Is the Emerging Church Dead (or Dying)?


Emerging church leader Rob Bell recently said his church is exhibiting more and more "traditional" traits.

Is the emerging church coming to an end?

The conversation seems to be picking up across the Web.

In a recent article in WORLD Magazine, Anthony Bradley provides a good summation of some of the indications of decline, including this post by Andrew Jones and Rob Bell’s recent admission that his once cutting-edge church has begun to “mimic” many of the things the movement set out to counter.

I do think Bradley is a bit off on some of his analysis and predictions. For instance, he claims that postmodernism is dead and Christians are simply moving on to confront other more prevalent philosophies.

I wholeheartedly disagree that postmodernism is dying off, but it seems as though Christians never really confronted postmodernism in the first place (at least not effectively). When I survey the emerging church movement in particular, it seems like it was far more successful at incorporating postmodernism than it was at confronting it.

That’s not always a bad thing. It all comes down to whether we are tailoring the message to the culture or reconstructing the message for the culture.

Many emerging church leaders have been able to successfully integrate postmodernistic thought and language with the Gospel, but so many others have floundered and gone off course in their efforts to be “relevant.” Plenty of emerging church leaders seem lost in their own “creative” mish-mash of disorienting vocabulary and pretentious “good works,” which I think has been more confusing for the Lost than helpful.

I’m just scratching the surface here but on the whole I think there are plenty of good things about the emerging church as well as plenty of bad things.

As far as what lingers or trickles down into the Church at large, I’m just hoping it’s the good stuff.

What are your thoughts?

(Note: The image above is provided by MatthewTodd / / CC BY-SA 2.0)

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  • andrewjj

    good point on the philosophy also.

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  • Haugeberg

    I do not by any stretch of the imagination consider myself an expert on this subject so I could be off-base here, but I've never actually heard someone confess that they were a part of the emerging church movement. Brian McClaren came to NCU to speak once, and both introduced the concept to me for the first time, and also seemed to try and disassociate himself from the movement (of which he is usually tied). I'd say this is a pretty common pattern amongst most Emergent Church personas: they get on and off the Emergent bus pretty quick. I'd say that it has a lot to do with the fact that all of the books written about the subject, fall short of defining what it really is in the first place. Although I am a big believer that the church needs movements to sweep through it from time to time, I find it futile to follow them too closely or to determine their progress or decline. In truth, all a movement is supposed to be, if it is worth its salt, is a good reminder of something we were not supposed to forget.

  • http://www.remnantculture.com/ Remnant Culture

    Thanks for the comments. I agree it gets murky as far as who is and who isn't “emerging” or “emergent” (the different uses of those two terms is confusing as well). For example, the fact that Bradley throws McLaren and Mark Driscoll in the same category would certainly enrage both of them, even though both seem to follow under the emergent umbrella in some respects.

    Although I'm not sure if the Church *needs* movements to sweep through, I definitely think they can be beneficial, and it seems the emerging movement has indeed been influential in many positive regards.

    As far as remaining influence, I actually think the fact that this movement is fading in name/label could actually be a sign of *more* influence. Like I said, I do think elements of it will “trickle” into mainstream Christianity, and many already have, and the fact that what was once a “fringe” movement is now impacting congregations at large would/should be a good thing from the movement's perspective.

    In the end I think you're right about following any movement's ascendance or decline too closely. I do, however, think posing questions about the “why” and “where” of a movement can provide for a healthy discussion on occasion, or at least get us thinking about how or why a movement is effective, so we can learn from it.

    Thanks for taking the time comment!

  • Haugeberg

    Agreed. The discussion is certainly valid in regards to assessing how a movement has affected the Church and why it started in the first place. Thanks again for the thoughts.

  • Haugeberg

    I do not by any stretch of the imagination consider myself an expert on this subject so I could be off-base here, but I've never actually heard someone confess that they were a part of the emerging church movement. Brian McClaren came to NCU to speak once, and both introduced the concept to me for the first time, and also seemed to try and disassociate himself from the movement (of which he is usually tied). I'd say this is a pretty common pattern amongst most Emergent Church personas: they get on and off the Emergent bus pretty quick. I'd say that it has a lot to do with the fact that all of the books written about the subject, fall short of defining what it really is in the first place. Although I am a big believer that the church needs movements to sweep through it from time to time, I find it futile to follow them too closely or to determine their progress or decline. In truth, all a movement is supposed to be, if it is worth its salt, is a good reminder of something we were not supposed to forget.

  • Haugeberg

    I do not by any stretch of the imagination consider myself an expert on this subject so I could be off-base here, but I've never actually heard someone confess that they were a part of the emerging church movement. Brian McClaren came to NCU to speak once, and both introduced the concept to me for the first time, and also seemed to try and disassociate himself from the movement (of which he is usually tied). I'd say this is a pretty common pattern amongst most Emergent Church personas: they get on and off the Emergent bus pretty quick. I'd say that it has a lot to do with the fact that all of the books written about the subject, fall short of defining what it really is in the first place. Although I am a big believer that the church needs movements to sweep through it from time to time, I find it futile to follow them too closely or to determine their progress or decline. In truth, all a movement is supposed to be, if it is worth its salt, is a good reminder of something we were not supposed to forget.

  • http://www.remnantculture.com/ Remnant Culture

    Thanks for the comments. I agree it gets murky as far as who is and who isn't “emerging” or “emergent” (the different uses of those two terms is confusing as well). For example, the fact that Bradley throws McLaren and Mark Driscoll in the same category would certainly enrage both of them, even though both seem to fall under the emergent umbrella in some respects.

    Although I'm not sure if the Church *needs* movements to sweep through, I definitely think they can be beneficial, and it seems the emerging movement has indeed been influential in many positive regards.

    As far as remaining influence, I actually think the fact that this movement is fading in name/label could actually be a sign of *more* influence. Like I said, I do think elements of it will “trickle” into mainstream Christianity, and many already have, and the fact that what was once a “fringe” movement is now impacting congregations at large would/should be a good thing from the movement's perspective.

    In the end I think you're right about following any movement's ascendance or decline too closely. I do, however, think posing questions about the “why” and “where” of a movement can provide for a healthy discussion on occasion, or at least get us thinking about how or why a movement is effective, so we can learn from it.

    Thanks for taking the time comment!

  • http://www.remnantculture.com/ Remnant Culture

    Thanks for the comments. I agree it gets murky as far as who is and who isn't “emerging” or “emergent” (the different uses of those two terms is confusing as well). For example, the fact that Bradley throws McLaren and Mark Driscoll in the same category would certainly enrage both of them, even though both seem to fall under the emergent umbrella in some respects.

    Although I'm not sure if the Church *needs* movements to sweep through, I definitely think they can be beneficial, and it seems the emerging movement has indeed been influential in many positive regards.

    As far as remaining influence, I actually think the fact that this movement is fading in name/label could actually be a sign of *more* influence. Like I said, I do think elements of it will “trickle” into mainstream Christianity, and many already have, and the fact that what was once a “fringe” movement is now impacting congregations at large would/should be a good thing from the movement's perspective.

    In the end I think you're right about following any movement's ascendance or decline too closely. I do, however, think posing questions about the “why” and “where” of a movement can provide for a healthy discussion on occasion, or at least get us thinking about how or why a movement is effective, so we can learn from it.

    Thanks for taking the time comment!

  • Haugeberg

    Agreed. The discussion is certainly valid in regards to assessing how a movement has affected the Church and why it started in the first place. Thanks again for the thoughts.

  • Haugeberg

    Agreed. The discussion is certainly valid in regards to assessing how a movement has affected the Church and why it started in the first place. Thanks again for the thoughts.

  • Jsl

    You said you don’t think postmodernism is dying off. You’re right. It’s not dying off. It is dead. It has been dead since the 1980′s. But leave it to the church to suddenly discover a long-deceased, utterly irrelevant philosophical trend about two decades after the fact. Really, the church’s treatment of postmodernism (Emergent’s in particular) has been downright embarrassing. The truth is that postmodernism showed up in philosophical circles two decades ago at least, that it never gained any real traction at all, and it came and went without any consequence or fanfare. For reasons that still elude me, the church suddenly became aware of this dead and unsustainable concept back around the turn of the century and started acting as if it was riding the wave of some cutting edge paradigm shift. I mean, it has just been cringeworthy. But that is what we do. We love our fads and we love to jump on our bandwagons and we love to embrace the world (once we’ve stamped our little “cross and dove” on it to justify it and sanctify it as truly “Christian”). Paul said, “When I was a child I acted like a child, but when I grew up, I put that stuff behind me.” Grow up, church.