OST is closed for business but its spirit survives on my blog.

What is 'emerging church'?

The phrase ‘emerging church’ will undoubtedly mean different things to different people and I will only offer a tentative definition here, chiefly for the benefit of those to whom it means next to nothing. If you disagree with the points made, by all means add your views below.

1. Emerging church is certainly a reaction against the forms of evangelicalism that have flourished in the West over the last fifty years or so – hence the popularity of the term ‘post-evangelical’. People have reacted in different ways: there has been a range of experiments in alternative forms of worship; groups have decamped from traditional church premises into public venues such as bars, cafés and leisure centres; and many Christians have simply opted out of organized church altogether (see the review of Alan Jamieson’s book A Churchless Faith).

2. This reaction has been driven largely, I think, by dissatisfaction with evangelical church culture at various levels – a dissatisfaction that has often been explained in terms of a perceived shift in the wider culture from modernism to postmodernism: from objectivism to relativism, from certainty to doubt, from singularity to plurality, from Story to stories. Emerging church is an attempt to replot Christian faith on this new cultural and intellectual terrain.

3. Emerging church is beginning to acquire the coherence of a ‘movement’, but it probably cannot yet be said to have a strong sense of its own identity and certain tensions are apparent. There has been tension, for example, between an inward and an outward dynamic: for some the motivation has been the desire to find more congenial modes of worship and community, whereas others have been attracted by the missional potential of an escape from the cultural dead-end of evangelicalism. There has been a further tension between new ways of doing and new ways of being: do we just do congregational life differently or should we abandon structured religious life altogether in favour of simply being followers of Jesus in the world?

4. Emerging church is characteristically postmodern in its suspicion of the controlling structures of religious life and thought: church hierarchy, dominant cultural forms, doctrinal formulations, and so on. So the life and practice of emerging church are marked by a resistance to these structures, but also by a desire to develop positive alternatives. There has been a good discussion thread on this site, for example, about the nature of ‘emerging authority’.

5. Considerable emphasis is placed on relational paradigms as the basis for all forms of Christian activity. In many instances this has encouraged a shift away from ‘concentric’ or ‘solid’ towards decentred or ‘liquid’ expressions of community (see, for example, the review of Pete Ward’s Liquid Church). This has also led, inevitably, to a blurring of boundaries, both between church traditions and between believers and non-believers. Emerging church is more willing to be ‘inclusive’ (the word obviously needs definition), less concerned with defining and safeguarding the boundaries of membership, than ‘modern’ forms of evangelicalism.

6. In place of what is perceived as the rather narrow agenda of mainstream evangelicalism, emerging church is looking to develop a more holistic spirituality and to pursue a wider engagement in the public sphere. So, on the one hand, we see a willingness to explore different patterns of Christian life and to draw upon a broader spectrum of religious traditions – Celtic Christianity and Eastern Orthodoxy, for example, have had a strong appeal. On the other, we see a new social activism that is both critical and creative: mission is understood to encompass a much wider set of activities than just evangelism.

See also:

Some thoughts on the definition of “emerging church”

What (again) is an emerging theology?

George Lings: What is ‘emerging church’?
Scott McKnight: What is the Emerging Church?, What is the Emerging Church? Protest, What is the Emerging Church? Postmodernity, What is the Emerging Church? Pro-Aplenty
Wikipedia: Emerging Church

Your rating: None Average: 4.8 (21 votes)


Evangelism is a cultural dead-end? What!


Pardon my lack of perceptiveness but how did evangelism become a "cultural dead-end?" I would have thought I was sufficiently intellectual to have noticed when this was alleged to have occurred. I must have missed that when it was in all the papers.

How about a few examples of groups who aren’t snake handlers? And while we’re considering this, did anyone stop to think evangelicals might be a tad offended by that comment.

Is modern evangelicalism a 'cultural dead-end'?

I presume Jay noticed that it is ‘evangelicalism’ (perhaps this should be qualified as ‘modern’ evangelicalism), not ‘evangelism’, that is described as a ‘cultural dead-end’. I would also underline i) that this was simply intended as a brief summary of why certain groups are attracted to the emerging church banner; ii) that the statement nevertheless reflects a fairly widespread feeling, which may be more evident in the UK than in the US, that modern evangelicalism has failed to connect with postmodern western culture; and iii) that the statement was made with reference to the missional effectiveness of the church.

Having said that, I wonder what others think. I’m not too concerned about offending evangelicals (I count myself as one). But is it fair to say that evangelicalism has become something of a ‘cultural dead-end’?

Evangelicalism is still a dom

Evangelicalism is still a dominant force in North America, though perhaps a victim of post-christian culture in general in Europe. In Asia and Africa, however, Evangelicalism is the wave of the future. However, it would be fair to say that many thoughtful, sympathetic evangelicals do not see it as the final stage of ecclesiological evolution. I find myself thinking that "the emergent church" will be swallowed up by evangelicalism, will effect a change in course of the wider movement and lose much of its distinctiveness. Consider the fates of the charismatic movement or church growth movement.

Starbucks emmerging into Corporate America

Chris… Perhaps you are right. A similar comparison may be made between the paradigm of Starbucks and corporate America versus that of Emmerging Church and traditional evangelicalism. The efforts of Starbucks to do something revolutionary, relational and relevant become swallowed up by their success. Thus they become the corporate america they were pushing against.

The difference with the church is that she(we) often reverse engineer success (ever since the days of finney). Thus it is more likely that the mainstream evangelicalism borrows ideas and theological developments from the emmerging communities rather then these emmerging communities developing and morphing back to broader evangelicalism.. or even growing to a size where traditional church structures and formalities are needed. Concerning the borrowing of ideas, we are already seeing this phenomina in Dallas where several large churches are owning missional and emmergent elements as core values.

Whatever she wears, may she remain faithful.

still wondering about deadend; and is post the same as anti

lets define deadend. if we saw those words on a street sign we would know that unless you needed to get to an adress on that deadend street, then you would not go down that road. is this what evangelicalism is? i think not. there have been and are a lot of things coming out of Evangelicalism. there are a lot of groups and individuals that have came out of this movement that have been very influencial. people like C.S. Lewis, Billy Graham, Francis Schaffer, and some people today like Skip Heitzig, Rick Warren, and Bill Hybels who are possibly on the same level but only time will tell. the fact is these people have changed how we do church in the last twenty to thirty years. and those before the last 50 to 60 years. they were evangelical. so there are and have been things to come out of evangelicalism, in fact not a few people look at the emerging church and think of it as a seeker driven church retooled for people seeking something a little different. and about the prefix post…it doesn’t have anything to do with the word against. if somone were against the evangelical movement they would be antievangelical, not postevangelical. if your done with and tired of the movement, then your post, if your against the movement, then your anti. i think these folks need a little respect, mostly cause they’ve changed church more than anyone in the last 150-200 years, when most of todays main denominations were started.

not a dead-end for some but Jesus said ...

Hi Andrew,

I think that evangelicalism or evangelical churches have failed people only in the sense that people do not consider the Word of God important to them in their lives. Since the culture is entertainment oriented and interested in hearing only good things then they are not primarily interested in what is good and right and true. There ARE EXCEPTIONS TO THIS STATEMENT. But Jesus Himself said, For many are called, but FEW ARE CHOSEN - Matthew 20:16c

I have a living relationship with Jesus - which started when I wanted to live without condemnation in my life. I believe that an evangelical is one that reads and holds to the Word of God and reads it often.

How do you consider yourself a evangelical - what are the parameters that you use to define that in your life? I have not for instance seen you quote or refer to your relationship with Jesus. Are you sure you are saved?

Sincerely in Christ,

Bevin Jesus said, I AM the Way the Truth and the Life, NO ONE comes to the Father except by (through) Me. John 14:6

Marhorse, thanks for

Marhorse, thanks for posting the comments. I think they merit a more personal response than is appropriate for this thread so I have posted something here.

In the press

Jay… regrettibly it has been in the papers… and movies. It first appeared in the papers in the early 1900’s during the monkey trials. I wish I kept a list of every appearance of an evangelical charicature in popular media. Sometimes its sublte enough to be missed by those of us who are “in-house”.

Re: Evangelism is a cultural dead-end? What!

You have to understand that because they don’t embrace the homosexual lifestyle they are considered just short of savages by some people.

Name - Barry Bathulo
Email - torreno.programmer[at]gmail.com
AIM - labtested1980
Yahoo - blowerping
Start a Petition

Re: What is 'emerging church'?

I have been reading through this site and find it very informative and promising.  I am, however, moved to ask the following:  It would seem to me that all the world’s religions have similar questions and issues to solve - why would a site called "OpenSourceTheology" be limited to Christianity?  Clearly the goal is to find a way to bring people who have left the organized "church" back into the fold.  This is a noble goal.  I think this is an opportunity to do something bigger - bring people from all religions (organized or otherwise) together to discuss the commonality in theology.  There is so much that divides people these days and religion is one more of those things.  I don’t mean just between Jews and Christians - it can be between reform and othordox jews, catholics and protestants…the list goes on.

There seems to be a lot of time spent trying to understand what the bible may or not mean, what the new testament may or may not have meant.  Was Jesus even in favor or organized religion?  Based upon his actions it would appear he was not.  Afterall, faith without deeds…

Does a devout Christian really believe that a person who does not accept Jesus is going to hels?  Is that what Jesus would have preached?  Something has been lost in the translation.

If this site is just an attempt to bring Christians back to their church then I suggest renaming the site to OpenSourceChristianity.  If this is truely OST then the goal should be towards unifying all the good things that the worlds religions have in common and breaking down these human imposed barriers.

Just my humble opinion - what do you think?

Re: What is 'emerging church'?

Larry, these are interesting thoughts. Thanks for posting them.

I agree that in principle an open source theology could embrace a much wider set of issues, including those arising from interfaith conversations. I feel that the value of this site, however, lies in the fact that it is focused on the particular questions being asked by and about the ‘emerging church’. This has to do with much more than bringing those dissatisfied with organized church back into the fold - it certainly includes discussion of topics such as Jesus’ teaching on ‘hell’, organized religion, faith and action, etc.

It seems to me that the ‘theology’ that is done here is sufficiently contextualized and qualified (eg. by the phrase ‘collaborative theology for an emerging church’) for us not to have to worry about the potential scope of the title. ‘OpenSourceChristianity’ loses the theological focus. ‘OpenSourceEmergingTheology’ is getting cumbersome.

I am certainly of the opinion that the emerging church needs to start thinking seriously about the fact that the postmodern environment is a religiously pluralistic environment. There are enormous social, political, missional and theological challenges here that are barely being touched upon - note the disappointing lack of interest in the recent ‘Christendom vs Islamic Empire’ post. I also think that there is a need for dialogue between faiths - though I’m not sure that the emerging church knows its own mind well enough to start down that road just yet. In any case, it wouldn’t be approached simply as a matter of harmonizing religions, and it would be too much to do on this website.

There is a wikipedia article on ‘open source religion’ - you’ll notice that there are open source religion discussions.

Re: What is 'emerging church'?

Perhaps the best way for the emerging church to understand itself is to have the dialouge between faiths.  How can you understand yourself until you know where you came from and what else is out there?

have you read the bible?

Hi Larry,

Have you ever read what Jesus said in the Bible. He mentioned Hell alot and Hades and Gahenna and all were references to the torment that a person would enter if they chose to not choose Him. He came to the earth to point us to the way of life. Not by works but by faith in his work on the cross.

I do not see on this site much talk about what Jesus said. I believe that if a person doesn’t accept Jesus’ sacrifice in their sted on the cross and doesn’t then follow Him they are lost and will go to hell. That’s extremely unfortunate to say the LEAST. Most people don’t believe this.

Jesus Himself spoke of Hell quite alot and if you read the 4 gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John you would get a pretty good overview of his teachings and the way of life for yourself.

The main question that we all need to think about is “What do you do with Jesus?”

Also, He is interested in the church as he is the head of it. We are called the bride of Christ. His resurrection was the beginning of it. He proclaimed to those that looked at him from earth in his assension - to go into all the world and proclaim the good news to all … in Jerusalem and to the uttermost parts of the earth. That’s called the great commission.

If you want any Bible references just say so - but I think if you look into it yourself you will be convinced by Jesus or also known as the Word of God. John 1:1

Go to him with an open heart and he will hear you.

Sincerely in Christ,

Bevin Jesus said, I AM the Way the Truth and the Life, NO ONE comes to the Father except by (through) Me. John 14:6

what are you afraid of?

marhorse, your rhetoric frustrates me and makes me believe that you are afraid of something. why are you frightened of the idea that jesus’ death was for all? before he was ressurected, jesus opened the gates of hell and set the captives free. it doesn’t say “the ones who had the proper belief system” it doesn’t even say the ones who “believed” or the ones who “had faith.”

if jesus is an eternal being - then setting the captives free was an eternal act. therefore the hades that is thrown into the fiery lake in revelation is without the sea of glass - the sea of humainty clearly outlined WITHIN the throne room of heaven. why do you want or need for people to be in hell for eternity? clearly there is a hades, clearly there are consequences to ignoring the lamb of god, but i think that to say that the whole of scripture and jesus himself point to the concept of “eternal damnation” for the children of god is seriously debatable.

if you want to discuss this issue with an open mind and engage in a real conversation that’s great. we are all on a journey. but when you demean the conversation here by accusing the operator of a site called “open source theology” of not reading scripture, you stop us all from moving toward christ.

In defense of both views

Hi Stacy,

In defense of Marhorse, he believes (and has Biblical right to believe) in hell as eternal, and so therefore he would be rightly passionate about preserving this belief because the consequences of ignoring it would be too great - ie, if he is correct in what he believes, we would be doing humanity a SEVERE injustice by trying to sugar coat the whole thing.

In defense of you, I agree that it perhaps is also ‘debatable,’ but certainly I wouldn’t say that it is ‘not plausible.’ It’s exact plausibility is what makes it so frightening, and ought to make us a little more eager to see the lost saved.

Now, personally I would have to say that perhaps the traditionalists have come across as way too confident in knowing the ‘biblical’ truth of hell- but, let’s be honest, so have the annihilationists, and the universalists, and the whatever else-alists (dare I say, some emergenists as well?) I think that’s the real problem, everyone is pretending to know more about what the Bible says about hell.

I think we should never pretend to know more than what we ought : the Bible doesn’t really say, for sure, this way or that - so we should bring all truth to men and let them know that they are definately under God’s judgement if they ignore the truth of the Lamb, and outright reject Him. We know THAT for sure. What God is going to do EXACTLY with those that reject Him, the Bible doesn’t say. It doesn’t fully explain what ‘seperation’ means, or what ‘death’ means, or what ‘lake of fire’ means. It says as much about hell as it does about heaven, if you ask me. The truth is that we probably wouldn’t understand if we were told everything, as is evident that we don’t really understand what we have been told. You can’t really explain an apple to someone who has never seen one, except that it’s ‘a fruit.’ Hell and Heaven are pretty much the same, I think. Who can explain it to us? It’s unlike anything we know. Hell we know is ‘eternal’ but we don’t know it’s exact nature, where it is, what it looks like, and exactly what it feels like. Any attempt to do more than that is actually just interesting guesswork - so we should appreciate all views, and ensure that what we DO tell people is that they ARE under God’s judgement if they reject Christ. (Note, that those that have never heard of Christ are probably under judgement according to their conscience, which I get from Romans. The calvinistic view, in my opinion, can be fully supported - even logically - while still affirming that only those that REJECT Christ would be under a hell-judgement, not those that didn’t know anything about him. That’s for another interesting debate though. I’m not calvinist, or Arminian, but believe that both are perfectly valid in their content - not necessarily their logic.)

Personally, I very much believe in an eternal hell- but ‘hell’ for me means more like annihilationism mixed with a traditional view. I don’t really accept Andrew’s view (or what I understand of it) as final, although I do accept it as prophetical or eschatological. I mean, I think that prophecy is fulfilled on different levels, sometimes one prophecy is fulfilled in three different ways (take how many OT prophecy’s were about the time of writing, and also referred to Jesus at the same time.)

Ok, but I’m rambling on here, I just wanted to caution that neither your side (which I presume is universalist in some degree) or Marhorse’s side ought to claim complete knowledge as to the nature of hell : we ought to not just respect each others views, but actually ACCEPT each others views as plausible and therefore understand better how we should relate to our fellow man - because both views actually do help us relate better to those who ‘are perishing.’ And that’s the whole point of the gospel - relationship!


my complaint

was not in having divergent views, but in demeaning any view - which i felt marhose did. i appologize if i misunderstood his intentions. i understand passion, obviously, but dont want any of us to be demeaned in the process of wrestling with the deep things. as for what i believe - all i know is that it is an ever-morphing thing. eternity, i believe in - eternal damnation for any human being, i do not know if i believe. lately i have grown to think either we are saved by grace or we are not. of course i could be wrong, i have been before. but as i look at my 40 plus years of relationsip with god and search of scripture, i find fault with much of what is traditionally taught. i stumbled onto this site and hope it to be a place where thoughts can be expressed and hard questions asked without the smug atack of “have you read the bible?”

i also did not consider the intentions of this site before i wrote. i was excited about the ideas i saw expressed and opened my mouth quickly. so i do appologize if i was offensive or spoke inappropriately. i will endeavor to take a closer look at what you are creating here, and speak within your perameters.


emerging conversations

I guess that this is a lot of what is meant by “emerging”. Having honest conversations about honest doubts. It is a very important way to love one another if we can listen without condemnation and even better if we can listen and learn!

Live to serve : Serve to live

Re: What is 'emerging church'?

Perhaps the best way for the emerging church to understand itself is to have the dialogue between faiths.

Re: What is 'emerging church'?

This comment has been moved here.

Re: What is 'emerging church'?

The emerging church is essentially a reaction against the “local club” and power/over-control mentality of evangelicalism. Unfortunately, the emerging church’s reaction has created its own, more foundational problem: blurring the lines of Truth, which it now makes subjective. In other words, its overreaction has made it less biblical and more worldly, not simply in the world, but of the world.

Re: What is 'emerging church'?

agree,but it probably cannot yet be said to have a strong sense of its own identity and certain tensions are apparent

Re: What is 'emerging church'?

Ultimately then, we enjoy the fullness of community as, and only as God graciously brings us to participate together in the fountainhead of community, namely, the life of the triune God ... The community that is ours is nothing less than shared participation - a participation together - in the perichoretic community of Trinitarian persons.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.