1.  False Salvation

Much is made of this being the age of post-modernism. Emergents say that the church needs to ‘emerge’ to respond to a culture which holds that there are no absolutes – not by declaring that the objective truth about God exists and can be known through the bible and the person of Jesus presented in the bible but by presenting a gospel which is acceptable to a generation which denies the existence of objective truth. Instead of relieving the doubts of confused unbelievers in the way Christians throughout history have done, in each new age or culture, by the preaching of orthodox Christian doctrine, the Emerging Church lulls them into the mindset that their doubts and uncertainties about life and eternity are okay because objective truth cannot be known.

The Emerging Church provides a new assurance of salvation, but substitutes theological certainty, the doctrine of regeneration and the fellowship of the saints,  with myth, ritual, intellectualism and a camaraderie of mutual interest which produces a fellowship little different than that experienced by a band of revolutionaries or group of hobbyists.

Pastors in some of the largest churches in America now teach that you do not need to be born again and that judgement in hell does not exist. Instead, they redefine being born again as joining a movement of people committed to mutual help and good works[1]. Some of those under their charge will believe they are saved and appear before the throne only to hear the words ‘I never knew you’.

Such a religion is false, no matter how attractive its teachings are nor how winsome are its proponents.

2.  Acceptance of Active Homosexuality

Mark Driscoll predicted, in a discussion of Brian McLaren’s refusal to declare any position on homosexuality, that it would not be long before ECM leaders would openly declare what the position they had quietly assented to – that there was no reason why Christians could not be practising homosexuals.

This has now happened. In Nov 2008 when Tony Jones, the former national coordinator of Emergent Village (effectively the central hub of the ECM), declared

I now believe that GLBTQ can live lives in accord with biblical Christianity (at least as much as any of us can!) and that their monogamy can and should be sanctioned and blessed by church and state. [2]

It should be obvious from my earlier paper on Shane Claiborne that he takes a similar view. (See Section 5. below for British emergent promotion of homosexuality)

3.  Into The Anglican Church

Anglicans are practiced in compromise, in making room for one another when Scripture, reason, tradition and experience don’t line up for everyone the same way… For Anglicans it is never ‘sola’ – never only one factor. Scripture is always in dialogue with tradition, reason, and experience.
–  Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, p. 211 (Italics added)

Brian McLaren is sympathetic towards the Anglican Church, sensing, especially in the light of the American homosexual episcopal appointments and the way they have been dealt with, that the door to liberalism has not been so firmly closed by the worldwide Anglican communion as it has been by some other denominations. In fact, a number of parts of the Anglican church have enthusiastically embraced liberal emergent ideas. This is in stark contrast to denominations such as the (American) Southern Baptists: they withdrew an invitation to Doug Pagitt to speak at one of their conferences when the extent of his departure from orthodoxy became apparent.

The Anglicans have responded in kind. McLaren was invited to speak at the Lambeth Conference where he was introduced (and personally endorsed) by Archbishop Rowan Williams[3]. The Anglican Church Mission Society, Church Army, and Fresh Expressions initiative have all enthusiastically endorse his books and teaching. (See Part III and Appendix Two for details)

4.  Creation Theology & New Age Spirituality

The first signs are emerging that parts of the ECM are moving in the direction of New Age pantheistic ‘creation theology’. In 1995, the ground-breaking Anglican ‘Nine O’clock Service’ church in Sheffield collapsed after the revelation of the sexual impropriety by the pastor and worship leader, Chris Bain. In fact his moral lapse was merely the consequence of a deeper tragedy – the church had already significantly drifted into heresy and had become heavily influenced by the teaching of New Age ‘theologian’, former Catholic priest Matthew Fox. Fox was expelled from the Catholic Church by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, whose Prefect (leader) was Cardinal Razinger (now Pope Benedict XVI). In ample illustration of the ability of the Anglican Communion to be a broad church, Fox then was ordained an Episcopalian priest. Fox had by then written extensively on creation theology, developed a close relationship with the Nine O’clock Service and the worship practices in its services had developed from his ideas.

Matthew Fox is enjoying new popularity within the ECM. He has contributed to a recent book with emergent theologian Marcus Borg and way back in 1991, Leonard Sweet, now a leading emergent and co-author with Brian McLaren[4] called Fox one of his ‘personal role models of the true nature of the postmodern apologetic’[5].

McLaren gives some indication that he might be heading that way, too:

I felt that every tree, every blade of grass, and every pool of water become especially eloquent with God’s grandeur. Somehow they seemed to become transparent—or perhaps translucent is the better word—because each thing in its particularity was still utterly visible and unspeakably important . . . These specific, concrete things became translucent in the sense that a powerful, indescribable, invisible light seemed to shine through. . . . It was the exuberant joy of simply seeing these masterpieces of God’s creation…and knowing myself to be among them. It was to be one of them, and to feel and know that “we”—all of these creatures, molecules, and phenomena—were together known and loved by God, who embraced us all into the ultimate “We.”
– Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, p. 178

Both McLaren and Rob Bell have shown little concern to reject Eastern spiritual techniques which have traditionally been treated with suspicion by the evangelical church which they claim to be part of:

Western Christianity has (for the last few centuries anyway) said relatively little about mindfulness and meditative practices, about which Zen Buddhism has said much. To talk about different things is not to contradict one another; it is, rather, to have much to offer one another, on occasion at least.
– Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, p. 225

[In Yoga] it’s not how flexible you are, it’s not whether you can do the poses, it’s not how much you can bend yourself, it’s can you keep your breath [breathes in and out] consistent [breathes out] through whatever you are doing. And the Yoga Masters say this is how it is when you follow Jesus and surrender to God. It’s your breath being consistent. It’s your connection with God regardless of the pose you find yourself in. That’s integrating the divine into the daily.
Rob Bell (transcribed from his Nooma DVD Breathe)

In Britain, Dave Tomlinson, the former house church leader, now the Anglican vicar of St Luke’s West Holloway, runs Breathing Space, a spirituality centre which holds (rather than rents space for) fortnightly Astanga Yoga classes and lectures on Sufi mysticism.

Alarmingly, the Nine O’clock Service in Sheffield, which pioneered Fox’s ‘Planetary Mass’[6], is now cited by a number of modern emergent ‘alternative worship’ practitioners[7] as one of their inspirations. ‘Alternative worship’ must not to be confused with contemporary Christian worship (Tim Hughes, Jesus Culture, Hillsong, etc). Unlike them it is closely associated with the Emerging Church. Actually, it is described by one British emergent website as being synonymous with emergent church practice. This description incorporates many emergent themes:

(Alternative worship) … emerged out of the likes of the Nine O’clock Service in Sheffield in the mid-1990s. it can be described as creative (embraces the arts), post-charismatic (tends not to do singing) and post-evangelical, visual, kinaesthetic, post-modern, contemplative, retrieving and rewriting liturgy, rediscovering theology (especially doctrines of incarnation, creation and trinity), having a positive of view of contemporary culture. [8]

The website paragraph continues ‘See Jonny Baker and Doug Gay’s book Alternative Worship’[9].  Baker is worship co-ordinator for Greenbelt and CMS National Youth Coordinator.

Contemporary Christian worship may use some of the lighting and symbolism employed in ‘alternative worship’. Like the rest of the church, unless its is alerted to the underlying errors in the teaching of the emergents, it runs the risk of absorbing heterodox emergent teaching alongside otherwise neutral features it shares or borrows.

It is clear that emergents have little time for contemporary (often charismatic) worship. Jonny Baker it as ‘dull’ and ‘dislocated from contemporary culture’ and ‘stuck in the 70s’. In his view ‘it lacks depth and has ended up being very predictable… The range of themes and language in the songs and prayers simply doesn’t address all the issues of life. After a few years people want something more.’

Many, for whom contemporary worship is one of the most profound components of their spiritual lives would profoundly disagree. Moreover they would find Shane Claiborne’s next comment, his dismissal of charismatic worship as ‘spiritual masturbation’ both offensive and extremely disturbing – especially when it comes from someone who has been given the pulpit in leading churches and is being lauded as a radical role model for young Christians:

Then a couple of new kids transferred to our high school, and I heard rumours about them. They were from a “charismatic” nondenominational congregation that was much more radical (than his); they spoke in tongues and danced in the aisles… One day in the lunch room, I was commissioned (okay, dared) to go and sit with them and ask them about speaking in tongues, as all my friends looked on, snickering… They invited me with open arms to worship with them, and I went.  I quickly grew to admire their reckless, unguarded worship.  And I met people who lived like they believed in heaven and hell, who cried and worshipped like they were actually encountering God.
Before long, I ended up joining that congregation.  I became a Jesus freak.  I tried to convert everyone, from heathens to pastors..  I was passionately pro-life and anti-gay, and I tore apart liberals. I helped organise the local Bush/Quayle campaign… I went to the malls to do goofy skits and hand out religious tracts to try to save innocent shoppers from the fires of hell.

It was awesome being a Jesus freak, and I did it for almost a year, but the fiery newness of it died out, and when they actually let us pray in school, it sort of lost its glamour.

[Shane’s footnote is inserted at this point in the text – bold font added:]

We later referred to this feelgood, emotionally charged Christianity as “spiritual masturbation.”  It feels good but never really gives birth to anything.

I saw the messiness of church politics and egotism.  I was driven mostly by ideology and theology, which isn’t very sustainable, even if they’re true…  I needed some relief for my over churched soul. So I became quite disenchanted with the church, though I was still fascinated with Jesus (Irresistible Revolution p.43-46)

The irony in Claiborne’s comment, which clearly escapes him, is that it was the out of that charismatic worship that these young people who he rather arrogantly dismisses then went out to bear witness to the loving message of Jesus on the streets of their city. But Shane, like other emergents, does not approve of street evangelism, which he glibly disparages as  doing goofy skits, and ‘handing out tracts to try to save innocent shoppers from the fires of hell’. (Note the use of the prefix ‘innocent’)

5.  A Case Study: Dave Tomlinson and St Luke’s, West Holloway – The Fruit of Compromise

Many parts of the Anglican church already have compromised on homosexuality and yet evangelical Anglicans don’t disassociate from the CofE because of it; there could be an argument that, likewise, doctrinal compromise over some of these issues (emergents would call it ‘tolerance’) doesn’t really put our churches at risk. Does it? I would answer ‘yes’ and cite the example of Dave Tomlinson and St Luke’s, West Holloway, to support that. St Luke’s shows what an emergent ministry looks like after 15 years of theological ‘post-evangelical’ compromise.

In 1994, the ‘Toronto Blessing’ broke out in the British charismatic church and brought a new wave refreshing into many parts of the church. In contrast to the deeper faith that was growing in other parts of the charismatic/evangelical/protestant church, at the same time, Dave Tomlinson, the well-known former house church leader and regular Greenbelt speaker, was grappling with disillusionment. Abandoning evangelical certainty he began to write about a very different model of church – where doctrine was loose, uncertainty embraced, and tolerance overlooked departures from orthodoxy.

The result was The Post-Evangelical, published in 1995.  Described as ‘seminal’ and a ‘paradigm-buster’, it has become a classic emergent text (one of the earliest). It was reprinted in America in 2003, with contributions from emergent star Doug Pagitt, and it launched Tomlinson onto the US Emergent platform, where he appeared alongside Brian McLaren, Pagitt, and the former Director of Alpha USA, now an Anglican bishop, Todd Hunter.

The American edition’s blurb describes well both the book and the emergent mindset that is behind it:

You believe in the God of the Bible – but you cringe when church leaders oversimplify, trivialize, and absolutize the faith. You’re not alone. You’re likely among an increasing number of post-evangelicals: Christians growing restless within the bounds of the evangelical orthodoxy they were raised in or trained in – especially its culturally-influenced precepts and mores – and thirsting for something deeper. Something that makes sense.

Author Dave Tomlinson encountered these same issues in Great Britain as he approached the writing of The Post-Evangelical. He quickly discovered that many in the church are hungering for a safe place to express their questions, doubts, and insights without being branded “liberals” or – worse yet – “heretics.”

The Post-Evangelical … stridently (challenges) its man-made rules and regulations that have, for all intents and purposes, become “gospel.”[10]

In Britain, the book was greeted with some consternation. Alistair McGrath, the leading evangelical theologian, described the book as ‘one of the most superficial and inadequate treatments of the contemporary state of evangelicalism’ that he had read. But it was broadly tolerated and did not prevent Tomlinson from being ordained as an Anglican priest in 1997. A number of leading Anglicans contributed to a published response which discussed the ideas it raised[11] but it seems those contributions addressed the theological issues rather than warned where Tomlinson’s compromises might lead. A decade and a half later, that has now become apparent and should be a warning to us all.

An evangelical who abandons his belief that there is certainty in scripture abandons his compass, and St Luke’s today is a mature flowering of something that took roots with The Post Evangelical 15 years ago. The church runs Breathing Space, a spirituality centre which holds (rather than rents space for, an important distinction) fortnightly Astanga Yoga classes and lectures on Sufi mysticism led by an American, Muiz Brinkerhoff, who describes himself as:

…formally initiated on the path of Sufism in 1975, within the Sufi Islamia Ruhaniat Society, certified as a Leader of the Dances of Universal Peace in 1979, and raised to the post of Sheikh (teacher) in 1996. The Ruhaniat was established by Murshid S.A.M. in the late ’60s (see Spiritual Lineage of the Dances), and is an eclectic, and particularly American, embodiment of several of the more traditional Indian and middle eastern Sufi schools of experiential spiritual growth and development. … Muiz was trained in a variety of Sufi subjects, including spiritual dance and walk, breath practice, wazifa (mantra), zikr (remembrance of the Divine through repetition of the Sacred Names), concentration, magnetism and attunement…. (he has spent) 7 years working with Both Sides Now, Maui’s gay, bisexual, lesbian social, educational and community outreach organization …   Having been out of the closet since 1975, Muiz probably holds the distinction of being the first openly gay/queer man to be confirmed as a Sheikh in any formal Sufi Order.[12]

The church has abandoned any reservations on the homosexuality issue, too. Tomlinson is a founder member of Accepting Evangelicals, an organisation which promotes the ‘acceptance of faithful, loving same-sex partnerships at every level of church life, and the development of a positive Christian ethic for gay and lesbian people.’[13]

It seems that his church is New Age in all but name.

Error in a church, like sin in the life of a Christian, starts small. As corners are cut, compromises made, and a blind eye turned to lapses that would not have been tolerated before, spiritual numbness dulls discernment. Wimber used to say, talking about moral failings in church leaders, that ‘a hundred dollar sin’ always starts with ‘one dollar sins’. Nobody who is healthy and drug free intends to become a crack addict. It happens over time, incrementally.  No honest pastor could conceive of introducing occult spiritual practices to ensnare his people. It happens over time, bit by bit.

This is why it is so important to address and confront the errors of Emerging Church liberalism.  We have a spiritual enemy. We are warned that he prowls around like a lion seeking to devour. He looks for weaknesses that he can exploit, doors that are ajar through which he can enter. He wishes to destroy the power of the church.

Emergent liberalism gives him the means to do this.


  • While it has been hard in the past to identify key emergent doctrines, it is less so now that the ‘orthodox’ evangelical Emergents, such as Mark Driscoll, have separated themselves from the movement (while still maintaining their laudable ambition to pursue new models of church to reach the latest generation of unbelievers).[14]
  • In the light of this new clarity, I believe that we can state with confidence that the Emerging Church represents a dangerous and subtle counterfeit form of Christianity. It is the liberalism of the 21st Century.
  • Its leaders may well have the best of motives, be men and women of personal integrity, and believe themselves to be orthodox Christians. Their charisma has convinced many of their theological orthodoxy but we must look beyond this. Many people have been, and are being, seduced by their teaching.
  • Tragically, church leaders, parachurch organisations and leading youth missioners are among those who have been deceived. The percentage of these groups who have been penetrated by emergent teaching (using Brian McLaren and his books as the litmus indicator) seems to be higher in British Christianity and the Anglican Communion than anywhere else.
  • If the Emerging Church is teaching a counterfeit gospel then the extent of its penetration of the British Church presents the biggest threat to the church in this nation for many decades.  The danger it poses is particularly great because it has been penetrating some of the most lively and forward-thinking parts of the British Church.
  • Brian McLaren has been welcomed by Lambeth Palace, the Evangelical Alliance, Spring Harvest, Fresh Expressions, Oasis, Church Army, CMS, CWR, Youth for Christ, and some Vineyard churches. His books and those of fellow emergent Rob Bell are bestsellers and can be found in most Christian and church bookshops. Bells’ books and videos are especially popular with younger Christians who lack the discernment to see error amidst the cool and the hype.
  • If my assessment of the error of the Emerging Church is correct, inaction and apathy upon the part of church leaders are not viable options. This is not going to go away. The teachings of the Emerging Church must be openly examined and discussed. Questions must be asked of those who hold these ideas and of those who offer their pulpits to them. Clear preaching must lay out the biblical position on the issues where the emergents are in error and decisions need to me made about what to do about the promotion of the books, DVDs and teaching of leading emergents such as Brian McLaren and Rob Bell.

Many young adult Christians have already emotionally invested in and trusted the teaching of leading emergents. They are refashioning their ministries along emergent lines. Pastors who decide to take a stand on this may be unpopular. They may be branded as heresy hunters, that most distasteful feature of modern church. They may be accused of being pharisaical and unloving, and of conforming to the all evangelical stereotypes which emergents so graphically ridicule. They will certainly be misunderstood.

But those who have the care of souls have a higher call than to bend before the winds of the prevailing culture. Their call is to be faithful to the eternal truths of scripture.

Additional Note:

Shane Claiborne.

I believe that Shane Claiborne, the subject of an earlier paper, is also quite clearly within the mainstream of the Emerging Church movement. I do not intend to develop this here as I have examined that in the paper that I have written on him. Many of his theological ‘quirks’ which the unitiated might put down to over-enthusiastic radicalism do, in fact, have close similarities (or direct connections) with the ideas of the emergents discussed in this paper. This includes many of the phrases he uses tjheological terms and buzzwords which have a specific, different meaing to emergents) , his theology, his approach to homosexuality,  contempt for mainstream evangelicals, universalism, antipathy toward charismatic worship, sympathy for heterodox theologians, and a pacifism which derives from his rejection of penal substitution  (Pacifism, incidentally,  is a very important brick in the emergent wall; they reason that because  God is only love, he cannot be violent in any way, so no one goes to hell and he could not have put our punishment on Jesus. To accept ‘just war’ theory would imply that God can allow violence even though he is a loving God; if so, an eternity in hell for the unrepentant becomes possible once again – including some of them – and the whole emergent theological pack of cards collapses).

[1] The Christian story is that a tomb is empty, and a movement has actually begun that has been present in a sense all along in creation. And all those times when your cynicism was at odds with an impulse within you that said that this little thing might be about something bigger—those tiny little slivers may in fact be connected to something really, really big.” Rob Bell (Interview in Christianity Today: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/article_print.html?id=81195)

[2]http://blog.beliefnet.com/tonyjones/2008/11/same-sex-marriage-blogalogue-h.html Also http://blog.tonyj.net/2010/01/a-call-to-clergy-stop-performing-legal-marriages/ ; Doug Pagitt also told Mark Driscoll that he saw no reason why a Christian could not be a practising homosexual  (reference)

[3] “Three or four years ago, I spied a book with an interesting title in a bookstore. It had the longest subtitle I’ve ever seen [It was A Generous Orthodoxy]. After I finished his book, I knew he was someone I wanted to speak to us here tonight.” (Rowan Williams)

[4] Leonard Sweet and Brian McLaren, A is for Abductive: The Language of the Emerging Church (2003)

[5] Leonard Sweet, Quantum Spirituality: A Postmodern Apologetic

[6] http://www.equip.org/articles/the-planetary-mass

[7] E.g. Jonny Baker,  CMS National Youth Coordinator, coordinator of worship for Greenbelt, who has also provided a cover endorsement for the UK edition of Brian McLaren’s 2010 book A New Kind of Christianity. For more detail see Appendix.

[8] http://andygoodliff.typepad.com/my_weblog/emerging_church/

[9] Jonny Baker and Doug Gay, Alternative Worship, (SPCK, 2004). See Part III

[10] http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Post-Evangelical/Dave-Tomlinson/e/9780310253853

[11] The Post Evangelical Debate (1997) by Graham Cray, Maggi Dawn, Nick Mercer, Michael Saward, Pete Ward, and Nigel Wright.

[12] http://www.unicorncamps.com/links.php

[13] http://www.acceptingevangelicals.org. The quote is from the front page of their website.

[14] See  EPILOGUE – An Admirable Emergent: Mark Driscoll


One Response to “Part I. The Emerging Church Movement (2)”

  1. Peter Says:

    Excellent writing! I just wanted to alert you to a slight typo: “tjheological” under the comment on Shane Claiborne. Feel free to remove this comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: