“Emergent” is dead, and the leftovers have gone to the Christian Left, neo-Anabaptism, and neo-Puritanism


I’m in day 3 of Acton University. What follows are my notes from a session that took place yesterday, June 17, 2010. The presenter was Dr. Anthony Bradley, an associate professor of theology and ethics at The King’s College in New York City and a research fellow at the Acton Institute. I am oversimplifying his main arguments in the intentionally provocative title of this post, but I think I’ve captured the basics. If you have any relationship to Emergent, you will doubtless find something in what follows to take offense at. However, I think his typology and analysis of the movement is useful.

Dr. Bradley holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. As a research fellow, Dr. Bradley lectures at colleges, universities, business organizations, conferences, and churches throughout the U.S. and abroad. His writings on religious and cultural issues have been published in a variety of journals, including: the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Detroit News, and World Magazine. He studies and writes on issues of race in America, hip hop, youth culture, issues among African Americans, the American family, welfare, education, and modern international forms of social injustice, slavery, and oppression.

[NOTE: the indenting and numbering format problems in the following post have now been fixed]

The Emergent Church, Bradley

Spoke at the outset about King’s College, where he teaches, which is in Manhattan, in the Empire State Building and across the state. Marvin Olasky is provost of King’s College.

Has been with the institute since 2002. Taught at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. Then Olasky “siphoned him off.” He presented on Emergent in 2005/6 at a meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. They were in a room half the size of this, then they had to put them in another room, seating 300 people. They didn’t realize how big the movement had gotten. But in 2006 it was beginning to END. Started in 1989.

He wrote an article on World Magazine’s website where he declared the end of the movement. Tony Jones, Driscoll, others are saying the movement is over.

20 years is not “new.” These churches are not dead. There are still Emergent churches out there. No longer provocative, though. Not sexy. These churches are full of 30- 40-something people with kids. Men going bald.

So when he wrote the article, after Jones had written his, bidding it farewell, moving on. If you think postmodernism is the enemy of Christianity, you are in a cave. The only people talking about postmodernism are Christians. Philosophy has moved on. Scientific realism had more effect on a friend of his in college than postmodernism.

He sends people to a book by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger for overview of the movement nationally. Emerging Churches. This is now a history book.

There are new developments now. Bottom of sheet with recommended readings is book coming out in August, Hipster Christianity, Brett McCracken. Will explain why this movement is over, and everyone is moving on.

Some are panicked, think this is new: we’re saying you’re 15 years too long.

NOT young adult services, Gen-X churches, churches-within-a-church, seeker churches, purpose driven or new paradigm churches, fundamentalist churches, or even evangelicals churches. [these were 80s, 90s phenomena. . . Seeker churches, watered down theology, soft music, love ballads to Jesus, sparked the reaction—the Emergent movement.] The three core practices are identifying with the life of Jesus, transforming secular space [film, music, etc. We’re not fundies, avoiding culture. We press in], and commitment to community as a way of life. [huge emphasis on authenticity, vulnerability, etc. ppl grown up in culture of divorce, parents moving all over country. Churches about programs, not people. Children quarantined from adults in youth ministry—isolated from church. People starving for community, family. Raised in churches that they believe didn’t have that.]

These practices are expressed in or lead to the other six: welcoming the stranger, serving with generosity [especially for poor], participating as producers [contributions to society], creating as created beings [big emphasis on the arts; e.g. taking various liturgies from various traditions, into this one church: icons, candles in a formerly Baptist church], leading as a body [idea of solidarity: less top-down “The Pastor/Us”—we all lead as a group, a well functioning amoeba], and taking part in spiritual activities [in community].”

He was in the heart of this movement. Near end of that, moving to St. Louis, became friends with Mark Driscoll, spoke in Seattle at Resurgence Conference. Latino leader in the movement a few years ago said to him: I’m done trying to figure out what the church should be like, I just want to help people. We’re done ranting against our parents and grandparents. These churches were primarily about transitioning Christianity, some would say saving it, from the religious conservatives, the Right, guys that wore cheap polyester suits, the comb-over. Don’t want to be like or look like them—the rest of America hates them. We want to be different.

This is why McCracken’s book will make people angry: they wanted to make church cool. Not like the bad CCM music from Nashville. Not cool with a guitar. No: we cuss, drink, go to bars, live like everyone else. Can have coed communes. We are so cool—can be in Wlliamsburg in Brooklyn, dress like everyone else. No distinction between us and everyone else. Nope, says McCracken, that’s not a sign of progress: being just like the world.

1. Now, the political economy; this is not a movement of consensus. There is no one way to describe all of these churches. This was multi-denomination’l, multi-ethnic: Roman Catholic, So Baptists, Pentecostals, etc. So difficult to say “this is true for all the churches.” But, overall, three main trajectories:

a. The Christian Left. You may think of Jim Wallis, Sojourners

b. Neo-Anabaptism. Shane Claiborne. Patron saint Howard Yoder, and Stanley Hauerwas

c. Neo-Puritanism. This is Mark Driscoll, my friend. Acts 29 network. Love John Piper. Mars Hill Seattle. Journey Church St. Louis. Journey Church in Philadelphia. This is the movement that sparked the CT article on resurging young Calvinism.

2. The Christian Left

a. Values in American Christianity mostly the social justice aspect of our past:

i. Abolition of slavery

ii. Women’s suffrage

iii. Female seminary movement (Protestant liberal)

iv. Child labor reform

v. Social gospel movement

vi. Pre-WWI peace movement

vii. Desegregation and Civil Rights movement

viii. Anti-Vietnam

b. So people quote MLK Jr, using him/them as hermeneutic for today. He grew up in black Methodist church outside of Atlanta. Was preaching to a Reformed/Presbyterian Church. Made reference to MLKJr in his sermon, which black people always do. He was rebuked for it. Was shocked. His theology, you know . . . he wasn’t conservative. You need to be careful not to mention non-conservatives in your sermons w/out criticizing him, because people might think you believe what he believes. This never would have happened in church on the Left. There, he’s a hero.

c. Heroes: Frederick Douglas, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu. References to authentic Christianity are spiced with these folks in their talks.

d. Strong affinities to the following:

i. National Council of Churches

ii. World Council of Churches

iii. Liberation Theology

iv. Marxist Ideology

v. National Catholic Social Justice Lobby (probably a lot of Jesuits in it)

vi. Mainline Protestant Denominations

e. Some critiques of Emergent: “This is just protestant liberalism younger with cool clothes, better hair, candles.” They’d heard these same things before, in the movements/ideas listed above. Not new for a lot of folks.

f. In movement, people said “No, we’re not like them. We’re different. Yea we’re quoting liberation theologians, but we’re not liberation theologians.” Critics: you’re quoting them but not critiquing them! Walks like a duck, quacks like a duck.

g. Biblical emphasis: you’ll hear this when it comes time to critique society, the church. Christians ought to be doing x or y because Isaiah 1 says . . . You’ll hear this from Jim Wallis a lot. A lot of these millennials adopted the same hermeneutic. The religious Right—their starting point isn’t the prophets, it’s the Pentateuch. They want 10 commandments in the courtroom. Want us to preach about sexuality, marriage. That’s what the Right does. They quote Romans 1 and all those icky things there. We’re the right. We start with love, grace, mercy, justice, Jesus.

i. The prophets

ii. Sermon on the Mount

iii. Beatitudes

h. Organizations represented on the Left side; when a conference came and they wanted to draw a crowd, they asked one of these:

i. Jim Wallis (Sojourners)—a TEDS graduate. Started Sojourners in early 1970s. Recently, in last 7-8 years, has emerged as THE voice in the Christian Left. Now, no-one SAYS “We’re the Christian Right, Left, neo-Anabaptists.” No, “We’re the real Christians. Everyone else has bad hermeneutics, etc.”

ii. John Perkins (CCDA) James Davison Hunter puts him on the left. That group’s a bit of a mix. There are those both in and out of the Left in that group. More balanced.

iii. Tony Campolo, for sure. There’s a video clip on an Acton DVD series where they have Campolo ranting against business, entrepreneurs. Love to see him and Father Sirico in room together

iv. Brian McLaren; a huge catalyst on the Left side, neo-Anabaptist. Figurehead catalyzing this movement. Difficult, because he’s so nice. He doesn’t get angry in public debate. You want to yell: he won’t yell back. And conservatives want to yell, elicit emotional response. Warm, winsome, very persuasive. But in A New Kind of Christian, he asks excellent questions about what Christianity is about. Where he differs w/Brian is how the gospel applies to some of the answers.

v. Ron Sider (Evangelicals for Social Action): Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. Awesome about him: he has made some transitions since that book.

i. Chief concerns (“Hebrew prophets consistently say that the measure of a nation’s righteousness and integrity is how it treats the most vulnerable. And Jesus says that the nations will be judged by how they treat ‘the least of these’ (Matthew 25): Sojourners/Call to Renewal. We have to have a conversation about hermeneutics on this!). Religious Right had ignored these concerns. So this is a reaction. Wallis speaks more against Religious Right than promoting his own position. Invested a lot of energy there. As in book God’s Politics, ranting against the so-called Religious Right. Of course, all Christians care about these, but to the Left, these are their primary concerns to exclusion of others. You won’t hear a lot about personal piety from the Left. SO in the Emerging church movement, a lot of synergies in terms of adopting some of these principles. And again, every Emerging church, pastor, is different, but most churches p[ick uo on these:

i. Harm done to the weak

ii. The poor (“God is angry with America and with the world ecause of poverty statistics” –Wallis) They use the prophets to justify this (and vi below)

iii. Disadvantaged

iv. Marginalized

v. Women, gays, minorities, immigrants, ethnic poor

vi. Anti-free market (liberty a problem: creates context for disparities. Assumption that disparity is evidence of injustice. Zero-sum mentality: the person with $100 must have taken some from the person with $10. Implies discrimination.)

vii. Anti-Christian Right. Richard Balmer: “The preachers of the Christian Right ‘have led their sheep astray from the gospel of Jesus Christ to the false gospel of neoconservative ideology and into the maw of the Republican Party.” You hear this in the last growth explosion of the Emerging Church. We WON’T be neocons, republicans. We will demonstrate our coolness as Christians by ranting against the Right. That’s how cool we are, culture. We don’t like them either.

viii. “As an evangelical Christian, someone who takes the Bible seriously and who believes in the transformative power of Jesus, I want to reclaim the faith from the Religious Right”  Randall Balmer

ix. “We need to take our religion back” [from the not-fun Religious Right people who don’t drink, dance, do anything fun] Jim Wallis. Statements like this made Wallis a hero to this movement, on social thinking, political economy

j. Critique of Emergent Left

i. Check out James Davison Hunter, To Change the World, chapter on Christian Left:

ii. Government solves social and economic problems [Christians are about looking to govt for solutions to poverty problems . . .] You don’t hear often from those on extreme Christian Left is idea that as you move closer to neo-Anabaptist movement, more rhetoric about WE need to get involve, move into neighborhoods. Perkins’s relocation principle. We need to be Incarnational. We need to bring life into the darkness. Profoundly racist! We are going to come, bring blessing to the brown people who need us.

iii. “Confeuses America with Israel and the political dynamics of modern American democracy with the divine laws mandated for ancient Israel” Hunter, in book named above

iv. Christian left agenda becomes the “new civil religion.” The old one was praying in schools, 10 commandments on wall. The new one is justice oriented on Jesus, the prophets

v. Democratic party affiliated and socialistic economic vision; wealth redistribution. So, celebration of Obama. It’s NOT McCain. Yay! In some respects the Emergent left is reaction to right

3. Neo-Anabaptists

a. Withdrawalist:

b. Christians should distance selves from State. Not use the state, the way the Left wants. Constantinianism the biggest heresy. Must get back to Christians being Christians.

c. Distrust of State structure and use of power. Anti-power language. Don’t like denominations, church hierarchies. Any form of structural power is anathema to them. Many Emergent churches didn’t want to be in denominations. Wanted to get back to simple Christianity: a group of Jesus-loving people doing Acts 2:42.

d. Strong affinities to Mennonites, Brethren, Quakers, Amish, and Hutterites. Many references to these, against Religious Right. Parents’ seeker churches were all about the suburbs and materialism. We are anti-American Dream. We’re going to get back to real, simple Christianity.

e. Heroes

i. Stanley Hauerwas; interesting post-liberal: conservatives nor liberals like him. Slippery. A hero of theirs

ii. Richard Hays

iii. James McClendon

iv. Michael Cartwrght

v. Shayne Claiborne

vi. Missed one

f. Hauerwas book Resident Aliens.

i. Jesus was champion of social change and political subversion. I have stolen this. Like the idea of Christians as politically subversive

ii. Constantinianism was the demise of the church and this must be avoided

g. Yoder book: The Politics of Jesus

i. Church caught in dual allegiance to Christ and the political economy of liberal democracy and consumer capitalism

ii. Idolatry/”yoke of slavery” Need to get back to what the early church was about

iii. Protestants and Catholics have failed here

h. Emphasis on Incarnation

i. Rejection of coercion and violence

j. Pacifism

k. Jesus seen primarily as “suffering servant.” Hauerwas: the Christian’s main disposition is one of suffering. Non-suffering Christians may not be suffering Christians. Be careful if you’re living in a context of wealth.

l. Political power is NOT the way

i. Jesus rejected reliance on political power

ii. Jesus triumph over principalities and powers

iii. Communitarianism becomes the model of a new way of living

iv. “Community”

v. The central calling of the church is to be a worshipping community; resurgence especially on Eucharist. Weekly participation in the LS binds us together as Christian community

m. Separatism

i. Don’t be polluted by the world

ii. Focus on  . . . (missed, checdk tape at 47:15 or so)

iii. “How do we run t he world as Christians? This question would echo throughout he centuries in questions like, how do I run this profit-driven corporation as a Christian? How can we make culture more Christian? (missed rest, check tape)

4. Neo Puritans

a. Mark Driscoll (Acts 29 Network)

b. Staunch Calvinists in terms of salvation issues

c. Socially and politically conservative

d. Anti-liberal, pro-life

e. Concern for the poor because of evangelism (David Platt)

f. Short-term/non-economic thinkers; not really thinking about structural development. Focused mainly on evangelism, building churches, not about cultural renewal.

5. Evaluation

a. No consensus: hard to broadly categorize this movement.

b. At 20-years old churches, the movement is now a younger versin of established movements with ‘a twist’

c. Nothing new or provocative

d. The whole generation (GenXers and Millennials) lack economic thinking about the nature of man (we have to say this here at Acton). That’s a major consistent problem. Not a lot of economic reflection. Many of us have been trying to infuse economic thinking in these circles. May be why many of these churches gravitating toward Left and neo-Anabaptism.

6. Q&A

a. He has Robert Webber listed here. How does Ancient-Future fit in here. Answer: Robert Webber is quoted by a lot of Emergent pastors: we need to go back to a more authentic Christianity and make it now. Early church. Acts 2:42, project that into 2010, 2040, 2080. Webber was a Yoda for a lot of pastors in the movement. They came to him for advice, counsel, reflection. But he was a major theological force in the movement at the age of 70, before he died. Gibbs and Bolger have a big section where they talk about this.

b. Hauerwas hates natural law, did dissertation on Aquinas. When he was at Kings, Olasky challenged him on basis of what Bible actually says. That stumped him. Had to wrestle with what bible says about wealth, work, profit. These philosophical platitudes are nice . . . sound happy, loving. They’re palatable. But when you wrestle with the text, that’s where the challenge comes. So with guys like this, that’s where you have to go. Not just your theologians. Olasky went to Pentateuch, civil codes in Exodus: when cultivated fields, leave some for the poor. Also work as a vocation, as good. Suffering isn’t necessarily more Christian than working. Hard work, tilling garden, cultivating culture: good things. Withdrawalists say “no, that’s secular.”

c. Another q: will these folks find fertile ground in the developing world when they close up shop here in the states. Where people are fed up with prosperity gospel, megachurches . . .?  Answer: likely their own version of this movement that will make this look different. Reaction against seeker-sensitive suburban megachurch watered-down Christianity of 80s & 90s. What would a pendulum swing against prosperity gospel look like for a younger generation, in developing world. What’s your church? They’ve used it in Guatemala: Emergent. Talking about it draws people. McLaren new guru . . . but the megachurch associated with new neo-liberal elites in Latin America. . . . that might help Emergent Left movement get in where those voids aren’t satisfied. Back to Anthony: there will be a new movement that reacts against churches like El Shaddai . . .

d. Claiborne’s Jesus for President video had a lot about engagement politically. Not neo-Anabaptist in the sense of withdrawalist. So I’m confused. Anthony: Shane has been quoted . . . when speaking perhaps at Wheaton . . . as telling people not to vote. (Not on video!) Don’t participate in the Leviathan of political power. He’s not saying they’re all consistent in what they believe, because none of us are.

e. James Hunter, in his book mentioned above, has a chapter on Christian Right as well as one on Neo-Anabaptists on Hauerwas. That book very much worth the read. Also check out website on First Things—type in Hauerwas, you’ll get plenty.

f. Where is place for The Artist on the conservative side? They’re all on the Left side, in Emergent, etc. Anthony: Good thing about this movement is that it poked the conservative church on this. So Tim Keller in New York: massive artist communities in that church in Manhattan. Or Trinity Grace in New York. The Village Church. Huge artist communities. But they are sort of standard evangelicals re: bible, inerrancy, etc. They do understand there needs to be an appreciation for the arts because they have a theology of vocation. They affirm the vocation of the arts. And emphasis on beautiful worship space. You find churches that are ugly, bland, tend to not validate the arts vocationally. Hip hop arts are emphasized in many of these very conservative churches. They are validating the vocation. They are changing their worship space, feeding back into that. It’s happening, but it’s slow. And an artist is more likely to be affirmed in Protestant mainline liberal church now than conservative one. But there’s hope. He encourages artists to go in and disrupt/mess up conservative churches. Guy comes back with a thing about Peter Rollins book Orthodox Heretics

g. Neo-puritans: what are your theological critiques of Acts 29 network? Anthony: lack of a theology of culture in some of those churches. So it’s not just your views on salvation, but your understanding of redeeming, transforming culture, that SHOULD make you Reformed. You’ll be quoting a lot of Dutch Reformed people: Kuyper, Bavinck . . . and you don’t find in the Network references to sphere sovereignty, redeeming culture, creation, Dooyeweerd, etc. Al Walters (Wolters?) in terms of building a Reformed worldview. But those movements are staunch in their understanding of salvation issues. Unless the church is associated with the PCA—and there are a few of those in the Network.

h. Are “Emergent” and “Missional” church identical? Missional developed out of the movement to distinguish kingdom-oriented conservatives from people like McLaren. Emergent Village took the term and went the other way with it. When you hear someone say “missional,” you have to ask “what do you mean by that”? Mark Driscoll says missional, and so is McLaren, but if you put them together in the same room . . .

i. If Emergent Church is “done” . . . in the circles I’m in, the critics are still criticizing the Emergent, but it’s also that the ideas of the movement are all over the place. Anthony: it’s the ripples now. The initial splash is done. Same with postmodernism, social gospel, etc. We’re definitely dealing with the ripples. But this is not the Next Big Thing for seminaries to deal with. Doesn’t mean that the residuals are not still affecting people. There are some new issues now we need to wrestle with. McCracken is going to nail this in August when the book comes out. Because making Christianity cool is exactly what Piper and Gospel Coalition is now speaking into. Because you have, just as in Protestant liberalism, a lack of emphasis on piety. Everyone is about justice, but not about formation of character, sexuality, spiritual formation for themselves, children, family. They’re all outside doing justice stuff. We need to deal with this. The splash of putting candles and icons in churches . . . the lines have been drawn. You’ll either be on McLaren’s side, or Driscoll’s side, or Rob Bell somewhere in the middle. And you just say you are. Clear Categories, we know who’s who, don’t need to have Five Views on the Emerging Church book. Carson put nail in coffin in his book. Bolger explains it. Driscoll explains why he moved out. The movement will grow up. The residuals of the movement, depending on where you live in country, are going to be important. Now, this is still going to be new for some conservatives, who are just now getting it. The benefit of those is that all the books have already been written. They can just pick up Carson’s book and (? ) people out with it.

6 responses to ““Emergent” is dead, and the leftovers have gone to the Christian Left, neo-Anabaptism, and neo-Puritanism

  1. Sounds accurate enough in broad terms but some refinement required. I baulked at the description of us neo-Anabaptists as withdrawalist but noted your comment, “Claiborne’s Jesus for President video had a lot about engagement politically. Not neo-Anabaptist in the sense of withdrawalist. So I’m confused.” I took comfort in your confusion. The answer lies in the recognition that rejection of dominance politics does notequate to rejection of political involvement. Pacifism is not the same this as passivism, it’s actually nonviolent activism.

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