Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Emerging Church leaders believe that Evangelicals should let go of the Bible and reason as their anchors

In this article the issue at the heart of postmodernal evangelicalism, aka, emergent evangelicalism boils down to the kind of cosmological metaphysic one builds a foundation upon. Herein, I discovered that I didn't need a new hermeneutic of the bible or a different "economic era" ala modernity or postmodernity (passed a few years ago) or even metamodernity (today) but a non-Platonic philosophical foundation upon which to build a more complete and comprehensive Christian theology. As I discovered seven years into my investigation it was that of Alfred North Whitehead's process philosophy he termed the the metaphysic of organism. John Cobb built upon Whitehead and directed it towards a process-based, non-Platonic, theology to wit I and others have been working on together. Thus, the new basis for the Christian faith... as well as all religious faiths... is that of process. When down we will have a commonality of agreement around simple things such as love, global cooperation, relational being which is becoming and so forth. More can be found on this subject in the Index files on the right.

R.E. Slater
February 10, 2024

Emerging Church leaders believe that Evangelicals should let go of the Bible and reason as their anchors

Fernando Canale

During the last part of the 20th century, American Evangelicalism experienced rapid changes in worship and ministerial styles in a desperate effort to reach an increasingly secularized culture. On the surface, the Emerging Church movement appears to be a new passing fad in youth ministry. Parallel to these seemingly superficial changes in ministerial style, however, the old liberal/conservative controversy was simmering across denominational lines, creating conflicts at ministerial and grassroots levels. The inerrancy of Scripture and the apologetic efforts of previous Evangelical generations were not enough to produce an Evangelical unity within denominations.

With the passing of time, an increasing number of Evangelical leaders began to realize “that this conflict was not your average, everyday schism, but a paradigm shift of seismic proportions.”1 This conviction led Emergent leaders to re-examine critically their denominations’ “assumptions of what it means to be church. Some suggest that this ‘Great Emergence’ is part of a cyclical pattern of upheavals in the church, on a par with the ‘Great Schism’ or the ‘Great Reformation.’”2

For many observers, something epochal is underway. Phyllis Tickle has suggested that Brian McLaren is the new Luther and his book A Generous Orthodoxy is the equivalent to Luther’s 95 theses.3 According to Tickle’s socio-historical interpretation, a new form of Christianity is being born and will be added to the old forms.

This seems to suggest that the Emerging Church movement may be unleashing deep paradigmatic changes not only in American Evangelicalism but also in Protestantism and Christianity as a whole. Something inside and outside Christianity must be at work, making such a change desirable and even necessary.


Growing discontent seems to have been brewing within the broad Evangelical coalition for a long time. Causes of dissatisfaction are many and as varied as Evangelicalism. Some are dissatisfied with the way ministers and the churches conduct their everyday business. Others feel frustrated when they see churches playing an institutional game voided of spiritual meaning. Many, probably overstating their case, believe “modern” Evangelical churches are dead.

But dissatisfaction runs even deeper. Numerous believers experience a growing confusion about Christian doctrines as presented by the fragmented views of the Evangelical community. “On the front end of analysis one could argue that the ECM [Emerging Church Movement] is merely reacting to a perception of dead religiosity, hoping to breathe life into the body of Christ. But a closer analysis shows that its reaction to established ministry and typical church life (what some of them call the ‘modern church’) involve deep theological issues and metaphysical challenges. Its response entails systemic issues much more than mere aesthetic preferences.”4

According to Emerging Church leaders, this crisis can be traced to Evangelical responses to modern philosophy. Not without reason they blame the rise of the liberal/conservative controversy that divides Evangelicals on the Fundamentalist response to modernity. Liberals responded to modernity by constructing their theological project “upon the foundation of an unassailable religious experience while conservatives look to an error-free Bible as the incontrovertible foundation.”5

This suggests that both Evangelical and Emerging Church leaders fail to realize that at a deeper level, the crisis they confront stems from the underdevelopment and limitations of Protestant thought and the failure to produce an alternate synthesis of Christian theology and practice based on Scripture alone. The very existence of the “Evangelical coalition” flows from and witnesses to this fact. “American religion,” says Phyllis Tickle, “had never had a center before, primarily because it was basically Protestant in its Christianity; and Protestantism, with its hallmark characteristic of divisiveness, has never had a center.”6

What Protestant leadership was unable to produce, laity sought to find on their own around the so-called water-cooler conversations during the 1980s. Tickle argues that out of these informal conversations taking place in the context of cultural epochal change, a center was emerging. “But what was emerging was no longer Protestant. It was no longer any ‘thing,’ actually. It was simply itself, a mélange of ‘things’ cherry-picked from each quadrant and put together—some would say cobbled together—without any original intention and certainly with no design beyond that of conversation.”7 In the process, dissatisfaction with the inherited church grew strong. For many, the “inherited church was that from which they had come and to which they, literally, now had no means of returning, let alone any desire at all to do so.”8

Not surprisingly, by the end of the 20th century, the Evangelical coalition was no longer able to contain the deep theological, ecumenical, and cultural divisions present in both the leadership and laity of American Protestantism. “Evangelical leaders became highly concerned about the future of the evangelical movement. Evangelicals began to look for clarity and unity of focus in the midst of what appeared to be an unwieldy diversity. Questions such as ‘What is evangelicalism?’ ‘Where is its center?’ and ‘Where are we going?’ began to emerge.”9

The inner spiritual, theological, and hermeneutical crisis brewing in Evangelicalism during the past two centuries can explain the need and even possibility for epochal change yet, by itself, it cannot explain its generation. Something more was needed to generate an epochal mutation in Evangelical Christianity. Arguably the advent of postmodernity provided the trigger to the rise of the Emerging Church.


Prior to the growing spiritual and theological dissatisfaction in the Evangelical movement in the last two decades [80s and 90s] of the 20th century, Postmodernism was effecting epochal changes at the very core and foundations of Western civilization. Like the “Emerging Church” label, the “postmodern” label is also an umbrella designation, involving various issues and levels. For this reason, Emerging Church leaders share a growing sense that the world as we knew it is changing, and they also understand postmodernity in various ways.

Evaluation of the Emerging Church movement raises the need to “identify and understand the underlying ideas and assumptions of what has come to be called the ‘modern’ worldview, which has dominated Western culture for the past few hundred years.”10 It is also important to become familiar with “the postmodern ideas, which have become dominant in the early twenty-first century.”11 And two main levels are involved in the epochal changes that Emerging Church leaders identify as postmodernity: cultural and philosophical.

Sociologically, postmodernity names the cultural mores of Western civilization at the turn of the 21st century. For instance, the term postmodern, according to Leonard Sweet, denotes “a 40-year transition from an Information Age to a Bionomic Age that will begin no later than 2020.”12 Although he likens the force these cultural events unleash to a tsunami, like a tsunami, they are of short duration and will be replaced by others in the future.

Stanley Grenz identifies informatics (Computer Age), centerlessness, pluralism, multivalence, impurity, juxtaposition, eclecticism, the refusal to place “high” art above “pop” art, and, belief in the supernatural and extra-terrestials as some of the characteristic traits of postmodern culture.13 These values are embraced, embodied, and disseminated through television, the Internet, and rock music. At the sociological level, then, Postmodernism describes Western society at the turn of the 21st century.

Philosophically, Postmodernism names changes in the area of epistemology. Epistemology is the philosophical discipline that studies the way human beings know what they know, especially in the field of scientific research. These changes that were a long time in the making involve the demise of Foundationalism and the impossibility that human beings could experience “objective” and “universal” knowledge. Thus, postmodernists think that “the world is not simply an objective given that is ‘out there,’ waiting to be discovered and known; reality is relative, indeterminate, and participatory.”14 Consequently, postmodernists “contend that the work of scientists, like that of any other human beings, is historically and culturally conditioned and that our knowledge is always incomplete.”15

Clearly, this conviction leaves Postmodernism without a foundation for universal knowledge, that is, a knowledge that is valid and true for all human beings. To avoid the total fragmentation of society, postmodernists resort to the “community” or “society” as the basis (foundation) for rational agreement and the definition of values. Of course, by definition, society changes, and so will reason and values. Consequently, to achieve some stability, communities need to stand on their own respective traditions. In this way, “regional” truth replaces “universal” truth. Philosophically, then, Postmodernism names the switch from objective and universal reason to a communitarian and traditional reason.

But postmodernity involves an even more radical change at the metaphysical level few Emerging Church leaders have considered. Metaphysics is the philosophical discipline that interprets the nature of reality as a whole. As such it includes general and regional interpretations on the nature of existence, the former dealing with the general characteristics of any and all things real, and the latter with the general characteristics of specific entities, notably, God, humans, and the world. Finally, metaphysics also includes the interpretation of the interrelation among all things real (the system of reality as a whole).

Metaphysics provides the necessary context for understanding anything and everything. As a matter of fact, philosophical, theological, and natural sciences always assume a general interpretation of the nature of the reality or realities they interpret. More specifically, metaphysics provides the ground for theological and biblical hermeneutics. A minor change in metaphysical concepts may generate broad hermeneutical changes that will reverberate across the sciences and the culture they generate.

The rethinking of metaphysics came to full expression and articulation in the work of Martin Heidegger, one of the leading postmodern philosophers. Heidegger confirmed and further articulated Nietzsche’s “overturning of Platonism,” which has been the ruling metaphysical view since the beginnings of Western civilization. Heidegger calls this the “destruction” and “overcoming” of metaphysics.16 The “destruction” of metaphysics means the criticism and abandonment of the traditional approach to philosophy and theology, and the “overcoming” means a new interpretation of metaphysics that Heidegger advanced throughout his many works.

To put it briefly, the new metaphysics of postmodernity abandons the notion that real or ultimate reality is timeless and replaces it with the view that real or ultimate reality is temporal and historical. [Actually, the word "relational" is a better term to use than temporal and historical, ala Whitehead's process philosophy. Relationality is supra-temporal, supra-experiential, and supra-panpsychic. - re slater]. Heidegger understood the magnitude of the changes involved in his metaphysical investigation into the history and nature of metaphysics and expressed it in a series of poignant rhetorical questions. “Do we stand in the very twilight of the most monstrous transformation our planet has ever undergone, the twilight of that epoch in which earth itself hangs suspended? Do we confront the evening of a night which heralds another day? Are we ‘precursors of the day of an altogether different age’?”17

Even though postmodernity brought about epochal changes in the areas of culture, epistemology, and metaphysics, Emerging Church leaders and their Evangelical critics have been able so far to relate only to the cultural and epistemological levels, seemingly impervious to the deep metaphysical change postmodernity has brought about. [ahem, both groups never consider the metaphysical. - re slater]

Embracing Postmodernity?

Christians have always experienced the gospel within their diverse and always changing cultural, philosophical, and scientific settings. Why, then, have Evangelicals changed their relation to culture from rejection to embrace? Why are Emerging Church leaders more positive about cultural trends, philosophical doctrines, and scientific views than their predecessors? Why do Emerging Church leaders embrace postmodern culture as part of their Christian experience?

At the practical level, Emerging Church leaders embrace postmodern culture to shape the forms of liturgy and attract believers to the worship services. An obvious internal motivation for the “turn to culture” is the low attendance at church services. According to Philip Clayton, “Mainline churches are simply not attracting significant proportions of the younger population in America and there are no signs that this pattern is about to change. If for some reason all the persons in mainline churches today who are over the age of sixty-five were to disappear, two thirds of current church attendees would be gone.”18 This indicates that the secularization of Western culture that emptied churches in Europe during the 20th century has finally arrived in America. The pragmatic motivation to fill the churches, however, may be the trigger but not the ground for the Emerging Church’s turn to culture.

The primary reason for the Emerging Church’s embrace of postmodern culture is the emergence of charismatic belief and practice in Protestantism during the second half of the 20th century. A term has been coined for this process: “Charismatization.” It is used to speak of the “Pentecostalization” of Christian worship during the second part of the 20th century. Pentecostalism adapted to culture with ease. Attracting large numbers to worship services, it became a model for Evangelicals and Catholics alike who eventually adopted and followed the Pentecostal liturgical model, producing a Charismatic renewal. Not surprisingly, Charismatism has led mainline churches to adopt “new and informal worship styles, an explosion in ‘worship songs,’ a new concern for the dynamics of worship, and an increasing dislike of the traditionalism of formal liturgical worship.”19

The central claim of Pentecostalism is that “it is possible to encounter God directly and personally through the power of the Holy Spirit. God is to be known immediately and directly, not indirectly through study of a text.”20 The direct communication of the transcendent God facilitates cultural accommodation because at best it neglects and at worst rejects the principle of divine incarnation in the cultural forms of the words and the human body of Jesus Christ. When the cultural forms of divine revelation presented in Scripture are neglected or rejected, cultural accommodation not only ceases to be a problem and becomes an essential part of Christian experience.

Charismatism stands on the conviction that God relates to humans outside the realm of history and culture. Consequently, culture does not belong to the worship encounter with God but to the doxological and liturgical expressions it generates. This explains why the Emerging Church movement welcomes all cultural forms of liturgical expression as acceptable forms of Christian worship. Its openness to postmodern culture does not flow from the specific characteristics of postmodern culture but from the Charismatic openness to human culture.

Readers familiar with modern theology cannot miss the basic coincidence between the Pentecostal conception of worship as encounter and Schleiermacher’s theological interpretation of Christian experience. This coincidence is the reason that Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Emerging Christians share the same pluralistic/eclectic approach to biblical interpretation, liturgy, and spirituality; hence, the great resonance that the Emerging Church movement has achieved in a very short time.

A possible reason that Emerging Church leaders embrace postmodern relativism may be that this help to justify their rejection of modernity and dismissal of biblical inerrancy and doctrinal authority. Simultaneously, postmodern relativism helps Emergents to justify the existence of theological disagreements and doctrinal pluralism. In a way, the relativistic version of postmodernity helps to account for the fragmentation of Protestantism through the centuries. It also shows that Evangelical pluralism and eclecticism were unavoidable. Seen in this light, the Emerging Church may be the best expression of the Evangelical experience.

Yet Emerging Church leaders may be inclined to reject the postmodern view of the nature of existence because it challenges tradition. To accept this view implies not only that the metaphysical assumptions of Christian tradition are wrong but also that we should replace them with new ones. To do so unavoidably questions the reliability of tradition and the nature of the Charismatic experience of God as trustworthy foundations for Christian theology and worship.

Additionally, the limited capabilities of postmodern reason seem to indicate that a universal metaphysics might be unreachable. As Emerging Church leaders, together with their Roman Catholic and Evangelical colleagues, build on the “Grand Tradition,” they implicitly assume the classical metaphysical framework embraced by the church fathers. This fact may help to understand their failure to accept the postmodern idea of the nature of existence.

Methodological Change

Changes in method produce modifications in the way we do things. Changes in the nature of knowledge alter the way in which we understand the origin and nature of the sources on which we base our beliefs. Changes in the nature of existence affect our understanding of the basic ideas we assume to understand the sources of our beliefs. Consequently, in Christian theology, changes in method affect ministry, mission, and liturgy. Changes in the nature of knowledge impact mainly the area of doctrines. Changes in the nature of existence touch mainly the area of understanding and meaning.

For Emerging Church leaders, change in ministerial and liturgical methodology centers on “recovering the gospel from the clutches of a consumer culture” by using postmodern deconstructionist methodologies.21 At this level, changes in the church take place in the areas of ministry, liturgy, and mission. In these activities, Emerging Church leaders want to distance themselves and overcome the practices of the traditional and pragmatic evangelicals of the 20th century. This level closely relates to the cultural level of postmodern change described above.

The equivalent rubrics “Vintage Christianity” and “Ancient-Future” capture the essence of the methodological level of change in the Emerging Church movement. These terms name the method by which Emerging leaders face the future with the resources of ancient church traditions. In this sense the Emerging Church movement is conservative even while embracing methodological change. Its application brings the past into the future by “drawing on the wisdom of the ages for the current work of the kingdom.”22 Emerging church leaders and even some Evangelical leaders believe postmodern times require them to make deep changes in the method of ministry especially in relation to spirituality and discipleship.

Although one may assume that changes at the methodological level are disconnected with theology and doctrine, Robert Webber’s summary of the main components involved in the Emerging Church movement reminds us that such disconnection is impossible. According to him, the main components of Emerging Church change at the methodological level are: (1) a missiological understanding of the church, (2) spiritual formation, (3) cultural awareness, and, (4) theological reflection. By explaining that these components are interdependent and mutually condition one another, Webber makes clear that any attempt to isolate the methodological level from theological reflection naively ignores reality. He correctly links methodological change with theological change. On the one hand, then, the actual content that new methodological views on ministry and liturgy may bring into the church is directly conditioned by the theological ideas that pastors assume. On the other hand, to make methodological changes at the ministerial and liturgical levels without simultaneously making changes at the doctrinal-theological level is impossible.

Emerging Church writers assume theology to be “a communal reflection on God’s mission that arises out of God’s people as they seek to discern God’s work in history and his present actions in the life of the community.”23 According to them, it is not the Bible but the deep past of Christian tradition that should open the future of Evangelical Christianity.

Additionally, because “the practice of ministry is already theology—theology in action,”24 Emerging leaders are able to articulate the inner link between classical and modern theological traditions, on one side, and the experiential nature of Charismatic Christianity on the other. They see this combination to be pregnant with possibilities and ecumenical promise.

Theological Change

The theological and doctrinal level of change in the Emerging Church centers on the role of Scripture in the understanding of Christian belief and practice. At this level changes take place mainly as reinterpretation of the role of Scripture and the teachings of the church. In this area, Emerging Church leaders want to distance themselves from the theological approach of American Evangelicalism during the past two centuries based on the inerrancy of Scripture advanced by the Old Princetonian theologians. This level is deeper than the methodological one and consequently produces a more significant mutation in the Evangelical community.

A notable characteristic of the Emerging Church often missed by both their Evangelical detractors and emulators is the focus on theological reflection at the grassroots level. An increasingly educated and sophisticated society wants to know what they believe. They want to know the basis on which pastors teach them what is truth.

Emergent leaders are getting the message and responding to the challenge. Most of them, however, are working at great disadvantage because their Evangelical denominations have not prepared them for such a task, neither spiritually nor theologically. Besides, many have experienced Christianity as part of their own denominational culture rather than from serious theological and philosophical reflection on biblical teachings. Doctrines are part of their cultural and religious “inheritance” but not of their thinking and spiritual patterns.

As Emerging Church leaders attempt to explain their beliefs to others, they discover the obvious inconsistencies of their own biblical and doctrinal understandings, as well as the theological divisions existing within the Evangelical community. Moreover, they realize the need to link doctrines, biblical understanding, and experience into a unified net or system of meaning and experience. In their personal and ministerial search for theological meaning they are not prepared to accept without question or explanation dogmatic answers from their mentors or denominations. Instead, they are learning for the first time the exhilarating feeling theological discoveries bring to themselves and the community.

Not surprisingly, at times their theological writings resemble a diary of their theological pilgrimage. Brian McLaren’s writings give testimony to this “testimonial” or “conversational” method of doing theology. Such a procedure is more than a way to communicate truth. It is a path leading to the discovery of truths other Christians before them had embraced. Through this conversational methodology, Emerging Church leaders are reaching conclusions on doctrinal issues like the atonement, justification by faith, the kingdom of God, and hell that their Evangelical peers regard as heretical and therefore unacceptable.

Doctrinal change in the Emerging Church movement, however, goes deeper than mere doctrinal divergence. It involves a paradigmatic shift in the role Scripture plays in the construction of Christian teachings. Phyllis Tickle correctly estimates that at the center of all paradigmatic shifts lies the perennial question of authority. In the Protestant Reformation, authority shifted from the Pope to the sola Scriptura principle. But Scripture required interpretation that led to denominational and theological fragmentation. And theological fragmentation eventually generated theological and spiritual dissatisfaction.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, a number of interrelated factors contributed to a progressive questioning of the viability of the sola Scriptura principle among Evangelicals. They caused many of the most diehard Protestants to grow suspicious of the Scripture-and-Scripture-only principle. Besides, in an ecumenical age, Evangelicals are weary of the perennial theological fragmentation of Protestantism and are becoming convinced that Christianity cannot stand on Scripture alone.

An important factor accelerating the shift from the Protestant sola Scriptura as principle of authority to the Roman Catholic spiritual experience guided by tradition principle advanced by the Emerging Church movement is the rise of Pentecostalism. Remarkably, Evangelical responses to the Emerging Church ignore this factor. However, Phyllis Tickle explains that Pentecostalism directly contradicts the sola Scriptura principle of the Reformation, thereby providing Emerging Church leaders with a strong religious base to question and dismiss the sola Scriptura principle.

This experiential base fits well with the sheer frustration growing out of centuries of theological fragmentation in Protestant theology and practice. To Emerging Church leaders, this fact unavoidably indicates that a genuine theology from Scripture alone is impossible.

Consequently, to overcome theological and ministerial fragmentation, a new comprehensive way to do theology had to be found. To this end, Pentecostalism became instrumental because by fitting well with the Evangelical experience, modern and postmodern epistemologies, and Roman Catholic theological tradition, it naturally emerged as the efficient cause, bringing them together in a new synthesis for a new age.

In this context, postmodernity’s criticism of reason and the non-foundationalist epistemology became scholarly tools for Emerging Church leaders to reject the Evangelical belief in an inerrant Scripture as authority. The same tools point them to the community and its tradition as the new locus of authority for the church.

By accepting tradition and community as the principle of authority, the Emerging Church is embracing the same as that on which the Roman Catholic Church stands. This seems to indicate that, at the theological level, the Emerging Church movement heralds the end of the Protestant Reformation.

Initial Evangelical reactions to the Emerging Church movement indicate its strongest opposition focuses precisely on the role of Scripture in theological construction. However, Tickle thinks history is on the side of the Emerging Church movement away from the sola Scriptura principle and predicts its eventual demise and the emergence of a new principle of authority. Yet, when we realize that the alternative to the sola Scripturaprinciple is tradition and community, it is difficult to envision them as “new.” Instead, it seems that the “old” Roman Catholic principle from which the Reformation emerged is carrying the day after five centuries of controversy. But, even if the Emerging Church may come to define the new Evangelical center from tradition instead of from Scripture, thereby bringing the Protestant Reformation to an end, would a remnant of biblical Protestantism survive?

Hermeneutical Change

The hermeneutical level of change in the Emerging Church centers on the role that philosophy plays in the interpretation of Scripture and the understanding of Christian beliefs and practices. At this level, changes take place mainly as reinterpretation that exegetes, theologians, and ministers assume when they engage in their respective trades. In this area, Emerging Church leaders seek for the interpretive perspective they need to construct their theological and ministerial views.

Robert Webber testifies to the existence of an anti-philosophical bias in American Fundamentalism, the “all you need is the Bible” appropriation of the sola Scriptura principle in Evangelical seminaries. Neo-Evangelical pragmatism did not do much to reverse this state of affairs. Emerging Church leaders, then, react against the Evangelical neglect of the philosophical foundations of their faith. By so doing they grant a positive role to philosophy that contradicts the sola Scriptura principle on which Evangelicalism stands.

In the hermeneutical analysis, a fateful inconsistency in Evangelicalism comes to view. On one side, a large number of Evangelicals appear to believe that their doctrines and hermeneutical principles stand on the basis of Scripture alone. Wayne Grudem, an often-quoted representative of this approach, maintains that “systematic theology involves collecting and understanding all the relevant passages in the Bible on various topics and then summarizing their teachings clearly so that we know what to believe about each topic.”25 Within his methodological matrix, the role of philosophy in systematic theology is minimal. “Philosophical study helps us understand right and wrong thought forms common in our culture and others.”26 On the other side, a large sector of leading Evangelical theologians believes that their understanding of Christian doctrines stand on a multiplicity of theological sources among which philosophy and science play important hermeneutical roles.

Interestingly, both Emerging Church and neo-Evangelicals leaders agree in their disapproval of Grudem’s approach. According to Bolt, “Evangelical theological method should not be restricted to summarizing biblical doctrine. Such an understanding of the theological task today fails as claim to truth about God, a universal claim desperately needed today.”27

These confronted positions beg the question about whether neo-evangelicals embrace the sola Scriptura principle as the principle of authority in doctrinal and practical matters. If they do, then, we are facing the existence of different views of understanding the same principle. We cannot dismiss either position by using slogans and labels. They require careful reflection, especially for Evangelicals facing epochal change in this generation.

The agreement between neo-Evangelicals and Emerging Church leaders about the multiplicity of theological sources is momentous and has a long history. Arguably, the Evangelical theological synthesis articulated by Luther and Calvin never stood on the sola Scriptura principle but rather implicitly on the multiplicity-of-sources matrix. As they drew heavily on Augustine, their theological synthesis unintentionally assumed principles of Neo-Platonism, a reality neo-Evangelicals tend to deny strongly.

Perhaps the so-called Radical Reformation came closer to building on the sola Scriptura principle, yet, it never generated a philosophical and theological synthesis. However, the continuity of Protestant theology with medieval Roman Catholic Theology transpired soon after the reformation during the period of Protestant Orthodoxy (1560-1620).These simple historical facts cast suspicion over the neo-Evangelical claim that its doctrines spring from the sola Scriptura principle. Perhaps neo-Evangelicalism owes more to the Radical Reformation than to the Magisterial Reformers such as Luther and Calvin. Yet they are also dependent on the latter for their main doctrinal trusts.


The changes that American Evangelicalism is experiencing at the beginning of the 21st century are not superficial but deep and paradigmatic, touching its nature and destiny. These changes stem from deep grass-roots dissatisfaction with the spiritual, doctrinal, and ministerial status of Evangelical denominations. Because Evangelical theology and ministry are not reaching young generations of churchgoers, growing dissatisfaction goes far beyond aesthetic issues to include theological, metaphysical, and systemic topics. This situation uncovers a long crisis of theological and ministerial leadership that can be traced back at least to the failure to produce a theological synthesis of biblical philosophy and theology that could answer the questions and challenges presented by classical philosophies and modern science.

While the Evangelical experience is slowly but surely cracking under the pressure of inner spiritual, theological, and hermeneutical crises, the world around it is crumbling under the pressure of philosophical, scientific, and technological changes. Without inner or external anchors to guide its destiny and mission, rapid changes threaten to further fragment the never cohesive existence of the Evangelical movement.

To save Protestantism and advance its mission, Emerging Church leaders believe, unlike their predecessors, that Evangelicals should let go of the Bible and reason as their anchors and embrace postmodern social, epistemological changes. In their minds this amounts to the postmodern reformation of the church, even the next reformation. In this process, the Protestant Reformation based on Scripture appears to be vanishing before our eyes.


Fernando Canale, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology and Philosophy at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Berrien Springs, Michigan.


Notes and References

1. Ken Howard, “A New Middle Way? Surviving and Thriving in the Coming Religious Realignment,” Anglican Theological Review 92:1 (Summer 2010):104.


2. Ibid.


3. Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2012).


4 Mark Liederbach and Alvin L. Reid, The Convergent Church: Missional Worshipers in and Emerging Culture (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 2009), p. 21.


5. John R. Franke, “Generous Orthodoxy and a Changing World: Foreword to A Generous Orthodoxy,” in Brian McClaren, ed., A Generous Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2004), p. 11.


6. Tickle, The Great Emergence, op. cit., p. 134.


7. Ibid.


8. Ibid., p. 136.


9. Ibid. pp. 40, 41.


10. Ibid., p. 34.


11. Ibid.


12. Leonard Sweet, Soul Tsunami: Sink or Swim in the New Millennium Culture (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1999), p. 17.


13. Stanley J. Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), pp. 8, 9, 19-33.


14. Ibid., p. 7.


15. Ibid., p. 8.


16. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), pp. 41-49.


17. __________, Early Greek Thinking, Daved Farell Krell and Frank A. Capuzzi, trans. (San Francisco: Harper, 1975), p. 17.


18. Philip Clayton, Transforming Christian Theology for Church and Society (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009), p. 46.


19. Alister McGrath, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution—A History From the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), p. 420.


20. Ibid., p. 431.


21. Ed Stetzer, “The Emergent/Emerging Church: A Missiological Perspective,” The Journal of Baptist Theology and Ministry 5:2 (2007):56.


22. Robert E. Webber, The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2002), p. 240.


23. Ibid., p. 241.


24. Ibid.


25. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, U.K.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1995), p. 21.


26. Ibid.


27. John Bolt, “Sola Scriptura as an Evangelical Theological Method?” in Gary L. W. Johnson and Ronald L. Gleason, eds., Reforming or Conforming: Post-Conservative Evangelicals and the Emerging Church (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008), p. 89.

[Are You] Still Evangelical, by Mark Labberton, Editor

amazon link

Still Evangelical?: Insiders Reconsider
Political, Social, and Theological Meaning

Written by Mark Labberton
Narrated by Bob Souer

Audiobook - 5 hrs

Evangelicalism in America has cracked, split on the shoals of the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath, leaving many wondering if they want to be in or out of the evangelical tribe.

The contentiousness brought to the fore surrounds what it means to affirm and demonstrate evangelical Christian faith amidst the messy and polarized realities gripping our country and world.

Who or what is defining the evangelical social and political vision? Is it the gospel or is it culture? For a movement that has been about the primacy of Christian faith, this is a crisis.

This collection of essays was gathered by Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, who provides an introduction to the volume. What follows is a diverse and provocative set of perspectives and reflections from evangelical insiders who wrestle with their responses to the question of what it means to be evangelical in light of their convictions.

Contributors include:
  • Shane Claiborne, Red Letter Christians
  • Jim Daly, Focus on the Family
  • Mark Galli, Christianity Today
  • Tom Lin, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
  • Karen Swallow Prior, Liberty University
  • Soong-Chan Rah, North Park University
  • Robert Chao Romero, UCLA
  • Sandra Maria Van Opstal, Grace and Peace Community
  • Allen Yeh, Biola University
  • Mark Young, Denver Seminary

Referring to oneself as evangelical cannot be merely a congratulatory self-description. It must instead be a commitment and aspiration guided by the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.

What now are Christ's followers called to do in response to this identity crisis?

Allen Yeh: Still Evangelical [The Biola Hour]
Biola University   |   Mar 21, 2018

Dr. Allen Yeh - missiologist, professor of intercultural studies, author of Polycentric Missiology, and contributor to Still Evangelical? - joins us to discuss the term Evangelical and its PR problem. His expertise in global Christianity helps frame the conversation and mirror what we might lack in Western Christianity. Continue the conversation and find more episodes of The Biola Hour at https://www.biola.edu/spiritual-devel...


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How Evangelicals Think of the Past Emergent Church, Part 2

Dcn. Cook's gives his assessment of the emergent church in his undergraduate thesis of 2020. To this thesis and to other evangelical positional statements and imprecations of emergentism I have responded in the many articles found in the listed Indexes below.

To these I will post Cook's two observations of emergentism before responding with two or three emergent articles sharing what they find as deficient in evangelical thought.

Be it known that the majority of my life was spent in the fundamental church, then in the evangelical church, and finally in an emergent church. These have all been spiritually healthy experiences for me but it is the latter kind of conservative evangelicalism which has caused me to change my position.

In doing so I discovered process-based Christianity which has given to me the best of all my past but with a better foundation than I had found in the Westernized / Americanized bible faiths.

Hence, the first number of years in my early fifties I needed to deconstruct my evangelical faith. I had no plan and no idea where I was heading. Everything was left open-ended. Eventually a directionality took place... but it took a lot of time to find it and I was very comfortable with living in the tension of the moment with no firm answers.

Then, the last number of years of leaving evangelicalism I ended up discovering and exploring Process-based Christianity. My journey of lost faith had begun with a deep blackness and spiritual tearing of the soul. And yet, bye and bye the Spirit of the Lord bound my wilderness experience back to the Christian faith and along the way helped me envision a more loving, embracing, expanded form of the Christian faith than I had learned or been taught.

Thus and thus, the creation of Relevancy22 and why I think evangelics and emergents (they are twin faiths by the way; or, brothers older and younger than the other) should consider my journey to be a possible journey for themselves. But I'll leave this for the reader to someday decide. All I can do is tell you why a process Christianity is the preferred way to go.

R.E. Slater
February 10, 2024

An Orthodox Response to the
Emerging Church Movement

Theology August 18, 2020

This article constitutes the final installment in a series adapted from the author’s undergraduate thesis, An Ancient Future Church?: An Orthodox Examination of the Post-modern Christianity of the Emergent Church Movement. Follow the link above to start from the beginning of the series.


Having conducted an extensive, if not exhaustive, review of the Emerging Church Movement (ECM) through a variety of primary and secondary sources, and established what the general ethos and thought of the movement is, I will now compare and contrast specific aspects of emerging thought and theology with the teachings of the Orthodox Church, showing where there are encouraging signs of many emergents in their movement towards a more Orthodox approach to certain issues, while also demonstrating the various places where ECM drastically contradicts Orthodox dogma.

The Ecclesiology of the Emerging Church Movement

It has already been mentioned above that ECM is primarily an ecclesiological movement, with the intention of creating an entirely new ecclesiology. Ronald Gleason even suggests that, within ECM, there has been a paradigm shift “away from soteriology toward ecclesiology.” The ecclesiological vision of ECM has been one that has profoundly influenced many of their positions and practices. The aforementioned anti-establishment mentality of much of ECM has led to a particular leaning in emerging ecclesiology towards an anti-hierarchical system of church governance. Not only has church polity been affected, but the whole concept of the church community itself has been changed. According to Her husband plays in a musical group every week associated with the church.

DeVine, quoted above, there is a strong leaning towards a ‘belonging-before-believing’ approach in ECM, in which those who do not necessarily hold the same faith of the community (however it is determined) are still considered as an integral part of the community nonetheless. ECM’s focus on ‘conversation’ and relationships no doubt heavily influences this approach, as people are encouraged to dialogue and work out their faith, instead of being given a creed that they must adhere to in order to be accepted into the community. A good example of this comes from the research of Ganiel and Marti:

Judy’s atheist husband is also a welcome member of the congregation. “I love it that he’s been embraced as a member of the community. Accepted as who he is. It’s like, ‘We’re going to embrace this man, and it’s up to God what he decides to do with him.’ Everyone seems to be OK with that. It’s so important to me.” Her husband plays in a musical group every week associated with the church. “He says he’s an atheist.” She said, “No one has attempted to talk with him about the state of his soul.” Communion is open, and he participates. She disagreed with the conservative stances of other churches: “’If you’re not saved, don’t come.’ Nonsense! Christ died for everyone.”

Although there is nothing inherently wrong with welcoming seekers to attend long-term, the historical benchmark for entrance into Christian community has been, and for the Orthodox Church still is, catechesis, followed by confession of the Symbol of Faith and Holy Baptism, Chrismation, and Eucharist. In the words of the late Byzantine theologian, Saint Nicholas Cabasilas,

To be baptized, then, is to be born according to Christ and to receive our very being and nature, having previously been nothing… it is the first of the Mysteries into which we are initiated, and before the others this Mystery introduces Christians into the new life… It is then that we are formed and shaped, and our shapeless and undefined life receives shape and definition.

It is evident from this passage that the unbaptized are in no way participants in the life of the Church. Although in most cases, the Church no longer expels the unbaptized from the temple halfway through the service, it still maintains the division between believers and non-believers, and in no circumstances would an atheist be permitted to partake in Holy Communion, the peak and summit of participation in the Church’s life.

The Orthodox Church’s ecclesiology is based on the traditional teachings of the Church and its understanding of the nature of the Holy Mysteries, so a strict position is to be expected, but even Protestant churches with a low or even negative sacramental understanding maintain boundaries based on faith in Christ, which makes the ECM approach even more radical. It could even be argued that ECM’s low ecclesiology derives not from a low view of sacraments, but from a low view of the church in general, as Brian McLaren writes, paraphrasing Churchill: the church is “the worst form of community ever devised, except for all others.” Although he later goes on to correctly describe the church as ‘the communion of saints,’ it can be seen that the anti-authoritarian streak of ECM has its roots in this disdain for the church’s institutional element.

The anti-authoritarian aspect of ECM manifests itself in the movement’s anti-hierarchical structure. As has been mentioned above, ECM has no official structure of leadership, and many of those communities that self-identify as emerging are independent, with a more horizontal leadership structure than is found in most Protestant churches. Indeed Ganiel and Marti make note of their ““flat” leadership structures and their ambivalence towards ordained clergy.” Many communities have only part-time clergy, who usually spread responsibilities throughout the congregation, allowing for a “more egalitarian form of congregational government and [acting] as a mechanism to resist decrees coming from distant denominational institutions.”

Tony Jones, the prominent emergent writer and ‘theologian-in-residence’ at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis, calls this ‘relational ecclesiology’ and based his PhD thesis on the subject. His main observations are that ECM has “a “lower” view of ordination, or a “higher” view of lay involvement. Or both.” He notes that, while most mainstream Protestant denominations in America have been attempting to increase lay involvement, ECM has taken things to the next level, listing several examples based on his research:

… the majority of the liturgy at Church of the Apostles is administered by laypeople. A different member of the congregation introduces communion each week at Solomon’s Porch. Most of these congregations operate a polity that is a kind of hybrid of Congregationalism and a free church evangelical structure… each is loosely democratic in that the board is meant to represent the members of the congregational body, but none is as fiercely democratic as a true Congregational polity would require.

While some emergent communities are attached to larger denominations, most notably PCUSA 1 and ELCA2, which both have traditional, hierarchical structures, the majority of them are independent and detached from any hierarchy or oversight. This anti-institutional leaning, accompanied with the light anti-clericalism present in ECM, is out of step with traditional Christianity. Although emergents claim the ‘Ancient-Future’ title, it is apparent that their church structure does not reflect that of the early Church, which was clearly hierarchical in nature. According to Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, “The highest ministry in the Church as an organization is borne by the hierarchy, which is distinct from the ordinary members.” This is firmly based on the writings of the earliest Church leaders, in particular Saint Ignatius of Antioch, known for his robust defense of the Church hierarchy:

Follow the bishop, all of you, as Jesus Christ the Father, and the presbytery as the apostles. Respect the deacons as the commandment of God. Without the bishop, nobody should do anything relating to the church. That Eucharist which is under the bishop, or the one to whom he has entrusted it, should be considered sound. The congregation should be wherever the bishop is, just as the catholic church is wherever Christ may be. Apart from the bishop it is not permissible to baptize, or to hold a love-feast, but whatever he approves is pleasing to God, so that everything you do is secure and sound.

The above-quoted passage is one of several from Saint Ignatius in which he insists that all Christians maintain obedience to the divinely-established hierarchy. Based on the continual practice of the Orthodox Church, as well as the ancient heterodox movements, in maintaining the traditional threefold hierarchical structure, it is evident that ECM is far from ancient practice in regards to its organization, or lack thereof.

Post-Modernism and ECM

One of the most common ideas associated with ECM is post-modernism. Post-modern thought, and its integration with contemporary Protestant theology, has been an essential component of ECM’s ideology since its formative years and has affected all facets of emerging thought and practice, particularly in regard to interpretation of traditional dogma, and Scripture. Essentially, ECM is based on reaction against the staunch modernism of contemporary Protestantism in the West, and an embrace of the cultural and social transition to a post-modern society with a different worldview and set of values, or in McLaren’s words: “the old modern paradigm, with its absolute scientific laws, consumerist individualism, and rational certainty, was giving away to a new postmodern paradigm of pluralism, relativism, globalism, and uncertainty.”

ECM’s tacit acceptance of this new paradigm, whether it is merely something to be acknowledged, or something to actually be embraced, has been the major point that has attracted criticism from the traditional Protestants and evangelicals, who have accused ECM proponents of denying absolute truth and long-established Christian doctrines, in favor of a moderate agnosticism and fascination with mystery. Even within ECM, the extent of the embrace of post-modernism has been part of the tension between the more conservative elements and the Emergent stream.

Essentially, post-modernism rejects the overarching narratives of modernism and its attempts to explain all things rationally. Likewise, concepts such as language, meaning, and knowledge are called into question, with words and their meanings being considered arbitrary and their relationship to the truth being doubtful. The post-modernist philosopher Jacques Derrida proposed a system of deconstruction, not in order to discover the real meanings behind words, but to uncover the multiplicity of meanings. Effectively it is a system of skepticism in which the concepts of modernism – absolute truth, definite relations between word and meaning, and foundationalist epistemology – are thrown into doubt. The question is how much of this proponents of ECM accept.

As McKnight writes above, there are some within ECM who are ‘ministering to’ post-moderns, in an attempt to bring them back to Christianity, while there are those who ‘minister within’ post-modernity. These are believed to be in the majority, according to McKnight, and consist of the more conservative (Doctrine-Friendly) emergents, who may use various elements of post-modern thought and practice in their delivery of the Gospel and in their pastoral methods, but without compromising their more traditional Protestant theology. The third group, as McKnight says, have more or less fully embraced post-modernism, including its effects on doctrine. Regarding their position on ‘truth,’ it has been found that

…what is emerging from their conversations is a conception of truth that is experiential and “embodied” in the example of Jesus… For them, modernists conceive of truth as a set of objective propositions about the world as it really is. Modernists are said to pair “propositional truth” with the idea that the facts we discover can help us construct an all-encompassing, overarching narrative that explains everything.

Ganiel and Marti go on to explain that, from their findings, most emergents believe that truth is to be found by participating in their communities and involving themselves in the conversations there, experiencing life, and hearing and telling stories, with “the real test of what is “true” is whether is empowers you to live as a better person.” For Phyllis Tickle, there are two main insights that have impacted ECM’s thought: “the philosophers’ deconstruction of “all written texts” and their challenging the idea of “the ability of language to convey anything without prejudice.”” and “postmodern philosophers’ dual emphasis on the deconstruction of overarching metanarratives and the influence of context on written texts.”

The first insight has caused a general mistrust of language within ECM, with many feeling that it is beyond the capacity of language to communicate divine realities. This is something that the Orthodox Church could agree with – with certain caveats. As Saint Gregory the Theologian writes: “to tell of God is not possible… but to know Him is even less possible.” The apophatic tradition of Orthodox theology and thought is open to some of the ideas of post-modernism, in particular its rejection of rationalism, but post-modernism’s skepticism of language and meaning is not necessarily agreeable to the Orthodox tradition. Eminent theologian Protopresbyter John Romanides writes: “… the Church Fathers are quite familiar with the fact that expressions convey specific concepts,” hence why they fought tooth-and-nail to defend terminology at the Ecumenical Councils. Although the writings of the Fathers, especially Saint Dionysius the Areopagite, insist that, when dealing with divine realities, human concepts only go so far, they would not agree with the post-modernists that words themselves have no specific meaning. Unfortunately for ECM, the result of this adoption of post-modern linguistic theory has been that, for many, it is now “impossible to discover a whole, objective truth.”

This brings us to Tickle’s second insight. The deconstruction of overarching meta-narratives in post-modernism has had a disastrous effect on emergents’ understanding of Scripture, i.e. that it can no longer provide an overarching narrative about God, or a foundation for a worldview. As mentioned above, this is part of the reaction against the modernist understanding of the Scriptures, a component of which is sola scriptura. This is another case in which, by fully embracing post-modern ideas, ECM has thrown the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. As Tickle mentions in her research, it was the defeat of evangelical Protestantism in the public sphere that led to a lack of confidence in sola scriptura and a desire to seek another way of interpreting the Scriptures. Unfortunately, the majority of the mainline Protestant churches adopted more liberal approaches to scriptural interpretation, while the emergents took the post-modern approach, both of which, like sola scriptura, fail to understand or interpret the Scriptures correctly and, indeed, are probably more damaging to Christian doctrine.

The Orthodox Church gives the Scriptures the highest dignity, with Saint Athanasius saying of them: “These are fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness.” However, it avoids the pitfalls of sola scriptura by always interpreting the Scriptures in continuity with the catholic consciousness of the Church. Father John Romanides, who spent the best part of his theological career refuting Western theological errors, particularly those originating with Saint Augustine, explains further:

… the Holy Tradition, i.e. Deposit, is not something different from the Holy Scriptures, since it is contained in them. Yet, it is not identical with them, because the Deposit is identical with the Church, and the Holy Tradition is identical with the entire manifestation of the Church. There is no difference, however, between the Deposit in the Holy Scriptures and in the Church.

He goes on to state that:

Outside the Church, the Deposit is hidden even to those who read the Holy Scriptures, because, although the Deposit is declared by the Holy Scriptures and is contained in them, it is not interpreted by them, but only by the Church… Holy Scripture and the Church teach infallibly about God, because the Holy Tradition or Deposit in them are identical.

These statements show the great reverence that the Orthodox Church has for the Holy Scriptures and their importance within its dogmatic consciousness, but also the caveat that they must be interpreted by the Orthodox Church. However, Father John goes on to make a statement that the post-moderns might tentatively agree with, albeit only to a degree:

Although Holy Scripture is divinely inspired and teaches infallibly in the Church about God and His relations with the world, yet Holy Scripture outside the Church… does not teach infallibly, because the interpretive operation of the Holy Spirit… is not there to lead to the whole truth… He who is outside the communion… and does not submissively follow their teaching is ignorant of the Key of the Holy Scripture and finds himself outside the Deposit of the Tradition and, consequently, outside the Truth.

So, based on the teachings of the Church, as defined by Father John, it is impossible to know the whole truth, which the emergents would agree on, but only if you are outside of the Orthodox Church, which has infallible interpretive charisma under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and within the teaching authority of its hierarchy, both doctrines with which the emergents would likely vociferously disagree.

Although the post-modern epistemology is disastrous, and Scriptural interpretation has degenerated into a free-for-all, there are some positives to emergent acceptance of the post-modern paradigm, and that comes in the context of their spirituality. The rejection of rationalism has led to an ‘opening-up’ to more mystical forms of worship and the introduction of a ‘new’ kind of spirituality.

Adherents of postmodern religions tend to practice a holistic way of life. They observe that all of reality is sacred and that all dualisms are simply meta-narratives… Postmodern culture pushes for boundaries to be overcome. For the most part, however, the overcoming of the split between the sacred and profane is foreign to mainstream church practice.

A holistic way of life is a very apt way of describing the Orthodox way of life, with its rhythms of prayer, fasting, and participation in the Mysteries, as well as its mystical spiritual tradition. The end of rationalism for post-moderns has created openness to mystery in the religious sphere, long absent from evangelical Protestantism. As we saw above, many emergents have embraced the writings of Catholic mystics, such as John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and Thomas Merton, not only in their search for authenticity, but also in their search for something that surpasses the cold rationalism of modernity. This openness to mystery and traditional Christian spirituality is to be welcomed, but unfortunately most emergents have focused on the Western traditions, instead of the rich treasury of Eastern Orthodox spirituality. The problems with Western mysticism are outside the scope of this paper, but it should suffice to say that the Orthodox view of the works and experience of Roman Catholic mystical writers is generally not a positive one. Despite this, it can be seen as a step in the right direction, one that will hopefully lead to an engagement with authentic Orthodox spirituality. As well as openness to a more mystical view of Christianity, the post-modern paradigm has also opened up ECM to engagement with traditional practices in their worship.

ECM has earned its ‘Ancient-Future Church’ moniker from its attempts to synthesize ancient practices and ever-evolving contemporary worship and concepts. As part of its quest to rediscover ‘authenticity’ in the Christian life, ECM has made extensive use of many practices that have long fallen out of favor in the Protestant world, or in some cases, are even actively discouraged and avoided, and fused them with inherited practices such as worship bands, as one emergent pastor reflected: “Early on we called it “liturgical eclecticism.” We took a lot of stuff from the Book of Common Prayer, a lot of Catholic stuff. We felt free to borrow not only from our specific traditions but also from the whole tradition of the church.”

The most notable facet of this eclecticism, and probably the most widespread, is the use of traditional visual stimulants as part of their worship, to complement the more modern spectacles of video clips and projections. In the majority of cases this means candles or other traditional forms of lighting, but many communities have opened up to the use of icons and statues, usually as part of separate ‘prayer stations’ away from the main act of worship. ECM’s engagement with the arts has also been fruitful in this regard, with a number of emergent communities either meeting in galleries or hosting exhibitions and installations. Some even incorporate the production of art, such as painting, sculpture, or crafts, into their worship itself.

Along with the most evident manifestations of this co-option of ancient practice, i.e. candles, sacred art, etc., some emergent communities also revived the use of spiritual and liturgical activities long abandoned by the vast majority of Protestants. The majority of these come from the Catholic and Anglican traditions, such as: spiritual direction; Ignatian spiritual exercises; Lectio Divina; the Divine Offices, particularly the service of Compline; frequent Eucharist, usually served according to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer or its variants; the use of incense in worship; observance of periods such as Lent and Holy Week; and even the Stations of the Cross. The New Monastic movement, explored below, has even produced its own version of the Book of Common Prayer, subtitled A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. Some emergent writers have mentioned the use of ‘Eastern Orthodox prayer books’ but there are no examples of specific practices in the surveyed literature, besides the new monastic movement’s Common Prayer, and the album The Divine Liturgy of the Wretched Exiles, loosely based on the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, by the nomadic, Mennonite anarcho-punk collective Psalters. Other emergent communities make exclusive use of ‘Celtic’ practices composed by the Iona and Northumbrian communities, which generally have a somewhat tenuous connection with genuine ancient Celtic spirituality. There are even a few communities that practice yoga and Zen meditation as part of their emergent spirituality.

Despite the adoption of many traditional practices, the vast majority of ECM communities have avoided the formality that usually accompanies them. Instead of pews, or formal seating arrangements, some emergent communities try to ‘sanctify secular space’ by arranging their churches in a manner more akin to a coffee shop, using sofas, armchairs, and other more ‘homey’ furniture – some even take it to the next level by actually doing away with a ‘church building’ completely, meeting instead in coffee houses and pubs. The centrality of this ethos in emerging thought is stressed by Ganiel and Marti:

There is an intentional effort to reconstruct spaces to move away from pews, altars, or elevated pulpits. If such spaces are not available, they are created… Both architecture and seating arrangements push away stereotypical notions of church in order to emphasize egalitarianism, artistry, and dialogue. The arrangement is more simple than stoic. Outer walls are often where welcome tables, prayer/communion stations, and storage are placed. Low lighting (sometimes with votive candles) promotes a contemplative mood… For Emerging Christians, the locations and physical spaces in which their preaching and worship take place matter a lot. They see these physical places and spaces as extensions of the values they wish to live out; values that include being open and inclusive, cultivating community, promoting social justice, and so on.

Although it is encouraging that ECM is exploring and adopting traditional practices, in particular liturgical rituals focused on the Eucharist, there are two main deficiencies in their approach. First is that they are so far removed from a real, authentic liturgical-spiritual tradition that they are unable to receive suitable guidance and instruction in making profitable use of whatever positive and worthy traditions they have adopted, or in discerning problematic practices, namely post-schism Catholic practices, such as the Rosary and the Ignatian exercises, and non-Christian spiritual techniques. Without guidance or discernment, the improper use of spiritual and liturgical practices could end up causing problems in the long-term. The second major issue is that, in the spirit of ‘deconstruction’ mentioned above, many of the practices are carried out in a ‘re-traditioned,’ experimental manner, or in a spirit of subversion. A prominent example of the latter is when the Belfast-based Ikon collective used champagne and chocolate cake for their communion rite, in an ironic satire of evangelicalism’s emphasis on happiness, and its ignorance of the dark aspects of Christianity. On the whole, however, this exploration of tradition, liturgy and spirituality is positive and a closer and more realistic engagement with Orthodoxy on the part of ECM might result in development in the right direction.

The Emerging Approach to Social Issues

At the forefront of much of ECM’s practice is its dedication to ‘incarnational living’ or ‘kingdom living,’ something that manifests itself in a strong commitment to social issues. ECM’s dedication to social issues expands much further than simply assisting the poor, sick, and needy, but fully incorporates political activism, human rights campaigning, and a multitude of other issues. However, in the spirit of avoiding the program-based structure of the seeker-friendly churches most emergents are fleeing, many emerging communities encourage their members to actively seek employment in the social work sector, or even to deliberately move to poorer and more neglected areas, sometimes in groups. Dwight Friesen of Quest in Seattle says of this, “We discourage programs in our faith community. Almost everyone is involved in social service as a career.” Many emerging communities seek to incorporate ‘intentional spirituality’ with their social action, for example the Urban Center for Spiritual Formation, a ministry of Landing Place in Columbus, Ohio. A major aspect of ECM’s social outlook is that it does not use its involvement in social issues as a way of gaining converts, as they believe this to be manipulative and endemic among evangelicals. Instead, they are focused on building relationships and offering hospitality to all as a way of proclaiming their gospel, and hope that people are attracted to Christianity by this less aggressive manner.

One manifestation of ECM’s social action is the rise in the use of Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZs). Similar to the new monastic movement, which is described below, TAZs seek to create spaces in which people can more authentically interact with one another outside of the unjust social system, and as an alternative to the capitalism decried by many emergents. This approach, however, is not supported by all, and some emergent leaders have criticized TAZs as being “idealistic playgrounds of the middle classes.”

Despite the ideological divide between the Doctrine-Friendly and Emergent streams, both of them can agree on the importance of social issues and it serves as a de facto uniting force for them. In the words of Phyllis Tickle: “… social justice… would become a kind of acid test for separating established Christianity groups from Emergence Christianity ones.” However, despite this agreement, the extent of the activism, especially in regards to issues such as homosexuality and female leadership in the church, still causes friction between the more conservative elements of ECM and the more liberal ones. It can be expected that, if the Emergent stream pushes further and further in its support for left-leaning political and social causes, there might well be a reaction from the more conservative parts of ECM.

There can be no real critique of ECM’s engagement with social action from an Orthodox perspective, as much of it is admirable and, indeed, puts the Orthodox Church in the West to shame. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of a small, but notable, number of charitable organizations and institutions, Orthodoxy in the West has not built up a reputation for itself as a Church that is fully engaged with its rich heritage of social action, exemplified by the teachings and homilies of such Church Fathers as Saints Basil the Great and John Chrysostom, and even the prophets of the Old Testament, many of whom had a fairly radical message on social justice. Indeed, it might be possible to say that, as Orthodoxy has influenced and inspired ECM in many ways in regards to its practices, Orthodox Christians should be inspired by ECM’s almost universal commitment to helping the disenfranchised and unfortunate. However, ECM’s seeming fixation with left-wing and liberal political and social agendas is something that taints their social ministry, making it unpalatable to more conservative Christians, who are quite rightly suspicious of the left after the ‘culture wars’ of the past few decades.

ECM and New Monasticism

A movement that has developed almost parallel to ECM, and with some crossover, is ‘New Monasticism,’ which could almost be seen as an extension of the emergent view on social action. Although the New Monastic movement has different roots to ECM, and has been influenced by somewhat different principles, many of the ideas and outlook of the two movements are shared, particularly in regard to spiritual and social issues.

The roots of New Monasticism lie in the desire, shared with ECM, to rediscover some authentic tradition in an era and culture considered spiritually superficial. Although mainly rooted in Protestantism, if they even subscribe to any particular denomination, many new monastic communities are heavily influenced by Roman Catholic traditions, particularly the Benedictine and Franciscan, in their spirituality, and by the Catholic Worker movement in their social outlook. However, many proponents and writers point to the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the 1930s as their ‘manifesto’: “The restoration of the church will surely come from a sort of new monasticism which has in common with the old only the uncompromising attitude of a life lived according to the Sermon on the Mount in the following of Christ.” As well as Bruderhof community in Germany, another influential ‘proto-new monastic’ community is the interracial Koinonia community in Georgia, USA, which was founded with the intention of crossing racial boundaries in the segregated South of the 1940’s.

In terms of developing a unified vision for the new monastic movement, the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA), founded by John Perkins in the 1970’s, was influential in its preaching of the “3 R’s”:

…we have to relocate to neighborhoods that have been abandoned. What follows is redistribution of resources to correct for economic injustices. When people are together, sharing what they have so that no one goes without, true reconciliation can happen.

This has been the path taken by most new monastic communities in recent times, most notably Shane Claiborne’s Simple Way in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which combines economic development and social justice work with a modern take on communal spiritual life. One of the common features of most new monastic communities is their absolute opposition to the capitalist system and its military-industrial complex, and their desire to create a space outside of it where they can try to live the Christian life in its fullness and most authentically, helping to transform local areas for the better.

As the movement began to spread, a meeting termed “The New Monasticism Gathering” took place in Durham, North Carolina in 2005, which brought the decentralized communities together to discuss the movement and its direction. Here, they developed the “12 Marks of New Monasticism” and unveiled them in a communiqué quoted in full below:

Moved by God’s Spirit in this time called America to assemble at St. John’s Baptist Church in Durham, NC, we wish to acknowledge movement of radical rebirth, grounded in God’s love and drawing on the rich tradition of Christian practices that have long formed disciples in the simple Way of Christ. This contemporary school for conversion, which we have called a “new monasticism,” is producing a grassroots ecumenism and a prophetic witness within the North American church which is diverse in form, but characterized by the following marks:

12 Marks of New Monasticism:

  • Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.
  • Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.
  • Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church.
  • Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life.
  • Hospitality to the stranger.
  • Nurturing common life among members of intentional community.
  • Peacekeeping in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18.
  • Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation.
  • Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economies.
  • Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.
  • Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate.
  • Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.

It can be said that while ECM is primarily an ecclesiological movement influenced by contemporary society and culture, new monasticism is a primarily a social movement influenced by the historical church. While both movements share similar traits and motives, especially the community and social elements, the proclivity for left-wing politics, and an engagement with traditional liturgical worship, the main difference between them is that the new monastic movement is still deeply attached to its (mainly) evangelical roots, which is shown in their high appreciation of Scripture and the teachings of Christ, while ECM is mostly involved in post-modernism and the process of deconstruction, as detailed above, which may put them at odds in regards to doctrine and interpretation of Scripture. For example, the new monastic leader Shane Claiborne, despite having numerous personal connections with emergent leaders such as Brian McLaren, distances himself from the ‘emergent’ label.

The growth of the new monastic movement has both positive and negative aspects. On the positive side, although it does not resemble monasticism in the classical sense, being more focused on social justice and political engagement than spiritual and ascetic struggle, it is encouraging to see a move towards communal living and worship, and, in some cases, celibacy, which have been absent from mainstream Protestantism for much of its history. Unfortunately, on the negative side, the movement’s general adherence to left-wing principles and narratives, and its almost exclusive focus on social issues, pacificism, and the anti-war movement has the potential to lead to very unbalanced territory. For example, in the calendar found in Common Prayer, there are ‘special days’ commemorating such non-Christian figures as Malcolm X and Mahatma Gandhi, and events such as the annexation of Hawaii, the Bay of Pigs invasion, and the foundation of the NAACP, which have little to do with Christianity.

The tendency in the writings of some New Monastic writers to paint the ‘established church’ as the ‘bad guys’ of history, and to alleviate the poor and socially disadvantaged from moral responsibility is also problematic and will no doubt adversely affect any kind of meaningful dialogue with established churches. It is for these reasons, unfortunately, that we predict that the New Monastic movement’s engagement with Orthodoxy will only ever be superficial. Despite the long-standing practice of social outreach conducted by the Church down to the present and the venerable tradition of Orthodox monks speaking the truth to power, the Orthodox Church’s historical ideal of symphony between Church and state, the formal, hierarchical structure of Church governance, and the Church’s nuanced views on war and military service are unpalatable to most New Monastic ideologues.


Having now compared and contrasted some of the key issues in ECM with the Orthodox Church’s teachings and dogmas, we can now form a fuller opinion of ECM as a whole, and offer some final thoughts on the movement.

From the start, we can say that, since ECM has its roots in Protestantism, and in particular the more liberal stream, there are some serious doctrinal issues that are antithetical to the Orthodox understanding. Most notably, in ECM’s case, are its weak, or barely-existent, ecclesiology and the anti-authoritarian undercurrent that informs it. With its radical individualism, applied not only to persons, but to communities, and its lack of any kind of overarching leadership or guidance, not to speak of authority, ECM has, except in those minority of cases where the communities are part of, or have some relation to, an established denomination, lost the remaining vestiges of the church structure established since the Apostles. This is an unfortunate and significant flaw in a movement that has sought to try and restore many ancient and classical practices. It is no doubt influenced by the near wholesale adoption, or at least tacit acceptance, of post-modernism by emergents.

Post-modernism and its influence can be viewed in both a positive and negative light. It has affected the handling of Holy Scripture by ECM negatively, with much of it now held to be suspect and unreliable, and the emerging epistemology has a sense of agnosticism in regards to truth and dogma that is absent from both Orthodoxy, and other, more traditional, Christian denominations. However, on a more positive note, the fall of modernism has opened up emergents to a whole world of ancient Christian practices previously confined to Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, and to a more mystical and holistic view of Christianity. Although, as was mentioned above, many Western spiritual practices would not be regarded as spiritually healthy by Orthodox Christians, it is, at the very least, a step in the right direction, away the rigid rationalism and austere worship of Protestantism.

The most positive development in ECM is this appropriation of traditional practices, both spiritual and liturgical, as well as its warmness towards monasticism, or some form of it. Although it has mostly appropriated Western traditions, it is in this field that ECM has drawn closest to Orthodoxy, in the sense that it has discovered a more authentic sense of sacred space, the necessity of liturgical worship and the Eucharist, and the importance of more contemplative and mystical spiritual practices. Although their understanding is inherently flawed and the connection with a living (and life-giving) tradition is absent, it is encouraging in that it might be the first stages of a move towards authentic Orthodox Christianity. Although comparisons can be made with the Evangelical Orthodox Church that entered the Orthodox Church of Antioch wholesale in the 1980s, who had, from being part of the charismatic evangelical movement, moved towards a more traditional Christianity by slowly adopting Orthodox liturgical practices, as well as theology, the difference is that the EOC was thoroughly rooted in a conservative worldview that placed a high importance on authority, whether it was Holy Scripture or its leadership. ECM’s post-modernism and lack of comfort with authority might adversely affect this engagement with tradition by, instead of enabling it to engage with and draw closer to Orthodoxy, moving it towards a more syncretistic approach comparable to a spiritual-liturgical buffet.

It is my final assessment that, despite the positive and encouraging signs of a rediscovery of ancient Christianity taking place within ECM, there are too many negative factors that will adversely affect its journey, most prominently its anti-authoritarian ethos and ecclesiology, and the effects of post-modernism.

Although some emergents will probably end up coming into the Orthodox Church as individuals, and a number already have, most people and communities within the movement will probably stay on the fringes of liberal Protestantism, either as independent congregations, or affiliated with more liberal mainline denominations, such as Anglicanism, Lutheranism, or Methodism.

- Dcn. Michael Cook