I have had several questions lately about the emerging church. Questions about the theology behind it, the churches involved, and how Cornerstone fits into the bigger picture. It is hard to pin down a definition of the emerging church. It started out as a discussion among several church leaders about how to reach the new postmodern culture. There is no unifying statement of faith and there is no structure to the movement, so it is hard to clearly list the beliefs of the emerging church leaders. I want to give a general overview with this first post. I will share more about the terminology, the focus, and how Cornerstone fits within this in later posts.
I read a book by Ed Stetzer, called Breaking the Missional Code, that did a good job of characterizing the different schools of thought within the emerging church. Not everyone agrees with his assessment, see here for a rebuttal, but I think it is a good starting point to discuss the emerging church. There are different ways to categorize the groups within the emerging church. Another good list is found here. Stetzer groups the emerging church into 3 main groups. You can read more of his thoughts from an article he wrote for the Baptist Press website. The definitions below are used from his article.
1. The Relevants
They are simply trying to explain the message of Christ in a way their generation can understand. The contemporary churches of the 1980s and 90s did the same thing (and some are still upset at them for doing so). However, if we find biblical preaching and God-centered worship in a more culturally relevant setting, I rejoice just as I would for international missionaries using tribal cultural forms in Africa.
2. The Reconstructionists
The reconstructionists think that the current form of church is frequently irrelevant and the structure is unhelpful. Yet, they typically hold to a more orthodox view of the Gospel and Scripture. Therefore, we see an increase in models of church that reject certain organizational models, embracing what are often called “incarnational” or “house” models. They are responding to the fact that after decades of trying fresh ideas in innovative churches, North America is less churched, and those that are churched are less committed.
3. The Revisionists
Much of the concern has been addressed at those I call revisionists. Right now, many of those who are revisionists are being read by younger leaders and perceived as evangelicals. They are not — at least according to our evangelical understanding of Scripture. We significantly differ from them regarding what the Bible is, what it teaches and how we should live it in our churches. I don’t hate them, question their motives and I won’t try to mischaracterize their beliefs. But, I won’t agree with them.
Revisionists are questioning (and in some cases denying) issues like the nature of the substitutionary atonement, the reality of hell, the complementarian nature of gender, and the nature of the Gospel itself.
Most of the concerns about the “emerging church”, are due to the outspoken people that are lumped into this revisionist category. To make things even more confusing, the term “emergent” is usually used for the more liberal views within the emerging church. Knowing these different groups will help you understand the emerging church. I’ll share more of my thoughts in a future post.
The following short video by pastor Mark Driscoll is also helpful to learn more about the different “streams” of the emerging church.