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What Luther Says

What's So Bad About The 'Emergent Church' And How Can You Tell If It's Taking Root In Your LCMS Congregation?

Yes, unfortunately, the "Emergent Church" is still a thing in Christianity today even a decade or so since the concept first became mainstream.

We've even written about it before, but every now and then I like to revisit subjects like this to make sure we remain on guard against the beliefs, teachings, and confessions of the Emergent Church that threaten to seduce us and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in the most subtle ways.

This is a good primer from an old Table Talk Radio interview with Chris Rosebrough of Fighting For The Faith on the so-called "Emergent Church" and how you can easily spot it.

Table Scraps Live: The Emergent Church 
Host of the internet radio program, Fighting for the Faith and Captain of Pirate Christian Radio joins Evan on Table Scraps Live to talk about the Emergent Church and it's false doctrine as it relates to the Holy Christian Faith.

Hopefully, you have a better idea of why this brand of pseudo-Christianity poses a threat.

Simply put, the "Emergent Church" is the unholy marriage of Christianity and Postmodernism and this documentary video will detail how this demonic entity came about.

As one Christian put it, "Those in the Emergent Church love dialogue...but it is a dialogue without an anchoring point." In other words, these are Christians who believe it's ok to believe whatever you want to about "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3), and that it's ok if "we agree to disagree" in the end, because at least we're being civil toward one another by talking about our doctrinal differences (just don't ever point out the fact that while both perspectives could be "wrong" theoretically, they both can't ever be "right" at the same time).

If you're looking for a more robust definition, then this write-up from 2006 should be a big help...

Technically speaking, the Emerging Church Movement is a re-packaging and re-imagining of liberal and Neo-Orthodox theology and thinking in a post-modern context. Put more simply, it is a reaction by liberal fringe theologians against the mass marketing and commercialization of Christianity by the mega-churches and the church growth movement. 
If the Emerging Church Movement were a political party, they’d be the ‘Green Party’; having vaild complaints about commercialization but whose solutions are actually worse than the problems their trying to correct. 
The hallmark of their doctrinal and theological position is that it is fluid and indefinable. They spend a lot of time conversing about and nuancing theological theories. The more novel, creative and abstract the theory, the more they love it and converse about it.  
Emerging is a great term for them because in reality they never arrive anywhere. In fact, one of the primary leaders within the movement is Brian McClaren. He is the author of one of the main books in the Emerging Movement called, A Generous Orthodoxy. One of McClaren’s key ‘talking points’ is that certainty and faith are mutually exclusive concepts. I call this, “McClaren’s Principle of Uncertainty.” This ‘principle’ is at the very heart and center of the Emerging Movement. 
It would not be an overstatement to say that Mclaren is vehemently hostile to the idea that we can claim any degree of certainty about any point of truth. (And this hostility is mirrored by many followers of the Emergent Movement) 
McClaren states over and over and over in his books and lectures that he despises every hint of certainty or assurance. He claims that it is arrogant and unspiritual to speak dogmatically about any point of spiritual truth. 
McClaren’s favorite whipping boys are Radio Preachers. He says it makes him angry to listen to Christian radio and hear preachers who seem so sure that the doctrines they believe and teach are really true. 
Brian McLaren's opinion is that “Authentic humility”, must start with a refusal to insist on the absolute truth of any given proposition. 
I don’t know how anyone can miss the blatant contradiction in McClaren’s position. On the one hand, he despises anyone who seems sure that the doctrines they believe are true. Yet, McClaren is absolutely certain that his doctrine of uncertainty is absolutely true. 
It is precisely this principle of uncertainty that makes the Emergent Movement so seductive and dangerous. On the one hand, the Emergents appear loving, tolerant, and open minded to all religious views. On the other hand, this uncertainty robs Emergents of the promises held out to us in the scriptures for our salvation. 
The saddest and most dangerous example of this is seen in how the Emerging Church deals with Christ’s Death on the Cross. 
Emergent leaders and followers openly attack the doctrine of Christ’s sacrificial atonement for the sins of the world in their writings, lectures and websites. The Emergents argue that, the penal substitionary theory of the atonement is only one of many explanations for Jesus’ death on the cross. Because Emergents value uncertainty, anyone making the exclusive and certain claim that Jesus died for our sins, is rejected and ridiculed. 
When I’ve tried to discuss the scriptural support and evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross as a sacrifice and atonement for our sins with Emergent followers, I was told that, “Scripture simply does not propose a theory of cohesive theology of atonement.” That “it’s only one theory and only one aspect of the atonement.” While other Emergent followers were openly hostile to the idea that Jesus died for them by saying things like, “I don’t want to have the guilt of having someone die for me” and, “the idea that God punished Jesus for my sins is repugnant to me because it sounds like cosmic child abuse.” 
The Bottom Line: The Emergent Movement claims to be a church movement, but the fruit of this fad is utter uncertainty and an absolute denial of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus death on the cross for our sins. 
These two facts alone are enough to brand the Emerging Movement as heretical and anti-Christian. This is also why I’ve started the Post-Emergent Movement. People in the Emerging Movement need a real alternative to the lies and uncertainty that their being fed by leaders such as McClaren and McKnight. 
For those within the Emerging Church, I would assure them that scripture offers humanity a sure and certain faith in Jesus Christ. The scriptures tell us plainly and clearly that God is offering all of humanity salvation and peace with Him through the victorious death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. These promises are true, these promises can be believed with certainty and these promises can set you free from the tyranny of uncertainty. In short, Jesus Christ died for YOU. Repent and believe the Gospel!

That was a little dated and lengthy I know, but I think it does a very good job summarizing all the unique characteristics of this of this deceptively attractive kind of faith and spirituality as well as identifying some of its more popular names to "mark and avoid" (Romans 16:17).

However, because this is a distinctly Lutheran blog, and since I strive to provide you with as many resources as possible that pertain to a particular topic, here's a more refined summary of the Emergent Church from a Lutheran Pastor...

Sense And Sensibility: Emergent Mystique Or Emerging Mistake? 
As a pastor and student of theology, I like to keep up on the various movements within the Holy Christian Church. One recent movement is known as the Emerging or Emergent Church Movement. I’ve posted on it briefly in the past, but a recent article has caught my attention. Enough so, that I felt compelled to write a response to it here (and perhaps pursue a formal one as well.) 
The article was from the just released Spring 2012 issue of the Concordia Journal and is titled, “The End of Theology?: The Emergent Church In The Lutheran Perspective” and written by Ph. D. candidate Chad Lakies. I’ve never met Chad and I’d love to talk to him in person about this, but as I read his article I’m not sure it was as helpful as he had hoped. 
His title would make one think there would be some thoughtful evaluations of the movement and its theology from a Lutheran perspective. Curiously, that was not the case. Rather, as Lakies states, “I want to show what they are ‘up to’ in a way that, perhaps, does not cause us to raise so quickly the alarm of concern”(p.118). In short, he takes particular issue with what he considers an overly negative assessment of the Emergent Church movement by Dr. Carol Geisler in her May 13, 2011 article “Reframing The Story: The End of The Emergent Conversation.” (He is also critical of a corresponding CTCR document about the Emergent Church Movement.) His desire is “to suggest a different kind of evaluation that is more congenial for interacting with ‘cultural sensibilities’ as they are manifest in the life of the church -- for this is what I suggest emergents are doing, manifesting a sensibility, rather than presenting an entirely new theology” (p.118). I would respectfully disagree. To be sure, I agree they are intentionally manifesting a sensibility, but it is one that most certainly informs and shapes an emerging tendency to create “new” if not, amorphous theology (not to mention ecclesiology). 
Lakies primary objections fall in that there is no official Emergent “church body” to fairly evaluate, as well as Lutherans who have a knee jerk and uninformed reaction to movements like these: 
“Typical of Lutheran authors who set themselves up to examine the beliefs and confession of a different body from their own, Geisler begins comparing what she sees as the beliefs and confession of emergents with those of Missouri Synod Lutherans. A major problem with this approach is that fact that there really is no particular body or denomination called ‘the Emergent Church’…From the outset, the assumption, which is uncritically employed, is that Lutherans are plainly and simply right. From the very beginning, it is as if confessional Missouri Synod Lutheranism owns the market on theology…Such a methodology of evaluating the beliefs and confessions of others is problematic for a whole slew of different reasons. But ultimately it assumes that ‘theology is over,’ that orthodoxy has once-for-all been established and is guarded and maintained in our Confession, and thus it is our God-given task to sound the alarm when others get out of line…For all the good intentions that are the impetus for both works [CTCR document and Geisler] in trying to help the church understand emergents, I am concerned that both works are based only on bibliographical research alone” (p.119-120, 125). 
I’m not exactly sure what Lakies aims to communicate with this. Should confessional Lutherans not subscribe to the orthodoxy of their faith? Should they not declare, with Luther, “Here I stand, I can do no other”? How else should confessional Lutherans evaluate other faith claims? I certainly embrace the opportunity to learn from other perspectives, but I am uncomfortable with what Lakies seems to insinuate about Lutheran orthodoxy. In sum, Lakies desires to give the emergent church movement a more favorable treatment with the hopes“that this different approach might prove informative and helpful for those reflective practitioners who are attempting to navigate relationships with the emergent movement…” (p.125).  
First, a couple of brief concerns, and then I’ll offer a more in-depth assessment in narrative (emergent) form. To begin, Lakies rightly sides with the Emergent premise “that what one really believes is evidenced in what one does” over against the current “flawed” model and “bad anthropology” of contemporary Christendom that emphases (only) right belief with little or no emphasis on right practice or life (p.121). But then he acknowledges that “Their criticisms (which are aimed mostly at evangelicalism since many of them come from that tradition) demand they tell a different story”(p.121). However, he fails to note that Lutheran theology has always had a robust love of neighbor and doctrine for life inherent in it. This seems to imply that Lutherans are also in need of this emerging corrective. But if this is so, and perhaps sadly in some cases it is, it will only go to show how some Lutherans have abandoned thier historic confession of faith and adopted evangelicalism, as opposed to somehow insinuating that Lutherans need to embrace what emergents think they have discovered. 
Second, I find it interesting (and partially true) that Lakies feels it unfair to wholesale evaluate the movement since it is not an official denomination. But then he wishes to go and defend and speak for it wholesale. I find this a bit inconsistent, i.e. “Emergents do not want to end up simply repristinating the kind of ‘violent’ practices and positions from which they are ‘emerging’” (p. 122). Further, as one who has not only read volumes of emergent books, documents, and blogs, has interviewed emergent leaders (i.e. Doug Pagitt, of Solomon’s Porch, Minneapolis, MN) and has written and published a detailed chapter about the Emergent Church in my recent book Great Commission, Great Confusion, Or Great Confession? (see chapter 5), I feel it is in fact legitimate to provide wholesale evaluations. Perhaps there may be various brands that need to be noted, i.e. “Emerging” and “Emergent,” but they do tend to be very similar, where the above notion of “manifesting a sensibility” does certainly tend toward “new” hermeneutics and new theology (or in some cases, retreads of old trendy theology). 
One short but startling example comes from a book that Lakies notes, but fails to adequately evaluate. Phyllis Tickle in her book, The Great Emergence, makes a bold assertion. She states that the notion of using “Luther’s sola scriptura… is now seen as hopelessly outmoded or insufficient, even after it is, as here, spruced up and re-couched in more current sensibilities.” (p. 151). Tickle then goes on to explain their new hermeneutic and its “authority base” as it flows out of the idea of “network theory” and “crowd sourcing.” In short, if “manifesting a sensibility” means abandoning Sola Scriptura, then it most certainly is a new theology. 
And this brings me to my final point. I fear Lakies over plays and under evaluates the claim that Emergents are really just about “having a certain sensibility.” In fact, if I might be so bold, I think he has played right into the hands of the emerging hermeneutic. I’ll try to explain by way of a narrative (emergent) hermeneutic. 
Consider Jane Austen’s well known novel, Sense And Sensibility. The title of the book conveys the philosophical depth and intent of this 19th century classic romance novel. The “Sense” or prudent, good judgment of the novel is most notably embodied by Elinor Dashwood. She is the reserved eldest (19) daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Dashwood. She is portrayed as one who has a keen of responsibility to her family and friends and so places their welfare and interests above her own, suppressing her own strong emotions in a way that often leads others to think she is indifferent or cold-hearted. This is contrasted with the “Sensibility” or the passions, (the following of your heart above all other rules and conventions) of the novel which are embodied by Marianne Dashwood. She is the romantically inclined and eagerly expressive second daughter (16) of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Dashwood, who develops an intense affection for the philanderer, Mr. Willoughby. 
As the novel plays out, the reader is invited to see how the variations of “sense” and “sensibility” unfold in each of the characters’ lives, particularly in Marianne and Elinor. The reader is meant to become romantically enthralled by the impact and consequence of each characters decisions as they’re set in the midst of their 19th century British upper class cultural and social norms. 
In the end, Marianne comes to assess what has passed with “sense” rather than emotion, i.e. “sensibility,” and sees that she could never have been happy with Mr. Willoughby’s immoral and expensive nature and so eventually comes to marry the more honorable Colonel Christopher Brandon. Though this is simply a romance novel, it is nonetheless a descriptor, a narrative of life that speaks to the realities of life. In it “sense” is found to offer greater clarity, while “sensibility” tended to cloud judgment. I wonder if Lakies has disregarded the “sense” of Lutheran theology and fallen in with the “sensibility” of emergents. I don’t mean that as a disrespectful slight, but rather, as it was for Marianne Dashwood, a surrender to the charming allure of a “sensibility” that seemed so much more appealing, more visceral, and more compelling, which prompted her to, for a time, disregard “sense.” 
In the end, I’ll stand with John Pless who provided an early astute evaluation of the emergent church movement: “Missing Luther’s radical move, the Emerging Church begins with life not doctrine, and with ethics not faith. While claiming to be generous, open, and tolerant, McLaren—with his incessant focus on the necessity for authentic discipleship, obedience rather than knowledge, and lives characterized by compassion slips into a rigidity that is unattainable. While the language might sound inclusive and undiscriminating, it is the language of the law… The Emerging Church is not nearly as free from the dreary moralism that they decry. Gerhard Forde has helpfully observed that those who begin with the presupposition of freedom end in bondage. Only a theology that begins with the presupposition that humanity is in bondage can end in freedom -- the freedom of the Spirit.” “Contemporary Spirituality and the Emerging Church,” Concordia Theological Quarterly (July/ October, 2007), p 320. 
As always, this blog endeavors to thoughtfully and collegially talk about the mission of the Holy Christian Church and what it means to be authentically Lutheran, while “discipling all nations” in the 21st century. For those willing to enter the fray, I welcome your constructive thoughts and reactions. 
Rev. Woodford

Again, very lengthy, but very necessary, in my humble opinion.

I tend to find myself nodding in full agreement with Gene Veith who once wrote...

I have been critical of the emergent church movement, with its doctrinal revisionism, while saluting some of its criticisms of American Christianity. Emergent Christians, to their credit, want to bring back “mystery” into their beliefs and ritual into their worship, but they by-and-large reject Christian orthodoxy, which reveals the true mysteries of the faith, and they ignore the historical liturgy in favor of made-up rituals, even though the former is so much better by any standard. They seem to be groping for the sacramental, but they lack the theology and the doctrines for a genuine sacramental spirituality. I have often thought that Lutheranism is the true emergent church, addressing its valid concerns without falling into its mistakes. But are postmodernists so shallow that they need so much coolness and progressive trappings in a pastor? Why wouldn’t a regular congregation with traditional theology, liturgy, and sacraments do just as well?

There is hope.

According to Pastor Joshua Scheer, "Most consultants are saying that the Emergent Church is dead already, but that of course doesn’t stop the LCMS from talking about her and learning how to do things from her (even though she lasted only a dozen years or so)." He went on to sarcastically write, "At least we aren’t 20 years behind like we used to be."

I'm not so sure the LCMS is out of the woods just yet (or if she'll ever be!), especially when there are so many enthusiasts who ride to church each week on the backs of wolves in sheep's clothing.

Of course, that is a sad and tragic state to find yourself in if you're one of the guilty parties and one of the proponents of the Emergent Church and what it stands for.

According to the correct application of Matthew 18:15-17, when someone ignores the warning to cease the sin of promulgating false doctrine -- if he/she neglects to hear the church, let him/her be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican (Matthew 18:17).

I pray it doesn't come to that in the case of those Pastors and laypersons who have been lovingly warned about such things.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, the only thing that "emerges" from the Emergent Church is false teachers infecting hearts and minds with their false doctrine, and so the only good that can ever come from it is that it helps to show "who are genuine among you may be recognized" (1 Corinthians 11:19).

NOTE: I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or a Christian, Candy-Making, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this note, I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism almost 2 years ago now. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries. I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a dude's diary in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.


  1. Much wind. Not saying your information is not good, I just could get through it. I will try again later if I have the energy. I leave this comment because my family is LCMS and they don't see the apostasy of the LCMS, even thought they have blatant illuminati/luciferian symbols proudly displayed in their sanctuary and the also have s sign outside the church which in its entirely reads, "All paths lead to Christ." So blatantly emergent and apostate.

    ALso, why would the author of this poorly written article identify himself as "revernd" whe the Bible says that there is no one revelrec except God?

  2. If you "do not exercise censorship" then why must my comment be approved before you post it? I hate the LCMS more every day. I was saved out of the apostate LCMS organization.

  3. John,

    I would caution not to rush to judgment since that one particular church congregation does not indict the entire Synod.

    I set things up for me to have to "approve comments" not to practice censorship, but to ensure that I actually see each and every comment that comes in. Otherwise, I'd miss it, and you have something else to complain and be mad about, right?

    Sorry you feel the way that you do. Sounds like you have been hurt by the church somehow in the past. Praying for you.

    Grace And Peace,


Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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