11 January 2010

Village Idiots

by Phil Johnson

"With the meltdown of the visible movement, Emergent thinking is being dispersed like so many dandelion seeds into the broad evangelical movement, which was overrun with religious weeds in the first place.

The demise of Emergent Village is by no means the end of Emergent thinking."

—Phil Johnson, 11 January 2010

mergent Village is collapsing on itself. The EV Weblog, once a busy and heavily-trafficked stream of Emergent semi-consciousness (replete with a near-manic discussion forum) is barely functioning these days. The current average wait-time between posts over there is at least two weeks. In fact, the eight posts currently residing on the EV blog's front page constitute everything that has been posted on that blog since September 9. One of the posts is a desperate-sounding "Call for Voices," and another begs readers to "Save the House of Mercy Podcast," which, evidently, has been gasping for life over the past year.

It's already too late, I gather, to save the official Emergent Village Podcast. Their last release was in mid-August.

Meanwhile, Emergent Village's best-known celebrity voices have likewise fallen silent—mostly. Andrew Jones and Tony Jones, both living icons of "emergence," had a little back-and-forth exchange last week, which culminated in Andrew's public, formal separation from the organization. I'll give a link to that exchange in a moment.

First, take a look at this. It's a document that was drafted in 2005 (shortly after I began blogging) to defend "the work of emergent" from critics who were raising serious questions and sounding alarms about the dangerous trajectory the movement was following. The document was co-signed by seven de facto leaders in the movement: Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Spencer Burke, Brian McLaren, Dan Kimball, Andrew Jones, and Chris Seay. Five years after that document's publication, portions of it are almost humorous and its blithe tone of dismissal is more infuriating than ever. After re-reading it yesterday, I had a brief daydream about making copies with a big We told you so! xeroxed diagonally across the front. It would be nice to distribute them like tracts to the still-Emergent remnant at their next convention—if there are actually enough Emergents left to convene such a gathering. Are there any early, vocal critics of "emergence" who feel no such temptation? If so, they are to be commended for their restraint. I'm not that sanctified yet.

Anyway, the sink-hole that was once Emergent Village will continue to fade into irrelevance. The remnant who are still there will experiment with more and more heretical ideas. They will also be even more drawn to the spiritual idiocy that has plagued the place from day one. After all, virtually everyone associated with EV who ever had any inclination to whisper an occasional word of spiritual sanity has already left the building. It's been more than a year since Dan Kimball began to keep his distance. He said he was going to link up with Scot McKnight (and others) and start a network using the Lausanne Covenant as their common ground. So far that new network has been even more silent than the new Emergent Village, but the point is that Kimball, McKnight, and others have been backing away from their early alliance with Emergent. They aren't even speaking the language of emergence these days. (Hopefully, they are still discussing fresh ways to imagine and explore postmodern spiritualities in a Lausanne context. If so, I can hardly wait till they break silence about it.)

So here's that link to Andrew Jones's announcement: "Goodbyes to Emergent Village." I'll throw in this other link that will get you started tracing the brief exchange between the Joneses that culminated in Andrew's withdrawal.

You wonder why I've hardly posted anything about Emergent/ing Christianity for the past year? The movement has been self-destructing nicely without any help from me.

Does this mean we can all relax and drop our guard against the postmodern mentality, neo-liberal doctrines, and quasi-Socinian tendencies that originally provoked our concerns about the Emergent/ing Church Movement more than five years ago? Not on your life. With the meltdown of the visible movement, Emergent thinking is being dispersed like so many dandelion seeds into the broad evangelical movement, which was overrun with religious weeds in the first place.

The demise of Emergent Village is by no means the end of Emergent thinking. If you doubt that, read the comments under the "Tall Skinny Kiwi" posts linked above. And pay close attention to what Andrew himself says—and doesn't say—about the reasons for his departure.

As a matter of fact, the comments at Andrew's blog last week were both informative and troubling on several levels. It's clear that the real catalyst hastening Emergent Village's meltdown is something more than a few key leaders' sudden doctrinal scruples. It seems a moral scandal of televangelist proportions is about to "emerge." Serious accusations from credible sources have been floating around for months and popped up last week in a couple of comment-threads. (They were subsequently deleted by blog administrators.) I'm not going to describe those accusations here or host a discussion about the brewing scandal. (I'm fairly confident the facts will eventually come to light.) My point here is merely that we shouldn't assume that the collapse of the Emergent/ing movement ends the threat of Emergent/ing ideology.

What it more likely means is that the fight for clarity, conviction, and the authority of Scripture is going to become more difficult than ever in the mainstream of the evangelical movement. Buckle up. This is probably not going to be an easy ride.

Phil's signature


James Scott Bell said...

Are there any early, vocal critics of "emergence" who feel no such temptation? If so, they are to be commended for their restraint. I'm not that sanctified yet.


Five years ago I saw it as a 30/70 thing. 30% of this "conversation" was a critique of evangelicalism that had some needed bite. But the 70% that was a response (i.e., a positive case for what to do) was chaotic, vapid and ultimately harmful.

Nash Equilibrium said...

I agree with your conclusion. There are two possibilities to why EV would be disbanded: 1) Lack of interest; 2) They've accomplished their mission to confuse everyone's thinking, in record time.
As I look about society, it seems just as likely that it's the latter, rather than the former.

olan strickland said...

The demise of Emergent Village is by no means the end of Emergent thinking. If you doubt that..., you are more emergent than you realize :)

Marshall Jones, Jr. said...

"With the meltdown of the visible movement, Emergent thinking is being dispersed like so many dandelion seeds into the broad evangelical movement, which was overrun with religious weeds in the first place."

This is so important. The breakdown in structure (if that's what it was called) only leads to infiltration into other corners. The thinking is still very much alive - now it just goes by other names. Which is worse?

-Marshall Jones Jr.

Brad Williams said...


You know, this post brings up something that is always in the back of my mind as a pastor. I'm in rural Alabama, and I can honestly say the person I have met that has been influenced by these guys seems fairly minimal. So basically, if your assessment is correct, they have come and gone with little fanfare in my neck of the woods.

How do you decide which problems are worth the investment of your time? As it pops up in the church? Your community? For me, it seems that these guys are just a distraction from more profitable study.

Brad Williams said...

Haha. What a lousy comment I just left. I wrote, "I can honestly say the person I have met that has been influenced by these guys seems fairly minimal." Yeah, I know one guy who has been influenced by "emergent" and he is minimal. Yikes. I need another cup of coffee.

I meant to say that the influence of this type of thing seems minimal here. And my comment was not meant as a critique of what you guys have done here. I only meant it as a question as how you decide which problems to spend your energy on.

Nash Equilibrium said...

In rural Ohio, the effect seems minimal too - except among pastors. They (esp. of the recent-seminary-grad or iwannabigchurch ilk) seem to be the ones who are most likely to be drawn to this stuff from what I've seen. And then the dandelion seed effect kicks in among those they lead. A lot of time this way of thinking incubates in a less than obvious way, so it might be closer at hand than you think. That's been my experience, anyway.

CH said...


What's your assessment of Rob Bell's influence at the present?

Do you think his influence has waned any?

JR said...

They have become like Al-Qaeda: decentralized.

I hear EV is thriving in Yemen.

FX Turk said...

"Thriving in Yemen" ought to be the title of an epic U2 CD.

Nash Equilibrium said...

You mean Yemen is a tax haven? :-)

Perhaps the most unscrupulous tax-dodger in recent years is the self-styled Saviour of the Universe™ – Bono (and his band members from U2). In one of the most galling displays of hypocrisy in the history of mankind the Nobel Peace Prize nominee and his band moved their music publishing company from Ireland to The Netherlands in 2006. Impelled by a change in Irish taxation by which the previous artists’ tax exemption was to be capped at around £170,000 ($330,000), Time Magazine’s Person of the Year 2005 decided on a swift move to the musician’s tax-haven of The Netherlands to make the most of the country’s enticing 1.5% royalty tax.

All in a days work for one of the world’s most lucrative bands and a widely celebrated champion of the poor and downtrodden. You may remember Bono pleading for the people of the rich world to donate money to help the poor and for the governments to donate more of their taxpayers’ money in the name of global aid – obviously Bono and his band are exempt from such matters

Unknown said...

Well U2 better hurry up and make the CD before Lieberman sends some high explosives their way! :P

Nash Equilibrium said...

Believe it or not, the Irish recently passed a law specifically to do away with Bono's ability to avoid royalty taxes by going off to Amsterdam. I don't think that has anything to do with Emergent Village, but it is at least tangentially connected to the subject of Idiots.

donsands said...

"and start a network using the Lausanne Covenant"

And I think Erwin McManus is involved in this as well.

Seems the EMC people who truly regard the Bible as a precious treasure from God will be lead away from those who have a low regard for the Bibel, such as McLaren, Bell, and Pagitt.

The Word of God seperates the true from the false, even when the false may be loving and kind, etc.

Thanks for the good post. God wants us to hear the truth, speak the truth, and know the truth, so we can be set free from all the many winds of twister doctrines blowing in the world, and Church today.

William Fawcett said...

Causes me to wonder if Kluck and DeYoung's seminal work may have had an impact.

Jim Pemberton said...

The failure of the web site isn't a great indicator. A falling away of many who are not truly Christian isn't a bad thing, and I certainly hope it's true that they aren't holding out in some other way.

But there may be something more generally instructive for our local churches. While truth never changes, ministry often does. I've seen plenty of ministries die with some people wondering why other people didn't stay faithful to the ministry. We must understand that ministries have lifespans. The end of a ministry must be considered from the beginning where new ministries may come in afterward to do the next work. I've seen churches fail because they stagnated ministerially. Some ministries are long-term. Others are rather short term. All must work together to fulfill God's purposes.

When they aren't particularly faithful to God, let's hope they die quickly like this one, putting us out of their misery.

Bobby Grow said...

The 'emergents' are just 'fundies' who have taken their pietism to its logical conclusion. Just see George Marsden's Fundamentalism and American Culture for more historical context.

I'm glad to see that Dan Kimball has backed away from EV; he's a fellow alum from Multnomah (although before my time). Although it sounds like he is still into the emergent church (whatever that means anymore), does anyone know where Dan is at?

Nash Equilibrium said...

I think I last saw him in a Green Acres re-run. Oh, sorry, that was Hank Kimball - my bad!

Anonymous said...

Hi Phil,

You mentioned the Origins network -and we did announce it at Catalyst West Coast last April. Since then we have had some meetings and and we have putting time into thinking through what specifically it will be. It was birthed to be focusing on evangelism and mission. That is why I got into the original emerging church discussion - it was a passion to see the next generation reached with the gospel of Jesus.

We chose the Lausanne Covenant http://www.lausanne.org/covenant as it is written globally and focused on mission and from the start want to lay out doctrine so there is no confusion or mystery about doctrinal beliefs.

We have had several podcasts this past year and we launched a web site. So we are only the in early stages. Our first major event is in July 22-24, 2010 in Pasadena. Catalyst West Coast also has an "Origins" tract that will be part of the event in April in Southern California.

Anyway, thought I would give a quick update since you raised it up in this post. And if you ever (or anyone else) has questions about this or anything I personally teach or believe, be sure to just directly ask me and not speculate so no confusion or misunderstanding happens, as has happened in the past here. My email is dan@vintagefaith.com and I would happy to directly answer any questions about anything about Origins or about theology or questions you have about this.

Thank you! Hope we get to meet up sometime.


Mike Riccardi said...

I just went to the local Christian bookstore while waiting for my car to finish the oil change and wash. It was very discouraging.

An older man came in looking for "effective youth materials." The clerk promptly recommended Rob Bell's stuff, saying that at her church they've "worked really well" with the kids.

The Seeking Disciple said...

Great post. I agree that the emergent movement (thank the Lord) is fading though some churches are bent on copying "the conversation" started. How we need a return to the Bible and not a return to the postmodernism found at EV or any other emergent site.

Solameanie said...

Strategem, you had me almost spewing water on my computer with that last sally. Hilarious.

Phil, I remember the artwork you linked once showing Brian McLaren in an Alice-in-Wonderland-type setting. I think it's time for a new piece showing the Emergent movement as the Borg, or perhaps the Salt Vampire from the old Star-Trek series, which could morph into anything. The Borg would perhaps be the best one. It adapts. It morphs. It assimilates. And that's exactly what the EC will do now. It's not going away. It's just morphing into the next disguise or form.

Unknown said...

"The Borg would perhaps be the best one. It adapts. It morphs. It assimilates.

And that's exactly what the EC will do now. It's not going away. It's just morphing into the next disguise or form."


Lou Martuneac said...


IMO, some the most comprehensive research, scrutiny and biblical response to the Emergent movement has, and is being done by Robert Congdon. For example I draw your attention to a brief two-part series he published titled,

Christian And Emergent:
Can You Be Both?

For example,

Today, a spiritual ‘Trojan horse’ is seeking to enter Bible-believing churches. Once inside, spiritual defeat is inevitable. People’s susceptibility is their uneasiness about the future of their church. They are aware of declining attendance, fewer being saved, fewer young people in the churches, and fewer going to the mission field. Put simply, there is a growing awareness of spiritual defeat. Today’s Emergent Church movement offers a solution to churches; but is it of God or man?

Paul’s last words to his protégé, Timothy, and to us, provide the answer to this question. In 2 Timothy 3:1-5 Paul declares that ‘…in the last days’ of the Church Age, the church will witness and experience critical times involving peril or danger. That danger will be a counterfeit religious movement within the churches, having a ‘form of godliness’ similar to genuine Christianity, ‘but denying the power thereof’ (vs.5).

Hope you and your guests find this helpful.


PS: I wholeheartedly agree with Solameanie who wrote, “The Borg would perhaps be the best one. It adapts. It morphs. It assimilates. And that's exactly what the EC will do now. It's not going away. It's just morphing into the next disguise or form.

Sir Brass said...


Dirka dirka kumbayah?


I agree that the Emergent movement is now even more dangerous. It is now decentralized and gone guerrilla in the local churches (like Rob Bell's nooma videos which seem to have gone viral within doctrinally-scarce parachurches and youth groups). Just like in actual warfare, if the organized opposition goes to ground and starts fighting guerilla against you, then your job just got a WHOLE lot harder (despite the outward appearance of victory).

Nash Equilibrium said...

Yes, we must learn from the lessons of history about declaring victory too soon:
Mission Accomplished

It was a cheap shot, but aside from its overuse, perfectly fitting to the situation.

Sir Brass said...

stratagem, sadly that is too true.

corinthian said...

I think Mike makes a good point. The damage to Christianity done by the EV has only just begun because of all the books and videos that franchised Christian Bookstores carry. Places like B&N and Borders will continue to carry these books as well. These books questioning and twisting Christianity will be sold for years to come whereas we will probably be focused on other subjects. Even here it was stated that we haven't said much about EV because it is falling apart on it's own, but those books and curriculum are still on shelves everywhere!
It is discouraging as a Youth Pastor to see a) the theological garbage of some curriculum and b) the inability or unwillingness of youth pastors to be clear and discerning in what they present to the young. Millstones....

Hanani Hindsfeet said...

If they respond to Phil's post over at the EV and other emergo-blogs, I can feel one final Pomotivational poster coming on...


(With the dead horse picture)

Caption: We'll keep going: the "deceased equine" concept is such an obsolete, traditionalist method of analysis...

Rick Frueh said...

I have the distinct feeling that the ideas and heresies will be much more dangerous due to the lack of a organized target and catch all label. The organized element will now coalesce more distinctly around personalities than "doctrines" or lack thereof.

The death of the label "emergent" will also seen by many as proof of the wolf cry essence of discerners. It would be hard to imagine evangelicalism any more ambivalent than is presently enjoyed, but who could have imagined the emergent movement either?

The ride has just become more dangerous even though it continues to become more smoothe.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what the next thing is? I believe we have witnessed many different steps leading to the next step. I began to pay attention when I noticed the "seeker friendly" thing that morphed into distaste for itself. People then began to get emergent. Then there was (and still is) the contemplative/disciplines thing. These things seemt to coexist in one church at times, but individual churches can have each flavor. Some more conservativish churches step into emergent but not completely. Liberal churches go into acceptance of all things politically correct. Some are smiling with seeker friendly fluffy puffs. Suddenly, realizing they are fluffy puffs, they bring in some rhetoric to make their congregation feel guilty for going with the fad. Next comes the serious deeper prayer and self denial. What will come next? I am scared for people out there not paying attention...and trust me, it took a while for me to see it all around.