts 10-11, the Gentiles were seeking MEANING, not cultural affirmation. They got the same answer. Granted, cultural sensitivity was involved in Peter’s trip to Cornelius.

    I’m trying to underscore that Jews and Gentiles (and all the subcultural groups of the Jews) got the same message. This message was not riddled with postmodern angst!


    Some of the Emergent Church is asking some good questions. I hope that we can all pursue the true answers with confidence.

    Note: If the Emerging Church is amorphous, please pardon my amorphous thoughts about it. Meanwhile, this Evangelical Clod will simply do his best in ministry.


    At 12:13 PM, Blogger Joe said...

    Love the post!

    The problem with the Emerging Church is that it is not clear from what it is emerging.

    I have no problem with, nor do I object to doing things differently.

    The form and/or structure of worship, for instance, is of little importance to me and becomes a matter of taste, culture and comfort.

    The essentials of the faith, however, are not negotiable in my view. If there is a question about what is essential, I always stand ready, if slightly dogmatic, to set the record straight.

    Now I have always been cool. Just ask my kids (right). But there is just too much "anti" motivation, often denied, in the Emerging Church to appeal to me.

    In my mind, they are the spiritual equal to the anti-establishment hippies of the '60s, with whom I could not identify either.

    So, I'll just focus on the person of Jesus and let the rest fall where it will.

    Is that too simplistic?

    At 11:24 PM, Blogger J. Wendell said...

    I'm glad I found your blog.
    I like your elaboration. Are you familiar with the works of Millard J. Erickson? Your writing in one way reminds me of his. Your thoughts are quite interesting. As for emerging, I just want those poor souls in darkness to "emerge" into His wonderful light. The church needs to Glorify God "His way" which is not always what we think it is.

    At 10:01 AM, Blogger John Rush said...

    J. Wendell

    Thanks for stopping by! No, I have not come across Millard J. Erickson yet. But I'll keep my eyes open. Thanks for the tip. Always looking for good authors.


    At 2:27 PM, Blogger Steve Weaver said...


    Good post. Interesting and helpful observations.

    At 12:24 AM, Blogger Jeff Wright said...


    I say the following as honestly as I can: That's the best concise listing of the flaws within the Emergent church.

    I don't like the list because it points out flaws, rather I like it because it manages to be penetrarting and thorough as well.

    Pretty impressive for an "evangelical clod."

    As one who is trying to figure out the emergent movement a bit myself, care to share where you were learing/engaging/whatever-term-you-want-to-use with emergent ideology/theology/whatever-term-you-want-to-use?

    At 2:41 PM, Blogger John Rush said...


    I read D.A. Carson's article at Christianity Today. I have also read from several Emergent websites as well. Look for the Tall Skinny Kiwi. He has some stuff from the Emergent point of view as well. There are many more sites.


    At 9:35 AM, Blogger Rose~ said...

    Hi JRush,
    I don't remember reading this post before. It is very good and I like your "tone" here.

    This line in the post:
    I see a form of madness on the horizon.
    Amen to that. This idea that the faith is ever-evolving kind of reminds me of liberal politicians and legal folk who like to say that the US Constitution is a "living" document ... because they want to change it. Well, the scripture is a living book, and how the church operates within the culture may change and develop, but like you said, at the core, there must be the same substance as that of the early church, or we've emerged as something that we should not be. Good post.


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