Redeemer is ‘emergent’?

Would you believe that Tim Keller of Redeemer gets asked the question, “Is Redeemer Church ‘Emergent’?” Maybe the question was inspired by Crossroads’ post from December 2005 that Redeemer “looks like an emergent-type church”?

In addition to this video interview (promo for an upcoming conference) of Keller fielding that question, Keller also commented on this Next Wave article “Just who is emergent, anyway?” by Bob Hyatt:

It seems sometimes to me that the third group of emergent churches you mention (despite all the aesthetic borrowing from historic sources) does not want to inhabit and reform any particular Christian tradition but rather wants to form a whole new one. Of course that may be necessary. New traditions have been formed recently (Wesleyan, Pentacostal) but my–what an incredibly ambitious undertaking.

The last time I met up with Tim, we had a brief chat about Emergent (amongst other things). I recall Keller and McLaren being at a conference together several years ago, but I don’t think Keller has hung out with Emergent people, while McLaren has, which is essentially what constitutes being Emergent. Tim is a fairly active blog commenter, but I haven’t yet provoked enough to comment on a post here. I’m okay with that, really.

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  1. nhe says:

    Wow!…….very interesting. It strikes me that Keller is reaching the EC target audience not because his church is emergent, but because twenty-somethings seek authenticity and there is nothing more authentic than gospel – and no one is more gospel-centric than Tim Keller…..

    Side bar – DJ, I love your site. I especially appreciate the voluminous info provided from my 2 favorite teachers – Keller and Hannah…….I will visit often.

  2. ScottyB says:

    I love Diane but from having worked closely with her on some stuff with Adrian Warnock I know she is not an authority on the EC or Emergent-US. Posts like these illustrate the reason(*cough*Eno) why I think more why people are asking TK if Redeemer is Emergent:

    P.S. When you going to come out with a new podcast bro?

    Psalm 63

  3. Ben says:

    DJ, what’s up? This is Ben Pun.

    Thanks for your post on Tim Keller and the upcoming Desiring God Conference on “Postmodernism.” Recently I’ve become familiar of another “stream” of people who are trying to reach the “postmodern” generation which include folks like Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, John Piper, and Ravi Zaccharias. I have always had deep respect for John Piper and Ravi Zaccharias and have always felt that they have preached the one true God that I see in the Scriptures, yet in a way that stirred my postmodern heart. They all have deep concerns about many of the theological directions that the other “stream” of emerging leaders (emergent village, McClaren, Pagitt, etc.), and quite frankly think they have abandoned much biblical truth in trying to reach this generation. I am looking forward to the Desiring God conference because I think it will present a side of this discussion that I, personally, have not been as familiar with, having steeped myself in the books and ideas of the other “stream.”

    Having read some of Mark Driscoll however, I must say that I am beginning to see that I have been a bit naive in embracing some ideas prematurely. I am now beginning to see that I have become so entranced with reaching postmoderns, that I have a tendency to downplay parts of the gospel that seem offensive; such as any doctrine that includes judgement of sin, any doctrine that emphasizes forgiveness of sins and heaven and hell. Yet when I read the Gospels I see both; Jesus was incarnational, dined with sinners, taught about social justice, but also spoke very plainly about coming judgement, and forgiveness of sins was central. What I admire about folks like Driscoll is that he doesn’t pull any punches; he tells people that they are going to hell if they don’t repent, yet speaks to people where they are at, and loves sinners. And the result is a thriving church reaching postmoderns. Tim Keller and John Piper seem to be doing the same thing.

    One thing I think is lacking is real dialogue between the different “streams” of emerging leaders…I only hear about folks like McClaren and then I hear about folks bashing him… If “Emergent” is supposed to be a discussion and a friendship, why don’t I see more conferences and places where the many streams meet and discuss their differences? Everyone is after the same thing: reaching postmoderns in an authentic way with the timeless truths of the Gospel. At every “emergent” thing I see it’s always the same people who pretty much all think the same way. How is that a dialogue?

    I am still searching personally in how to best communicate the Gospel to postmoderns, but I have come to the conclusion that I need to stop reading so many books, and looking to fallible humans for direction, and study and read the Bible and the words of Jesus himself, and do my best to preach and practice and not misinterpret it.

    ~Ben Pun

  4. djchuang says:


    Thanks for your comments. Your observation that people from different “streams” of emerging leaders are not in real dialogue, and that’s partly true and partly not so much.

    I think it is fair to say that Emergent has put together an open-ended broad-umbrella un-doctrinal approach, so that followers of Christ of all stripes: fundamentalist, Reformed, conservative, mainline, liberal, anti-labeled, could dialogue together. However, those with stronger well-defined theological convictions are not as comfortable with an open-ended broad-umbrella dialogue.

    Having been to several ’emergent’ events, I’ve found that people that are a part of that friendship have a pretty wide range of theologies and convictions. The question to me seems to be: how do you get dialogue going between doctrinal and un-doctrinal people together?

    (I use the word “un-doctrinal” instead of “non-doctrinal” intentionally to introduce the notion that an un-doctrinal dialogue can occur among participants who each may have strong doctrinal beliefs and convictions, yet are willing to dialogue in a respectful manner with others who have very different doctrinal positions, not to dialogue about the necessary consequences of doctrines or the doctrinal convictions themselves, but to dialogue about things that we do hold in common.)

  5. Ben says:


    Hm…yes I see your point. But to me, it seems like while Emergent tries to be “un-doctrinal” that, in itself, is its “doctrine.” And, like you said, when people try to dialogue with them who have specific doctrines, they are rejected and made to feel “wrong” for having doctrines at all. So, for example, I don’t tend to see people from Tim Keller/Mark Driscoll stream in the discussion: mostly I see the emergent-type people and than bible-thumping fundamentalists attacking them. What I hear the Keller/Driscoll stream (for lack of a better title) saying is that we are sure of a few things from Scripture, and we want to stick by them. It seems to me that that doesn’t seem to sit very well with Emergent…because it sounds too modern and unloving. All of this are my vague impressions, admittedly, and you have much more experience around the emergent crowd…my impressions come from going to one Emergent convention, and a couple YS conventions, reading blogs from emergent and other young Christians, and reading several Emergent authors and books.

    What do you think of the varying streams in the emerging church? What do you think of Driscoll’s critique (and others like it) of McLaren and Emergent? Up until reading Driscoll, I had the impression that everybody who critiqued Emergent were these old-school scholars who stayed holed up with books and simply didn’t know any real, living people who were postmodern and never had a relationship with them and cared for them. But when I hear guys like Driscoll, who has built a thriving church in Seattle and loves postmodern people as a pastor and is himself in our generation, critique McLaren/emergent, I pay attention.


  6. djchuang says:

    From a doctrinal perspective, one can indeed argue that un-doctrinal is a doctrine in and of itself. So, would a “multi-doctrinal” label be more suited, for those who want to be able to dialogue with those who do have very different convictions, and yet can cordially and respectfully talk about things they hold in common?

    Your observations are generally true, there is quite a bit of line-drawing between different streams, and those who want to discuss doctrines within some streams (to use Ed Stetzer’s categories, there are 3 kinds of emerging church leaders, Driscoll adds a 4th), and those of one category can come across as making those in another category feel they’re wrong or not as open-minded or whatever. But there are those who do want to cross those artificial lines, but it takes 2 to tango.

    I’m a fan of all them, be it Driscoll, Keller, McLaren, Kimball, McManus, Bell, and even Pagitt. 🙂 I don’t think I have the creds to pull them all together into the same room and dialogue, but I have that same kind of desire that all would get along better even if they don’t agree on every single thing.

  7. Brian says:

    Here is a four-part set of talks between McClaren and some solid reformed folks at a 2005 event at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Positive, respectful, cordial, honest, and thoughtful tone by all. Well worth a listen to each one.

    May God bless your authentic desire to learn and grow…

    Brian McLaren-Talking Points Session 1.mp3 Wittmer-Talking Points Session 2.mp3 Dobson-Talking Points Session 3.mp3 McLaren-Talking Points Session 4.mp3