Contrarian Theories of the Emerging Church

Orginally published on Monday, January 15, 2007 at 7:01 AM
by Earl Creps

For Discussion:

Commenting on the has become a cottage industry. The phrase itself produces around 850,000 Google hits. Plus, you can be blessed by 2800 graphics, but, surprisingly, no videos (at least per Google). After several years of near-silence, the evangelical publishing industry finally weighed in with books that explained the EC, books that criticized it, and books that helped its practitioners practice. Some of these resources have been really helpful while others have done little more than ask questions like, “how many candles in an emergent service does it take to foment heresy?”

Questions like this suggest the presence of some contrarian theories, naughty, impolite interpretations of the emergent phenomenon. These theories may not be said out loud very often, but I have heard them, or something like them, in my travels. Maybe you have too:

1. Generational Dismissal: What we’ve got here is youth ministry for young adults led by . The deconstructive and counter-cultural tendencies of the EC are not theological so much as they are driven by fairly well-known traits of thirty-somethings: cynicism, blaming Boomers for everything, and a slacker mentality toward ministry that sacrifices productivity for yet another trip to .

2. All Teched Up: The EC is mostly a creation of the internet. Easy electronic connectivity allows young leaders to find each other, build a critical mass of ideas, and basically portray the movement as much larger and more influential than it is on the ground. Subtract the internet and related technologies, and the whole thing grinds to a halt. The EC does not have the ideas to thrive without IT support.

3. The Priesthood of Artistic Believers: Emergers are simply exercising leadership based on talent, rather than position. As what amounts to a movement of intellectuals and artists, the EC is creating an “aesthetic priesthood” as a 1:1 replacement for Boomer-style CEO management. If you aren’t an artist or a writer your role may be something like scraping the candle wax off the floor after the worship service, er, dialog gathering, er, spiritual formation journey, or whatever you call it.

4. Lawyering Up: Someone said this one to my face the other day. The EC is really no different from conventional church, but, if it were different, it’s bad, really, really bad. I thought this claim sounded like a defense attorney working a jury on Law and Order, or like the latest OJ Simpson book that was never published: “I didn’t kill her, but if I had…”

For Discussion:

1. Have you heard any of these contrarian theories? Are there others you could add to the list?

2. Is there truth to any of these contrarian theories, or is the EC just getting payback for its criticism of conventional church?

3. How would you refute any of these theories?

About the Author:  Earl Creps has spent several years visiting congregations that are attempting to engage emerging culture. He directs doctoral studies for the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri (http://www.agts.edu).  Earl and his wife Janet have pastored three churches, one Boomer, one Builder, and one GenX. He speaks, trains, and consults with ministries around the country. Earl’s book, Off-Road Disciplines: Spiritual Adventures of Missional Leaders, was published by Jossey-Bass/Leadership Network in 2006. Connect with Earl at http://www.earlcreps.com .



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  There are 12 Comments:

  • Posted by

    There’s a little truth, in my humble estimation, to number 3, but more to Number 1. [What we’ve got here is youth ministry for young adults led by Generation X.] My question is maybe “It that’s true… what’s wrong with that?”

  • Posted by

    I too think that there is some truth to these “contrarian” observations, especially this from #1:

    [ . . . a slacker mentality toward ministry that sacrifices productivity for yet another trip to Starbucks.]

    It seems like whenever we’re in a discussion about how we can evaluate and measure our ministry results, someone from the more EC camp tells us about how impossible it is to measure and how distasteful it is to try.  “It’s about relationships (formed at Starbucks),” they cry.

    And sorry, I don’t understand #4.  Can anyone help me understand?


  • Posted by kent

    Having heard these criticisms of the emergent for sometime now, they remain tired, based on ignorance and graceless. Do they have faults? Yes, but probably equal to or less than any other wing of the church. Are there that many hits, articles, books on what is wrong with the evangelicals, or charismatics or the mainline churches?

    Let them serve God and let them grow and find their way. Just like we all have to.

  • Posted by michael

    Well said, Kent…

    Superficial, ignorant swipes at Emergent Churches (if you can even define what that means) is not terribly productive.  I could say the same four things about mainstream evangelicals in our culture.  All movements shrink to the local level if you take away their ability to communicate regionally, nationally and internationally. That is just common sense.  The fact the EC does it through the net...come on, you have to be kidding!  We are now going to criticize EC because they encourage artistic expression in the community of faith...now you know why artists have no voice too many evangelical churches.  The Priesthood of Artistic Believers?  How about the Priesthood of Mid-level Managers?  Is that better?

    I think Harry G. Frankfurt’s essay (in book form) “On Bullshit” (sorry if that offends) has more to say about these criticisms than anything else.  Harry is Professor Emeritus at Princeton University (Philosophy) The essay seeks to provide a theoretical framework for the phenomena of BS.  He defines BS as communication that is designed to accomplish a certain objective with little or no concern as to whether the communication is true or not.  BS may be true, or it may be false, but that is irrelevant to the communicater.  They are speaking out of an agenda unrelated to the truth of the matter.  Dr. Frankfurt maintains that BS is more harmful than telling lies.  In order to tell lies one must know the truth and then decide to say something that is not the truth.  The BS artist has no concern for truth at all.  That is what I find in most discussions about EC.

    There are very few people that actually do the work of finding out the heart, mind and soul of Emergent Churches.  Reading an article in Christianity Today, or an anti-EC blog, does not suffice for proper research on the subject.  Do the work, then we can talk...no BS...intelligently.

    Peace in Christ,


  • Posted by

    Michael -mdd,
    “On Bullshit” (sorry if that offends) ---

    You say, “sorry if that offends.” Of course I don’t really know your heart, but I doubt that you are really sorry that it offends.

  • Posted by

    That one comment, “blame the Boomers for everything...” is interesting.  They have learned from the Boomers who are after all the group in the 60’s who said “down with the establishment.” What you sow, you reap!  Imagine that! 

    I have a few books by some of the emergent leaders.  Some I agree with and some I don’t.  It is the same with the Boomer leaders who published books… some I agreed with and some I don’t.  I am hestiant to criticize a whole movement such as the “emergent” because it is so broad. 

    Just ten years ago I remember reading a piece in Christianity Today about the top emerging leaders under the age of 35.  Some seemed very convention and some were...radical or different in their approach to ministry.

    I believe the first emergent church was composed mostly of Gentiles rather than converted Jews.  There was an issue about circumcision if I remember correctly.

  • Posted by


    That IS the title of the book.

    And I have to agree with Michael that much of the criticism of EC that I read seems to be mainly supporting an agenda of discrediting EC without much substance behind it.  Most of the criticism I hear or read doesn’t seem to criticism of anything in particular but rather the problem mainly seems to be that EC are “different” and anything different is bad.

  • Posted by


    You’re right… plus the fact that many of the attacks levied against the EC are made up…

  • Posted by andrew jones

    well, there are not MANY videos of the emerging church, but i have been posting them online since 2000.

    conventional? have you seen many of these conventional house churches, nu-monasteries, cyberchurches? i have not heard them called conventional before but there are a few that keep the same structure - worship service, etc and you could call those conventional i guess.

  • Posted by Alan Hartung

    A couple of things to help aid in discussing the emerging church:

    For one, the terminology I used, “emerging church,” is preferable to Emergent Church. Emergent is an organization which many associate with in the emerging church, but it is not the emerging church as a whole. In fact, there’s been much internal dialogue within the emerging church about the place of Emergent. Many have even stated emphatically that they do not at all want to be associated with Emergent, the organization.

    Also, many want to use the emerging church label on churches which are better described as “seeker-sensitive.” There is some overlap, but I’m afraid the trendiness of the emerging church has led many to copy some of the aesthetics of worship services without any reason for restructuring the church other than attracting people. The heart of the emerging church is anti-consumeristic models of church and labeling such churches “emerging” actually does a disservice to the entire conversation about doing church differently.

    Regarding the “generational” claim, I’d say that while those of younger age more easily dissociate from the established church structure, the issues which gave birth to the emerging church are anything but generational. I recently heard of a retired pastor who said if he could do anything over in his ministry, he would have never built a building, he would’ve continued meeting in homes. It’s this type of thinking, alternatives to established church structures, which is more central to the ideals of the emerging church than the aesthetic style changes passing as innovation. Thus, I would say the more fad-driven churches using the label “emerging church” are probably more generational because their entire church is based on styles, but the greater phenomenon of the emerging church is driven by a philosophy of ministry which is anything but generational.

    As far as the being all teched up claim, I would say that the internet has allowed many to connect who thought they were on their own. God has been speaking to thousands upon thousands of Christians about the issues which have given rise to the emerging church, and the internet has made them aware they are “not the only crazy ones out there,” to steal a phrase from the genesis of TheOoze.com. Today, there are still may alternative type churches which are either not aware of or do not take the effor to alearn about the emerging church. These churches are part of the emerging church phenomenon, though they may not be aware of it or self-identify with it.

    Well, I’ve written quite a bit more than I intended. Thanks for bringing the emerging church up for rational discussion in your forum.

  • Posted by

    Alan makes a very important point re: emerging church vs. Emergent.  I think that there’s some great things happening in so many Emerging churches - especially the ones that I have visited!  (and there’s many to visit here in the Minneapolis area!)

    Emergent obviously belongs to Emergent Village in the example, and the major spokepersons are obviously Mr. McLaren and Tony Jones.  For those of us who have read McLaren’s work, he tends to take great license and likes to push the envelope.  During many of his interviews, he makes statements that can be on the edge of absurd (and in some cases, he has had to retract them) This is very disturbing to many Evangelicals - across the board.

    I really think that many Emerging churches need to consider putting distance between them and Emergent Village as I think it is unclear as to where the Village will lead these communities.  Brian McLaren is free to experiment with scripture irresponsibly, and hypothesize all he wants - We all can.  Each Emerging church can grow and nurture their own church community - they certainly don’t need Brian McLaren, and the baggage that comes along with his sometimes questionable theories.  Just my thoughts…

  • Posted by

    I was doing a research on contrarian theories and found this article interesting. I am a freelance writer (essay service) and I must admit that there are not so many truly interesting and informative articles as this one.  Thanks

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