Four Models of Emerging Churches

four models

I’ve had a lot of vested interest in the emerging church for a number of years now, partly because of my own previous experience in communities that reflected many of the qualities present in Bolger and Gibb’s “Emerging Churches,” and partly because upon reading that book I was better able to organize my own disparate thoughts on the future of the “emerging” Friends church, or what we now convergent Friends. But there is often a too complicated debate over who and what the emerging church (EC) is, whether it is a good thing, and who really represents this “movement.” I am not really interested in defending or critiquing this movement, though I am personally in favor of at least some of the expressions within these groups, because I think the church should always be contextualizing its message the best it can. But this doesn’t really help us understand the who and the what of the EC. That said, I have been playing around with various ways of categorizing these various emerging groups, and I wanted to throw out this very early, proto-typology and see how it flies.

A Couple Disclaimers

But before I give them, let me offer a few disclaimers. First, these categories are not necessarily mutually exclusive, I’ve seen some of these groups sharing practices, and thinkers and are influenced by a variety of theological and philosophical positions. So my “proto-typology (if you will allow me the designation),” is meant to offer a really broad stroke to start a conversation, about the rich variety in this post-modern church. Hopefully, the conversation will be one that will in fact help make this list more accurate and better yet, help us be more faithful to the Gospel in our world. Second, I absolutely hate typologies. Absolutely and completely. Third, these categories are not based on new field research, but rather my own readings (and interpretations) of a variety of authors and positions. In other words, I am not trying to create a final word on this, but rather a (really) rough guide. Fourth, my stock is ultimately not in the emerging church, it is in the Quaker tradition so if anything my bias lays with the peace church.

Wow that’s a long list of disclaimers!

The way I’ve tried to construct these categories is around a) philosophers and theologians who have influenced these groups, and b) their stance towards Western culture.

Four Types of Emerging Churches and their Thinkers

  1. Deconstructionist Model: Probably the most well known group of emerging churches these churches are truly postmodern in just about every sense of the word. These are Christians influenced mainly by deconstruction, a philosophical approach invented on the continent. In their holy readings of philosophical discourse Derrida, Lyotard, Foucault and Caputo would be there. Much of the focus is on adopting postmodernity, and contextualizing the Gospel accordingly. Peter Rollins’ Ikon in Ireland would be a good example of one such group. I think Tony Jones and Brian McLaren would also fall under this category. I would say they are accommodating to postmodern culture, against modernism, and often against the institutional church making them lean towards a sort of non-denominationalism.
  2. Pre-modern/Augustinian Model: This model would be the second most influential within the EC, and can be in (friendly) opposition to the first group. Instead of understanding postmodernism in terms of Nietzschean philosophy as group one would do, this model leans more towards a Renaissance styled post-modernism (similar to what is represented in Toulmin’s Cosmopolis). Whether this group is truly early modern or whether it reaches back further to the pre-modern era I am not quite clear on, but St. Augustine and St. Thomas are key figures for this group. This is the where the Radical Orthodoxy of John Milbank, James K. Smith and others would fall. We see some catholics here, as well as other theologians that tend towards placing a higher emphasis on tradition within the overall framework of the Christian faith, rather than simply contextualization. This group would be see history as having shown us a better way, and if we reach back far enough we may be able to find wisdom that will help us in our quest of faith today. They would be more favorable towards institutional church, and have a pretty clear understanding of what kind of church we ought to become, but would also be seen as nostalgic and trying to uphold an institution that has often oppressed and violated those we are called to help.
  3. Emerging Peace Church Model (Or Open Anabaptism): This model of the emerging church stresses the non-conformist tendencies of Jesus, and thus the church should follow in his footsteps through non-violence, love of enemy and caring for the poor. This one may be closest to a kind of new monasticism that has so often been written about in recent times. While there are people from the various peace churches involved in this type of church, there are also people from a variety of traditions who are seeking to contextualize the Gospel within our culture. This group does not accept any one style of culture as being good, thus their non-conformist attitude is directed at modernity and postmodernity alike. They see Jesus (and his incarnation) as their primary model for engaging culture. They are influenced by Wittgenstein, Barth, Bonhoeffer, John H. Yoder, McClendon and Nancey Murphy to name a few. In this group you will find people like Jarrod McKenna and the Peace Tree, Shane Claiborne, some Mennonites, Rob Bell’s Mars Hill, Submergent, Jesus Radical and convergent Friends, to name a few. This group is counter any kind of Christendom styled church and thus would be sometimes for and sometimes against institutionalization, and would see contextualization as important only up to the point that it remains ultimately an extension of Jesus’ ministry and message.
  4. Foundationalist Model: This model of the emerging church is more conservative in their reading of Scripture and modern approaches to ecclesiology (standard preacher-centered teaching, music for worship, etc) while seeking to be innovative in their approaches to evangelism. This may come in the form of people meeting in pubs, having tatoos, cussing from the pulpit, playing loud rock music for worship and adding a layer of “alternative-ness” to their overall church service. These churches can be found within larger church communities, or can be on their own, sometimes as a large (possibly mega) church. They follow standard Evangelicalism in that they aren’t attach to traditions, and come out politically and theologically conservative, while maintaining a more accomodational stance toward culture in the name of evangelism, they will ultimately look similar to older church communities theologically. This is where I think theologians like Millard J. Erickson or D.A. Carson have a lot of influence. And where practitioners such as Mark Driscoll, Dan Kimball, Erwin McManus and many “emerging services” within mega-church congregations like Willow Creek might be found.

How These Are Connected To Local Bodies

Within these four models (are there more?), there are also a variety of ways for understanding what “church” is and how (and where) worship should be conducted. Just because it’s an EC doesn’t mean that it isn’t a part of a traditional church, Presbymergent (Presbyterian), and Tribal Generation (Anglican) are two examples of a mainline model of church being a part of the above groups. Then there is the mega-sized churches (like Mars Hill in Michigan and Seattle) who even though the church is huge they are able to maintain a number of qualities that make their communities fit within the groups above. Then there are the more blue-collar churches, or lay-inspired groups, like Kester Brewin’s Re-Imagine and Ikon mentioned above. In these communities what is most important for these groups is connecting with those outside the church, involving as many people as possible in as many ways as imaginable and being creative with whatever you have. They tend to be small in size and spread out in terms of leadership and often won’t have much in the way of paid staff. Then there are the groups who see themselves within a narrative unity of a larger tradition, but radical enough to be innovative and often times break outside the hardened mold of that tradition. Here (I think) would be more of the Radical Orthodoxy and Emerging Peace church groups. They may meet in tradition church buildings, or elsewhere, and worship will often take its cues from its tradition but then seek to build on that tradition in a variety of ways.

I hope this is somewhat helpful, and if you have some suggestions by way of clarification please feel free to chime in. I am not trying to make one look better than another (I’ve already said my biases). This is simply to help frame who is in the conversation and where they are coming from.

EDITED: 3:50pm 1.16.2008 (Added content to #4)


59 responses to “Four Models of Emerging Churches”

  1. This is a really compelling and helpful topography

    I guess it’s my particular interest speaking here – but I’m curious about how you would see these four streams in relation to theology and culture. In particular, how they approach theological method and sources and what they see as the critical cultural forms and their relationships with them.

    For me, there’s a little biography at work here – starting at 4., then moving briefly through 2. (Romantic Model?), then settling in 1. before moving to 3. Each shift along the way was preciptated for me by questions about the interaction between theological method, living church community and mission.

  2. Like fernando I have a personal narrative with the types. I, like most who were raised in the church, started at #4. I then deconstructed those ideas in #1, sought some brief stability in #2 and ended up in #3 when I wanted to reconstruct something.

    And while types are always limited in what they can describe, they can definitely be helpful in getting our heads around what is going on. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. this is a very helpful typology. though #1 particularly resonates with me at this point, i, like fernando, see a bit of an implicit progression. that’s been my personal experience at least. again, very helpful. thanks for sharing.

  4. @ Fernado – can you expound upon what you mean here?

    I’m curious about how you would see these four streams in relation to theology and culture. In particular, how they approach theological method and sources and what they see as the critical cultural forms and their relationships with them.

    I mentioned a few basic things a long these lines, but am not sure exactly what you mean in terms of method and sources? Do you have something in mind here?

    @fernando, blake, daniel — I like how you’ve strung this together into more a biographical sketch, something I hadn’t considered when I was thinking it Through. I think my path would follow Fernando as well. I am sure not everyone would follow this same progression but it will be interesting to see where people are coming from.

  5. In general terms our foundationalist friends seem to be very tuned into popular culture, where the romantics have more interest in things like architecture are fine arts and the deconstructionists veer towards literature and to a lesser extent modern visual arts.

    That’s the broad-stroke of the direction this got me thinking…

  6. good stuff, I would agree with more of a narrative experience moving through them all and currently finding myself somewhere that includes flavors/ themes/threads from all of them in a type 5 amalgamation …. and assuming that I won’t stay here either hehe

  7. Wess, I like this paradigm. It’s helpful as a conceptual model. I think there is often quite a bit of overlap, as you mentioned, particularly between #1, 2 & 3. Kind of like love languages, we may identify especially/primarily with one stream, but draw on many for the greatest expression of our faith.

  8. Wess, this is a great start to an important conversation. I am coming from non-emergent to maybe-emergent (??), and resonate most clearly with #3 because of my Quaker upbringing. One question: in my infantile understanding of EC, it seems as though most would chafe against classification. Is this so? Is it possible to systematize something that seems so amorphous?

  9. Wess,

    This is very helpful in that it has helped me get my head around some of these things. It’s been a progression for me, in that I really latched onto the idea of “deconstruction”, especially coming out of all my years in the church (both as a pastor’s kid and being on staff currently of a church). But I don’t want to just deconstruct and so I have moved towards probably more of the third group (Bell, etc), though wanting to embrace more of John Milbank’s ideology in some areas. So you right in that they aren’t mutually exclusive….but like others, my personal narrative has shaped my journey in this area. As both a grad of the M.Div. and MFT program at Fuller, I’ve really liked the work of some narrative therapists, and have tried to use that in theology as well….the concept of reconstructing, not just deconstructing has been important for me….reconstructing and reframing things in a helpful manner rather than constantly critiquing which is what I think some of the first group does a lot of.

  10. @Fernando – Ahh – great suggestion. I agree with your broad strokes, I think that could certainly be developed further. Do you see the open Anabaptist group building on those three, or borrowing their insights, or something different altogether?

    @Mak – I do feel like there’s room for a fifth category and I’ve thought long and hard about what it is but can’t come up with any strong categorization. A catch all might be the way to go. On the other hand I see #3 and #4 as kind of catch all positions in one way or another. The first two are pretty strong on their particular methodologies where the second two may or may not be tied to one school of thought – though I guess foundationalism would limit where you could go.

    Maybe a post-foundatialist/holist group, or an angl0-american philosophical group would be #5, but would have to be different than #3 in some significant ways (because I see #3 as holding to some of this as well).

    @Jemila – Totally, I have been thinking all morning about how there are strong overlaps in a number of the people I mentioned above. The Love Languages is a good metaphor for it.

  11. wess. nice thoughts. sorry it took so long for me to respond. it’s been a crazy day. i like you’re categories. i’m like everyone else. i think there is a whole lot of overlap and even some ambiguity between them. but since i see myself more as #1 i’m not a huge fan of the being labeled deconstructionist. i guess i am as long as everyone knows that deconstruction is more nuanced then just griping and moaning and throwing out everything we don’t like. but the list is good. it does what a good list should do and gives people some handles to begin to navigate. the only problem with “handles” though is that because there is so much overlap and ambiguity, on any given day, at any given time, you might find me floating through, simultaneously even, any of these categories.

  12. Very fascinatings stuff for me a Catholic. There seem to be ever growing and expanding ways of looking at Christianity and defining what is the “true” message. It seems there are as many answers as there are churches or people.

  13. @Mark Van Steenwyk – Thanks for the comment. I agree that #3 tends to get overlooked, but I think the EC affords a new opportunity for this group to make a claim on Christianity because no EC (as far as I can tell) seeks to be a dominate or dominating group. The plight of #3 in the past is that within Christendom they were one of the Christian groups excluded from the more dominating Constantinian-styled church. I think the EC seeks to move far beyond that and makes space for these once-marginalized groups.

    @Jamie – I like the “maybe-emergent” – that’s great and probably should categorize all of us – isn’t that sort of the image of the metaphor for “emerging” something that is tenuous at best, and having not arrived yet.

    Yes, I think it’s risky to try and classify anything in this manner that’s why I have so many disclaimers, and that’s why I left a bare bone structure too. I think what will make this a better structure is if we as an entire community of people help fill in the nuances, and place/replace people and churches within these groups and create new ones if needed. This would make the typology much different than others, such as Niebuhr’s “Christ and Culture,” where you have one person trying to frame and dominate particular groups with his definition. What I offer above is not a definition, but more a few sign-posts of who is influenced by who, and some common themes, compiled to help with understanding. I do a lot of reading from all these different thinkers and groups, and I came up with this really to help out my own understanding of where these people are coming from and why they do and don’t get along at different points. I hope that by throwing this out to all of you, the nuances and needed flesh will be added and adjusted as needed.

    @Rhett – I know what you mean. I too am interested in a number of authors from the various groups, and if you are particularly interested in #3 and John Milbank you should check out A Precarious Peace by Mennonite Ethicist Chris Huebner (who studied under Hauerwas). He uses Milbank, Yoder and others in a very engaging collection of essays that look at postmodernity, globalization, violence and other hard-hitting themes.

    @Josh – Thanks for your input. Yes, deconstruction, is a very nuanced term, and there is much about it I myself buy into and a lot of it I think can be helpful as well. I didn’t attempt to explain or define deconstruction because I have no doubt my own definition would be deconstructable or just plain dumb because this isn’t really area.

  14. I’m not sure if I identify with any of them but I find myself reflecting on the fact that in all these places you can find people who really love Jesus (be they a Quaker, a mega-church member or part of a little country town chuch) and people who don’t. And that’s really the only thing that makes any difference

    I think

  15. This is a great starting point. But along with Josh and others I find myself somewhere in the midst of them all, especially the first 3. I’m also wishing there was a bit more than Nietzschean philosophy and deconstruction to describe the first batch. Along with the Peace folks, I find the Deconstructionists to be the MOST hopeful of the categories. Deconstruction, as was mentioned earlier, is so ill-defined for most folks.

  16. @Amber – I do think loving Jesus is really important for the church, but what makes the difference (in my mind) is what we do with that love, where it takes us, who it puts us around, and how we understand those outside the church (those who don’t love Jesus) as well. I think these four groups will have some similar and some pretty different answers to these questions.

  17. @Dave – maybe it would be better to say these four groupings are more families or networks, that is there are always family members we like and dislike, and ones that we wish were in the other group, and others who we’re not completely sure how they go into our family but we know they’re here to stay. Or networks, where there is always a lot of influence and overlap. One network of people sees another doing something, and so they pick up on it, etc.

    About Nietzschean philosophy, using Alasdair MacIntyre’s 3 Rival Versions of Moral Inquiry, I would have to argue that this is one strong strand within the EC, it’s genealogical, heavily influenced by continental philosophy, etc. Of course, this doesn’t mean everyone buys into all of it, or even likes Nietzsche now, but that his early influence makes him the grandfather to these ideas. That’s all I was trying to get at.

    Of course, these ideas aren’t like property, they are easily transferable, and can be borrowed by anyone for any number of uses. Deconstuction (IMO) has a number of uses for the church, and should not be written off as liberal, non-Christian, or Nietzschean – John Caputo’s recent book “What Would Jesus Deconstruct” is a fine example of how this method can be used within the church (albeit I think he is rather uncharitable in certain parts of the book, and I don’t accept his complete argument, but I’ll save that for another discussion). I would say that #3 has always had a strong “deconstructionist” mentality, in so far as it has stood against the powers of violence, patriarchy, and oppression – even when it was the church doing these things.

  18. […] Four models of Emerging Churches. I’m in #3, with a slight hint of #4. Tags: Emerging Church This entry was written by Shawn Anthony and posted on at 9:25 pm and filed under Links. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL. Post a Comment […]

  19. This is a great post Wess. Thanks for this. I think there are a few other mainline groups that should be mentioned. These are groups that are very similar to presbymergent (which I am a part of), in that they are seeking to be “loyal radicals” – staying a part of a tradition (for whatever reasons) while trying to encourage growth and creative ecclesiology from below. These other groups are Luthermergent (, Anglimergent ( will be online in a few weeks) and there are some Methodists at

    Another thing I think is interesting is that I bet you’ll find self-identified presbymergents who would also self-identify in all 4 of the above typologies….so even within a smaller “emergent”-friendly group like presbymergent, there is still great diversity.

  20. @Adam – thanks for adding these links to the post, it’s helpful I wasn’t even aware of these groups!

    It is also interesting that you mentioned the idea of “loyal radicals” when it comes to tradition, and the point you make about those within traditions falling within the four groups is a great point and one I certainly see happening.

  21. Just to second what Adam said right above. FYI “Tribal Generation” is Church of England (the state church), not Episcopal; the groups he mentions are more appropriate examples of the largely American denominationalist concept of “mainline” churches which have emergent-friendly groups.

    Hearing more about #3 was helpful for me.

    There are also lots of neo-monastics in #2, but the ones in #3 have written more and gotten more press attention.

  22. @Beth – thanks for your comment and the correction, my mind blanked on the Anglican/Episcopal differentiation. I am going to edit the post text to reflect this.

    In England, from what I understand, a good majority of emerging churches are Church of England sponsored or plants (I know there are a number that aren’t as well). But I know this large-scale support isn’t the case in the US, at least not yet. I do find the example in the UK to be a worthwhile reflection on traditions trying to renew themselves, and overcome their particular identity crises within postmodernity. One example of their concentrated effort is in the document “Mission Shaped Church,” which was a concentrated effort of the church to make sense of its mission in for today. It’s something the whole Anglican church is aware of, because the numbers of church-goers in the UK are critically low. I don’t know if there is anything like that here, on such a large scale, but I do suspect its going to happen. But these groups Adam mentioned above, as well as the ones I spoke of in #3, are all leading the way in the US for churches connected to traditions seeking this renewal. I am sure there are more and that these concerns will continue to grow, which I find to be rather exciting.

  23. Interesting to read what is a summary of emerging church in the States – and to note how different it is in the UK ( and New Zealand?) where the Missional Church emphasis is much stronger. I also not how much of the groupings are defined by people who write books, rather than necessarily by churches without writers. Which raises the tentative thought Is one of the common definitions of American emerging church is that you have to have a leader who has written a book – while in the UK it would tend to be that you have to have a leader with a blog

  24. I gotta say I just do not get this construct. What is the value of defining dots on the head of a pin ? So many emerging communities cross categorization – in point of fact, so many are in some part a reaction to this type of reductionist nod to modern churchianity.

  25. @Tom – thanks for the comment. You might be right about the books/missional thing, I don’t know for sure but it seems like that might not necessarily be all there is to it. A few random observations.

    1. In the UK – don’t forget about NT Wright’s huge influence on all things emerging (I am surprised I left him out of the list above to be honest). Peter Rollins of Ikon (#1) is an author (of a great book) and a pastor of an emerging church in Ireland. Mike Breen of Tribal Generation in Sheffield, while no longer there, is also written a number of books.

    2. In Australia, there is a strong missional component, they refer to their group as the emerging missional church. But there are some really important authors there as well, Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch are the most well known to me.

    3. A number of leaders in the US, Tony Jones, Kester Brewin, Doug Pagitt, and Rob Bell all had churches, or were leaders before they were writers. It seems to me their leading was what led them to writing books.

    4. The UK blog thing I have no idea about. Who do you have in mind here?

    Also one last question – how do you see missional church differing from emerging church?

    The way I tend to understand it is missional church is a particularly broad category from which the idea of contextualization and mission of the church within culture comes out of. Any church: mainline, rural, suburban, urban, etc, can be missional within their particular contexts (probably a number of which are completely unaware of or could care less about postmodernity), while the emerging church is a smaller subgroup that is equally missional but within a specifically postmodern context and displays particular practices (as outlined in Gibbs/Bolger’s book). Are we thinking of “missional” in the same way?

    Thanks again for your comment.

  26. @Bob – Is the question directed at not understanding my construct, or just any construct of the emerging church?

    I would argue these categories aren’t reductionistic, that’s why I maintained mainly a thinker’s/ideas grouping. Thinkers and ideas are the easiest things to cross-pollinate, and I couldn’t agree more with you in that there are influences all over the map.

    Yet, the emerging church is huge in terms of its diversity, and I do think it’s worthwhile to try and parse the variety of conversations that are happening, if by parsing we can understand some of the underlying techniques, and methods of sharing and contextualizing the Gospel in our world today.

    One of my underlying motivations to make such a map (and I am certainly open to nuancing it if you have suggestions) came from my studies. I sat down and drew this map a while back to help me get my head around some of the key philosophical and theological differences in these groups. Why does Driscoll go after McLaren? What is different about Rollin’s approach in “How (Not) to Speak of God” from Jamie Smith’s “Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?”

    There are real (philosophical/theological) tensions here. There are those who are in the continental philosophical grouping have a hard time understanding why anyone would read and use Anglo-American philosophers and vice versa. Of course then there are those of us who read a little bit of all of them and try to make heads and tails of the whole thing. We’re all trying to witness the Gospel faithfully, but there isn’t consensus on the best arguments for a) what the Gospel is in postmodernity and b) how it ought to be contextualized (or whether it should be contextualized and c) what the role of the church is in politics/economics/environment etc. And that’s basically why I made the construct.

    Then I shared it with all you to see if it resonates with and seems somewhat accurate to a larger community. Any mapping is only good if the people using it think it helps understand where they are. I don’t intend this list to be some kind of dogmatic statement (I hope my long list of disclaimers shows that well) or misrepresent anyone and if I have please let me know!

    Thanks Bob for your comment. I look forward to your continued dialogue.

  27. Wess, my push-back is on the construct of map, not on the emerging phenomenon (which is where I have swum these past 10 years).

    Your comments says:
    *** worthwhile to try and parse the variety of conversations that are happening, if by parsing we can understand some of the underlying techniques, and methods of sharing and contextualizing the Gospel in our world today.***

    I think more & more, we live in a world where parsing between techniques & message misses a crucial point – they are intertwined, cojoined, feeding off each other.

    We also live in a world where typologies have been used to market and to bound people. My own experience of the emerging phenomenon, particularly outside the U.S. churchianity bubble, is that it is a rejection of that bounded mindset, a shift to following God in a Jesus way that is centered.

    So my worry is that by pouring new wine in the boxes of the old wineskin, we are actually reducing the real meaning to a series of types and categories.

  28. @Bob – Thanks for the response. I can see you won’t let me off easy! 😉

    Okay – I certainly agree the message/medium cannot be stripped at all. I am a student of JH Yoder and know the drill well. So that’s not what I am suggesting. I think the main problem in stripping these is when it comes down to practice, or how it’s played out in our ecclesiology.

    On the other hand, I do think there is always a little of this that’s inevitable when it comes to thinking about these things. In fact, isn’t “emerging church” itself just another map? Another grouping that has particular identifies, practices, etc and in the end does exclude some people?

    And I agree that typologies have been used to bind people, after all I am a Quaker and we know well what it’s like to have a typology used against us (Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture). So I think that the main problem with typologies, as well as any kind of language or church practice, is when it dominates or oppresses. Yet I don’t think this means we stop talking, rather we try and learn how to talk/think/act gracefully and with the love of Christ.

    We tend to think in a way that is similar to “groupings.” We understand and learn by making connections to other things, placing similarities along similarities and looking at differences to find what makes one thing stand a part from another. So whether we ever write anything down doesn’t mean we haven’t already thought of a way to categorize such and such, or haven’t already reduced this or that. Isn’t this one part of life? Of course, like I said above, the problem comes when these groupings are misrepresented, unfairly treated or treated in a subaltern fashion.

    So just because it’s a typology or mapping doesn’t mean it’s automatically bad, that kind of dismissal seems more rooted in a liberal hegemony than anything else (I am not saying this is your intent at all, just something that does get played out often in the course of these disagreements). As if to say, “don’t try to explain or understand the particularities! We’re all the same really! Any kind of naming then creates binaries, and oppresses!” Any kind of naming of particularities doesn’t mean it’s inherently reductionistic – how else would we ever communicate at all? In fact, I think this is why we keep telling the great stories (whether Scripture, or other wonderful works of literature and art) over and over again, because they actually help us to understand the world differently, make different connections, and relate to the world in a way that, prior to reading the book, we weren’t able to before.

    I can only hope that the connections made above offer a little help in making sense of our current times, and I hope (and think) it was done in a spirit of love and grace.

    Thanks for the dialogue Bob.

  29. Wess, this is a helpful typology. As you imply, it is not definitive and the defining lines are not impermeable. The conversation it fosters is likely its most significant contribution.

    The typology reminds me a bit of a similar typology Nancey Murphy and Jim McClendon made 18 years ago regarding postmodern theologies. (See “Distinguishing Modern and Postmodern Theologies,” Modern Theology 5:3 [April 1989]: 191-214.) I think their discussion of various axes—an epistemological axis, a literary axis, and a metaphysical axis, which all define “a three-dimensional conceptual ‘space’”—might serve as a model for moving this discussion of emergent churches forward. What are the axes that define the ecclesiological conceptual space? And how is emergent thought departing from the traditional conceptions of this space?

    M&M conclude that postmodern theologies, in their various forms, demonstrate “three important and interrelated tendencies”: holism in epistemology, a focus on discourse or use in philosophy of language, and a focus on tradition and community in ethics. As you might detect, the postmodern tendencies outlined several years ago resonate with much of what we see in emergent ideas today. That is because, I think, emergent churches are ecclesial manifestations of earlier developments in postmodern theologies.

    All of this to say, I would encourage a plotting of emergent churches on a more fully dimensional coordinate system, in the vein of M&M. This would first take a plotting of the conceptual space to which emergent churches are departing (M&M plot modern thought before plotting postmodern thought.)

  30. @Chris – Thanks for the comment and reminder of Murphy and McClendon’s article, one I’ve seen sited a hundred times and have yet to read!

    Could you give us an example of what you mean by:

    What are the axes that define the ecclesiological conceptual space? And how is emergent thought departing from the traditional conceptions of this space?

    I am interested in seeing this plotting played out further to find where it goes.

    And in terms of their “three important and interrelated tendencies,” I would certainly agree with and accept within the model I propose but I am under the assumption that their view might well be rejected by more continental thinkers and deconstructionists? Is that correct?

  31. back @ Wess: You really must read that article. It is, I think, required reading for anyone who wants to be involved in discussions of the modern/postmodern dyad. You can get a copy of the article electronically via Fuller’s ATLAS database.

    Explanation: In the article M&M lay out three axes that have defined modernity. They write,

    we try to sum up the style of thought that today is still called modern by displaying it along three separate tracks or axes – an epistemological axis, a linguistic axis, and a metaphysical axis. In the modern period, this latter axis fairly represents not only metaphysical ventures in philosophy, but also social philosophy and ethics. The three axes together define a three-dimensional conceptual ‘space’; hence our proposal suggests a Cartesian coordinate system, of sorts, for mapping modern thought.

    I was wondering what axes define the conceptual space of traditional/non-emerging churches. I am placing traditional churches in the position M&M place modern thought, that is as the dominant form over against which emerging churches are moving. M&M say it thusly,

    we define postmodern thought negatively by describing its departure from modern conceptual ‘space’ defined by these three axes. Positively, we single out three important and interrelated tendencies in philosophy: holism in epistemology, a focus on discourse or use in philosophy of language, and a focus on tradition and community in ethics.

    In short, I am wondering, if we were to use their article as a model, on what axes would we plot traditional ecclesial models? How would we plot them? And, how would we plot emerging trends over against the conceptual space created by the plotting of these traditional axes? How would the article read if we replaced reference to modernism with traditional/non-emerging church models, and postmodernisms (notice the plural!) with emerging church models (again, plural!)?

  32. Wess,

    thank you for a helping analysis. My biolgraphy includes formation in Charismatic, Anabaptist, and liberal Baptist settings (in that order). When I came to the emergent movement, I think I embraced 1 & 3 both in reaction to and affirmation of some of the threads in my background.

    Here’s my rub with your analysis… it seems to me that at the center of something new, something emerging, there must be a different way of doing theology. At that point, I would exclude #4 from the emergent church. It seems to me that there isn’t anything new of substance there, just a mask placed over old ways of thinking about God and about the church. I don’t see how that group is substantially different than the seeker movement of the 80’s which took an old way of doing theology and asked, how do we get outsiders into this old theology? By packaging it in a way that is as unoffensive to them as possible. #4 doesn’t listen to the critiques from the broader culture or ask whether the theological foundations need to be changed. So, I don’t see anything newly emerging there…

  33. @Chris – I’ve downloaded the article, thanks for the tip. Thanks for expounding on what you meant, I think this would be a really great thing to do and helpful on a number of different levels. Actually, I will incorporate their article into my seminar paper I am doing right now (Quaker mission in Modernism/postmodernism) and see what I come up with. And it would be great to extend this to the ECs. There has to be someone here up for the task!

  34. @Roy – Thanks for the comment, you make a really great point. Obviously some of these questions revolve around the greater question “What is the Emerging Church?” And I, for better or worse, accept Bolger’s sociological positioning on the matter – but even still that may not help us with your questions. So let me address them.

    I agree with the arguments you make here, and I can see how an argument for excluding #4 can be made. In fact, my placing #4 was an attempt for my model to be inclusive. I know there are number of churches within the EC who wouldn’t fall under #1-3 and yet feel they are a version of the EC. I am not personally in a position to say who is and who isn’t and so that’s part of why I included Driscoll’s group.

    But there are some other reasons that may be more to the point:

    1. Along with Foucault, I don’t think there is a clean break between the modern and postmodern. There isn’t a pure form of either at this point, and so all our attempts to “contextualize” are bound up in our ‘hybrid’ culture/s. This being the case, I’d argue for the inclusion of #4 inasmuch as those within that group see themselves “contextualizing” the Gospel in postmodernity, even if it is done in a way that by-in-large protects an Enlightenment vision of it.

    2. Along with Slavoj Zizek, I’d want to say that within an ever increasing globalized world, there will also be an increasing number of radical fundamentalists. Now, before I get hosed, I am not calling everyone in #4 radical fundamentalists I am sure a number of the churches represented there are not, but then again there certainly are a good number of them who are. Zizek’s point is that fundamentalism is a response to (even a valid response in some senses) Globalization (and I’d add postmodernity). So insofar as #4 is a counter-weight to #1-3 I think it should remain.

    3. Finally, while the theology may not be substantially different (is a substantial difference in theology necessarily a good thing?) I would say that their position to culture is different than seeker churches and more modern-traditional ones. I think they’ve accepted a more optimistic stance towards popular culture (a move that’s only happened in the last 20 years (?) within culture theory) and they are more much missionally oriented, at least Dan Kimball is in his book “They Like Jesus But Not the Church” (See my review). I think Kimball’s book, while reflection a foundationalist epistemology (as Nancey Murphy might say) shouldn’t necessarily be kicked off the model’s island, because of his understanding of culture and church mission.

    Thanks for the dialogue.

  35. @Wess @Roy – There is one axis right there! In point #3 you mention the position of ECs to culture. One could likely map traditional churches on a church-to-culture axis and find them leaning toward a position of pessimism, while the ECs (no matter their variety in other areas and their variety in manifesting this attitude) display a position of optimism. I think we could probably plot the churches on a missional axis as well, but I don’t know how that would look just yet. Any ideas? Other axes?

  36. Wess, I understand the arguments that you make but it still seems to me that #4’s feet are both pretty firmly planted in the “what was” and I’m not sure that I even see one lifted to step into the “what is not yet” yet. So we are back to the greater question: what is the Emerging Church?

    good discussion… and I’m pleased to make this new connection.


  37. Wess,
    great post… and not just because of the shout out. 🙂

    In Australia what is often called the emerging church (or ‘emerging missional church’) is often Foundationalist in theology (#4) but Deconstructionist (#1) in church form. I.e. doing church differently which is never as exciting as BEING CHURCH as a community who are truely seeking first God’s nonviolent transformation of all things (the kingdom).

    So sadly mission gets compromised for the sake of ‘evangelism’ if you know what I mean. Being funky becomes more important than the faithfulness. Geting people ‘in’ becomes more important than us living ‘in’ God’s alternative order.

  38. I’d say that my biggest concern wrt #3 and its application in “Convergent Friends” is that I sense so much idealism in bridging historic divides among Friends that Spirit might be…hijacked. It’s my sense that this is what led to some of the very divides among Friends now. There was so much effort to preserve the “unity” of Friends that that important testimonies (e.g. equality) were brushed aside.

    My sense is that Friends should (in a sort of melange of 1,2, and 3) try to work on their own spiritual health with a group of peers that has no regard for the traditional boundaries of faith. And if it builds bridges between Friends groups (or for that matter any religious institutions), great. If it doesn’t, that’s not the point. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God…and all these things shall be added unto you…” because “The Kingdom of God is WITHIN you!”

    Otherwise, the objective will simply be on works of man and not works of God.

  39. Hi Josh – thanks for the comment. I don’t understand convergence in the same way as you suggest – at least in the sense of bridging the gap between the great divide. Sure that’s happening to some extent, but convergent friends isn’t simply an ecumenical group – it isn’t bridging the gap, it is the gap. I’d say that convergent friends aren’t trying to tie loose ends together, but somehow embody what is lacking.

    Also, I think my perspective is that it is one assumption to think that the Spirit would be hijacked in any kind of cross-dialogue with other Friends. I’ve found the exact opposite to be true personally. But again, I stress, and have stressed many times, this isn’t another attempt at modern liberalism, where unity = the lowest common denominator. I invite you to check out the rest of my blog if you’re unsure of where I stand on this issue.

    I completely agree that the kingdom of God is the first and most important thing we seek, and this rolls back into my first two paragraphs. It’s just that I think that when seeking the kingdom, a lot of people get excited and want to be apart of it, which means there is some joining a long the way. I also believe that the kingdom of God is filled with people I wouldn’t expect to be there, and so I try and keep my heart open to these possibilities. And you most likely agree with that point, but I thought I’d let you know where I’m coming from.

    I think convergent friends, ultimately, is one Quaker argument, a community of friends claiming something – maybe their argument is good, or maybe it will fail, but in either case it is one among many. It is our hope that it is a really good presentation of a particular argument and understanding of Scripture, The Quaker tradition, Jesus Christ, and our contemporary society.

    Oh and what do you see as traditional boundaries of faith? I’m not sure what you mean by that.

    Thanks for commenting.

  40. Over the last week or so, I’ve had some difficulty putting things into the words that I feel are the “clearest” depiction of how I see them. The phrase “traditional boundaries of faith” is a grand example.

    My essential point is that I have a deep-seated concern/fear that “Convergent Friends” is simply trying to do the same thing that previous generations have (i.e. “trying to solve the world’s problems”* by way of institutions) with a belief that a little postmodern philosophy and some podcasts and blogs will make “us” succeed at something that has blown up in the faces of previous generations of Friends.

    The most serious problem that I see is the interest in some circles of bridging gaps between groups of Friends…with some feeling that such a goal is the ultimate goal. My caricature of this is that some Friends feel that problems between some Friends organizations can be simply solved by “holding hands and singing ‘Kumbaya.’” Feel free to send me an e-mail if you don’t follow what I’m saying; if you don’t have my address, I’ll send you a message.

    I have been reading your blog, although I haven’t really felt the need to comment until recently. I’ve got a lot going on and don’t particularly feel like being at the epicenter of controversy. E-mail me and I’ll explain just what I mean.