Emerging Overview

This is one of various resources in our Emerging Heresies series. You may view the other resources here .

Emergent: Philosophy – Doctrine – Practice


Basis and Motivation

  1. Reaching the Post Modern Mind (Evangelism)
  2. Experiential Interpersonal Relationship with the Lord and His Church (Fellowship)
  3. Re-thinking the Scriptures (Doctrine)
  4. The Evolution of Thought and Philosophy
  5. Maturing of the Saints (Sanctification)

Note: Please remember, this is an overview of some items embraced by some advocates of the “Emerging” movement. Many of the motivations and practices here are not in and of themselves wrong. Our focus is doctrine not necessarily practice, method or motivation. We are not making an effort to lump everyone and or everything into the same basket.

Also remember: The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions. The measuring rod of truth is not experience or emotion. It is the Holy Scriptures. We believe the Bible to be the last word on faith and practice.


Emergent leader Leonard Sweet describes the emergent church with the acronym EPIC .

“E” stands for experiential because post moderns desire more than listening and thinking. They want to enter into worship as an experience of the senses. This is why medieval rituals appeal to them.

“P” speaks of participants as opposed to observers. They want an active faith. Rather than a sermon they might hold a “conversation.”

“I” relates to image-based. Projected images, artwork, film and video are all attractive to this generation. They are sight-oriented.

“C” means communal.  They desire a strong sense of community.  They are “people” persons. Instead of going to church they want to be the church.

1) Reaching the Post Modern Mind (Evangelism)

Emergent church leaders don’t all agree on where the church goes from here but they all believe that it must go somewhere. They believe the modern church cannot connect with the postmodern mind. They believe the Gospel as we know it has failed to reach the post modern mind.

“We got the gospel wrong.” – Todd Hunter

Doing good supersedes doctrine.

Common Label: Missional

2) Experiential Interpersonal Relationship with the Lord and His Church (Fellowship)

Dan Kimball, author of The Emerging Church , says this is necessary because

“the basis of learning has shifted from logic and rational, systematic thought to the realm of experience.  People increasingly long for the mystical and the spiritual rather than the evidential and facts-based faith of the modern soil.

  • Prayer: (Contemplative Prayer) (Prayer Labyrinths)
  • Meditation (Eastern Forms of Meditation)
  • Confession (As Ritual)
  • Solitude (As Essential)
  • Vows of Poverty (As a Discipline)
  • Use of Candles, Incense, Icons (Embracing Early Church and Catholic Traditions)

Chuck Smith Jr., in his book, There is a Season (foreword by Brian McLaren), provides insight into this mystical experience. He writes:

“What would happen if we allowed people to “feel” what we cannot explain, to know with the heart and not with the brain? We would open the door of faith to a wider audience than if we continued to insist on a rational belief in the facts as the only legitimate starting point of the Christian faith.”

Common Label:

Experiencing God

3) Re-thinking the Scriptures (Doctrine)

  • The Gospel of the Kingdom
  • Replacement Theology
  • Amillennial Theology
  • Preterism
  • Deconstructionism – Example: Bricks and Springs (Robb Bell)
  • Absence of Eschatology ( Brian McLaren says they are inventing a new Eschatology)
  • Transubstantiation, Eucharistic Worship
  • “Vintage Faith” – (A return to many of the doctrines and practices of the 2 nd and 3 rd century church.)
  • Bible study is often replaced by the study of books or programs.

On Doctrine Brian McLaren states,

“Ask me if Christianity (my version of it, yours, the Pope’s, whoever’s) is orthodox, meaning true, and here’s my honest answer: a little, but not yet.  Assuming by Christianity you mean the Christian understanding of the world and God, Christian opinions on soul, text, and culture…I’d have to say that we probably have a couple of things right, but a lot of things wrong, and even more spreads before us unseen and unimagined.  But at least our eyes are open!  To be a Christian in a generously orthodox way is not to claim to have the truth captured, stuffed, and mounted on the wall.”

4) The Evolution of Thought and Philosophy (Experiential / Progressive Theology)

“The Emergent Church is a Continuing Conversation”

Brian McLaren writes,

“Right now Emergent is a conversation, not a movement.  We don’t have a program.  We don’t have a model.  I think we must begin as a conversation, then grow as a friendship, and see if a movement comes of it.”

McLaren writes:

“How do you know something is true? First you engage in spiritual practices like prayer, Bible reading, forgiveness and service. Then you see what happens; you remain open to experience. Finally, you report your experience to others in the field of spirituality for their discernment to see if they confirm your findings or not.”

Deep Shift 2008

DeepShift will call people to a deep shift in their thinking about faith, church life, mission, ministry, art, justice, leadership, community, and worship. It will emphasize deep personal inner transformation integrated with deep organizational transition as well, in the context of the “Generous Orthodoxy” I write and speak about. And unlike many conferences, this gathering will put special focus on the “yes, but how?” question.

City Include: (West Coast US) Seattle , Portland , San Francisco , Sacramento

Common Label:

Change Agents

Dealing with Resisters

5) Development and Maturing of the Church (Sanctification)

  • Success is often measured by numbers and energy
  • Spiritual Formation (Beware of Converting Principles into Formulas)

Who Forms the Spirit?

“Sometimes we think of spiritual formation as formation by the Holy Spirit. Once again. That’s essential. We can’t evade it–formation by the Holy Spirit. But now I have to say something that may be challenging for you to think about: Spiritual formation is not all by the Holy Spirit. None without the Holy Spirit. But there’s always more involved. And here again we run into the problems of passivity over against activity. Here lies the deepest challenge to the very idea obedience to Christ in our times. We have to recognize that spiritual formation in us is something that is also done to us by those around us, by ourselves, and by activities which we voluntarily undertake…There has to be method.” – from “Spiritual Formation, What is it and How is it Done?” by Dallas Willard

Additional Notes


There are no official leaders or headquarters; some have said that there are thousands of expressions yet only a few churches have sold out to the concept; and even those claiming the name can’t agree on what is going on.

Recognized, but not official leaders of the movement at this time include: Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Dan Kimball, Doug Pagitt, Leonard Sweet, the late Mike Yaconelli, Spencer Burke, Erwin McManus, Tommy Kyllonen (aka Urban D) and Donald Miller.  Some see Richard Foster and Dallas Willard as key mentors for the movement.

These diversions from good Biblical interpretation is a manifestation of the spirit of Anti-Christ.