19 June 2009


by Phil Johnson

s Emergent fizzling, or is it already completely finished? That's the topic on the table this month in the Emerging Conversation—or what's left of that phenomenon. You can read about it here, here, here, and here. The one person whose perspective I'd most like to hear from the Emergent side, Andrew Jones, has dropped out of the blogosphere.

For a totally different (and clearer) perspective, the always-sardonic Remonstrans has the best analysis here.

I'd like to think the Po-Motivators® hastened the demise of Emergent, but let's face it; the movement was doomed by its own radical principles from the start. Brian always said everything must change. The "National Coordinator" thing was clearly a misconceived idea. In the words of one angry Emergent bad-boy: "A coordinator!? For a 'conversation'? Give me a break!"

Of course, the erstwhile coordinator himself, Tony Jones, isn't happy with that meme, but he more or less admits that he doesn't want to lead a revolution. He points out that Emergent has looked dead before but managed to get going again, and then he punts to Shane Claiborne.

But Mike Clawson notes that this time "emergent types" themselves are playing taps. Still, he doesn't believe the situation is as bad as many others are saying. "The emerging church doesn't go away just because you don't want to call yourself that anymore, and you don't stop being what you are just because you take down your 'Friend of Emergent Village' blog button. (Mrs. Clawson also weighs in here.)

For once I think Mike Clawson is right—sort of. The Emergent idea (really an agglomeration of neo-liberal ideas) isn't going to go away just because Tony Jones stepped down as National Coordinator. Emergent Village—the 501c3 organization—may indeed be in its death throes (and let's earnestly hope so). But the contempt for truth and clarity that gave rise to Emergent in the first is deeply engrained in secular culture. And as long as the church is full of wannabe hipsters who think the biblical mandate is to marry the culture rather than confront it, postmodern irrationalism and post-evangelical apostasies will simply mutate into new strains, blend into existing movements of all stripes, and continue to trouble the church for generations to come.

It's a gazillion times worse than swine flu.

And while you are thinking about what a mess various "missional" strategies are getting us into, here's something else to be concerned about.

Phil's signature


Gary said...

"Sexy photos don’t necessarily say much to prove or disprove her faith, he says, but reveal more about how she sees herself and hopes to attain happiness."


steve said...

Thanks for the article and links, Phil. Very interesting reading.

I agree with your observation that mutations of this will always crop up. As Victor Davis Hanson said in a blogpost the other day, "30 years of postmodern teaching in our law and graduate schools have insidiously convinced many of our elites that there is no absolute truth, only competing narratives that take on credence depending on the race, class, gender, and access to power of those who speak."

The disappointment expressed in the posts you linked just goes to show that man-contrived and man-centered movements are always destined to fail.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Disbelief in Christ will always be with us, and will sometimes masquerade as belief. The name of each decade's movement will change, but the unbelief will be there still.

Lee Shelton said...

"But the contempt for truth and clarity that gave rise to Emergent in the first is deeply engrained in secular culture."

Dr. Peter Masters would probably say that Emergent is being replaced by the New Calvinism.

Phil Johnson said...

Lee: "Dr. Peter Masters would probably say that Emergent is being replaced by the New Calvinism."

I doubt he'd say "replaced." I gather he thinks certain kinds of hipster religion that have been labeled neo-calvinism are tainted with different (perhaps even more resistant) strains of the postmodern virus, and that they therefore represent a bigger and more immediate threat to historic Calvinist & evangelical convictions.

If that is indeed what he is saying, I think there's probably enough truth in it that people (in certain Baptist circles on this side of the Atlantic especially) ought to listen to him earnestly and sort through his points before blowing him off completely.

Perhaps we'll devote a blogpost to that subject one day. It really isn't the topic here, though, so let's not derail this comment thread with it.

candy said...

I regarded Heidi and Spencer with their psuedo Christian non-celebrity/celebrity status as horrific from the start. Too bad the reality show isn't based on the idea of taking all C-list celebrities and dropping them off in a very very remote jungle, (or central Nevada in the middle of summer...far from Vegas) and let them fight real life elements and then report back to us. Or not.

Unknown said...

Why the big fuss over this "movement" that "was doomed by its own radical principles from the start"?

Aren't there more worthy targets these days? This controversy feels a bit small-minded. A bit gossipy too.

Rick Frueh said...

The emergent church movement has just experienced the sophmore slump. It will continue to grow, if not in name then in practice and belief. This point of the "journey" cannot compare with the rapid growth of the embryonic stage of the movement, but I think we make a mistake to interpret it as dying or death.

People like MacLaren, Tickle, Bell, Rollins, and many more foot soldiers are reproducing, howbeit the novelty has worn off. But it will continue to morph and the presentation will resemble a turning kaleidoscope, but it has established a beachhead.

Jerry Wragg said...

"But the couple’s awkward public embrace of religion has left some true believers flummoxed. The pro-Christian message that Speidi is espousing becomes garbled when blended with TV’s need for sensation and sleaze."

Hmmm...let's see...a pro-Christian message garbled with sleaze...that's sounds strangely familiar...wasn't there a church somewhere offering a similar mix?

Jerry Wragg said...

Sorry Phil...

[Note to self: "Stay on topic," stay on topic..."]

Futbolfrk said...

No offense, but I don't think anybody can claim the death of the "emergent church"-- it's not like it's anything new. The Church has seen heresies come and go. To breathe a sigh of relief also would come too soon-- the only time we will get relief from problems within the Church is when Jesus comes back.

I might almost be sad if the emergent Church falls apart-- first, many bloggers will be out of business. Second, the legalists will once again be in charge. The liberal front of the Church almost balanced them out in a weird sort of way.

Oh well, it's Jesus's Church anyway--

Jerry Wragg said...

If the ECM is really just Modernism 2.0, then it is simply experiencing an inevitable "updated version" of its own self-absorbed arrogance. McLaren may promote a conversation within a community, but sooner or later individual arrogance takes over and the power struggle ensues, leading to all kinds of individual, hostile takeovers. Every Anti-foundationalist is nothing more than a "my-foundationalist" masquerading as "open."

"Emergent" was a doomed label given to a very active and age-old suppression of the truth in unrighteousness.

Nash Equilibrium said...

I don't think it can be said that there is a continuum with the Emergent Church on one end, and legalists on the other end.

More likely, there would be a continuum with "salvation without repentance" on one end, and "salvation through repentance alone" on the other. In the middle would be "salvation through grace with repentance as a fruit" or something like that (I'm not a theologian, so I could easily be off on this).

Phil Johnson said...

CJ: "the legalists will once again be in charge. The liberal front of the Church almost balanced them out in a weird sort of way."


Seriously? That's the only two options you can envision? Liberalism or legalism? And you think they balance each other out?

Hand me the Tylenol.


As Frank Turk might say . . .

DJP said...

...and Frank would be right, as usual.

wordsmith said...

If indeed it is the end (or at least the beginning of the end) of emerg*, it will be none too soon. But it really shouldn't come as a surprise when a movement / conversation / faction / whatever that is "broken as designed" falls apart under the weight of its own internal contradictions.

Good riddance.

frankfusion said...

Thank's for the post sir. But remember, Parchment and Pen called it first!! (And caused them much grief in the process). You're right, this will split into something else. But I have some hope for what may come. There is already a "Missional Collective" (based on the Lusane Covenant) being developed by Dan Kimball and Erwin Mcmannus. Where that will go is still unsure. I do have hope for the young reformed out there (New Calvinist just doesn't sound right) and have been glad to star many conversations with them here and across the pond at my own page. And that gives me hope. Will they get it right? Not sure about that, but hearing about last week's Resolved conference gives me hope that it's on a good trajectory.

Nash Equilibrium said...

It seems to me that as long as there are people who want to feel religious or spiritual while continuing to enjoy their sins, there will be a market for Emergent theology, by some other name.

Chris Connally said...

These emergents sound like a bunch of rich spoiled college kids sitting around talking about how hard their lives have been and how misunderstood they are. Their solution? Let's talk about talking about a revolution of epic proportions. Hey, who's up for some Starbucks before we start this conversation about the conversation that will revolutionize the conversation?

~Mark said...

And while you are thinking about what a mess various "missional" strategies are getting us into...

My home fellowship's Missional and Growth-Centered strategies finally drove me out and looking for a new church home. It became all about the numbers and the feelings.

Tom Austin said...

Some others are funnier, but here's my vote for the Pomotivator that captures why the E* conversation must inevitably implode.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Basically I was like, you know, I read what you said, and I had like, cuz see, I kinda come at it from a different perspective, like I totally don't begrudge frustration or anything like that, but I'm kind of wondering like, I guess for me it was sort of like, I understand it, but like, what is, what was your expectation, you know, like I guess, that's me, it seems like the hardest part to swallow about what you're saying is you sort of said that you and your friends expected everything to kind of change and it's not really changing you know.

One sentence. I kid you not.

To the new "leaders"...

"Truly, you have a dizzying intellect."

DJP said...

...and JULIE scores the first Princess Bride reference! Yeah!

Herding Grasshoppers said...


And for homeschool points... could you diagram that sentence? Or perhaps translate it into English?

DJP said...



Herding Grasshoppers said...


Solameanie said...

Jane, you're playing a game you never can win, girl . . .

Sorry for the Jefferson Starship reference. I couldn't resist. At least I didn't Youtube you.

Seriously, one reason this subject has merited so much attention might just be because of the way it has split churches in half across the country. It's done a lot of damage. And, as others have pointed out, even if the official EC shrivels up, the ideas will just morph into another form and begin growing again.

donsands said...

"..here's something else to be concerned about."

Are you talking about the TV show: I'm a Celebrity..Get Me Out of Here"?

Seems like a crazy show, but not an EMC thing. Stephen Baldwin is a different kind of brother to be sure, but I sort of like the guy.

"There is already a "Missional Collective" (based on the Lusane Covenant) being developed by Dan Kimball and Erwin Mcmannus. Where that will go is still unsure."

As far as Dan Kimball, he's walking with Christ, and I'll leave it there.

That makes me think that this whole movement isn't really a movement. Not like Salvation Army, or John Wesley's Wesleyanism.

With Brian McLaren as a bonifide heretic, and Rob Bell as a very weak in the scriptures human-centered person, and Doug Pagitt; I'll just leave Pagitt as that, Doug Pagitt.

I suppose I need to learn more about this, and yet, be more, and overwhelming more, concerned about the Scriptures, and the things the Lord is really doing within the boundaries of His truth; His Word is truth.

Thanks for the good post. keep on contending for the Faith.

"We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ. We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. if we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is "of him."" -John Calvin

Anonymous said...

This quote from the Hopeful Skeptic seems odd to me:

"Emergent is de-centralizing, loosing leadership, and ten odd years into it, it still hasn’t been able to define itself completely."

Wasn't the whole point of Emerg*** to defy or perhaps transcend defining things? Hence, no "doctrinal statement", no "official leadership", etc...

Maybe I'm missing something...

Phil Johnson said...

DonSands: "Are you talking about the TV show: I'm a Celebrity..Get Me Out of Here"?"

I'm talking about the new wave of 2-bit celebs who claim to be Christians but have really poor post-"conversion" testimonies. (Stephen Baldwin, Speidi, and the former Miss California come quickly to mind.) It irritates me that so many Christians automatically extol these miscreants as if they were true Christians and legitimate spokespersons for the gospel.

It's the fruit of the church's failure to practice church discipline consistently. That problem is compounded by the ridiculous popular belief that charity obliges us to embrace without question all who claim to be Christians (especially, it seems, derelict and dysfunctional cultural icons)--no matter how deplorable their lifestyles (a la Gary Busey), no matter how unsanctified their moral standards (e.g., Jay Bakker), and no matter how heretical their teaching (McLaren & Co.).

donsands said...

"It irritates me that so many Christians automatically extol these miscreants as if they were true Christians and legitimate spokespersons for the gospel."

I see your point. And I agree.

I listened to James Dobson interview Miss California, and was very disturbed by his comparing her to Ester. She did not acknowledge Dobson's words however.

Seems there are those in the Church who are grasping for whatever comes along, and they extol it.

The Gospel is the power of God.

Burns me up really.

However, there are genuine children of the Lord here, and though Dobson, and others are wrong for putting them in the limelight, how are we to talk about them?

Is Stephen Baldwin my brother in Christ? I think he is.
Is there much immaturity, and a need to confront the way the church puts such people on pedestals? Absolutely.

I suppose the EMC and all that is similar to it is your point on this post.

Like Shane Claiborne, who to me is a bit different, and yet when I went to see his, 'Jesus for President', Brian McLaren was there playing his guitar.

The emergent "thing", and doctrines of this movement, cause me befuddlement, and I'm confused really.
Hopefully, I'll continue to learn.

Thanks Phil.

Anonymous said...

phil, of all the blog posts you link to, virtually none of them quote scripture and if they reference Jesus or the Holy Spirit, it's in a cursory, vague fashion.

oh of course, we're talking about the Emergent Movement.

sadly, the precious Emergent "conversation" will continue and always will. to use your virus analogy, it's like the flu - it'll always be around and new strains will always break out and ravage the true church in some way.

what i find to be a complete shame is that many people are so averse to absolute, Biblical truth. they say they love Christ and are "into Jesus". but i dont see how that's possible if one doesn't view the Bible as absolute, clear, and authoritative.

any movement that's more infatuated with itself than Jesus, that loves dancing on the periphery of truth rather than embracing and bleeding for it, is doomed to fail. one only has to read Acts 8:9-24 to see how a man who "believed" in Jesus but wasn't really interested in the Truth was doomed to destruction if he didn't repent.

it's interesting that brian mclaren talks about a major revolution (like the reformation) happening in the church every 400 or so years. maybe. except the EM is not one of those revolutions.

our collective resistance to the EM is the true revlolution.

Anonymous said...

Is the movement falling apart or is it just shifting as planned, deconstruction to reconstruction? Of course, it's not been too long that I even heard of this movement, and then could figure how it was different than seeker friendly and then emerging....still puzzled. Isn't the plan though to deconstruct and imact churches and then redefine? It's hard to tack an amoeba to the wall when the movement itself is changing into something else. Also, it might be fracturing or falling apart in many places, but some areas of the country may just be getting into this stuff for the first time...kind of like the "what happens on the coasts eventually meets in the middle" theory we have 'round the parts where I live. The trend ends somewhere and just gets started somewhere else.

Rachael Starke said...

Phil -

You forgot John and Kate. Ick.

As unpleasant and...unhelpful... as the Emerging movement has been, I actually am always far more grieved over the Hollywood-type Jesus talkers. I inevitably end up yelling at the T.V. "where are their pastors?? Where are their fathers??

I think it's really interesting that some of the worst representations of Christ in the media are usually borne out of the typical pursuit for fame and notoriety, while the best (like Steven Curtis Chapman and Lisa Beamer) are borne out of suffering.

Anonymous said...

I think if the emergent church is "finished," then so is "Fundamentalism;" since the former is actually the logical conclusion to the latter --- at a epistemological level.

Bobby Grow

candy said...

Rachel. Or in the case of Jessica Simpson....ummm...a little too much of her father.

John said...

What is the most distasteful part of the emergent conversation? The conversation. For a group that espouses post-modern ideas about epistemology and hermeneutics, the idea of a conversation is a little ridiculous. Perhaps they should take a clue from the greatest generation and actually go out and do something good, instead of talking about how rotten life is.
< /sarcasm>
< /frustration>

FX Turk said...

The clown will ultimately be my trademark stamp upon the Blogosphere.

Strange how things work.

Anonymous said...

Funny thing is, when we left our former church uh...about a year ago...our former lead pastor told us the emergent church was dying then. He said that his church was NOT emergent, though they were reading and promoting some emergent style authors and a local youth camp with leadership that just loves Tickle and all...

If that church wasn't tiptoeing emergent, how'd he know?

victoria said...

This will be my first time to leave a comment though I've lurked here for a while. So be kind.

I'm so confused on what makes a church "emergent/ing" (let alone the differences between "ent and ing")

My church lately has been talking a lot about being missional, communal and in community. Yet I KNOW it preaches the word and believes in absolutes. It just has a strong emphasis on being "missional" and "living out" one's faith.

I love my church, my pastor, and the people in the church.

So, how does one even figure this stuff out?

Andy Herron said...

Emergent is alive and well in the Birmingham, Al. area. It shows no signs of slowing down and seems to be building steam. The author of the shack is even scheduled to apear in August. Hopefully it is going to peak out soon.

donsands said...

"My church lately has been talking a lot about being missional, communal and in community." -victoria

Do you all talk a lot about Christ and His Word is the real question for us all I would think?

That's the bottom line for a good local church; Christ-contentedness. A love for Jesus, and seeking Him and His righteousness first, and loving one another is essential.

The "mission-al" stuff, or lingo, can be a way of saying we love Christ and worship Him only, and want to reach the lost for His glory, I suppose.

Have a blessed and good Lord's day in worship and fellowship.

victoria said...

"Do you all talk a lot about Christ and His Word is the real question for us all I would think? "

Oh my! Yes. We talk a lot about Christ and His Word.
Thanks for the words of encouragement.

Dr Bill said...

Hmmmm.... looks like Heidi is about 25 chapters short of being a Proverbs 31 woman.

Anonymous said...

Princess Bride references? Have I died and gone to blogger heaven?

The emergents-to-legalist continuim thingey falls flat with me. It doesn't seem like truth would be anywhere on the same line with error.
If they balance each other, all we get is well balanced error.

Anonymous said...

What I just wrote did not make any sense, even to me on re-read..
What I mean is....
The idea of postmodern/emergent stuff being on one end, and the equally abberant legalistic stuff being on the other, and the truth being somewhere in the middle seems miss the point that, despite our limited understanding of the truth, and our struggles with the gray areas, truth remains aloof from all this error. We are not dealing with degrees of truth, we are dealing with false vs. true. I think. Help me here.
Thinking out loud.
I guess that since Jesus Himself declare He was the truth, this elevates the truth in His person and His word above speculation to the higher and surer level of revelation.
I have always thought both the emergents and legalist are into prideful speculation. Nothin' good ever comes from that.