what is emergent church?

I’ve been occasional conversational partner with the emergent church/ emergent village thing. I have no official roles or titles, never been to one of those secret meetings, but I have a handful of friends who are more on the “in” and even other non-Anglos got published in their latest book, An Emergent Manifesto of Hope. When my friend Steve Knight, a member of the National Coordinating Group for Emergent Village, affirmed what I said as a more concise summary of what the emergent church conversation is about. I’ve pulled it from the depths of the comment thread at BlogMinistry:

I think the first comparison of emergent being like abstract art is mostly fitting. “Emerging church” is a very broad label to describe the many kinds of new churches being formed in the 21st century that are different in small or big ways from the previous generations of church. “Emergent church” is not a definition, not a movement, not a theology. “Emergent church” is best described as a conversation about theologies and/or practices of doing life in the way of Jesus. So, “emergent” is a very broad umbrella that brings together people from all kinds of theological persuasions for conversations, imagination, and other kinds of things. The point is not to work at arriving towards a consensus for a statement of faith. It’s an opt-in conversation, so if you’re okay with having friendship and/or fellowship with other people who don’t share your same identical theological framework, you too can join the emergent conversation.

So rather than reading through verbose narratives about the history of emergent / emergent church / emergent village, maybe this summary above will be helpful to those who wish for a more definitional approach to all things church and all things theological. And, maybe I’ll one day get an (elusive?) answer to why their multi-author book got published by a big-time publisher, when most multi-author volumes are usually passed over.

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  1. djchuang says:

    I did see that blog post, and the MP3 is a message by Dick Kaufmann, not Tim Keller. 🙂 (Kaufmann did work closely with Keller years ago, so he probably shares similarities in philosophy of ministry)

  2. Bumble says:

    DJ, sorry about my last lead. It wasn’t Keller at all 🙁 He was just using Keller’s stuff. The Keller CDs “Preaching to the Heart” from Gordon-Conwell is most comprehensive on the subject…

  3. Andrew says:

    One of the most enjoyable courses (for me) was Steve Taylor’s Emergent Church course (@ Bible College of New Zealand, Christchurch campus – you can see Steve’s blog at http://www.emergentkiwi.org.nz/.

    From doing this course what was apparent to me was that it was simply looking to apply the lessons learnt in overseas mission to the local context. That is we are comfortable with going to the mission field and putting in huge amounts of time and energy to learn the culture, the language, the world-view etc to be able to engage with people in a way they can understand – YET – when it comes to the local mission field we are unwilling to do the same. There seems to be here a dualism – overseas what is different is called culture / local context it is often seen as some form of evil / compromise / syncretism.

    I came out of the course with four questions (borrowed from the missional thought in an overseas context) that I wanted to raise within my own context:

    1) How can we ‘incarnate’ in this culture and what do we need to do to ensure this is an indigenous community?
    2) What are the barriers to entry for outsiders – how can we eliminate these?
    3) How can we make radical disciples and ensure that this is participatory?
    4) Is our concept able to be self-sustaining within this cultural setting or easy to reduplicate?

    Whilst I don’t agree with everything I hear in Emergent Church thought the intensely missiological questions that it raises – and confronts the ‘less Emergent’ Church with – are worth listening to.

  4. Ed says:


    Thank you for this article. I think this is the most concise definition I have seen about “What is emergent”. I think with so many different views and thoughts on emerging/emergent it is hard to really grasp what is really going on.

  5. djchuang says:

    Ed, thanks for the kind words. The thing is, there isn’t only one definition or one kind of emerging church, there are at least 3 different kinds, even more depending on who is defining the terms. There are many kinds, as I’ve recently found a handful of articles — listed at http://www.djchuang.com/2008/many-kinds-of-emerging-church/