Why The Emergent Church is Liberal

I finally figured this out the other day. You may or may not be aware of this thing called the Emergent Church. It’s a movement within Evangelical Christianity, and your opinion of it may vary depending on what you know and what your background is. Some of the main proponents of Emergentism are Rob Bell, Brian McLaren and N.T. Wright. You may also have heard of the book The Truth War by John MacArthur in which he blasts the whole movement as an attack on the doctrinal foundation of the church. I don’t know where you stand on this, but here’s my take on what the Emergent church is.

The Emergent church is at its core a conversation about what the church is (how it operates, what it looks like, how it communicates) in a post-modern world.

So the question is, why is everything they are saying so liberal? The first response I give to that is that liberal can be a pejorative term. Often what is seen as odd by conservatives will be labeled such so as to make it seem immediately undesirable to other conservatives. At any rate here’s my answer:

The Emergent church is so liberal because the conservatives have already made up their mind what the outcome is going to be, and have reacted so negatively to the contributions that have already been made to the discussion, and in some cases are revolting against the fact that there’s a discussion at all, such that they are not participating in the conversation, and there are therefore no conservative voices to temper what is otherwise a somewhat liberal group think.

I don’t mean to use liberal in the pejorative sense here, so please don’t take it that way. But I do think that if we had conservatives engaging in the discussion and saying, “Ok, Rob Bell, that’s an interesting observation or criticism. Let’s remember thought that the Scriptures are our foundation for truth.” Then the outcome of this conversation will probably be a lot more like what needs to come out – an actual good response to the question that does not compromise the churches historical and doctrinal heritage, but does find ways to communicate and display those heritages such that the world around us correctly perceives the message.

I’m not worried about being politically correct, and I’m only mildly concerned with cultural relevance. What I am concerned with is that when we preach the Gospel, what the audience (the World) interprets is the Gospel and not something else, because we’re speaking the wrong language – either with our tongues or our hands.

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5 thoughts on “Why The Emergent Church is Liberal

  1. This is a very loaded comment about conservatives and seems to go directly to impugning their motives – which crosses the line from observing to judging.

    What outcome is it that the conservatives have already predetermined?

    Do you think the conservative reaction to the Emerging Church has no basis in fact – namely, what those who are part of the Emerging Church conversation are saying and doing?

    And you are wrong about “conservative voices.” The Emerging Church is quite broad – with more conservative elements – who have tried to influence the others to no avail. No one is going to persuade Brian McLaren, for example, that anything more conservative than his views are correct. He has already arrived and is convinced of a number of his views – for example, concerning the biblical view of hell – which he disdains.

    Do you think MacArthurs conclusions about the Emerging Church were formed in a vacuum?

    Dave James
    The Alliance for Biblical Integrity

  2. Thanks, Mike, for sharing your thoughts on this. I have tried to read from and listen to some of the gifted teachers you mentioned, and try to check for documentation when I hear some of the things they have been quoted as saying. I keep my eyes and ears open because I am naturally curious and I love to engage my mind. I hate to debate, and I hate to see my brothers in Christ divided into warring factions.
    I might add that the “emergent” church is very broad and open to so many forms both in the US and on other continents that it is hard to define theologically. I guess that is the point of their hermeneutic and basic theology–an openness and narrative approach. So you may hear some very biblical teaching, and you may hear some things that are not biblical. I’m not sure that “liberal” is a useful label, but the word itself implies openness. I don’t think your characterization of conservatives (another label) as closed-minded and having already seen a predetermined outcome is fair. I’m definitely willing to hear a point of view before shutting a door. Some of the closed-mindedness may be on the other side as well. Especially where there is an attitude of intellectual superiority.
    I agree that themes of appearance, culture, environment are not as important as the issues of authority, theology, and evangelism. May Christ and his Gospel be clearly proclaimed among all the nations. I think we need to be concerned when teachers abandon biblical Christology and soteriology, not to mention theology itself.

  3. Perhaps the term Conservative could be a pejoriative as well, but my reaction on this subject stems mostly from trying to read the first few chapters of The Truth War by John MacArthur – a theologian I generally respect – and being absolutely appalled by how broad of a brush he was using, and how much of his argument was groundless or a slippery slope. He presumed to judge the motives of these men as being apostates whose goal it was to undermine the Biblical authority of the church, and I just don’t see that in Rob Bell – at least. Though I’ll admit I’m not as familiar with Wright and McLaren, experientially.

  4. Is the emergent church a missional reaction to apathy as God’s sends His people out into the streets or is it something else? How do you see it? Just seeking answers.

  5. Christians live under the Lordship of Christ. At times the envelope is necessarily pushed to open up new possibilities. After a time mainstream church accepts and adopts forms and teachings that expands faith whilst remaining true to scripture. The 20th century movements showed this; for example the movement away from Hymns to more contemporary forms. I see in the so called Emerging church people who just want to do church in their communities in a better way, though there are extreme and dangerous diversions, it seems a product of principalities and powers at work. But then they work in the mainstream as well. Those on the conservative side should dialogue with and watch and learn and adopt that which is biblically appropriate. The need for church to impact our society is obvious in the declining West. Going into all the world should be a no brainer for the Christian today.

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