WARNING:This article is full of generalizations and categorizing. The problem with generalizations is that there are always exceptions to the rule and with categorizing there are always distinctions and differences.
"You like potato and I like potahto. You like tomato and I like tomahto. Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto, let's call the whole thing off." This well known song points out that it does not really matter how you pronounce these words as they are both describing the same kind of food, just with a little different twang. However, when you are speaking of the emerging and emergent church you must not make this mistake. These are different movements with different foundations.
It is vitally important to note that these terms (emerging and emergent) are categorizing different camps. Misunderstanding this point will actually lead into making enemies out of friends. When the discussion of the emerging and emergent church came on the scene about 8-10 years ago John Piper, the well known preacher, author and theologian noted this in an article:
"So be careful, when you're talking emerging or emergent to know what group you are talking about. The Mark Driscoll "emerging" type would put a very high premium on biblical faithfulness, truth, doctrine and propositions. But the emergent types would not put a premium on that, but would explicitly say on their websites that they regard that emphasis as harmful."
To further clarify, the "guru" of missiology, Ed Stetzer, who is the director of Lifeway Research (A Southern Baptist Ministry), penned a pithy article distinguishing the difference between emerging and emergent. He places them in three categories:
Mark Driscoll also gave a clarifying talk on the difference between the emerging and emergent church leaders. He describes them as four lanes of the emerging church. Watch the video below!
So, Here's the Deal
Both groups (emerging and emergent) are asking appropriate questions about the traditions and unhealthy church practices. Those in the emerging church tend to look to God's Word first, the culture second and see how to take God's Word to reach the culture. Those in the emergent church look to the culture first and the Bible second, which causes them to manipulate the Word of God to fit the culture.
Let me give you an example of how many emerging church leaders tend to operate. Let's examine Worship. Nothing in the Bible commands us to use only a hymn book and either the piano or the organ. In fact the pipe organ that we know of today was created in the 17th century. The piano came into existence in the 18th century. What did the church use before then? The great American theologian Jonathan Edwards had a split in his church for introducing a contemporary hymn writer-"Isaac Watts." It is funny that we now think of him as classical Christianity and at one time he was contemporary and controversial. So, those in the emerging church read through the Scriptures and see that the Bible teaches that a plethora of instruments should be used for worship like stringed instruments (Ps. 144:9b), reed pipes (1 Sam. 10:5), concussive instruments (cymbals) (2 Sam. 6:5; 1 Chron. 5:16). Also, when it comes to contemporary music the Bible says, "Sing a new song" (Ps. 144:9). After reading through God's word it is recognized that most Western worship practices, like only using certain instruments and song/hymn books are traditions and preferences and should be abandoned to reach a culture that does not know or value those same traditions or preferences. Missionaries, like the "Father of Modern Missions" William Carey, have done this for years and we commend them for this. On the other hand, if you are an American pastor applying this same missiological philosophy you are questioned as a heretic!
One final thing that most emerging church leaders simply cannot understand, nor tolerate, is the insular territorial practices of many local churches. This anti-Kingdom pro (my) kingdom mentality drives this generation crazy. The focus seems to be exclusively on their local church rather than the Church. It is a "my kingdom come" rather than a "Thy Kingdom come" approach. It is always refreshing to me to meet pastors who don't cling to this territorial mindset. One of my personal mentors is a Kingdom minded individual. He planted his second church only 10 miles from his first church and he is now sponsoring the start of another church within 10 miles of both campuses. This is an open-handed approach rather than the closed fist approach of many churches. Those in the emerging church tend to be Kingdom minded and church planting focused in order to reach the emerging culture.
This is not a claim myself to be part of the emerging church but rather I just want to make sure people have clarity on this issue. I am actually a Southern Baptist church planter. I do read and learn from a number of people that have been "labeled" as part of this emerging movement and would recommend everyone to do the same. Please don't make enemies out of friends and place these emerging church leaders in the emergent church group for the sake of the precious gospel of Jesus Christ!
This blog was written by Eric Stewart, Lead Pastor of ONElife Church.