The Conservative Emergent

I offer this post as a teaser of sorts before I begin my series of posts on the apostolic church as I am currently swamped with moving and preparing for my Ignite UK Apologetics and Worldviews class (please see the resources section for the fruits of this labor).

While most of you are familiar with the terminology, I want to quickly distinguish between the Emergent and Emerging church.  The Emergent church is both atheological and ahistorical concerned neither with the history of the church or the great statements of Biblical doctrine which have buttressed the faith since the churches inception.  The Emerging church is both theological and historical seeking to express the classic doctrinal statements in a way that addresses the modern dilemma while examining the church’s vast history in an effort to anticipate the questions raised by modernity and postmodernity.  We must be careful in our conversations not to lump these two groups into the same categories.

What is The Conservative Emergent?  Upon mentioning the Emergent church most individuals immediately think of a church that is both theologically and culturally liberal; a pragmatic church that twists the Bible so that it conforms to and supports their immoral lifestyle; an idolatrous church who has created a God in their image to serve their sin.  The Conservative Emergent appears, in many ways, to be the antithesis of such a church and because of that, its deception is far more subtle, thus requiring a far more meticulous discernment.

In his recent book, The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception, John MacArthur says,

The church has grown lazy, worldly, and self-satisfied.  Church leaders are obsessed with style and methodology, losing interest in the glory of God and becoming grossly apathetic about truth and sound doctrine.  For the moment at least, the battle appears to be turning in the enemy’s favor.

Macarthur’s statement aptly describes the Emergent church and the more subtle Conservative Emergent.  Both have lost interest in the glory of God and become apathetic about truth.  The Conservative Emergent is theologically and culturally conservative; a pragmatic church that twists the Bible so that it conforms to and supports their pharisaic lifestyle; an idolatrous church who has created a God in their image to serve their sin.

While the Emergent church and the Conservative Emergent may appear to be at the opposite ends of the same spectrum; however, they are both characterized by the same spiritual deadness and have much in common.  First, the theology and the culture of the church is determined largely by the target culture whom the church aims to reach; in regions where the culture is liberal the theology and church culture are decidedly liberal and in regions where the culture is conservative the theology and church culture are decidedly conservative.  Thus, the Emergent must cling to ambiguity and claim that the scriptures say less than they actually do, if they say anything at all, while the Conservative Emergent must rely heavily upon prooftexting and eisegesis to defend their man-made religion.  Ultimately, the concerns of both the Emergent church and the Conservative Emergent are pragmatic rather than theological; neither their message, nor their methodology, nor their theology are exegetically determined both of these movements are pragmatic to the core and that is cause for concern.


9 thoughts on “The Conservative Emergent

  1. I would not say that either is ahistorical. Their understanding of history is skewed, but emergents are attempting to reclaim many aspects of the early and medieval church, yet they fail in misappropriating the application.

    If there is one thing that every movement in Christian history has tried to do it is that they try to do things as the apostolic church or early church. And each one fails, even the good ones. A church or a Christian can not replicate something outside their cultural and social contract, that is where the emergent/emerging folks and others (pentecostal, great awakening, restoration movement, southern baptists, etc.).

    The thing about history, particularly church history is this, people always try to reinvent the wheel. Except instead of building a wheel, they build a bicycle, or an car, or an airplane. Meaning that their attempt at “getting back” only constructs something else, by the same name.

  2. Justin,
    “people always try to reinvent the wheel. Except instead of building a wheel, they build a bicycle, or an car, or an airplane.” Good point.

    I think a lot of American churches would fit into this category. I think the key is that the churches focus is going to be on applied morality rather than spiritual renewal. Lots of sermons on the evils of sex, drugs, rock n roll, and homosexuality but no gospel emphasis. Churches where the essence of the message is political rather than spiritual. This is a definitely big in the south where old fashoned morality and values are strong so you create a church that appeals to their values, yet you must remove the gospel so that no one is offended.

  3. I think the recent discussion concerning preachers, if they could be called that, purchasing their sermons serves as a perfect example of the “Conservative Emergent.” For the most part I expect the sermons to be theologically and culturally conservative while remaining very general, so they can be marketed to a wide variety of churches. However, the concern of these pastors is not sound theology it is presenting a highly marketable product to draw a large crowd, which is purely pragmatic.

  4. Appreciate the discussion!

    I had an opportunity to speak this week at Mosaic in L.A., and the message will be on our free podcast. One of the things I shared fits into this idea of applied morality vs. spiritual renewal. I think it is remarkable the way the people of Nineveh turned to God and away from their wicked ways just before the King made a proclamation asking them to do so (Jonah 3:3-7). The passage reminded me that often politicians are reactionary and true change must come from the ground up.

    Abraham Lincoln once said: “With public sentiment nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed…. He who holds public sentiment goes deeper than he who erects statutes or pronounces decisions.”

  5. i dont see the distinction between emergent and emerging as clearly. Has anyone in this thread read any books on emergent theory? like “Emergence” by Steve Johnson?

  6. Andrew,

    The distinction is hard to see at times as the Emergent church lacks doctrinal distinctives, which is inherent within postmodernity and its worldview is more postmodern than Biblical. But there is a clear distinction when you compare individuals such as Brian McLaren (Emergent) and Mark Driscoll (Emerging). Another difficulty is the lack of theological writings by these individuals. In past times different groups would write systematic theologies and thus doctrinal dictions were easily pinpointed; however, postmodernity does not value propositional truth statements and thus I find it unlikely that McLaren will be writing Emergent Systematics anytime soon.

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