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August 10, 2010


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Gene Schandorff

What you said, Scott. It seems to me that all of the real heretics who ever lived have done less real damage to the Christian church than the folks who have appointed themselves to identify and eliminate the imaginary ones.

Bless you, brother

Ryan Roberts

Thanks for your helpful thoughts on this topic all along the way. You mentioned a lot of "posts" in your comments. I would love to hear your thoughts on the concept of "Post-Christian" as it relates to the USA and on a global scale. Keep up the good work.

Hans Deventer

Great post! Thank you, Scott, lots of stuff to think about.

L Osweiler

Excellent article. May I share this with other pastors?
I really like the part about the "next thing". Seems like many Christians are always looking for the new "bandwagon" to jump on. Thankfully, the Institutional Church will outlast any of the latest "trends".

Dean Blevins

Emerging... Dead. Interesting pronunciation and contrast of terms. One describes not only growth (movement) but also contextualization, reflective adaptation, and new manifestations. The other term describes not just stagnation or moratorium, but outright cessation of any vitality and decomposition. While I have long thought the term "Emergent" might someday be left behind I am not sure if the number of younger pastors who explored and embraced the more centered assumptions of this movement (many you note later in the post) have sensed they are now in the grave. What does it mean when detractors can claim they "killed" the Emerging Church?

Scott D

I don't think that the end of a "movement" necessitates the end of the churches impacted by those movements (nor makes them invalid). Many of the churches started and shaped by the church growth movement two or three decades ago still exist, but my guess is they have had to find ways of being reformed and to keep reforming. I suppose in one sense the church is always emerging (as a verb) in the same sense that it is always reforming. Something must emerge from what currently exists. We won't strike the word from our vocabulary. But I do think "emerging" as a labeled way of describing a particular movement within the church has largely run its course. But I could be wrong.


I find so much in your post that I agree with. I quit using the words "emergent" and "emerging" several years ago because I found them to be a distraction to a much broader conversation. Most of those who have engaged in the dialogue on church, culture, gospel, etc. have done the same - leaving these labels behind - for a deeper theological conversation that has moved to a much broader platform. The ecclesial conversation has been moved, churches that are being planted now will not look like North American churches of the 20th century. I am watching as some of the biggest critics of "the emerging church conversation" are adapting to the very issues that scared them to death a couple of years ago. It makes me smile to think critics of the "emerging church" are assuming that the voices who were caught up in the emergent conversation have moved on to the "next trend." The conversation has shifted from deconstruction to a focus on what church should be in our current cultural realities. There is no interest in protecting the label or brand "Emerging Church" or "Emergent."


Great article, Scott. I'm passing this along to several friends and colleagues.

Rich Schmidt

Well said, Scott. I admire your recent attempts to engage your critics. But it becomes a bit surreal at times, doesn't it? Thanks for keeping a clear head in the midst of it!

Gord Evans

Good stuff, Scott. Enjoyed reading this perspective on our culpability in, perhaps unwittingly, allowing culture and concepts to evolve as the Spirit directs.

Dean asks, "What does it mean when detractors can claim they "killed" the Emerging Church?"

To the detractors? Or to those who aren't particularly worried about what the detractors are saying?

The Pharisees claimed they killed the "King of the Jews!" He knew better. Still does.

Scott says, "I think, in the end, rather than having a new church emerge from the cultural changes taking place we will find that the Spirit of God helped the church respond to the needs of shifting cultural contexts."



Sorry I'm a first time visitor, and didn't read the full article carefully (it's late, I'm tired). But as a committed member of an emergent cohort, a dedicated follower of Jesus, but someone who can't bring myself to attend church or sometimes even call myself a "Christian" - I just simply could not disagree more.

The "movement" as a label and as a "fad" may have died out in popularity (your point about Capitalism is a good one) - the reality "on the ground" is very different. Some examples: I was just on a 3 hour flight in which I talked to a random woman about the emerging church for the entire flight. We both felt a connection, a solidarity, and a sense that we were in the same adventure with God and the Church, moving into something new. It was awesome.

I just got off the phone with a sibling who expressed that going to church is impossible. It's not bringing her closer to God, but actually the opposite.

I just posted a blog about plans for our emergent cohort Sunday gathering. There's no leader. No agenda. No pastor. No denomination. But there will be community, love, and hopefully a lot of Jesus. check it out here: http://emergentcentralohio.blogspot.com

So, while I understand it may *look* like the emergent church is "dead" - the reality is that for many of us, its only just coming alive.

Spencer Burke


Great insights. In June I posted a little different perspective called "The Illusion of the 'Emerging Church'", you can read it here - http://www.theooze.com/articles/article.cfm?id=2407 - let me know what you think...

Patrick Oden

I think you're wrong.

Well, let me rephrase that. I agree with what you wrote in your post. But I disagree with your conclusion. And pretty much for the same reasons that Jesse mentions.

Another caveat... I believe an aspect of your conclusion is right. I think the great media blitz of Emergent! is probably past its peak.

But, that's not what Jesse talks about. And that's not what I hear about that's going on with other communities that aren't getting, and aren't interested in, a lot of attention.

And, it probably is also the case that some of the key people who pushed Emerging into being the ecclesial wing of progressive theology weren't really entirely emerging to begin with. McClaren, for instance, was I believe a pastor of a very traditional kind of church. People latched on this "new thing" because it was a "new thing" not because they really were in tune with what was going on beneath the surface, in the small communities.

This is a much longer conversation, but a couple of points in emerging favor.

One, is that we have past the point of denominational domination. People are, and will continue, to gather in non-aligned communities in which they participate as a community in the pursuit of Christian discipleship.

Second, is that if instead of talking about the Emergent Church as being some sort of solely Anglo-American phenomenon we see the emerging movement as being a contextual ecclesiology that has examples throughout the world, we begin to see how the emerging church offers a continuing prophetic role, even as it may not be numerically dominating. In a way, maybe it is more like the Society of Friends in our era than a new Methodism.

Third, established churches so often offer very little in the way of advanced discipleship opportunities to discover a holistic life of faith in the context of others who are choosing the same. In other words, Protestantism has no monastic tradition, and I think the emerging churches offer this reality, being a place where people can voluntarily choose a deeper, transformative spirituality.

So, maybe the terminology isn't useful anymore, but I think the core reality is deeper than the publishing and marketing blitz. Partly because of what I continue to see happening in L.A. and in San Diego, where friends are still part of very active emerging communities. And partly because the "emerging" impulse is something that happens throughout church history, though taking different forms based on the society and context. With contemporary communication what may have been disparate, isolated pockets can continue to have a cohesion that will help it exist even when church growth experts have lost interest.

Fourth, the emerging church is part of my dissertation topic (along with Moltmann), and I'm sticking with it not simply because I already came up with a good idea, but because as I've studied it more and more I have a sense of how much it really is a bigger and deeper reality than far too many people, including some of the bigger names in the earlier movement, have thought. But as I said, this is really a longer conversation.

Patrick Oden

One more wee comment... "A year later, I can’t find a whole lot of people who care. In particular I can’t find any scholarly folk who want to talk about it. One of my theological colleagues here at APU summed it up well in a conversation last week. “For all practical purposes the EC movement is dead. It is over and done. Does anybody care about it anymore?”"

This isn't surprising to me. From what I could tell there was very rarely any scholarly folk who ever wanted to talk about it, except as they might talk about any other cultural trend.

I'd say the academic contributions to the emerging church conversation were pretty narrow. LeRon Shultz and Scot McKnight stick out, and there were certainly others, but even at the peak there just wasn't a lot of interest in what was going on. And while I think there were lots of reasons for this (including a fairly common malicious disinterest), I think it also reflects the wider academic theological disinterest in ecclesiology and pneumatology in general.

And Moltmann--no slouch of an academic--has shown a bit of interest in the lingering EC conversation, headlining a small EC conference last Fall. My argument before that, and continuing, is that the EC is essentially a practical expression of Moltmann's ecclesiology.

Which, I suppose, means I still have hope for the EC movement. :-)

Eric Herron

Pastor Scott,

I think the fact that you can't find "any scholarly folk who want to talk about [the emerging church]" may simply point to the fact that you haven't chosen to explore scholarly views beyond your "friends" and "colleagues".

There is a pretty decent list of scholars who have very recently been excited about the EC and have assumed it's ongoing health, long into the future.

For instance, I wonder what Eddie Gibbs or Ryan Bolger - both reputable professors at Fuller, and authors of "Emerging Churches" (Baker Academic, 2005) would say about the EC today, only five short years after publishing their extensive research on it. Is what they observed in real emerging communities information that they should now retract as false or no longer relevant - perhaps illusory?

Or I wonder what the revered church historian Robert Webber would say today about the EC if he were still alive? Just a few short years ago he was a regular headliner at Emergent gatherings and a published advocate of "the emergence of a new non-megachurch tradition."

Or what about Phyllis Tickle - research scholar and founding editor of the Publisher's Weekly Religion Dept.? What would she say only two years after outlining the historical trajectory of the Church with academic dedication and prescient flair (in her book, "The Great Emergence" - 2008). The so-called Emerging Church has a foundational home in her schema.

I could go on, but I think my point is becoming clear. With all due respect, perhaps widening your circle of academic friends would yield a slightly different take on the Emerging Church's current vital signs.

Red Livingstone

Labels may come and go. Die if you may. But passionate followers of Christ are not terribly concerned about adapting to labels. True, "alternative" worship, "post-modern" worship, "experiential" worship, "emergent" church are tags that have been placed by worship explorers as a process distinguishing their journey, but the tags or labels does not limit or define the movement.

The movement of Christ followers is too significant and too passionate to worry about what religious academia thinks. Speaking for myself. Frankly, I don't care what religious academia thinks.

To quote Timothy Keller, from the Prodigal God,

"Jesus's teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect . . . That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same on effect people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did."

Followers of Christ are always on the move. Always seeking fresh water and fresh bread. Always on task, alway on journey. Always seeking God's face. His grace abounds. Labels may come and go. Die if you may. But the movement continues.

Marty Alan Michelson

Some supplemental thoughts on "emergent" and "emerging" posted at this link. I think the connection with emergency theory (!) is important - the entire anthill issue - and the clarification in the video that I would summarize in this way. Emergent Christians are not saying "we're doing something new and different because the old is 'dead' but we're emerging into new periods of God's unfolding future in light of the past."



Kevin Zoerb

Old post, but I will comment anyway.
Since when is relevancy determined by popularity? The Emergent Church, as you call it, is the model the apostles established following Christ’s ascension. It is still relevant today.

The organizational church exists, because man decided we needed clergy, buildings and organization. Itt is operated more like a business model than God’s order. Christ came to destroy the old order and establish the new. “Church” today appears more like the old order than the new.

The institutional church will continue to operate, but the EC will be where the “unchurched” will find life (millions refuse to enter a church building). Experiencing life together while focusing on Christ is where life comes from. The organizational church adds these activities on as a “side” instead of the main course.

Incidentally, I grew up in the organizational church and now experience life as never before in what you would term the emergent church. I lived in a spiritual shack, but have now experienced life in a mansion. I will never go back!

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