Goodbye Emergent: Why I’m Taking The Theology of the Emerging Church To Task Goodbye Emergent: Why I’m Taking The Theology of the Emerging Church To Task

Update 3: Apparently I misunderstood Doug’s post on fear. I am sorry for suggesting those who critique him are driven by fear. Instead, Doug means a certain kind of attitude and vitriolic reaction is “driven from fear.” Sorry for mischaracterizing you, Doug.

Update 2: An important follow-up that explains my journey in, through, and beyond Emergent.

Update: Another one who doesn’t care about the emerging church anymore.

Once upon a time I was enamored by the “I-am-not-a-movement-but-a-conversation” known as the emerging church (In fact, at my seminary I’ve been known as Emergent Jeremy!) Five years ago, I stumbled upon an “emerging” author known as Brian McLaren (even attending his church for a stint). I gobbled-up his “A New Kind of Christian” trilogy because it’s question-asking permissive narrative gave flesh to the phantom that was haunting me at the time: What the hell is this whole Christian thing about?!

Pastor Dan was my doppleganger; Neo my mentor.

Five years ago I entered a period of faith deconstruction (one particular post I wrote that I was fond of at the time was, “10 Ways to Deconstruct Your Faith“) and reconstruction the likes of which I had never experienced in my life. For the first time I was taking my faith in Jesus Christ seriously and asking a whole lot of questions.

These questions were healthy and freeing and opened up a whole new world to explore and enjoy. For this I am grateful to the emerging church conversation of which I’ve been apart for several years. As my relationship with Emergent progressed, though, I began to wonder why it was cool and trendy to disregard Paul, pity the fool who believed in real judgment, ignore the cross, and downplay individual participation in rebellion/sin.

In short: I became uncomfortable and have grown downright tired of the theology that has bubbled-up out of the emerging church.

I’m not exactly sure when my saucy love affair with emergent and liberal Christianity ended. My “I don’t” isn’t as crystalized as my “I do.”

Maybe it was when I read Pelagius’ writings and realized much of Emergent theology really does mirror his 5th century theology.

Maybe it was after the former head of Emergent Village, Tony Jones, rejected original sin, a historic part of the Rule of Faith, claiming that it is “neither biblically, philosophically, nor scientifically tenable. “.

Maybe it was when I read Fredrick Schleiermacher and realized his and modern liberalism’s vapid, gospel-less faith are being repackaged and popularized to an unsuspecting, ignorant Christian community as a wholesome alternative to what has been.

Maybe it was after I read Karl Barth and realized the natural theology pushed by popular emergent theologians is not revitalizing Christian faith, but killing it; it is the same kind of faith Barth so vociferously fought against in order to preserve the historic Rule of Faith.

Maybe it was after reading a leading emerging church voice suggest that God and grace and the Kingdom of God are not tied directly and exclusively to Jesus Christ; ultimately its not really about Jesus, but about a vanilla, generalized World-Spirit god (lower-case “g”).

Regardless, what I’ve come to realize is that while Emergent may believe it is believing differently—and consequently believe it is offering the world a different Christianity that is more believable than the current form—in reality the emerging church simply believes otherly; the form of Christianity that this version of Christianity pushes is neither innovative nor different: it is a form of Christianity other-than the versions that currently exist but mirror those that have already existed.

The Christian faith that the authors, leaders, and followers within Emergent believe “feels alive, sustainable, and meaningful in our day” (ACWB, 2) is really forms of faith from other days. They combine other forms of faith that both the Communion of Saints and Spirit of God have deemed foreign to the Holy Scriptures, Rule of Faith, and gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the history of Christ’s Bride, the Church.

I hope my friends from Emergent West Michigan won’t claim this is a “heresy hunt” and suggest I am no better than the hyper-fundamentalists who exalt themselves as Truth Defenders and tirelessly work to expose false teachers in the church. I think this suggestion would be grossly unfair for 2 reasons:

1) I am bidding “au revoir” as one who has been on the inside of and involved with this conversation for half a decade. I attended Brian McLaren’s church; I helped host the Church Basement Roadshow at my church for Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, and Mark Scandrette; I’ve had several interactions with Doug Pagitt, someone I like as a person and who even introduced me to my wife and attended our wedding; and I am personal friends with the coordinator of the Emergent West Michigan cohort who is also a member of the new Coordinating Council for Emergent Village. In short, I am an insider who is simply leaving the inside.

2) I approach this effort as one who has pursued academic training in biblical studies and systematic/historical theology for nearly three years. I’m NOT trying to play the “education card” here, but rather offer this bit of information to give context for my leaving. I am finishing up the Master of Divinity (M.Div) and have begun the Master of Theology (Th.M) in Historical Theology. Specifically, I’ve spent a number of hours reading many primary theological sources from the Early, Reformation, and Modern Church, giving me a broad picture of the historical “movement” of church dogmatics. While I have been trained in a more conservative institution with Baptist roots, I am a free thinker who is familiar with the theological arguments from both sides of the aisle and historical progression of theology.

In his book, The Story of Christian Theology, Roger Olson says, “The story of Christian theology is the story of Christian reflection on salvation.” The same is true today. Over the next several weeks I am taking the liberty of taking two Emergent “theologians” to task: Doug Pagitt and Brian McLaren. Like Olson, I believe any theological inquiry is by nature soteriological, by nature reflection on salvation, which means the stakes are high. Both men have taken the opportunity to make public, written commentary on the nature of salvation, on the gospel, whether they know it or not; I doubt they are ignorant of their effort.

I would like to publicly, theologically interact with their own theological interactions.

First, I am posting a series based on a theological examination I undertook for my Early Church Th.M class called, “Pagitt and Pelagius: An Examination of a Neo-Pelagianism.” Many have suggested Doug Pagitt is dishonest about his Pelagianism, an early church teaching that was declared heretical. I thought it would be interesting to read all of Pelagius’ known works (including an interesting, little read commentary on the Book of Romans) along side Pagitt’s. These posts will explore their writings on human nature, sin, salvation, discipleship, and judgment. It will drop Wednesday, February 10.

Second, I will post on the soon-to-be released book by Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity. In it he discusses the top 10 questions facing the Christian faith. In some ways it’s a tell-all that should finally give his critics what they’ve asked and wanted for years: answers. From what I have read so far in an advance copy, this is truly going to be a line in the sand that will determine where people are in their understanding of the nature of salvation and commitment to the historic Rule of Faith, which is why I want to tackle it question by question. Along the way I will provide a theological assessment in order to understand his take on human nature, sin and rebellion, the nature of Jesus Christ, the cross and salvation, resurrection, judgment, and God. Look for this interaction at the start of March. (A friend of mine has already begun such an interaction, here.)

Recently, Doug Pagitt wrote on his blog (my apologies for misunderstanding Doug’s original point. He and others brought correction, so thanks!) and Brian McLaren said in a video that those of us who take them and others to task are held in bondage to fear and thoroughly un-loving; my motivation for analyzing the theology and beliefs of leaders within the emerging church is fear-based and inherently un-love. One word: ridiculous. I am not fearful; this has nothing to do with fear. In fact, the loving thing to do is in fact confront, prod, and question.

Why, then, am I doing this? Two words: Grand Rapids. I am disturbed and deeply saddened by what I see happening within evangelicalism, from both sides of the aisle (I could say as much about Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, and James Dobson as I will about Doug Pagitt and Brian McLaren. That will have to wait, though.) especially within my hometown.

Plenty of people are disaffected—even offended and wounded— by the type of Christianity offered here.

And they have bailed.

But here’s the thing: these disaffected Christians of my generation—and younger and older—still long for an intimate, rooted connection to Christian spirituality that is fresh, new, and vibrant. After leaving what they’ve known, they search after and pursue a “Christianity worth believing” and a “new kind of Christianity” that satisfies their establishment, traditionalism angst.

Yet while these fresh forms appear different and exciting, they are an “other” form from a forgotten age, a re-packaging of what has already been, what has already happened. Because most American Christians—even the ones from the Christian Mecca known as Grand Rapids—are biblically and theologically ignorant, they don’t realize what they are reading and pursuing.

So for Grand Rapids I write; for the Grand Rapids church I analyze in hopes it will better understand this other faith that is, in my estimation, foreign and inconsistent with the Church’s Rule of Faith and Holy Scriptures.

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  • Bill Kinnon

    I think this is a hard but good and important post. BMcL's A New Kind of Christian was a very important book for Imbi (my wife) and I when we read it 10 years ago. We became evangelists for Brian's books for a time – but are no longer. Our paths have diverged significantly from the one Brian has taken (in my humble estimation.)

    I've read most of A New Kind of Christianity (which arrived on Thursday) as I've had time and am disturbed by the cross-less Christianity that Brian describes. There are also some things I do like in the book but by and large, Brian appears more Unitarian Universalist in his understanding of the faith – in spite of how mean, nasty and unloving I am for saying that. :-) The easiest form of debate is to suggest that anyone that dares question you is arguing ad hominem. (I will unpack the reasons for my stated opinion above in a blog post I hope to put up in the next 24 hours.)

    Press on, Jeremy. I look forward to your series of posts.

    • jeremybouma

      I have followed a similar journey, me thinks, Bill. Like you I have definitely benefited from this conversation and Brian's books in particular. Actually, that would make a good follow-up post come to think of it :) But like you I my path has diverged quite a bit over the years from the direction of many 'leaders' within the group. And like you I've become increasingly uncomfortable with the trajectory of the conversation, especially the trifecta: Brian, Tony, and Doug.

      Thanks for the words and the encouragement!

  • Steve K.

    Jeremy, I'm glad you're making peace with Emergent by parting ways in a gracious way.

    I'm just wondering, putting aside the "new kind of" marketing language, when has anyone in Emergent truly claimed to have a "new revelation" or be creating a totally "new" thing out of nothing that has come before? I think you're arguing against a fiction on that point. My experience of Emergent has always been an ancient-future expression — taking the best of the past and bringing it into the future.

    Anyway, I just wanted to push back a little bit on that point. I don't think anyone in Emergent should be offended by your public theological interaction with these very public theological ideas. Isn't that at the heart of Emergent? I sure hope so. And I hope you never stop asking questions, even (especially?) when they're pointed at our friends in Emergent.

  • Gustavo K-fé

    Would it be fair to say that Jeremy views "the emerging church"'s theology as one theology? And that he expected to see the "emerging church" as a church?

    kind regards,
    Gustavo K-fé Frederico

    • jeremybouma

      No, it isn't fair. I totally understand the emerging church conversation is just that: a broad tent with varying conversations on thoughts on God. But Emerging Church Inc. has CERTAINLY put out theology. You cannot read Doug's or Brian's new book and say otherwise. Now Brian will say, as he already did in his vid, that he is just asking questions. Disingenuous! He is pushing a theological perspective, a perspective shared and latched onto by those within the broader convo.

      As for a the emerging church as a "church" again, no. I thoroughly understand the EC is not a denomination, parachurch ministry, association of churches, etc…its a generative umbrella that those of us have sat under in order to ask questions, prod, and dream, both missionally and theologically.

      Again, I'm not an outsider looking in and shaking my finger. I've been in the house, have walked out side and taken stock in the structure, and now I'm leaving. Simple as that.

  • John W Frye

    Jeremy, I applaud your desire to speak into the theological milieu of metro-Grand Rapids. This area is a "burned-over" wasteland of hackneyed theological systems. I identify with your pursuit to find life, the "new kind" of life Jesus talked about, not McLaren or Pagitt or other emergent so-in-so's. I identify with being enamored by the new thing, and I appreciate your diligence to read the primary sources (the early church fathers) to discover that what is new is really, really old, but packaged for today. A person I consider offering truly a new kind of theological perspectives is LeRon Shults. McLaren and Pagitt are not in his league.

    • jeremybouma

      Thanks John! Yeah reading primary sources is where its at…and has helped me see the convo for what it is…

  • Jason Coker

    Looking forward to this Jeremy. I've been on much the same journey (though, I'm not quite as enamored with Barth).

  • Corey

    Jeremy, thanks for the post and sharing your current the theotrends. I am very interested since our stories tend to follow a similar track.

    I have big problems with emergent(s), also. But my issues are more of their effectiveness in accomplishing… well, anything. Theologically, I have always found the Emergent label to be vague, diverse and inarticulate. I have met emergent types that constantly regurgitated Tillich. On the other hand, I have met emergent types who theologically resembled Fundy/Evangelicals (they thought Ronald Reagen was a theologian), but considered themselves emergent because they overused terms like "conversation" and "journey."

    I guess I don't know what the hell emergent(s) believes in. Seems to me you could find one emergent spouting warmed over Pelagian and another spouting Francis Schaeffer. So, how do you argue against such a thing?

    So, I guess here are my questions:

    1. Instead of dismantling Emergent, aren't you actually just defending historically orthodox theology?

    2. If you have decided that Emergent is no longer a legitimate approach to conversing/viewing God, what happened to the original dissatisfaction with Evangelicalism that drove you toward Emergent? Are you now more satisfied or less satisfied with Evangelicalism.

    3. How have these changes in your theological framework (Evangelical to emergent back to Evangelical) affected you in personal spirituality, ethics, etc.?


    • jeremy bouma

      Thanks so much for your comment and questions. I think they deserve their own blog post so look for your answers in the next week or so.

  • Ted Seeber

    Jeremy- I'm a Roman Catholic. I think I'm the definition of historically Orthodox in some ways. I read your title and thought- taking emergent theology to task, finally somebody is doing it. It's a job that has to be done.

    Long ago, in college, at a time when most cradle catholics question their faith, the ultimate reason I stuck with the Pope is because *every* version of Christianity and *MOST* other religions has existed within the Roman Catholic Church as either a heresy or an order at some point in the last 2000 years.

    I see emergence as the 8th generation of Protestantism; and marvel at how close it is to the changing Church of Vatican II I grew up with (how many times do you get to use a single letter three times in a row and still have it grammatically correct?).

    You're right to examine new ideas in light of previous heresies. But I would caution you this. Moral certainty is not absolute certainty; and the visible church is not the whole of the church suffering. It could well be we will get to heaven and find even Pelagius there. Or for that matter, Tony Jones.

    • makeesha

      very good thoughts Ted – and important ones to hear. What I often wonder with these "heresy" accusations and complaints is what do we mean? Do we mean that "heretics" deviate from a certain accepted orthodoxy? (which I think apostate would be more accurate) or do we mean that heretics aren't Christian AT ALL. I never really know which one people mean.

  • Ted Seeber

    And upon reposting that last paragraph to the Facebook link that led me here- I realized my error. That should be church MILITANT, not church SUFFERING. I guess my life just feels a little too much like purgatory lately.

  • Ken

    I think I agree with Steve here when he makes the ancient/future point. In my own studies of church history, I usually default to suspicion when a line of thought or reasoning is branded as heretical. I am deeply concerned with the integrity of the historical church, and have often found its determinations to be questionable on a whole host of issues, not the least of which heresy.

    I for one, and I think many in the emerging conversation, feel that the historical faith that has been handed down to us is flawed. It should come as no surprise to you or anyone else that the historical faith has already determined that what we are discussing is a heresy. To point it out seems redundant.

    I wish you well in your search for historical orthodoxy. I have already done that and found it lacking, so I’m looking for something different.

  • Steve K.

    Sorry, Jeremy, I confess I haven't read Doug's book (yet), but I've spent enough time with Doug to consider him a friend and have a general idea of where he's coming from. The passage you quoted doesn't suggest to me that Doug wants to "disconnect" from historic Christianity, but rather to contextualize and synthesize.

    I'd also suggest that what you perceive as the "deliberate forsaking of major pieces of our faith" by Emergent authors is not a rejection but a reaction (overreaction?) to the perceived over-emphasis placed on these things by previous generations. But I'm not quite sure I understand what you're even referring to here (i.e., "major pieces of our faith"), so I'll be interested to read your further posts to get a better picture.

    • jeremy bouma

      I think you should read his book before making such a judgment. I and others read him very differently and believe his revaluation of Christianity is disconnected from historic Christianity, yet connected to versions of it that have existed before. Actually, in a conversation I had with him (this was a public convo during his book review that was open to the public, so I dont think I'm breaking confidence here), I asked him what atonement narratives he embraced if he is so against penal substitutionary atonement. His answer: NONE! He rejects ALL the narratives. That's ridiculous, Steve.

      I agree that in the beginning Emergent was a reaction. Now it is revolution. In the beginning it was about deconstruciton. The last 3 years have been a deliberate effort to reconstruct a new, fresh version of Christian spirituality that is not simply different, but other.

      Pardon me for skipping the main argument, but you can see how I unpack it with Doug throughout February. I can't stuff 10,000 words of analysis in a sentence :)


      • Steve K.

        Umm, yeah, that does sound pretty ridiculous, Jeremy. Unless … Is it possible that Doug believes in the Atonement in a way that synthesizes more than one aspect of the biblical narrative? Is it possible that you're taking him literally when he was speaking provocatively to try and make a point about believing/investing in only one (or two or three) biblical views of the Atonement? I wasn't part of your conversation — and I haven't had this conversation with Doug personally — so I'm just speculating. Anyway, for what that's worth … And, having said all that, I think this is a fair critique to make directly of Doug's theology, but I'd caution against applying it to everyone in/near Emergent (but you know that already).

        Don't feel like you need to respond at length here in the comments. I'll definitely be reading and engaging with the 10,000 word analysis as it rolls out here :-)

      • makeesha

        "The last 3 years have been a deliberate effort to reconstruct a new, fresh version of Christian spirituality that is not simply different, but other."

        I think this is just plain wrong. Perhaps some are doing this but I guarantee you Emergent Village isn't and most emergenty folks I know aren't. And GENERATE, a magazine trying to tell the stories of Christian Emergence is most assuredly not trying to create something "other". I don't feel compelled to try to keep you in the conversation, you need to follow your path – but I do feel a little compelled to speak up when something said about friends I love and value is errant.

        • Bill Kinnon

          Perhaps you'd like to explain how Jeremy is "just plain wrong", Mak. He's made some pretty strong statements in the body of his post that support his position – whether one agrees or not. You have simply asserted your opinion while promoting your magazine, without actually engaging Jeremy's position.

          And who, exactly, is compelling you to do anything?

          • makeesha

            oh, and I assumed it would be clear that I feel self compelled. I apologize for the confusion.

          • Bill Kinnon

            "nasty", really? Sigh.

            And Jeremy is someone I've only read occasionally and have never had a conversation with before today.

          • makeesha

            I didn't know that Bill, it sounded like you were sticking up for a friend :)

            I'm sorry, it sounded like you were trying to be nasty with the GENERATE comment and everything. My apologies.

          • Brother Maynard

            Mak, you gotta know Bill is one of us old guys who comes off as crusty most of the time, even when he's not. Wouldn't speculate if his crust is regular or extra-flaky, but he's a journeymate. ;^)

            You may have a point about the analysis of one or two (or three) spokespersons not reflecting the whole of "Emergent" theology, but to be fair, we'd have to admit that the Emergent Trinity of McLaren, Pagitt, & Jones is very closely associated with Emergent Village, since they've all held central roles withing the organization. While clearly not a universal observation, I find a tendency among those closely associated with EV to defend and support what MP&J write, which implies they are still speaking for EV or the majority of its official friends and conversants.

            Still, we must remember that if there's no room for dialogue, it's no longer a conversation, and if that dialogue doesn't allow for critiques of each other's theological positions, then this stream of Christianity is no longer emergING, but is already following a codified theology, or at least trying to establish one. This is where I had the most difficulty with the preemptive response to critics, though as has been pointed out, there's some wiggle room in how we understand those comments.

            btw, this isn't all directed at you, Mak – I just got riffing on the topic… gotta quit now, I do have my own blog, after all.

          • makeesha

            Fair enough Bro.

            Some of us defend some of the Emergent guys because we're actually real life friends.

            And I'm glad it wasn't all directed at me because I agree that the conversation needs to continue – even if it's critique .. but it's hard for the conversation and critique to continue if those who have criticism keep saying they're going to take their ball and stop playing in our playground anymore. ;)

          • Ken

            I have to agree with Makeesha here. It seems to me that the original post “Goodbye Emergent” is about leaving the conversation. But it gets defended on the ground that it must be treated as a healthy part OF that conversation?

            Well then, stay in the conversation. You shouldn”t have it both ways should you? It seems that we who continue to identify ourselves with the Emergent conversation are expected to treat all our critics as if they are a part of that conversation with us, even when they explicitly state they are not. But being the open gracious people we are, and because of the values of the conversation itself which we hold so highly, we allow this more often than perhaps we should. But that we allow the criticism is hardly a defense of it.

            I understand how tough it is to remain in a conversation with people that you disagree with. Especially when their voices are so much louder than everyone else. Doug, Brian, and Tony have especially loud voices, not in their character or intent, but in the sheer force of their distribution channels and the quantity of listeners they have generated. At a certain point we can feel shouted out. We can start to feel like everyone must be agreeing with them and no one is hearing us. And this feeling gets reinforced by all their friends who seem to defend them no matter what the topic is. Eventually it can appear that leaving conversation might be the only option.

            But as difficult as it is, it is still important to remain. To leave is to give up trying to be heard by the people who we think most need to hear us. Does that make any sense?

          • makeesha

            hey now Bill, no need to be nasty.

            Let me clarify. I think it's an incorrect statement to say that the past 3 years have been a deliberate effort to reconstruct a xian spirituality that is "other". If he's saying that a specific person is doing that then he can discuss it with them. But he said "emergent" and I don't agree that it's a difference of opinion. I think it's wrong to say that emergent as a whole movement has been reconstructing a different xianity for 3 years. And not only that, I think it's grossly unfair to many in the conversation.

            As for promoting my magazine, if that was my intention I would have done a much better job (I can promote something pretty darn well when I want to). I was merely pointing out that if I thought Christian emergence was creating a different Christianity I wouldn't be doing what we're doing with the magazine which seeks to tell the stories of CHRISTIAN emergence. I could have been more vague so as not to appear self congratulatory but I assumed Jeremy would understand my meaning and not see it as a gross attempt to sell more magazines.

            I appreciate your loyalty to a friend Bill.

  • http://bensimpson.squarespace Ben Simpson

    Insightful post, and some insightful comments. I'm glad to see someone taking this up, and hitting on notes that I have also discerned in reading those speaking for the emerging church and, specifically, for Emergent Village.

    The history of Christianity is no stranger to intense debates on matters of truth and doctrine, and to raise questions, critiques, and concerns is in no way an unloving act. It is actually an act of deep love for Jesus Christ, for the church, and for those in the watching world that look to Christianity for a word of clarity in a complex and confused age.

    Godspeed as you work.

  • ~Katherine

    Well I for one am very happy with the questions Brian McLaren is asking. I am hardly disillusioned by what he's doing. For 20 years I've been glad to away from much that proposed to push answers and beliefs rather than encouraging people go directly to the source, to dwell in the Kingdom which is within… not here nor there (no matter what people might say). :)

  • Frank!

    I'm praying for you sir. I can only hope that people won't be too harsh with you, some times, we have to point out the foreign elements in the church. Something that , as you know, is a very important part of church history. I'm glad I only flirted with the movement back on 04 when it was being pushed at my Bible College (not as much now). I'm sure I'll be blogging about this today.

  • Jonathan Brink

    Jeremy, I too helped host the Basement Roadshow and have read Doug's book. When he references the last 1500 years, he's not talking about throwing out the faith. He's trying to ask what preceded the traditions that emerged from that 1500 years, one that he considers corrupted by a Greek mindset. You would have heard that in the show and from him.

  • Brother Maynard

    Excellent start, Jeremy. I'm looking forward to watching the series unfold and anticipating the conversation that will be inevitable around it. Appreciate the depth to which it sounds you're intending to offer some analysis.

  • Mjoshua

    Hard-hitting and honest.


    It makes me just want to worship God and spend time in His Word. You know?

  • Joe Machuta

    I am also reading the advanced copy of Brian McLaren's new book..I am curious however, in your theological studies have you not wondered why the evangelical church and its theologians look at the bible as the word of God when Jesus and his disciple's clearly defined the word of God as the gospel and Jesus? It seems to me that inerrancy and, fundamental doctrine has been the cause of this conversation and defection from the classic Christian faith….and if theologians in general would honestly look at the position that Jesus took concerning scripture, looked at the obvious transition found in the new testament writings, the Jew Gentile distinction and the imminent expectation of the parousia…. that it would then be possible to combine the natural kingdom at hand (Jesus) with the spiritual aspect of the Kingdom (Paul and the cross)…into a teaching that would be faithful to the social justice demanded by Jesus and the eternal presence of God written about by Paul….the realization of redemption from being separated from God would ease the mind of the skeptic allowing them to practice the kingdom. I would be interested in your take.

  • Stefan Andre Waligur

    Thanks for your questions and challenges, Jeremy. I led the music for the Great Emergence Conference at St. Mary's in Memphis TN two years ago and have been listening to the conversation ever since. My hope for the Emergent Church is that we can move more and more through our conversations into deeper and deeper conversions. Questions like yours can only help.

  • Makeesha

    enjoy the journey :)

  • Cody Stauffer

    This is the first time I've been here, so this is my only experience with you. But it seems as if you truly are small "e" emerging- as in, always growing and developing, as used in the biological/natural realm. Would that be fair to say? That perhaps you are shedding a brand called Emergent or Emerging but still pursuing an ideal? In other words, still "open handed" as your about page says? I can get behind that for sure (if that even matters to you). I'm just too tired of "us" vs "them" and throwing rocks all the way around, but I gather your spirit is not there in that place (I hope it isn't and will never be). Grace and peace.

    • jeremy bouma

      Yes, Cody, I like to think of myself as a small "e" emerging…which is why I am no longer Emerging/Emergent. Through my academic studies I've begun to realize some things about the theological endeavor of this convo-ment/move-ersation and am shedding the brand. For me the "ideal" is a Church rooted in the historic Rule of Faith. Evangelicalism in general lacks rootedness, but Emergent in particular is content with constructing a new divorced from history.

      Like you, I do tire of the "us" vs "them" rhetoric and hope I don't fall into the same trap. I'm glad my spirit doesn't portray such an attitude, and I hope it never will be either :)

      Grace and Peace to you, too,

  • Patrick Oden

    I'm curious if you're making a break with the core emerging ideals or if you're making a distinction between some expressions of emergent thought. It seems like you're basing your "I'm not emergent anymore" on distinctions made with some key leaders, but in my perspective tossing out the whole movement because of some theological distinctives means a lot more than a helpful criticism. If we go by Gibbs' and Bolger's book on Emerging Churches which points to nine traits of emerging churches, I'm curious if you have problems with those emphases.

    If not, rather than breaking with the movement, it seems a strong step to offer theological corrections and challenges to specific positions based on strong theological study. As Drew noted, however, bringing up some of the names you mentioned is not a thorough examination of historical church theology. Cassian was later rejected by the West, but always accepted by the East, and his thoughts are widely accepted by Wesleyan/Holiness traditions.

    I applaud your interest in pursuing theological debate with key leaders, and I think it will do the contemporary church good to hear informed debates about such issues. But, in doing this my hope is that you don't at the same time reject everyone involved in emerging church conversations, for there are many who hold dear to a more conservative expression of theology, and who see the movement as being much bigger than the names you mention and the ideals of the movement at its core reflective of extremely Scriptural emphases–even if these were not central to Augustine or Barth.

    If you reject the movement as a whole, you are leaving those who pursue such ideals without a healthy balance of theological perspectives, and are emphasizing even more the unfortunate trend to see emerging and progressive theology as equivalent.

    • makeesha

      this is very very well put.

    • jeremy bouma

      Patrick, I appreciate your push back and questions. From my vantage point the emerging church has always been intimately wrapped in the leaders at the top, like Doug, Tony, Brian, and now Pete and Samir. I would probably identify with the missionality of the emerging church, now, more than the theological trajectory, if we were to make such a schism.

      In terms of my theological inquiry: I am aware of the progression of historical theology, Cassian included. This particular examination (Pagitt and Pelagius) stemmed from the criticism Doug has had for being specifically Pelagian. I sought out to see whether that was true. My similar critique in another series of Peter Rollins and Samir Selmanovic sought to use Karl Barth as a theological dialogue partner in light of Emergent co-opting him and his theology. Again, it was meant to be a specific, not exhaustive, interaction.

      I agree with you that any theological discussion must be broad-based and exhaustive. Perhaps I can give that over a period of time.

      Thanks Patrick!

  • ron cole

    What I find interesting with all the " Good bye " posts…is that people feel they have to say good bye. Brian, Doug and Tony have always been gracious hosts of an open table conversation…they have never seen themselves beyond critique. I don't think any of these guys would excuse themselves from the table if they disagreed with you. I certainly don't see things eye to eye with them all, I would hate to be in a conversation with out diversity. I guess there is something profound in the thought that you have to invalidate a friendship, in order to critique.

    • makeesha

      this is so much how I feel about these "good bye" posts. well said.

  • Mike Stavlund

    Hey, Jeremy, it was a pleasure to meet you in GR this past Fall. And many congratulations on your happy marriage.

    I didn't hear Steve saying that *you* were "making stuff up", but rather that no one in the emergence convo is under the delusion that we're/they're making stuff up out of whole cloth. It sounds like you might be suggesting otherwise, which would be a straw man.

    Likewise, I didn't hear Doug saying that *all* of his critics were driven by fear. Rather, I thought he was sharing the insight that many folks who use inflammatory and pugilistic and warlike rhetoric are too often driven by fear. I don't see you doing anything of the sort, and I certainly appreciate it.

    Too, I hope you won't simply play 'winners and losers in church history' with this series. Ie, Pelagius might have been deemed a heretic, but that doesn't mean he didn't have a point or two to make.

    Thanks for being so open and forthright about all of this, Jeremy. I look forward to reading more.

    • jeremy bouma

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for the well-wishes. Marriage rocks!

      Re: Steve…you sound right. It does sound like I misunderstood him. I do disagree with you though re: your assessment of Emergent. There is no straw man: the argument is that I believe leaders within this conversation are seeking to craft a new christianity that is both divorced from historic Christianity and a re-packaging of other forms. What's a straw man in that? See my response to Steve above.

      Re: Doug's comment, your point is well taken. I do agree with him and you on the reality of crazies who throw vitriol and poison without any helpful dialogue or argumentation. I'm glad I am not of that ilk and hope I can shoot straight while also not being written off in the process.

      And re: the 'winners and losers' argument: Pelagius wasn't deemed a heretic because he lost a power struggle or a high school debate. He lost because he was wrong and his theology dangerous to the gospel. In my series I'm presenting Pelagius writings and theology and Doug's. Doug is responsible for what he writes and the theology he pushes. You all can make the final judgment.

      And thanks for your encouragement and kind words. My goal as I wade through this is to describe and analyze without committing the same mistakes of the hyper-heresy hunters!


      • Mike Stavlund

        Hey, Jeremy.

        I haven't heard anyone (including Doug) suggest that anyone is creating some kind of ahistorical expression of Xianity. So I think that is a straw man– where one mischaracterizes or minimizes the ideas of some other to promote their own ideas. Of course someone saying that they are divorcing their ecclesiology from historic Xianity would be ridiculous. That's why it seems a straw man to me.

        Another straw man I mentioned is your assertion that Doug claims that anyone who disagrees with him is fearful. You generously agree above that he didn't say that, yet your post stands as written. Isn't that another straw man? Isn't it uncharitable to misrepresent someone else's ideas so that you can make your point about not being fearful?

        …and I have to comment on the apparent fragility of the gospel you defend. Is theology (good, bad, or otherwise) "dangerous to the gospel"?

        • jeremy bouma

          Thanks Mike. You are right to call me out, again re: misunderstanding the "fear" comment. Doug addressed this in our phone conversation, I apologized, I revised the post, and I made it clear at the heading that I was mistaken. Thanks for keeping me accountable to my mistake.

          Re: the ahistoric straw man. Here's the deal: on the one hand I believe the theologies are historic, but repackaging theological liberalism and pelagianism. They claim it is new and fresh, yet it isn't. On the other hand it isn't: Doug's rejection of ANY atonement narrative is a rejection of history; Brian's description of the Fall as “a coming-of age story” which describes “the first stage of ASCENT as human beings progress from the life of hunter-gatherers to the life of agriculturalists and beyond.” Neither are historical. You may disagree whether it matter whether they themselves are rooted in historic Christian orthodoxy. But I fail to understand how my argument is a straw man, an effort to distract from the REAL argument, when it IS the argument I am making.

          Anyway, I understand your "faith defender" assertion and I have no response. I am shooting as straight as I can and if that means I am defending a fragile gospel, then so be it.


  • Sarah@EmergingMummy

    Hi Jeremy – First of all, thanks so much for the shout-out in your post above. I appreciate it. My little corner of the web has never been this busy. Ha!

    I appreciate this perspective (Also, my husband adores Barth. So that's a point in your favour from us. ;-) ).

    I have enjoyed reading through the comments. I don't think I'm excusing myself from the conversation. I care deeply for people, particularly those that have had such a strong influence in my own journey. It's just that the whole conversation isn't compelling anymore. I don't see eye to eye with many of the theological points, sure, but ultimately, to me, the conversation has drifted into selective and specific waters, excluding many of us, alienating the rest. I have huge issues with some theological points but I would never recuse myself simply because of disgreement.

    Rather, it's that I find we're not having the same conversation anymore.

    Maybe part of my angst relates to the commodification of the conversation. Is it really a "conversation" when you're all just hawking books and websites and conferences all day long? It feels like the same old church – a profit making machine that I am just supposed to listen to all day long. And I'm sorry, I'm just too busy to pay much more attention.

    I hold of this with an open hand, of course.

    Thank you for opening up this post, Jeremy. I appreciate your honesty and transperency, your questions and challenges. You speak for many of us without book deals. ;-)

  • Drew Tatusko

    The question I have is this: if there is an issue with previous heresies, we need to revisit those highly political debates that voted them heresies and discern if we believe that the arguments declaring them heresies were just. An orthodox Christian, at least the many that I know, tend to agree with the precedent and move on without questioning it. The point being, what is the problem with Pelagius even if we bracket the authors you mention completely before moving on? Remember that John Cassian's "semi-Pelagian" view was also firmly rejected as heretical in that age. However, this is also a tradition that falls in line with much eastern Orthodox thought. So shall we have the gall to declare that entire church heretical as well?

    I see the reverse has happened in modern American evangelicalism. It is as if we went from Paul, to Augustine, and then straight to Luther without considering how radically different someone like Irenaus' view of faith is centuries before a Western church even formed. I too reject the Western version of original sin and the satisfaction idea of atonement because I think the eastern "christus Victor" understanding is more consistent with Scripture and the history of a large part of the Christian faith. Is that therefore heretical? And if so, who has the authority to make such pronouncements today?

    When I first read Calvin I saw much more off the early fathers and mothers than I had previously been taught in an evangelical framework. What I have seen as both observer and tangential participant in this conversation is a willingness to revisit and reclaim historic Christianity, but with the understanding that there is more than one history that can be claimed. There are numerous traditions available to construct a Christian identity and to arbitrarily rule one or the other out is quite disingenuous. While I find McClaren's work kind of boring, that's the gist of A Generous Orthodoxy which is responsible for starting a massive thread in this conversation.

    Anyway, I am interested to see your own exegesis of Pelagius and I would hope that your conclusions are not rooted in a centuries old judgment that may have been more wrong that right. Moreover, if Pelagius is as wrong as you think, visiting with John Cassian might be interesting. On this level Kierkegaard should also be heretical based his his understanding of the import of human choice and faith as choosing paradox. Even his view looks more semi-pelagian than Calvinist to be sure. Heck, Calvin does not sound very Calvinist either!

    • Ken

      Exactly what I was trying to say, but so much better said!

  • makeesha

    I also want to say Jeremy – that people have always been deeply wounded by churches and church movements – I'm not trying to discredit your concerns for GR as I don't live there. But I cannot even count how many coffee dates and lunches I've had with people with tears streaming down their faces talking about the pain they endured in fundamentalism, conservative evangelicalism, liberal mainline, charismatic…etc You should certainly voice your concerns but I'm not sure you're going to solve it if you blame all things emerging.

    • jeremy bouma

      Mak, let's be clear: I'm not blaming all things emerging. I've merely announced that I am deeply saddened and disturbed by the theology coming our of the conversations, especially those being published by Emerging Church Inc. Can you and your friends handle that?

      And perhaps it's easier to believe I'm leaving based on some inner mental/emotional trauma, a wounding by "churches and church movements" than to actually consider the IDEAS within the movement have forced my hand. I myself have been affected by Christian fundamentalism and am in no way going back. But the alternative, Emergent, is no longer a viable option for me. And I'll tell you why over the coming weeks.


  • iggy

    I am never quite sure where this "Crossless Christ" idea comes from other than the boogieman. Really, I have issues with Emergent and even with some of the theology in the emerging conversation, but to be honest… and to warn you tend to brutal honesty… This post seems rather distant from much I have experienced, read and grow to know from the emerging conversation. As far as being wounded? I have been far more wounded by those who opposed the ec than any other group of people I have encountered. I have never seen or met any group of people who have used slander, hate and fear to protect Truth. I have never seen such abuse of Jesus and the Bible in all my years of walking in Christ. I cannot deny the Kingdom… I cannot forsake what Jesus has brought me through. God is good and in his wings is healing. With the conversation I found many who have been hurt and damaged have found a renewed faith in Jesus… yes some also have gone on to heresy, yet, is their heresy any worse than the heresy of hatemongering from those who tried to "warn" them?

    Sorry, if I am a bit to straightforward for anyone.

    • jeremy bouma

      Can we be clear about something? I am not WOUNDED. I have not been "let down" by the conversation. I'm just sick of how elements of that conversation are being etched in tablets of stone we call B-O-O-K's. I agree with you that the heresy-hunters and watchbloggers are downright un-loving in their vitriolic response. I am not one of them. I have waded through the theology of this conversation for 5 years, the last 2 of which has coincided with a serious academic pursuit of biblical and historical theological training. In that experience I have found major problems with EC theological reflection on sin, human nature, atonement (or lack thereof), salvation, judgment, and eschatology. These are not from blog posts. These are from books. Not from speeches at conferences or ephemeral conversations, but ideas encapsulated in published works.

    • Drew Tatusko

      i agree that the "crossless" claim is a strawman that has no real footing. i remember a theological conversation a year or so ago with moltmann. crossless? as paul might say, by no means.

      • Bill Kinnon

        I'm the one above who noted the cross-less nature of Brian's book. And, I've actually read the book, Drew. There's a prominent ivy-covered Celtic cross on the front cover – but little of the cross in the book. Brian sees Jesus' death as persecution and martyrdom with Christ's response as a witness to God's Kingdom and justice. (Pages 126 and 200) The cross is in no way central to Brian's narrative.

    • jeremy bouma

      Can we be clear about something? I am not WOUNDED. I have not been "let down" by the conversation. I'm just sick of how elements of that conversation are being etched in tablets of stone we call B-O-O-K's. I agree with you that the heresy-hunters and watchbloggers are downright un-loving in their vitriolic response. I am not one of them. I have waded through the theology of this conversation for 5 years, the last 2 of which has coincided with a serious academic pursuit of biblical and historical theological training. In that experience I have found major problems with EC theological reflection on sin, human nature, atonement (or lack thereof), salvation, judgment, and eschatology. These are not from blog posts. These are from books. Not from speeches at conferences or ephemeral conversations, but ideas encapsulated in published works.

      I have the right to engage them on their own terms, through a reasoned, written response. That's what I'm planning. That's what I'm hopping for. We'll see.


    • makeesha

      I could have written this Iggy – well said.

  • Patrick Oden

    Jeremy, two quick additional thoughts.

    Drew was right to mention Cassian, and I would heartily recommend reading at least the first half or so of his Conferences (the version from the Ancient Christian Writers series). Cassian was significantly more influential in his era, and was at the time maybe as influential or more than Augustine. Cassian brought eastern monasticism to the west. His thirteenth conference, especially, is important as it was an indirect response to Augustine's thoughts on work and grace.

    Second, in using Barth and Pelagius you open yourself up to charges of Binarianism. Eastern Orthodox conceptions of sin/grace are developed in different directions than Western, an it is in light of Eastern categories that a lot of the emerging church can be understood, especially as the EO has very strong understanding of the Spirit. It seems you are using historical generalities to combat contemporary expressions rather than following the wave of theological development as it more broadly leads to emerging church theology–expressed in its various forms. More useful as an actual critique, rather than a rhetorical broadside, would be to read Pagitt and others in light of Moltmann, who is a master of Barth and made theological moves in response to Barth's thoughts. It is theology after Barth that is reflected in the EC. Moltmann is certainly able to be critiqued as well, and in ways that may be more applicable to EC than very generalized, overused charges. Charges of Pelagianism tends to be more rhetorical and about dismissing than insightful after the 5th century.

    • jeremy bouma

      Hi Patrick,

      Thanks for your helpful theological direction! As I mentioned in another response, I do want to be holistic in my theological analysis, especially as it relates to the historic progression of that theology. In the few instances I used Barth and Pelagius, they were meant to act as theological dialogue partners rather than make a wholesale, nuanced rebuttal. I am well aware of the immature, generalized charges of Pelagianism; my aim is not to do that here. I do want to compare the two, because I think Pagitt is at worst incredibly dishonest and at best naive about his theological similarities. Does this make sense?

      Your point of caution against using historic generalities to combat contemporary theological problems is well taken. I hope I will indeed follow the wave of theological developement, which is my goal in pursuing the Th.M and heart for ministry in Grand Rapids.

      Thanks again Patrick!

  • sonja

    Wow … what an uproar about an introduction!! Honestly people.

    I'm looking forward to the rest of this series, Jeremy and what you have to say about all the questions/points you've raised. I'm pretty sure I'm not going to agree with all of them, but that's okay with me and (I'm sure) you. I think you've raised some valid questions that need to be discussed in a rational manner. Good on ya.

  • Ben Sternke

    Same journey here – looking forward to the posts. Thanks.

  • becky

    Godspeed to you on the journey you feel called to lead.

    I look forward to your critique of the influence of Continental philosophers on EC,

    BTW-My editor with Killing the Buddha reflected on the adoration Zizek had at AAR (… that seemed to hit a cult like status.

  • Kim

    To quote,(loosly), someone who answered one of the other blogs, Anyone who"down plays sin, disregards Paul, does not believe in real judgement or ignores the Cross" is simply not a follower of Jesus. Lots of words and mud slinging when instead we are called to answer when asked and love even when not asked.

  • Ro -

    My thoughts on folks attacking the theology of the Emergent group (noting I'm not among them, at least I don't think I am) is that there are so few theologians within the group to offer a defense. To lambast McLaren for his weak theology is like stealing candy from a baby. McLaren is an English lit prof not a theologian.

    If anything, the Emergent movement has been victimized by their own inability to attract theologians into the mix to offer a defense and articulate their own perspectives.

    • Blake Huggins

      That is an important point that I hope gains some currency in the larger conversation. While I tend to come down differently than Jeremy theologically, I am glad that he is at least willing to rigorously subject this stuff to real theological engagement.

      My primary complaint of most of the literature out there (save maybe Rollins) is its lack of theological substance. I just picked up McLaren's newest today and I hope it will offer more 'meat.' We'll see.

  • Sarah

    In the spirit of the global emerging church, question the questioners. And follow Him.

  • Nathan

    I'm going to look forward to your thoughts.

    I will say that there are many in evangelicalism that would find you "outside the faith" by virtue of your appreciation of Barth.

    Very sad though considering the richness and breadth of his thought.

  • Barry H

    I'm in the process of reading AD 381, By Charles Freeman and The Baker History of the Church Volume I and II. I have been finding our historical roots to be fascinating and terrifying all at once.

    To follow along and watch as the movement that Jesus started and Paul developed turned from a subversive movement that undermined religious systems and the 'secular' empire and became a religious system and then a religious empire itself. And right in the midst of this conversion from a movement to Christendom (empire of the church), we have the heavily political creedal councils that have shaped Western/ Latin Christianity right on down to today.

    Then following these councils that according to Charles Freeman brought with them the closing of the western mind, we have the great greeko-roman theologian that have more to do with marrying christian faith with the Greek philosophies of Plato and Aristotle then they have with the Hebrew origins of their faith.

    I don't know if I'm emergent or not. I have read some of their authors and find some comfort and agreement in our mutual journeys, but I have read many others and find many similar strands of thinking. I look forward to reading your upcoming posts and hope you are fair but challenging.

    My fear is that your comment that you "will explore and provide assessment on human nature, sin and rebellion, the nature of Jesus Christ, the cross and salvation, resurrection, judgment, and God" has the sound of coming from one narrow facet of our faith. It has the feel of drawing a line in the sand. As was mentioned in an above comment, Orthodox Christianity, which have the claim of being one of the oldest and most ancient of christian faiths, hold a very different view on many of these doctrines. I hope I am proven wrong.

    Any way, I am waiting to read more of your upcoming posts.

  • Julie Clawson

    I continue to find it fascinating that all of these sort of "I'm better than emergent and here's why" sorts of posts stem from an over-generalization of the emerging conversation. Someone ran into someone whose theology they didn't like, or who happened to be sleeping with their partner, or who was just a messed up jerk and all of a sudden poof they write an expose outing all emergents as being evil, heretical, and _________ (fill in the blank).

    Critique is welcome. Questioning individuals is welcome. But honesty would be appreciated as well. The emerging conversation is not Tony, or Doug, or Brian, or the new Village Council, or that one church or cohort that pissed you off, or that one blogger who didn't like the same book you liked… (to clarify – not that you said all of that, but others in this vein have). So while I look forward to reading your thoughts, I hope you don't make the same mistake that others have made of assuming the emerging conversation can be summed up and dismissed according to the handful of things that you personally don't like. You seem more intelligent than the average stone-thrower, so I have high hopes for some intellectual honesty here.

    • sonja

      Hey Julie …

      I get your frustration with the critique from outsiders. But I think that Jeremy made it pretty clear that he's not doing that. I think he also made it clear that his travels to this point are not the result of an abrupt about face, but rather came about gradually as he interacted with various writings through his studies. I hear your frustration and I know you have also faced alot of that criticism yourself. But I'm not sure this is the right place to sound off about it. Is it really fair or honest to dump all of your frustration in Jeremy's lap for what other people have done?

      • Julie Clawson

        Oh, I get that's he's an insider – that's where I'm hearing most of this from. In truth it all seems to boil down to interpersonal issues more than anything else when it's the insider going on the attack. But you're right, I'm getting really sick of this "we must draw lines, and make camps, and claim labels, and backstab all our friend" trend that's been going around lately. He deserves his two cents too – and maybe it will be good and insightful (fingers crossed), but right now it just seems cheap.

  • Susan

    THANK YOU! You have articulated in this one post what I've been feeling for quite some time now. I not a writer or theologian but someone who reads a ton and have been following this conversation (man, I've grown to hate that word) for the past 5 years. Frankly, I'm tired. I used to read all the comments but now, ugh. Several times I've wondered if the point of people's conversations were not to discuss anything but rather to wear the other parties down by wording them to death.

    I'm not trying to pick a battle or start another conversation about having conversation, please – I'll stab my eyes out. I just wanted to let someone, anyone out there in emergent land know that these past 5 years of questioning, engaging suffering, being authentic and so on has not worked out so well for me. It was only since last year when I started pressing into the learning about the Holiness of God that I realized I had been chasing after..I don't know…fluffiness?

    So, thank you, again for writing this.

  • Agnostic Pentecostal

    I agree with you Jeremy, some of Brian's and Doug's may be remixes of ideas that once were deemed heretical, but is that really a bad thing? Maybe I'm missing something, but isn't that the point of theology in general? To push boundaries to explore the definitions of the God-discussion? That's the point of emergent as I see it. (My blog says more on this) Regardless, I'm glad to see you're pursuing truth as you see it and not letting yourself get stuck in a rut. Keep seeking. That's a good thing.

  • tripp.fuller

    If you have to be a Barthian listen to John Franke.

  • Rick Frueh

    If the emergent conversation had been anchored in the cross redemption of Jesus, and from that immoveable vantage point it set out to expand our compassion for people and their earthly condition as an important partner in redemption, then many of us would have received it warmly. But it soon became obvious that the cross was not even a minor theme and redemption was defined in social and political verbiage.

    And over a decade later some of the leaders are openly, and without the nebulous and mercurial verbiage they used earlier, espousing a "all roads lead to God" theology. The uncertainty has become a dangerous certainty.

  • B.J. Potter

    It's very simple my Christian friends…God never changes He is the same yesterday, today and forever. God's revelation to mankind is His Holy Bible. There is no need to add or detract from it as the Holy Spirit divulges the truths and mandates for Holy living. The Bible is the final authority and many so-called Christian sects today modify its content to fit their lusts, arrogance and selfish desires to exalt themselves or the creation over the creator. God is God and we are not!

    • Jeff Straka

      If God is God and you are not, how do YOU know with certainty the mind of God? How do YOU know that God cannot change? How do YOU know that God's "revelation" comes ONLY through the Bible? Seems that you are exalting yourself over God by speaking FOR him!

  • Jeff Straka

    How shallow and limiting when you try to "define" the emerging movement through Brian, Tony and Doug. Have you not also heard of some other voices coming to the table to widen the conversation such as Peter Rollins, Richard Rohr, Harvey Cox, John Cobb, Robert Mesle and Philip Clayton?

    In our suburban emergent cohort gathering, HALF the people do not know Brian, Tony or Doug, nor have they read any of their books or read their blogs, nor do they even know what an "emergent" is, yet they are wrestling and unpacking and repacking with theology they have grown up with that is no longer working. These are post-church and in some cases post-Christian people in their 20's, 30's, 40's, 50's, 60's and even 70's! Some of the other authors brought into our conversation: Thich Nhat Hahn, John Hick, Harold Kushner, Tom Harpur, Karen Armstrong, Cynthia Bourgeault, James Finley, Val Webb, Matthew Fox, Candace Chellew-Hodge – not the kind of books where you would see the EV logo on the back cover!

    So my question is, where did you (and others) get the idea that emerging theology was limited to what Brian, Tony and Doug offer? They are actually a very small part of the growing conversation, in my opinion. I am having a GREAT time listening to a HUGE choir of voices!

  • Mike Clawson

    I'm saddened by the fact that right now, just when so many women, minorities, and non-prominent author types are just starting to take the reigns and find a voice within the emerging conversation, that so many others decide that now is the best time to jump ship and/or give the digital finger to all of us simply because they didn't like something one of the white male author guys did or said. How unfortunate.

    I love Tony, Doug, Brian, and the others who got this conversation going for us, but no one ever said that they were the end all and be all of the conversation, and no one ever said you had to agree with them on anything in order to have a place at the table. I hope your theological critiques of them will be thoughtful and honest without painting all of us with a broad brush, or assuming that disagreement is a reason for dis-fellowship. Seriously, do we all have to think the same way in order to remain in relationship with one another? The tenor of your post seems to suggest that for you the answer is "yes," but I sincerely hope I'm wrong.

    • jeremy bouma

      Hi Mike,
      I'm saddened that people have interpreted my post as a relational breaking. I guess that's my fault. I hope since then I've clarified its theological, not relational. Hopefully the next several posts will make it clear my theological issues with the theology being expressed by those who are leading the EC conversation.


      • Eric


        I’m not that surprised that people are taking your post personally. Calling oneself emerging very often is more about self-identity than specific theological ideas. This, of course, isn’t unique to emerging. To have an identity and then to renounce that identity generally seems a lot worse than never having identified with the group in the first place.

        The problem is you’ve announced 2 separate things here – 1) that you are no longer self-identifying as emerging and 2) that you are going to be posting some series that critique the theology of various people who do self-identify as emerging.

        You are in the odd situation, now, of being part of the emerging conversation while at the same time not self-identifying as emerging. This isn’t THAT odd, I guess – since people tend to not want to self-identify with people that they disagree with. But it is always a lot easier to take criticism from one of your own. One of the failings of the emerging church so far that I’ve seen is this … they are great at taking criticism from everybody – atheists, the LGBT community, Muslims, etc. – but generally they don’t take criticism very well from Christians who don’t self-identify as emerging.

      • Mike Clawson

        Thanks for clarifying Jeremy. I think the confusion some of us have about your intent is because of these very categories of "relational" and "theological". As I'm sure you know, most of us "insiders" define the emergent conversation in relational terms, NOT theological ones. We are bound together by friendship and conversation, NOT theological agreement. Thus for you to say that you're breaking theologically, not relationally, just seems like a category mistake. How can you break theologically when it was never about theological agreement in the first place? If you declare that you are separating yourself from a conversation that is defined primarily in terms in relationship, then it's natural for us to assume that what you are separating yourself from are those relationships.

        So if you say that it's NOT a relational break, then why not simply say that you ARE still a part of the emerging conversation, and that you are simply adding one more theological perspective to it? Is there some reason your theology has to be considered NON-emergent? (And if I or any of the rest of us want to agree with you on anything, does that mean we can't be emergent anymore either?) As far as I'm concerned, there's plenty of room for your views at the table too.

        Again, I guess that's why so many of us have perceived what you are doing here as a relational break. It's one thing to say "I am a part of this conversation (these relationships), but here is why I disagree on a few points with a few of the others in it." It's another thing to say, "I disagree with a few emergent people on a few points, so therefore I don't want to be a part of your conversation (those relationships) anymore." It seemed to me (and others) that you were saying the latter, though I'd hope you could still possibly affirm the former.

    • Joel Shaffer

      I realize this is a side note…..I agree that there are more and more women that are finding their voice in the emerging conversation, but when it comes to minorities…..I just don't see it. Aside from Karen Ward and Anthony Smith who else is really truly engaged in the conversation? The voices who got the conversation going…..The writings of Brian, Tony, Doug really do not resonate with most of my urban ministry colleagues (most of whom are minorities), except for the commonalities in the area of social justice because some of the writings do not line up with, as Jeremy calls it, "the historic rule of faith." They applaud the attention given to social justice, but not the theological hatchet job that these writers have done to the historic rule of faith and therefore aren't really interested in having the conversation…..

      Also, as an outsider that really has no axe to grind, I find it interesting that Jeremy has to repeat himself over and over and over again that he is only leaving theologically, not relationally.

      • Mike Clawson

        I won't name names for fear of sounding like Stephen Colbert touting his "black friend," but I will say that there is greater diversity than is readily apparent just from looking at the original group of "big name authors". There is room for improvement of course, but things have nevertheless been improving for some time already. For instance the current EV Council has two minorities and three women (out of seven total – leaving only two spots for white males), none of whom are the people you mentioned. Of course emergence is about WAY more than the "big names" these days (especially since most of those guys are increasingly fading from prominence and have been for several years), and most of the true diversity is among groups and people you've probably never heard of. (For instance, here in Austin, TX we have an emerging church that predominantly consists of Korean-Americans, and up in Chicago there is a fantastic African-American emerging church I could tell you about.)

        Bottom-line, it's out there, you just have to stop assuming that a few formerly prominent authors/leaders are the whole of the conversation.

        • Joel Shaffer

          As I mentioned before, I am an outsider looking in. I am glad that the emergent conversation is making its way beyond the stereotypical "stuff-white-people-like" feel that I seem to get when I am around those in the conversation. I'd be interested in knowing what Church you are talking about in Chicago.

        • Joel Shaffer

          As I mentioned before, I am an outsider looking in. I am glad that the emergent conversation is making its way beyond the stereotypical "stuff-white-people-like" feel that I seem to get when I am around those in the conversation. I'd be interested in knowing what Church you are talking about in Chicago.

  • Jeff Straka

    I'm starting to "get" that those with a current or future paycheck tied to the church – pastors, seminary student and professors – are naturally (and quite understandably) limited to what they are willing or able to deconstruct/reconstruct. I "get" that their livelihood would be in jeopardy if they let on that they were questioning everything. I truly feel sorry for them. Maybe that's why the pre-Empire church did not have this hierarchical structure that seems to limit creative thought and maybe that's why the post-Christendom church is heading back that direction. All I ask is that you don't use your short-coming to rail against and squelch a conversation that is so essential to those of us outside that structure.

    • becky

      Jeff – good points. It goes beyond that, which is why I encourage authors not to allow themselves to get branded. Once one is branded, then there is considerable pressure to produce product that conforms to that specific brand. If you deviate from that spiel there goes your publishing/speaking/pastoring career. A few people like Frank Schaeffer can switch brands and continue on with their careers but most people tend to fade away when they bow out of the brand or the brand expires. If you can buck the brand, it can be difficult at the beginning as there isn't a ready made platform to entice publishers. So I get the lure of branding.

    • Mike Stavlund

      Well said, Jeff. Thanks.

  • ANON

    For me…it was the adulterous affair and cover up.

  • http://non Tammy

    Hi Jeremy,
    I am glad you are starting to see the forest for the trees so to speak. I too have been around the block with different beliefs all within the supposed christian circle. But I always come back to the basics I was taught when I was in treatment. It was a teen challenge based program and the teachings were solid and true to G-ds word which He puts above everything else. To me the em movement seems to like to throw the baby out with the bath water. I have noticed that they like to keep some things from the Bible as applicable to a persons life and other things not so much.
    If anyone truly wants to know true Christianity then they need to find a copy of the New Testament and sit down and read it from cover to cover and take it as it is. See what Jesus had to say and what He did. See how the book of Acts took that up and expounded on it and then Paul and the rest of the authors of the NT. For me if I can’t take and trust all of it then I want non of it. Jesus paid a terrible price to save us from our sins. Why do we want to take that and start to belittle it and almost take his sufferings and smash them in His face. Let us move on to maturity and stop chipping around with Oh I don’t like what the Bible has to say about this however this is ok. It doesn’t matter who’s name you use, fill in the blank but Paul did say in 1st Chorinthians chapter 1 “Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? And in another place in1st Chorinthians chapter 15, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ we are of all men most miserable”. I say these things out of love and respect and G-dly fear of my L-rd not men because men can’t do anything for you and only G-d can. And soon I believe that G-d is going to start reminding us of these simple basic truths once again and for one more time and G-d have mercy on us if He doesn’t.

    Peace to You

  • Mark Scandrette

    Jeremy, I don't usually engage with these comments, but since you named me in your post, I thought I'd weigh in. There are a lot of difference voices within what is being described as a movement. Have you read my book, SOUL GRAFFITI: Making A Life in the Way of Jesus ? I'm not sure how making generalized statements is fair or helpful. Many of us who might be considered insiders by outsiders frankly don't wake up every morning thinking, "what will I do today as a leader of the emerging church?" What you have is a group of people who have found some affinity with one another and share a passion to explore the adventure and ambiguities of what it means to be a seeker of the way of Jesus in the 21st century. At the risk of being naive, enough labeling and critique. Its time to engage the reality of God and God's kingdom for the good of our world.

    • Mike Clawson

      "enough labeling and critique. Its time to engage the reality of God and God's kingdom for the good of our world."

      Well said Mark. That's what this whole "emerging" thing is about in the first place. The deeper one gets into kingdom mission, the more trivial critiques like this start to seem.

  • Esther

    Hey Jeremy – as someone who grew up in GR I’m curious about how you feel this “other faith” has hindered GR peoples faith? From personal testimony my readings of, specifically Brian, have helped to bring about freedom from a bunch of religious trappings.

  • Allen Kleine Deters

    Wow, thank you Jeremy.
    I have found too that once you play with it tenants of faith and life, there is much that fails the litmus test of what is solid and dear to the early church fathers. While there is much to be considered from the emergent movement, there is a time always to "test everything, hold to what is good …." We can learn through these processes what stands up and what has gone too far for the sake of going too far.

    I appreciate your article.

  • george

    never stop digging. never be afraid of the directions you might take. if god is everywhere, then he is there with you. i too appreciate the grace that you have left with. i hope also that as you take 'people' to 'task' that you do it with that same grace. godspeed.

  • Gene

    A post worthy of great consideration. In my faith journey I have experienced the gamut from charismatic/pentecostal all the way to the Roman church. As a man who has struggled with his faith and his sexual orientation for nearly 30 years I discovered the Emerging Church movement and thought I had found somewhat of a balance between orthodoxy and the ability to clear the stagnant waters that often settle about it after unquestioning tradition makes its stranglehold. Unfortunately after attending a church that seemed well balanced between holding up orthodox beliefs but having a loving and gentle approach to people I find it is mistaking Peter Pan for Jesus Christ and Neverland for The Kingdom of Heaven. No church or tradition is perfect and I believe every age has much to account for before God in their presentation of the Gospel. Little balance is struck between speaking the truth and loving people into the kingdom. Yes, sin is sin but Christ took the verdict upon himself and gave us his righteousness. It is not the role of the church to punish and harangue the sinner which is too often the result when the pursuit of upholding truth is mired in legalism. Heresy is heresy but a soteriology that condemns souls to hell at every wrong thought is a soteriology that has not grown in the soil of grace. Yes, we need to preserve and uphold a standard but not at the expense of denying God's saving grace and mercy patiently and with the longsuffering God extends to all of us. So for now, as disappointed as I am in Emerging Christianity the alternative fellowship-wise is all too bitter of a pill. Where is the balance?

  • stevemeikle

    The post talks about doctrine, and it is good that the author rejects the heresies of the Emergent. But where is the testimony of the living work of the Holy Spirit of Christ here?

    I took those of the questions the Emergents asked which were relevant to me to the Holy Spirit of Christ in prayer, and part of His answer was to convict me of sin ( in perfect peace, feeling guilt is NOT conviction of sin) and He led me to real as opposed to religiously forced repentance, and continues to do so

    To merely return to sound doctrine without knowing and experiencing the living realities that sound doctrine reveal and even command is only to return to the dead religiosity that the Emergents were correct in rejecting (though of course the Emergents rejected the wrong thing entirely when they threw out the doctrines which, if unlived by the orthodox, are unbelieved by the orthodox.)

    And that is my point. Orthodoxy is barren not because it believed the wrong things, but because we the orthodox are pharisees who confuse legalistic commitment to truth with believing it, thus covering our unbelief behind duty and other such hypocritical force of will

    What is needed is not rethinking anything, but repentance. And that only comes from the Holy Spirit of Christ in personal one on one relationship with Him with the Bible and the Bible alone as the benchmark for determining if any revelation purported as from the Holy Spirit really is so.

    Of course we are to ask our questions. Unquestioning faith is fideism. But I only got anywhere by asking these questions to the Spirit of Christ in prayer

  • stevemeikle

    That the critics of Emergent heresy may be acting in fear is plausible. If we hold sound doctrine in legalistic aridity we will be fearful for our rela unbelief is buried and we Christians time and time again will simply not acknowledge this

    But McLaren’s characterization of criticism of his thought as being only fear based is self flattering ad hominem.

    It is in fact the kind of personal attack masking bankruptcy that I have seen fundamentalist preachers do time and time again.

    It may a corollary of his rectitude that we are only fear based but he has not established this. Where is his grasp of logic?

    Even if we fear because of our own unbelief, that does not invalidate the truth of the doctrines we speak.

    If he has nothing to offer but his own fallacy of incredulity (nothing is false because he is unable to believe it) or of disgust (likewise nothing is false because he finds it disgusting) he truly has nothing to offer