Research: Emergent Church

Emergent Church…aka Emerging and sometimes Emergence

Religious leadership must end its intellectual and imaginative failure to think through what it is doing in the light of the new emerging cosmology, which is hospitable to spirit-matter theories and mindbody experiences. ~ Leonard Sweet

The Emergent/Emerging Church movement is heading towards a crash collision with the New Age movement. In fact, it may already be happening before our very eyes. The Discernment Research Group has reached the inescapable conclusion that this is intentional and it has been planned for over a generation. ~ Sarah Leslie


“A label that has been used to refer to a particular subset of Christians who are rethinking Christianity against the backdrop of Postmodernism.” …  “Members of the movement often place a high value on good works or social activism.”  (Encyclopedia & Wikipedia)

Emergents “hold to traditional Protestant theological distinctives while rejecting the structures and styles of institutionalized Christianity.” Emergent Church leaders usually adopt the principles of social justice, liberation theology and collective salvation. Some leaders also incorporate elements of Universalism, the Seeker-Friendly Movement, and even New Age spirituality.

Fast Facts:

  • Emerging Church groups contain some or all of the following elements:
  • Highly creative approaches to worship and spiritual reflection. This can involve everything from the use of contemporary music and films through to liturgy or other more ancient customs. …
  • Does not like to spend money on church buildings. Prefer meeting as “house churches” or in temporary structures such as stores and warehouses.
  • A flexible approach to theology whereby individual differences in belief and morality are accepted within reason.
  • A more holistic approach to the role of the church in society. This can mean anything from greater emphasis on fellowship in the structure of the group to a higher degree of emphasis on social action, community building or Christian outreach.
  • A desire to reanalyze the Bible against the context into which it was written…”
  • A reading list that “consists primarily of Stanley Hauerwas, Henri Nouwen, T. Wright, Stan Grenz, Dallas Willard, Brennan Manning, Jim Wallis, Frederick Buechner, David Bosch, John Howard Yoder, Wendell Berry, Nancy Murphy, John Franke, Walter Winks and Lesslie Newbigin (not to mention McLaren, Pagitt, Bell, etc.).
  • Political concerns are “poverty, AIDS, imperialism, war-mongering, CEO salaries, consumerism, global warming/climate change, racism, and oppression and not so much with abortion and gay marriage.”
  • Support women in all levels of ministry including women pastors (egalitarian).
  • Prefer theology narrative instead of systematic.
  • Following Jesus is living the right way, not believing in the right things.
  • Eschatology: Building the kingdom of God on earth.

(Sources for some of the above facts are from You might be Emergent if…)

Phrases, Terms, Practices:

Postmodernism, Progressive Evangelicalism, Progressive Christianity, Social Justice Christianity, ‘Woke’… impartation, implantation, incarnation, visualization, holistic, story, linear, propositional, rational, machine, hierarchy, ancient-future,  jazz, mosaic, matrix, missional, vintage, dance… (Source for some of the above phrases and terms are from You might be Emergent if…)


Lectio Divina a.k.a. spiritual formation…the silence…listening/centering/breath prayer but is best known as Contemplative Prayer (CP). This is a growing trend in evangelical churches. The prayer ritual stems from teaching associated with Catholic mystics such as Meister Eckhart, Ignatius of Loyola, St. John of the Cross, and St. Teresa of Avila. CP was reintroduced by Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Henri Nouwen, William Meninger, Basil Pennington and other mystics. The aim is to achieve an altered-state-of-consciousness)

Leaders (some are now deceased):

There are the well-known emergent leaders (some are now deceased): Brian McLaren, Rick Warren, Phyllis Tickle, Marcus Borg, Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Leonard Sweet, Bob Buford, Brennon Manning, Eugene Peterson, Donald Miller, Rob Bell, Erwin McManus, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Richard Rhor, Andy Stanley, John Ortberg, Frank Viola, Laurie Beth Jones, Ruth Haley Barton, Rachel Held Evans, Shane Claiborn, Dan Kimball, Shane Hipps, Spencer Burke, Peter Rollins, Steve Chalke, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Jay Bakker, Jen Hatmaker, Karen Ward, Joel McClure, Dieter Xander and many others.

Then there is the next generation; the up-and-coming rookies who now are the prolific young voices at leadership conferences (like Catalyst and many others), that you can’t easily research because they don’t have anything questionable yet attached to their bios. But make no mistake: The leaders of old have not gone away, nor has the movement died. Instead it is shifting into a new or neo mode, making the Neo-Emergent movement even more appealing to a whole new audience of young Christians. It’s the same old “Hath God said” lie repackaged into a slick media marketing formula with programs helping many pastors “plug and play” with sermon topics and programs in their own churches to perpetuate the movement. Most don’t even know they’re doing it.

The Leadership Network has played a pivotal role in the Emerging Church movement. So have Roman Catholic mystics. Beware of Meister Eckhart, Ignatius of Loyola, St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Henri Nouwen, William Meninger and Basil Pennington and New Ager Ken Wilbur.

The late Dr. Walter Martin explains why liberalism is a cult:

It is a cult because it follows every outlined structure of cultism; its own revelations; its own gurus, and its denial–systematically–of all sound systematic Christian theology. It is a cult because it passes its leadership on to the next group that takes over–either modifying, expanding or contracting–the same heresies; dressing them up in different language, and passing them on. It is theologically corrupt because it is bibliologically corrupt; it denies the authority of Scripture, it ruins its own theology. And it ends in immorality; because the only way you could have gotten to this homosexual, morally relativistic, garbage–which is today in our denominational structures–is if the leadership of those denominations denied the authority of the Scriptures and Jesus Christ as Lord.

That is the only way you got there. And there’s a remedy for this, my brothers and sisters; the remedy is to start asking questions, start demanding definitions of terminology; start insisting that people tell you what they’re giving your money to before you give them a dime. Examine the people that occupy the chairs of theology in the seminaries, and if they are not given to the historic Christian faith–“out with the rascals!” Examine your churches, your sessions, your Baptist boards–and everything else–and find out who is in the faith. You’re told to do that in 1 Corinthians; you’re told to do it in Galatians, you’re told to do it everywhere in Scripture–examine to see whether you’re in the faith [see–2 Corinthians 13:5].

Test all things; make sure of what is true [see–1 Thessalonians 5:21]. I’m not being harsh; I’m not being judgmental. I am being thoroughly, consistently, Christian; in the light of historic theology, and the holy Bible. And I think we have a right to demand that the men who occupy the seats of learning, and who preach from the pulpits, either preach Jesus Christ; or cut off their pensions, their salaries, their golf club memberships, and let them go earn their living as social workers because it is obvious they don’t have any theology that is going to save anybody. With Luther, here I stand; God help me, I can do no other. (Walter Martin, (circa 1985) The Cult of Liberalism)

Helpful Articles:



Other research sites:

What The Bible Says:

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ JesusAll Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:12-17 (emphasis added)

Bottom line:  The Emergent Church movement is a Progressive Christian movement that attempts to elevate experience and feelings on a par with Christian doctrine.  Many do not believe man can know absolute truth, and believe God must be experienced outside of traditional biblical doctrines.


Credit: Amy Spreeman & Marsha West – updated 4/15/21