Emergent Church Movement : Some Helpful Resources

Brian McLaren, one of the leaders of the Emergent Church movement

Brian McLaren, one of the leaders of the Emergent Church movement

French version/version française

I thought I would take the time to gather into one post links to resources that have helped me understand the heresies, dangers and problems associated with the Emergent Church movement (e.g. Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt). I am not here to attack the sincerity of those who seek to reach out to non-Christians in this post-modern era and who find fault with churches which have become too institutionalized/cold. I’m here to point out the negative aspects of the Emergent movement. If we are to reach out to the lost let us do it God’s way (in submission to His Holy Scriptures, understood properly, as our sole authority for all matters of faith and practice) in sincerity and truth without adopting bad theology, faulty hermeneutics, Roman Catholic mysticism, gimmicks and worldly reasoning.

Rob Bell, another prominent leader associated with the Emergent Church movement

Rob Bell, another prominent leader associated with the Emergent Church movement

Doug Pagitt, another visible teacher within the movement

Doug Pagitt, another visible teacher within the movement

I will first provide you with a helpful understanding of the movement I have selected the following paragraphs and sentences from Wikipedia:

The emerging church is a Christian movement of the late 20th and early 21st centuries that crosses a number of theological boundaries: participants can be described as Protestant, post-Protestant, Catholic, evangelical, post-evangelical, liberal, post-liberal, conservative, post-conservative, anabaptist, adventist, reformed, charismatic, neocharismatic, and post-charismatic. … Some attend local independent churches or house churches while others worship in traditional Christian denominations. Proponents believe the movement transcends such “modernist” labels of “conservative” and “liberal,” calling the movement a “conversation” to emphasize its developing and decentralized nature, its vast range of standpoints, and its commitment to dialogue. Participants seek to live their faith in what they believe to be a “postmodern” society. What those involved in the conversation mostly agree on is their disillusionment with the organized and institutional church and their support for the deconstruction of modern Christian worship, modern evangelism, and the nature of modern Christian community.

Emerging churches are fluid, hard to define, and varied; they contrast themselves with what has gone before by using the term “inherited church.”

Mark Driscoll and Ed Stetzer note three categories within the movement: Relevants, Reconstructionists and Revisionists.  Relevants are theological conservatives who are interested in updating to current culture. They look to people like Dan Kimball, Donald Miller, and Rob Bell. Reconstructionists are generally theologically evangelical, and speak of new forms of church that result in transformed lives. They look to Neil Cole and Australians Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. Revisionists are theologically liberal, and openly question whether evangelical doctrine is appropriate for the postmodern world. They look to leaders such as Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt.

According to Mobsby the term “emerging church” was first used in 1970, when Larson and Osborne predicted a movement characterised by: contextual and experimental mission; new forms of church; the removal of barriers and division; a blend of evangelism and social action; attention to both experience and tradition; the breakdown of clergy/laity distinctions.

Gibbs and Bolger interviewed a number of people involved in leading emerging churches and from this research have identified some core values in the emerging church, including desires to imitate the life of Jesus; transform secular society; emphasise communal living; welcome outsiders; be generous and creative; and lead without control.

These Christians saw the contemporary church as being culturally bound to modernism. They changed their practices to relate to the new cultural situation. Emerging Christians began to challenge the modern church on issues such as: institutional structures, systematic theology, propositional teaching methods, a perceived preoccupation with buildings, an attractional understanding of mission, professional clergy, and a perceived preoccupation with the political process and unhelpful jargon (“Christian-ese”). As a result, some in the emerging church believe it is necessary to deconstruct modern Christian dogma. One way this happens is by engaging in dialogue, rather than proclaiming a predigested message, believing that this leads people to Jesus through the Holy Spirit on their own terms.

The emerging church movement contains a great diversity in beliefs and practices, although some have adopted a preoccupation with sacred rituals, good works, and political and social activism.

A plurality of Scriptural interpretations is acknowledged in the emerging church movement. Participants in the movement exhibit a particular concern for the effect of the modern reader’s cultural context on the act of interpretation echoing the ideas of postmodern thinkers such as Jacques Derrida and Stanley Fish. Therefore a narrative approach to Scripture, and history are emphasized in some emerging churches over exegetical and dogmatic approaches (such as that found in systematic theology and systematic exegesis), which are often viewed as reductionist. Others embrace a multiplicity of approaches.

Some emerging church leaders see interfaith dialogue a means to share their narratives as they learn from the narratives of others. Some Emerging Church Christians believe there are radically diverse perspectives within Christianity that are valuable for humanity to progress toward truth and a better resulting relationship with God, and that these different perspectives deserve Christian charity rather than condemnation. Reformed and evangelical opponents, like John MacArthur, do not believe that such generosity is appropriate, citing the movement’s shift away from traditional evangelical beliefs such as eternal punishment and penal substitution towards a reintroduction of, for example, elements of ancient mysticism.

More could be said of course to define this hard-to-categorize movement but those preceding paragraphs are already a good start.


I was first made aware of the dangers of the Emergent Church movement in 2009 through ex-Roman-Catholic priest Richard Bennett’s official website. I found there three free MP3 messages (“Catholic Mysticism and the Emerging Church“, “Hazards unfolded by Emerging Church leaders“, “Catholic Mysticism Infused into society “) which can be downloaded here.

Monergism.com provides a good list of audio files (speakers : D. A. Carson, Michael Horton, Justin Taylor, Darrin Patrick, John Piper, Tom Ascol and John MacArthur) at this link.

Here is another useful MP3 file : “Is the Emergent Church Biblical?” by D.A. Carson (9/21/2005).

On Bob DeWaay’s official ministry website there are radio broadcasts made available in MP3 format which criticize different aspects of the movement: http://cicministry.org/radio_series.php?series=emergentdelusion. Hear his critique of Emergent Church eschatology here.


“Hath God Said? Emergent Church Theology” (ebook) by Elliott Nesch

“Emergent Delusion – A Critique of Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy” by Bob DeWaay

“Undefining God’s Mission – The Emerging Church “On a Mission from God” by Bob DeWaay

“What is Postmodernism?” by Erroll Hulse

“Contemplative Prayer and the Evangelical Church” by Ray Yungen

Roger Oakland’s website offers a lot of articles exposing the Emergent Church movement here. He also sells a set of 4 DVDs.

Sam Storms also has written about it in a 7-part document: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, and part 7.


The Real Roots of the Emergent Church* (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!)

The Submerging Church – Discernment About the Emergent Church

10 Signs You May Have Just Entered… the Emergent Church Zone

Catholic Mysticism and the Emerging Church Reexamined

Contemplative Prayer, Mysticism & Kundalini

Rob Bell on Hell – Part 1

Rob Bell on Hell – Part 2

Emergent Church Exposed & Defined – SO4J-TV

Ray Yungen – Mysticism in the Church (Satan’s Old Tricks)

Mohler, Sproul and Zacharias talk about the Emergent Church and Postmodernism

John MacArthur on Yoga and Christians (critique of Doug Pagitt)

James White : Mithra? Attis? Really, Rob Bell?

Joe Schlimmel critiques Mark Driscoll

* please watch Mr. Nesch’s very good companion documentary on Rick Warren which I also highly recommend:


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