Suggestions for Critics of the Emerging Church by Michael Spencer

Criticism of the emerging/missional church is growing among traditionalists, fundamentalists and many of the reformed. I don’t like to argue, so I thought I might offer a contribution to the discussion. Critics of the emerging, missional church: a few questions/suggestions for you to contemplate…uh, think about. In your free time. [This article first appeared in the October 2006 issue of Next-Wave. You can browse the rest of the articles from that issue here:]

There’s a lot I would like to say, but let’s keep it to five. Ex: The definition of postmodernism that drives these criticisms is uniformly rejected by emerging church-sympathetic theologians and philosophers. (See James Smith’s book.) Why do we continue, then, to read page after page explaining that all postmodernism is evil enlightenment philosophy? And then there’s the entire matter of whether the emerging church is routinely confused with the Rick Warren/Boomer style church marketing approach. And on and on and on…Anyways.

1. Would it be possible to hold on to the basic goodness of words like “missional” and “incarnation?” I’d hate for these good words to become casualties of conflict. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for clarification of why Ed Stetzer missionalism is good but Mall church’s missionalism is bad. Better yet, let’s just declare these terms off limits and find better words, or even whole sentences, to describe the problem.

When I read bloggers saying that “missional” is a term that should be avoided, it’s a Twilight Zone moment. And when we are warning about churches that stress the incarnation too much, I want to call John Shelby Spong and ask if he’s watching the same channel I am.

There are substantial criticisms that can be made without taking away words that we need to trust and promote.

2. How about chapter and verse on what it is you are criticizing? By chapter and verse, I mean specific quotations and citations from books and talks.

I can’t speak for everyone, but my head is completely spinning here. Who and what are being criticized? Your criticisms are obviously serious, but they are aimed at a huge, dispersed target that starts to look less real the more I look for it. When Dr. Piper took on the issues of open theism and the new perspective on Paul, he wrote books with specific targets, lots of footnotes, and direct citations and quotations from Boyd and Gundry. That’s missing in much of the current criticism of the emerging church, and it’s getting worse. You’ve gone after Brian Mclaren, but after that it’s very murky. Where are Jones, Kimball, Bell, Bolger, McKnight and company wrong specifically? Exactly? And since we’re all flawed, what is the import of those errors?

For example, in the recent DGM conference, Dr. Carson spoke of those advocating the great commandments in contrast to the cross/resurrection. Who exactly is he talking about? Where? Is this a reference to Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed? (That was my feeling, but Dr. McKnight disagrees, for the record.)

I don’t mean to be disrespectful to men far more knowledgeable than me and to whom I am greatly in debt, but after we’ve done in a few quotes from Brian Mclaren, I’m not hearing many helpful specifics. (I’m not counting the research department at Slice.) Could this be repaired? I think a lot of good men deserve to be distinguished from those truly deserving criticism, and I’d like to have some specifics to blog about in my free time.

3. When you refer to the “emerging church,” it’s very confusing. You seem unaware of any differences in Christians identifying with this conversation. I know that reformed Christians like for distinctions to be made between reformed with various emphases and teachings. The differences among the reformed on sacraments, ecclesiology, worship and relationships with other Christians are substantial. It seems relatively simple to ask that everyone who says “we are trying to reach the postmodern emerging culture,” not be saddled with every fault and criticism of every book/talk by Mclaren. It’s safe to say that anyone who knows the emerging church well is immediately put off by a critic who assumes every emerging church is Rob Bell preaching, David Crowder leading worship and a candlelit midrash on Colossians following a prayer walk through a maze.

Conservative evangelicals would find it immediately revealing of one’s level of understanding if someone showed no apparent knowledge of a substantial difference between J.I. Packer and T.D. Jakes. I’d suggest that what may be under the umbrella of emerging Christianity is a diversity at least as wide. It occurs to me that Calvinists, in particular, know what it’s like to be misrepresented, and ought to be more careful about doing so to others. If I call the SBC Founders or James White “hypers,” I’m going to be justifiably lectured and straightened out. Well.if the shoe fits folks. And it does.

In particular, it’s strange to hear the emerging church spoken of as denying the deity and supremacy of Christ, or of de-emphasizing the cross and resurrection. I am sure there are some emerging church types doing exactly that, but those of us listening to the emerging church—and I am listening to a diverse group of emerging voices without joining any of them—are not necessarily hearing these things. Some of us are hearing a recovery of interest in the incarnation and a recovery of the importance of the Kingdom life, ministry and proclamation of Jesus. This is a good and valuable recovery. Good scholars like N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight and Stan Grenz, however, present a strong emphasis on the supremacy of Jesus and his death/resurrection for our sins and justification.

I am all for criticism that specifically points out the errors you protest, but I do not believe a kind of generalized, pop-level, broad stroke criticism of all emerging churches is fair. Frankly, it appears to be calculated to hang an albatross around the neck of a whole branch of the Christian family. Many- most- emerging churches preach and teach the Bible, believe the creeds and know the Gospel is a message of a crucified God dying for sins. Many emerging churches are presenting this in places and in ways few traditionalists dare. Make fun of churches in bars and coffeeshops if you want, but somehow I think that the safety of the sanctuary of old First Church is a considerably less difficult place to name Christ Jesus as Lord than in the gathering places of the world. If these emerging Christians are going to pubs and talking about beer, then criticize them. If they are having theology discussions and naming Christ as Lord, leave them alone. Better yet, let’s pray for them.

4. It’s possible that you may have opted to criticize the emerging church at a point where its flaws are most obvious and its assets less visible. The prominence of McLaren as a target, and the silence about the many, and there are many, churches gernuinely reaching the lost in emerging, postmodern culture indicates to me that the consideration of the emerging church is quite possibly on-target, but also too early.

Many of us believe that the questions and critiques of the traditional church in the last 30 years have been well placed, but the response, especially in theology and ecclesiology, is not yet obvious. The higher profile emerging church leaders have been reluctant to speak for one another for this very reason: what the emerging church response to the traditional church will be is an on-going process. It is not the liberalism of some in Emergent Village. It is not an embracing of the liberalism of the mainlines, even though some emerging leaders have gone over that fence. It is quite possible that the eventual result will be very influenced by the reformed resurgence of the past 20-30 years.

If that proves to be true, a declaration of war/heresy by reformed critics will be unfortunate. When I read reformed critics openly ridiculing the appearance, music and worship styles of twenty-somethings, all in the name of criticizing the emerging church, I am saddened. One major reformed critic ran a picture of David Crowder as an object of humor on a post. In fact, Crowder and this critic have very much in common, and the brushing of Crowder into the category of promoting the betrayal of the Gospel because he is popular with the emerging church is a huge mistake.

5. Finally, I want to admonish you to consider if the emerging church is not the true child of the missionary principles and missional theology that have been influential in evangelicalism for more than half a century.
When evangelicals learn the principles of taking the Gospel to other cultures, they begin to see the traditional church through missionary eyes. It is not insignificant that the leaders of the emerging church are missional thinkers, evangelists, missiologists and students of the church in other cultures. They have taken the perspectives course. They have been to OneDay. They know what the 10/40 Window is all about. They are aware of missions like few other generations of western Christians.

The Reformers did much that was right. They also failed at some key points. A fully articulated, cross-cultural missionary theology was one failure. That failure was repaired by later generations, but the idea that the church is to become comfortably allied with the dominant conservative culture remained. Today, thousands of dying churches are memorials to the influence the church once had in culture, but has no longer. Many of those churches have specifically said no, over and over, to making changes that could reach the culture. They are dying rather than embrace missionary principles that could save them.

Emerging churches have sent up the signal that the church is not the expression of a post-war boomer and greatest generation culture. They are ridiculed for “tattoos and piercings” in the congregation, but this is because many critics are invested more in the preservation of a cultural expression of the church than in a missional approach to the Gospel that goes with culture, and goes into sub and counter cultures. It is not a matter of “holiness,” as some blogs strangely assume, but a matter of Christ for all people and all cultures.

To blanketly criticize the emerging church is, honestly, to criticize thousands of missionaries who love and minister to people who will never find their way into the traditional church. It is often to criticize churches and church plants who are growing by true conversion growth rather than by sucking up Christians out of the suburbs into the megachurches. It is to criticize those who do what we commend missionaries for doing.

In fact, many of the critics of the emerging church talk about the supremacy of Christ while their criticisms suggest the supremacy of a kind of church culture. All who deny the supremacy of Christ should be called out and confronted. All those who safeguard the supremacy of established evangelical culture in America should be criticized as well. Everywhere I go I see American flags in church sanctuaries. Yesterday, I saw the American flag displayed over the Christian flag on a flagpole in front of a large fundamentalist church. In that same church I heard emerging churches castigated for their music. Does anyone think the emerging church would have the American flag in a worship center? It’s laughable. Yet where is the criticism for that idolatry? Why the silence? Is that not a denial of the supremacy of Christ?

Many of the criticisms brought to the table and leveled at the emerging church are valid. There is a myriad of flaws with the emerging church movement, and much that must be corrected. There is also a myriad of flaws and concerns with the traditional conservative church. Some emerging critics of the traditional church have been too strident, and their town has been arrogant and unkind. This probably makes criticism of the emerging church easier.

Perhaps both sides should look closer, listen better, pray more and speak with more awareness of what the other party is seeing, feeling and saying. I pray that a time of constructive guidance and partnership will come soon, and that emerging churches will be mentored and encouraged, rather than only being portrayed in exaggerated terms as betraying the heart of the Gospel.

Michael Spencer

Michael Spencer has been a minister, youth specialist, writer, teacher and communicator in churches and schools for over 30 years. “I am deconstructing and moving past my evangelicalism; rediscovering what it means to be vitally connected to Jesus. That process is always worth sharing.”


I make a distinction between the emergent church and the emerging church. They are not the same even though many want them to be. The emerging church is much more than the emergent branch of it – that is the gift of postmodernism- many things at once, never an either/or always a both/and. At the moment Im seeing six forms of congregational life developing-incarnational, attractional, mainline, emergent, emerging, anhd, house church (a book for late 2007). All are substantively different with most of the mainlines not able to be considered churches anymoreIm attending what I call an emerging church- a Texas Baptist church (you’d never know it without asking) without adult Sunday School and with Wesleyan small groups (aobur 5000 now on Sunday). Its not your grandfather’s church. But it is far from emergent. Its type, however, was not around 20 years. ago. So I call it emerging because it isn’t mainline and its not the old attractional model either. I also can put the church planting churches or multiple site churches in any camp but emerging.

So, as the conversation continues, you will find it more helpful to clearly separate these terms. Not doing so will muddy the water.

Posted by Bill Easum | Posted at 10/10/2006 6:21 AM

Over the past 6+ years I have grown a lot through the preaching and writing of John Piper, no doubt. And in more recent years my faith has benefited and my brain has been stretched through the writings of Brian McLaren. I hate to see any line drawn between the two and rocks thrown over the line. If any two men need to listen to one another, if any two men could benefit from brotherhood with each other, it’s these two. I, along with many of you, face the daily struggle not only to live by faith but to meaningfully display my faith to those around me (who are increasingly changing). I appreciate varied models and examples of real faith with Jesus at the forefront. As leaders we need to stand for faith and not for division among us. The “conversation” I would like to see would be more directed towards learning from one another, together.
Posted by Jeff Dowdy | Posted at 10/10/2006 6:41 AM

Perhaps “Emerging Criticism” is post modern trend…perhaps not. Still, the Church continues to debate things not worthy of debate and while that debate goes on…the World suffers for it. Relational conversations between different expressions I can appreciate, they foster unity, debates not so much. Does Christ really care about which local expression is “emerging” or does He care how they live in the community He has planted them?Blessings…Jay

Posted by Jay Cookingham | Posted at 10/10/2006 7:14 AM

Criticism is too easy to succumb to. Much of the criticism that I originally vented on my Blog was due to an individual who was by no means qualified to represent the ideas of core thinkers within the movement. Since coming across more credible and mature thinkers and pilgrims much has changed.With that confession out of the way, thank you for your clear and well articulated article. As long as all parties realize that the rules of engagement(i.e. chapter and verse / footnotes) must equally apply to all, then we’re definitely heading in the right direction.

Winds of change always leave people feeling disconcerted and shaken – unless of course they are avid yachtsmen. Sail on!

Posted by colin | Posted at 10/10/2006 7:35 AM

Hmmm . . . .Unjustified Criticism. Interesting use of terminology there. Unjustified criticsim implies that Tradionalists have made criticisms that do not line up with the Truth of the Bible.

This is a gross misrepresentation of the Truth. Apologies for using that term: Truth. I know we are not to be so arrogant as to say that we know what Truth is but there you have it.

Having been involved to a large degree in many debates from a Traditionalist standpoint. Which again Tradionalist is also a gross misrepresentation to use. Because this infers “Traditions of Men” instead of Defenders of Truth.

The unjustified criticsim has actually come from the Emerging Conversation end. The Defenders of Truth or in your words “The Tradionalists” have just been pointing out very well where the “Emerging concersation’s many varied viewpoints do not line up with what the Bible says, and contrary to popular Emerging opnion you do not have to tie yourself up into a gordian knot to understand what the Bible very clearly says. And this is what Defenders of Truth have been saying.

So this is not unjustified criticism. It is saving very clearly defined truth from those who wish to obscure it for their own personal “Fleshly” purposes.

Dictionary Defition of unjustified: “lacking justification or authorization”

I or anybody is justified and authorized to defend Truth.

Posted by john | Posted at 10/10/2006 9:07 AM

What’s up with you holding up the picture of the pope? I read your article and it didn’t have anything to do with Catholicism or with the pope so I didn’t get that. I have been doing some reading on the emerging church lately and one of the criticism I have come accross is that this movement is strongly influenced by Catholic teaching and is in fact moving more and more in that dirrection in some areas – mysticism, communion, ect. Maybe I’m reading too much into a picture, but after the critiques I have read it seemed to signal to me that you are in fact taking some of your cues from the pope and the Catholic church. That is a fact that, if true, I would find to be very troubling indeed. I have read somewhere – sorry I can’t recall chapter and verse – that some in the Catholic church are hoping to use the emergent church to begin bringing the Protestant churches back into the fold – under the authority of Rome.
Posted by Steve | Posted at 10/10/2006 11:36 AM

Yes, Steve… you are reading too much into it. This is a pic I grabbed from Michael’s blog. Michael, by the way, does not identify himself as part of the emerging church. He speaks to it from the outside- as an interested observer.
Posted by bob hyatt | Posted at 10/10/2006 11:53 AM

For way too many years I argued with people regarding reformed theology vs. arminianism… until I got so sick of it. I thought it was all “iron sharpening iron, blah, blah, blah,” but I concluded that it did more to divide believers than to unite them. Now I’m glad we have a new “emerging” argument to turn to… this one of too much emphasis on the great commandments and not enough emphasis on the cross and resurrection.Christ’s own words & ministry put the emphasis on the top 2 commandments… and then he lived out the emphasis of the cross and resurrection. Perhaps a balance should be achieved in our own thinking and teaching.

I (and three editors) are in the final days of post on our new film Rebellion of Thought ( It’s been nearly six years since we began filming this journey into a post-modern culture. We’ve interviewed D.A. Carson, Gene Veith, Ken Myers, etc., etc., but along the way my brother and I realized how much post-modernism is impacting our culture and the lack of response by the traditional church structure. I truly believe (after getting a glimpse of the Christian church at work in China) that our role in America as believers should look far more like missionaries and far less like “church goers”.

Anyhow, our film is set to premiere at this year’s Virginia Film Festival ( in Charlottesville on Oct 28. It takes a critical look at the role of faith in a post-modern culture and will hopefully be interesting viewing for those of us working out our salvation with fear and trembling.

Thanks, Michael, for the thought provoking article.

1/2 of the Brothers Williamson

Posted by Kent C. Williamson | Posted at 10/10/2006 5:50 PM

Jesus said very clearly in Matthew 10:34-39:“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’[e] He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.’

The Emergent Movement is fooled by Visible Unity. Visible Unity is not true unity. The unity that Jesus spoke of was a Spiritual unity that would exist between those who know the Truth and live by the Truth. A drive for a visible unity in our fallen world stems from man’s attempt to control others.

The Emergent movement has brought nothing to Christianity but vagueness, fear of offense, carnality and hence a false Gospel. The issue the Emergent movement has with the defenders of the Truth is not arguments whether Calvinism or Arminianism is the correct Theology.

The “Conversation” wants to reinterpret God’s very plain truths which are not part of any dispute over Theologies between Calvanism or Arminianism. Emergents just want to use that as an excuse to completely reinterpret God’s very plain Truths to fit the ever sickening Post-Modernism mantra of Relative Truth and a love of carnality. The first way that is done is to couch their false Gospel in “Christian” Terminology.

They use this rubbish phrase of being “Missional” of which their interpretation has nothing what so ever to do with the Jesus said. and is also a false dart they throw at Traditional Churches as if to say they havent been “Missional” enough! It is obvious that they have fell into the trap of Post-Modernism because they dont know their Church History. The Traditional Church carried out the greatest missionary effort in history!

The emerging conversations idea of being missional is heading down to Starbucks and Equivocate with the rest of the willfully blind on how unsure they are about everythng. The Traditional Churches idea of being “Missional” was to put their life on the line or actually die in far away and obscure countries for th Gospel.

You dont hear any Emergents saying lets die for the Gospel! Firstly because they dont believe in anything concrete enough to die for, and secondly they believe you dont have to die for the Gospel because we all can no matter your religion come to some kind of agreement so we all can “live”.

Posted by john | Posted at 10/10/2006 7:38 PM

Okay John, Did you read the article, or not…feel free to make your blanket statements and accusations on your own website. I will leave this one example up of the kind of baloney that spews from folks like you…Don’t waste your time writing anymore of this blanket criticism junk because I will start using the delete button.
Posted by Charlie Wear | Posted at 10/10/2006 8:12 PM

Charlie,where’s the Baloney? I have read the article, my comments are directed straight at it and the comments are not blanket statements.

Michael Spencer makes false blanket statements against the Traditional Church which I have refuted.

So are the adherents of Orthodox Faith not allowed to rightly defend Orthodoxy against unwarranted blanket statements?

Posted by john | Posted at 10/10/2006 9:11 PM

great post and excellent guidelines, michael. i tend NOT to separate emerging streams into little trickles because it is not about models and it is all so integrative.comments here are good alos – i look forward to kents movie and bills book.

Posted by andrew jones | Posted at 10/10/2006 9:38 PM

Okay, John, I’ll make one stab at this…Is the criticism of the traditional church that has you upset where Michael is discussing the use of American flags in church? I hate to even ask, because I am liable to get another 8 paragraphs…
Posted by Charlie Wear | Posted at 10/11/2006 4:42 AM

I’ll keep my comments short because I can see that counter thoughts to the article don’t seem to be wanted.Here’s my thought – Jesus didn’t come to be relavent or missional. He came to overcome the work of a killer – Satan. He came to redeem a spiritually dead race of being – human beings. His message was short and clear – Repent. The message is confrontational and controversial. The only thing that needs to “emerge” in American churches is Pastors who have the guts to tell all sinners that they must repent and believe or face the fury and wrath of our Holy God. As a Pastor, if you can’t deliver the message – GET OUT of ministry.

Posted by Mark | Posted at 10/11/2006 9:29 PM

Wow! I had no idea that this debate had gotten to this point because I long ago started turning these people (fundamentalists/traditionalists) off when they started their rants.I liked the article. Michael seems to be unbiased and fair with a genuine concern for people, something these critics never display, they just want to be right which looks like self-righteousness to me.

Has anyone considered the parable of the prodigal? These critics could be the older brother that Jesus talked (warned) about.

I’m glad none of these critics were around to shout Jesus down when he decided to come to our culture to save us.

Thanks for an intelligent article and um, john, you really need to get saved man.

Posted by Michael | Posted at 10/11/2006 10:07 PM

“Avoid a sugared gospel as you would shun sugar of lead. Seek the gospel which rips up and tears and cuts and wounds and hacks and even kills, for that is the gospel that makes alive again. And when you have found it, give good heed to it. Let it enter into your inmost being. As the rain soaks into the ground, so pray the Lord to let his gospel soak into your soul.” -C.H. Spurgeon
Posted by steve | Posted at 10/12/2006 6:40 PM

Thanks for a good article in support of the Emerging Church. In Canada I don’t hear the criticism towards the emerging church as this article describes in the US. We have either not gotten to that point yet or else the modern church doesn’t really care in Canada what the emerging church is doing. As a post-evangelical pastor I spent my time grappling with postmodernism and the emergent conversation. In my travels it is almost impossible to engage in a conversation with those deeply rooted in the traditional modern church about the post modern condition and how it is awaking the church to become the Church again. I have hoped that we could have, let’s say messengers, to go out and give some (could I say) more simplistic understanding of the postmodern condition and how the church must emerge from its presence context to engage its culture as the representatives of Christ. Possibly postmodernism for dummies or even emerging church for dummies. Well that may sound a bit harsh or even sarcastic, but it would be good to see the emergence of the church move beyond the arguments and all out war at times. I would like to view and see the church as always emerging, not just emergent.Maybe we will come up with a new name to replace emergent, it might deflect some of the shots for awhile and then another word can replace it to deflect more shots…

Posted by David | Posted at 10/12/2006 7:29 PM

To paraphrase Harry Truman, “lay the emerging folk end to end , they will never reach a conclusion.” It’s the neverending story…… er, narrative.The pharisees are the ones who added to, misinterpreted, and ignored Scripture. As far as I am concerned the ecm has more in common with them. This bogus argument that anyone who adheres to and speaks the Word dogmatically is a pharisee is a lie. Jesus and the disciples spoke the Word in power and conviction.

Matthew 6: 17″Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 7: 28And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

Posted by Tim | Posted at 10/12/2006 8:04 PM

I am an Anglican Vicar in Hong Kong. I have been here for 6 years now. One of the dominant concerns of my ministry both here and when I was in the UK has been how to reach people where they are (intellectually, spiritually and physically). I confess to having felt very isolated in this as well as somewhat disillusioned by much theological discourse. It is only comparatively recently that I have stumbled across the’emerging church movement’ online. I keep asking myself why I haven’t come across it before. I read, I travel, I talk to people, but it is only by accident that I have found a movement that has been speaking to my own concerns. I just wish I could have hooked up earlier. Reading the reformed versus emerging debate, I wonder if one of the reasons that I have not come across ‘the emerging movement’ is that at times it sounds like a debate within one section of the church? People like me who are not a member of a party are in danger of missing out on something that we would love to be part of. For what it is worth, I would say forget the criticisms that are being made and just get on with it.
Posted by Ross Royden | Posted at 10/12/2006 8:05 PM

Great article.After only a couple of years of reading on Emergent/emerging and the criticisms leveled at it, I’ve come to this conclusion.

Some people put their faith—that is, get their meaning—from criticizing others. If they aren’t critiquing local culture, they’re blasting other denominations. If they aren’t damning homosexuals, drug users and drunks, they’re castigating those who love them. They just won’t be happy until they’re unhappy.

So. It does no good to talk and negotiate with them because they don’t want understanding—they want something, or someone to criticize. They NEED someone to throw rocks at because that is how they find meaning. We humans put our faith in that which gives us meaning. Well, until it proves itself false. And then we have a failed epidemiology, fall into nihilism and look for something else to worship. But until we face that failure, we humans will fight to the death to preserve our vision (or version) of reality.

It is just such a fight to the death that put Jesus to death. Let me say that again. Those who put their faith (found their meaning) in the temple system and the earthly return of a Davidic kingdom, put Jesus to death. Later, those who got their meaning from dietary rules and circumcision would almost stone Paul to death. Paul must’ve seemed a big, fat traitor to them.

Now, before someone accuses me of giving out the same sort of criticism, let me say that I found myself doing just that, and that it shocked me into a different way of seeing the conflict. I don’t want to fight them, nor even discuss it anymore. Of course I rarely mind giving an opinion, but discussion with someone who sees you as trying to pull the plug on their means to meaning, can only end one way. Jesus had the super faith to do it, even though he knew it would mean his life. Other’s have done it, but I’m not there yet (see James Fowler’s book).

Still, I can’t hardly care these days. I’m so sick of it all that I’m going to join George Barna’s “Revolutionaries” and leave the whole “church” thing behind. And what’s with the Spurgeon quote, Steve? “Seek the gospel which rips up and tears and cuts and wounds and hacks and even kills. . .” Well you can keep that gospel. And I hope you don’t have a big mortgage on your temple.

Posted by bill | Posted at 10/12/2006 8:31 PM

Many emergents seem to go out of their way to antaganize the “traditionalists” as we are labeled. And when a well meaning reformed icon like Piper invites Driscoll to his “Desiring God” conference (spending hundreds of thousands of God’s dollars on plane fare while people starve). And instaed of Driscoll coming and sharing an edifying message without stirring up the hornet’s nest, no, he just can’t help himself. He has to weave some creative linguistic gymnastics that include, of all things, the incarnation. So if the emrgents, even the so called conservative wing, are going to toss “I” bombs they will never allow any dialogue from traditionalists. perhaps that is there plan.
Posted by Henry Frueh | Posted at 10/13/2006 7:38 AM

Interesting to read the article and the comments. The criticisms of the article seemed to not do much but prove the writer’s point. I grew up in conservative fundamentalist circles, graduated from a Bible college, and spent some years in Reformed Baptist churches. From my observation it seems to me that the emerging/emergent movement is much like the Reformation. Messy, problem filled, but brought about by God. As there was both truth and error in Luther’s day, so there is in our day. I think we can trust God to take care of who is right and who is wrong. Probably when we stand in His presence we’ll find out that, on certain points, God had something different in mind that none of us came up with.
Posted by Fred Shope | Posted at 10/13/2006 11:54 AM

[This is an edited version of a comment left by john on this article. I did the editing, removing sections that I considered offensive. Since getting his permission to edit this comment he has left a number of additional comments that I have deleted. I have asked that he no longer post on Next-Wave. --- Charlie Wear, Publisher, Next-Wave]To Michael:

You said:

“Wow! I had no idea that this debate had gotten to this point because I long ago started turning these people (fundamentalists/traditionalists) off when they started their rants.

I liked the article. Michael seems to be unbiased and fair with a genuine concern for people, something these critics never display, they just want to be right which looks like self-righteousness to me.

Has anyone considered the parable of the prodigal? These critics could be the older brother that Jesus talked (warned) about.

I’m glad none of these critics were around to shout Jesus down when he decided to come to our culture to save us.’

I say:

If you read the entire story about the Prodigal Son it is actually a story of repentance. You know a son who takes his share of his father’s inheritance, blows it in a far away land living a carnal life. But he blows all of the money and realizes where the carnal life leads, broke and living in and among the pigs.

The story is one of the best examples of the realization of a carnal life and repentance and return to a sanctified life as Jesus commanded us to live. No one has ever said people do not fall and that we should welcome them back when they repent. And as far as the older brother was concerned the older son had nothing to do with what you want to label him with, seemingly a “legalistic” type Christian. I suggest you read the story without trying to overlay your agenda onto it.

As far as your accusation that in your words “fundamentalist / Traditionalist” always want to be right. But suffice it to say here that once again you use words that resonate with people. Everyone dislikes a “know it all” or someone who claims to “always be right.” But this is not a case of in your words the “fundamentalist / Traditionalist” claiming to be right against factual evidence. Or where something does not have a clear right or wrong answer, and hence relies on personal opinion. What is being stated here is not opinion it is making statements in support of very clear instructions from the Bible.

Posted by john | Posted at 10/14/2006 1:15 PM

I read some of John’s comments before they were removed. **I** read the parable of the prodigal son and see it as another incredible story of the Father’s boundless love for His son. I am so profoundly grateful that God, in His infinite Father-love, waits and watches for me.Michael Spencer is one of my favorite internet writers and I love that he is saying the things that I wish I had the words and the wit to say myself. Thank you, Michael.

Posted by Barbara K | Posted at 10/14/2006 5:30 PM

Well, all I can say is there are way too many people out there who are full of themselves. I work with youth and I have to tell you, trying to counteract the marvelously intoxicating ways of the evil one gets harder and harder all the time. So all of you who are arguing about words to use or not and who’s “theology” is right/best are playing right into the hands of said evil one. He is laughing out loud. While all you “Christians” bang each other over the heads with verbal rocks and sticks, he is stealing the souls of our young people. Get it together, WE are not the enemy, satan is. And we’re losing more young people to the ways of the world every day. Someone (can’t remember who) said satan has the biggest youth group on earth. And I do believe he is right. I am struggling and drained from trying to lead young people to Christ while you guys sit on sites like this bashing each other. Stop talking and GET OUT THERE AND DO SOMETHING CONSTRUCTIVE for Christ. Amen
Posted by Chuk Passarelli | Posted at 10/16/2006 4:33 PM

Chuck Said:”Well, all I can say is there are way too many people out there who are full of themselves. I work with youth and I have to tell you, trying to counteract the marvelously intoxicating ways of the evil one gets harder and harder all the time.”

Steve says:

Chuck it seems you are becoming disillusioned with the wrong people. Doctrine does matter. And it also matters what methods you use to reach young people. Methods only become harder and harder when we try to use man made methods to reach people. Outreach should always be led by the Holy Spirit. After all we do not war against Flesh and Blood but principalities and powers in high places. Those are spiritual powers and our weapons to use against them are not fleshly weapons they are spiritual weapons: Prayer, Fasting, Faith, Staying true to Gods Word.

Chuck said:

“While all you “Christians” bang each other over the heads with verbal rocks and sticks, he is stealing the souls of our young people. Get it together, WE are not the enemy, Satan is.”

Steve says:

Chuck what you forget is Satan works through people, and one of the ways he works through people is through false Beliefs. And through this he destroys the Power of the Holy Spirit to work through people. And as far as getting out there. I am out there. I travel on missions to Europe and Africa. And I am well aware of the issues with our young people. I have had two foster boys. And participate in outreach. I mourn for but I stay at peace even though I see the terrible things happening with our young people. Because I know I can do nothing without the Holy spirits guidance and strength.

We cannot dilute the Gospel because we mourn for the lost, sadly there will always be some who are lost and who will not accept Gods Word. The Holy Spirit opens the Eyes of those whom God wants us to reach and we cannot push ourselves outside the bounds of God’s Guidance and truth, otherwise we fall into a false belief. It is not Biblical to say we are to save all people with the Gospel.

We are just supposed to be a vessel available for God to use. And we cannot let disappointment over not being able to reach all men, force us into false belief systems.

Posted by Steve | Posted at 10/17/2006 5:53 AM

Okay, Steve and Chuck…I hope you are not attempting to hijack this comment thread to promote your own agendas…I’ll leave these comments up for now…but how about this, let’s do a couple of things…no need to requote others comments…just address the issues, and let’s keep it to just a few paragraphs, ok?
Posted by Charlie Wear | Posted at 10/17/2006 7:02 AM

my heart aches to read comments of hate couched in love. I know it will never end. I know that we will always fight with each other over methods and motivations while people who don’t know Christ are living hell on earth and we don’t seem to care enough to stop and go share the gospel. I know that I need to stop reading these posts and go have a meal with my friends who don’t know Christ. Even if they don’t acknowledge him as savior, at least they are kind enough to share friendship, conversation, and love. I strive to show them true friendship, not self-righteousness.shalom

Posted by Carl McLendon | Posted at 10/17/2006 2:55 PM

Hello again. I almost didn’t respond because of the scathing rebuke. I’m not interested in re-quoting anyone, just trying to make the point that while some folks are arguing who is “right or “wrong” we are losing a generation. I personally find the “emerging/emergent” (not sure which I am speaking of) touches something down in my God-given Spirit that the mainstream church seems to be lacking. I came to this site looking for the pulse of REAL faith. I think I found not only that but the negative things about “Christianity” that are driving the young people I work with away. We talk all the time about Jesus Christ, but making Him real to this generation of teens is getting harder and harder. My prayer is that we find a way to talk amongst ourselves without sticks and rocks, before it is to late. I don’t think I’ll be commenting any more. It’s too violent out here. Thanks for the moment. Chuck
Posted by Chuk Passarelli | Posted at 10/17/2006 4:35 PM

Michael…well said in the article. Anyone wanting to engage in serious criticism or debate should do it well. The Church conversation shouldn’t sound like a radio talk show.The comments on this have, unfortunately, not been surprising. I have been around lots of different churches all my life. People like Steve and John come in many different flavors but the methodology is the same. You guys have too much time on your hands. Let me recommend that you follow some biblical advice and shake the Next Wave dust from your feet. When we all get to heaven the issues will be settled and we can get down to some argument free fellowship.

BTW, I consider myself part of the emerging church but am not a member of Emergent (though I like those folks). They are not equivalent terms. I have no problem considering David Crowder and Mark Drischoll to be examples of emerging leader types but I can say that I don’t listen to David’s music and I would have trouble hanging out with Drischoll.

Posted by bill | Posted at 10/17/2006 4:59 PM

Good suggestions. Here are some of my initial thoughts:Regarding the use of the words “missional” and “incarnational”–these are two of my favorite words. It is sad that the life cycle of these words are collapsing into meaningless at a disproportionately accelerated rate. It used to take generations for a word to loose meaning. Now that communications technologies have sped things up, it seems like the half-life of such words have shortened.

Likewise, the word “emerging” is also approaching meaninglessness. It simply means whatever someone wants it to mean. I guess that’s part of the difficulty of having a fluid, decentralized movement: definitions are likewise fluid and resist any comment set of central tenets.

Posted by Mark Van S | Posted at 10/23/2006 9:55 AM

I recently went on a trip to Oahu with a pilot friend to ride the Honolulu century. It was his first century ride and since I built his bike, he wanted to share the experience of his first long ride with me. We spent two days climbing hills and acclimatizing ourselves to the warm weather and strong afternoon winds by riding around the entire island. I discovered several things on this trip, one, that this committed believer in the Lord Jesus Christ held some widely divergent thoughts about the church from my own, and, that it’s not a great idea to eat papayas for breakfast and then ride 100 miles unless you’re in a huge hurry to achieve weight-loss! This friend believes that the church age didn’t start at Pentecost, but rather, with the conversion of Saul. He had a number of points why he thought this might be so, attempting to “rightly divide the word of truth”. I came back from that weekend trip with a tan, weighing several pounds less and a desire to look into the scriptures to see the validity of his points. I understand them, but one thing that bothered me for several days was the “rightly dividing” translation of the greek. “Rightly dividing” has the potential of being a highly polarizing term, and it has proved to be so throughout church history. “If I’m rightly dividing, then you must be wrongly dividing”…. A more accurate translation of the greek there is the word “cutting straight”. Paul was a tent maker, “cutting straight” in tent construction would mean less waste of the fabric labourously woven by hand, straighter, stronger seams and a better crafted longer lasting finished product. Anyone camping knows a tent provides shelter from the elements, a quiet place to enjoy community, rest, nourishment and a shield against predators. I think Paul wants the church to consider one pivotal important thing, that which defines our community, that which colors our outreach to the world, that which manifests itself in transcendent joy: the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints: Christ in us, the hope of glory.As we strive together in our areas of influence to create a stronger covering for our fellowhip of faith, for me, it’s important to not waste the fabric of lives woven together with polarizing or destructive words. The enemy is not us, but he hides among us, hoping we’ll miss our target and cut one another while we attempt to uproot him. I’ve always been reluctant to coin terms to characterize vectors of movement in body life because of the polarizing potential of identifying them. God Bless.

Posted by Paul Brown | Posted at 10/24/2006 12:01 AM

Great thoughts! When reviewing, any observer, can at the very least, say that you have generated dialogue. :-) The real question…for all of us, emergent proponent or not – are we doing anything to show people who Jesus is? ….or are we just sitting around debating whether or not He is part of the “emergent movement” or not?

Posted by face2face | Posted at 10/30/2006 8:46 PM

I have to agree. Sometimes the whole conversation, though necessary, starts making my head spin. I’m constantly asked at conferences and gatherings if I’m an emergent pastor or what… These days I just say I’m a short guy trying to follow Jesus. Thanks for insightful comments. BuckNakedFaith guy
Posted by Eric Sandras | Posted at 10/31/2006 3:11 PM

Sorry to resurrect and old debate but I have only just come across the Next-Wave website/blog.Michael, rest assured…this intelligent, coherent excellently and persuasively argued article is infinitely more balanced, generous, conciliatory and gracious than some of your detractors responses are. To reply to your critics, and to John in particular (whose sort, if I’m honest makes me want to break down and weep) if I recall correctly, Jesus was full of grace and truth (with a lower case “t” in most reputable Bible translations!), and not just Truth. I saw a lot of insisence on “Truth” in his responses and very little evidence of grace.

It feels to me that many of the emergent church critics are in danger of worshipping and serving “the Truth” as a concept rather than the Person who is the truth and relying on the Spirit, the One who leads us into all truth. John…if you are reading this, sadly, I feel that you maybe unwilling or unable to be led by the Spirit further into God’s truth because you believe you fully know it all already,a nd there is no more truth to be learnt than that which you already learnt.

For what it’s worth, which is not very much, my own view is that the emerging church movement in its infancy is displaying many similar signs to the charismatic movement when it first emerged…ie much criticised, much misrepresented, much maligned and much feared and misunderstood, usually by the very same people who spend a disproportionate amount of their time criticising the emerging church. Yes there were some odd things happening on the fringes of the charismatic movement but at its heart were people prompted by God who were disillusioned by the unwillingness of the established/traditional church to budge from its conservative interpretation (or in their words the “right” interpretation)of the continued work and ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit in the church and the world. Yet at its core, God was very much at work in and through the charismatic movement and the effect upon the church has been long-lasting and enduring. It is worth noting that the charismatic movement (or, as it appears we have to have a label for everything nowadays, including God!..the ‘charismatics’) has also greatly matured over the last 25 years or so, which is what will undoubtedly happen with the emerging church movement.

It seems to me that much of the backlash stems from the fact that the more conservative/traditional evangelical wing of the church love nothing more than to be the ones carrying out the critiqueing, the critising and the challenging, and have been doing so in somewhat patronising and superior tones for years, but do not take too kindly to being critiqued, challenged or criticised themselves. Well tough guys (and it is normally guys..the gals aren’t allowed that much of an opinion it would appear) )…if you dish it out then surely you should be willing to accept it in return.

Having lit the blue touchpaper, I shall now stand back and put on my bullet proof vest and hard hat!

Posted by phil green | Posted at 03/27/2008 8:20 AM

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