Farewell emerging church, 1989-2010

by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Wednesday, April 14, 2010, at 2:53 pm

Reading a new book or going to a conference about the emerging church is a waste of time and money unless it's to understand the movement as a recent historical one. The emerging church movement has ended. Andrew Jones, a leader of the movement in the U.K., wrote about the demise at the end of 2009. Rob Bell, the founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., delivered an April 4 sermon on the Resurrection that marks, in my opinion, the end of an era. Bell recounts how Mars Hill started out to be a different kind of church without the baggage of watered-down "seeker" churches and the religious legalism of "traditional" churches. In a moment of wonderful honesty Bell admitted that Mars Hill had become a big institution that wounded people in similar ways as the churches many Gen-Xers swore they would not mimic. Jones affirms much of Bell's experience on his blog.

From Brian McLaren to Erwin McManus to Rob Bell to Tony Jones to Mark Driscoll and others, the theological lines have been drawn and are settled. We have all moved on. We know who fits into evangelicalism, post-liberalism, Anabaptism, Calvinism, and so on. If you are interested in the emerging movement as church history, pick up a copy of Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Communities in Postmodern Cultures by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger.

Gibbs and Bolger provide a good summary of the short-lived movement:

Emerging churches are not young adult services, Gen-X churches, churches-within-a-church, seeker churches, purpose-driven or new paradigm churches, fundamentalist churches, or even evangelical churches. They are a new expression of church. The three core practices are identifying with the life of Jesus, transforming secular space, and commitment to community as a way of life. These practices are expressed in or lead to the other six: welcoming the stranger, serving with generosity, participating as producers, creating as created beings, leading as a body, and taking part in spiritual activities.

There is a wonderful obituary for the emerging church for those still concerned that we need to spend time trying to understand it and protect people from it. Don't waste your time.

Bell's April 4 sermon recounts that Mars Hill entered a process of re-thinking everything about itself as it has grown and matured into an institution over the past 11 years. Mars Hill and other churches born out of the emerging church era are no longer new, trendy, "cool," nor innovative. These formerly "cool" churches are full of singles, married couples, growing children, balding middle-age men, and so on, who are all trying to figure out how to live a redemptive life here and now while confronting daily struggles with sin, repentance, grace, loving the poor, marriage, raising children, the recession, ailing parents, etc. Bell is launching a new focus on the implications of the Resurrection. Resurrection signals victory over sin, death, and the devil. Bell's notes read:

Resurrection announces that God has not given up on the world.

Because this world matters.

This world that we call home.

Dirt and blood and sweat and skin and light and water.

This world that God is redeeming and restoring and renewing.

Jesus is victory. God has a redeemed a people to be his intimate allies in the renewal of all things through the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is neither provocative nor cutting edge in the Kingdom. This is simply the teaching of the early church oriented around the Nicene Creed.

Because post-modernism as movement is also dead as scientific realism emerged as a recent culture-shaping philosophical movement, the generation of Christians struggling to meet the challenges of post-modernism, instead of yelling at it hoping it would go way, are shifting as well to address a world asking different questions. While the effects of the emerging church movement will linger for some time we will begin to see books praising and attacking the movement go out of print.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of The Political Economy of Liberation and Black and Tired. Follow Anthony on Twitter @drantbradley.

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