Tuesday, December 12, 2006

toward establishing the boundaries of orthodoxy for the emerging church

Dan Kimball writes:

"the "stereotype" which emphatically stated that emerging churches are rejecting historical doctrines and that most don't teach doctrines isn't a valid belief"

and he links to several churches that have doctrinal statements on their website in his post.

Dan's post makes me think that to gain a fuller understanding of actual on-the-ground emerging church theology, it would be helpful to do an around-the-room of as many specific emerging churches as possible to see what they have in their belief statements.

I thought it was an interesting coincidence that Dan posted this today as just last night I decided to start building out a faithmaps section on Creeds and Doctrinal Statements. Maybe I'll build out a section on emerging church statements of faith.

While recognizing the limits of doctrinal statements in transpropositional terms, it seems to me that it would be helpful to establish some doctrinal parameters beyond which we emergers cannot definitively go and still be called Christian. This boundary would extend beyond mere theism but would not extend as far as a thoroughgoing relativism. These boundaries would encompass non-negotiables, but would leave some theological space open for continued learning.

I'll just cut and paste a section from Are there Emerging Church Shibboleths?:


While surely agreeing that there are theological non-negotiables (see, for example, 2 Timothy 1:13,14 and 2 Thessalonians 2:15), even so Reformed and conservative a leading light as the great exegete John Murray once commented,

"However epochal have been the advances made at certain periods and however great the contributions of particular men we may not suppose that theological construction ever reaches definitive finality. There is the danger of a stagnant traditionalism and we must be alert to this danger, on the one hand, as to that of discarding our historical moorings, on the other."

Murray continues, "When any generation is content to rely upon its theological heritage and refuses to explore for itself the riches of divine revelation, then declension is already under way and heterodoxy will be the lot of the succeeding generation.... A theology that does not build on the past ignores our debt to history and naively overlooks the fact that the present is conditioned by history. A theology that relies on the past evades the demands of the present"

(emphasis mine, from his article "Systematic Theology" - see Looking Beyond the Facade of Modernity, Part 2).


And to balance things out, perhaps we also need to develop minimal standards for orthopraxy, incorporating social justice concerns and personal spiritual formation practices (broad categories).

I fully realize that this is a controversial proposal and that there is no emerging church body representing all emergers that could make such a decision! I also realize that for some even talking this way is counter-cultural to their emerging church ethos.

But perhaps there is some statement to which interested emergers could subscribe that would provide them protection from being lumped in with theological excesses sometimes associated with some emerging church folks.

What do you think?


Anonymous said...


I think this is a fascinating proposition! I'm not sure if this is exactly what you're looking for, in terms of an "around the room," but the church community that I (and Anthony Smith) are a part of here in Charlotte is Warehouse 242. W242 is considered by many to be part of the emerging church movement (ECM), "emerging" (I would say) out of a Gen X generational ministry model into a more missional urban church model (heavily influenced by Tim Keller, etc.).

Anyway, you can read the "Beliefs" and "Core Values" statements of Warehouse 242 online here: http://warehouse242.org/v2/beliefs_values.asp
(use the thin white bar on the right to scroll down and view the whole thing - I know, it's a tricky bit of design!)

I suspect many other "emerging churches" will be quite similar in how evangelical and "orthodox" they are in their statements. But as Tony Jones points out in the latest Emergent Village podcast, if you ask the average Joe or Jane in the pew (or metal folding chair) what they believe -- or even if you ask someone on staff at a particular church (any church) what they believe -- you will probably find a great diversity of theological positions. I'm not reiterating Tony's point to disparage belief statements on the whole (which wasn't his point either). I think it's valuable to look at these things, but the challenge is to remember that even statements posted on websites by emerging churches is not necessarily going to give you a pulse for what is happening in the hearts and minds of people "in the pews."

Still, I think it's a very good barometer, and, despite all the "sky is falling" in terms of a move away from orthodoxy in the ECM, I think the vast majority of emerging churches (at least in North America) are still very much rooted in traditionally held "orthodox" evangelicalism. Which is why it is so sad when rumors get spread about the ECM being 100% for universalism or some other such hogwash.

BTW -- One other interesting twist on this whole discussion is what will happen as the ECM in North America becomes more conversant with the post-colonial ECM in Africa and Asia (which tends to be more conservative theologically and more pentecostal in practice) -- how that will affect the trajectory of the global church. I would suspect that even the more "liberal" (for lack of a better term) folks theologically would have to submit in humility to the broad concensus of a more "conservative" Christian church globally. But I could be wrong ;-)

Sorry for the long comment,
Steve K.

Stephen said...

steve, i appreciate your expansive response. as you know, beth and i love w242 and are looking forward to being there for christmas eve, so i will check out their statement.

i think you're correct that most ec's would be pretty evangelical when it comes to theology. but in the popular consciousness - even that of the evangelical - the entire movement seems to be more associated - at least at times - with those at the theological fringe.

i would agree with tony that there is more diversity in the congregation than there is in the pew. but we are talking about leaders and the voice of the ec is primarily the voice of leaders. leaders are those that we hope have their theological chops down somewhat.

my own concerns are two:

1) People tend to associate the whole conversation with those who are published how have taken controversial positions.

2) I'm very concerned that the baby of genuinely creative and missional emerging church moves are being thrown out with the bathwater of fringe theologizing.

david rudd said...

Great post. our church would not be considered "emerging", yet we are a 100 year old church emphatically dedicated to passing the faith to the next generation. as a result, we no longer publicize our "doctrinal statement" but have instead identified three simple statements which identify our core beliefs.

1. the Bible is God's trustworthy message for all people.

2. Jesus is the only way of salvation

3. Everyone in the world needs to hear God's story.

our lengthy, footnoted, statement is still available for those who really want it, but these statements are our effort to connect with the emerging generations...

iggy said...


A young man approached me with the idea of a "Blog Carnival"...

The idea is that people submit writing on a specific topic. He desires to have an "around the room" discussion in which we do as you are suggesting.

His link is

It would be a great way to really get down to what we believe.

Stephen said...


my concern for that would be I could see it would be very easy for things to debilitate quickly unless it was either very well moderated or care was taken in who to invite.


Anonymous said...


I think that is the intent, though over the Christmas season this has not progressed very much.

I am not against the idea... I think there is a bit of differing as I an not sure we need to "get our doctrine in line" ... more over I do see that we could streamline the hot topics with a little more of a collective voice.

In a way that would be more talking about putting feet to our values and developing strategies in some way.

I personally think it should not be a comment type blog, but more of a topic driven and if the author wishes the can link to their own blog and post there also for comments.

Again this is very much just in the air.

I just see that we need a centralized point of reference… sort of what was being done at Emergent Village, yet a bit more flexible.

I also am not too comfortable in asking only certain people to post… it would be nice if the “big dogs” did, yet I see the “conversation” as more grassroots. And again I am not sure if I would like to approve one post and not another. The idea is to let the flow of ideas on values of the EC and not censor them… yet somehow create a cohesive thought out of the great diversity of thought out there. I just think we need to find a way to point to a centralized point and say, “mostly in general we all agree on these points” (grin).

It would be like this in a way… you may express that Calvinism is the way (this is an example so if you don’t to take it as I am saying you do…even though I just did LOL!) and I may not agree with Calvinism and yet agree with eternal security… but more importantly is how this is relevant to the progress of reaching the PM generation. Again, this is not going to be easy. Personally I feel most ill prepared.