OK, I lied. Here is another parenthetical post in my emerging series. The five ways in which one can emerge will be coming soon. However, in my defense, I did not know I was lying at the time I made my original commitment—does that count?

Take heart, this post has a LOT more charts and all emergers love charts, right? 😉

Here is the chart once again. Let me explain further what my thoughts are as to evangelicalism vis a vis emerging.

To be emerging does not necessarily have to do with where you land on certain issues. It has to do with your willingness to fly, seriously entertaining anew important and fundamental issues. Not only do you entertain questions (e.g. Why does God allow bad things? Is inerrancy the center of evangelical faith? Do the various traditions—Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant—all have valid contributions to make?) but you have the same questions yourself. In some sense it captures the Protestant reformation principle of reformata et semper reformanda (”reformed and always reforming”) better than other traditions who have reformed and then hardened in their categories of thought and practice.

In the end, as an emerger, you may land your plane in the field of traditional Protestantism on a particular issue, but it is your willingness to take off that is key. Are you willing to discuss issues from a fresh perspective? This is a key emerging question.

For example, I am Calvinist, complementarian, and affirm inerrancy. This does not necessarily disqualify me from being ”emerging” simply because I have landed on these issues. It has more to do with the attitude I have with regard to such and how important these issues are in my doctrinal taxonomy. Am I willing to question my assumptions regarding my stance? I hope. Does this mean that I will change with regards to these issues. Not necessarily. I might even become strengthened in them. But the willingness to listen and change, understanding the questions and difficulties involved is the key, not so much where we land. We go where truth takes us, we do not bring truth to our home.

Here where I would place myself and Dan Wallace on the chart. Again, Dan and I are both complementarian Calvinists who affirm inerrancy. (NOTE: I did not consult Dan on this one!)

Notice that I see myself as well as Dan as more emerging than Mark Driscoll. Why? It does not have to do with where we land theologically, for we line up very much with Driscoll on key issues. It has more to do with how much focus we place on certain issues. How willing are we to entertain alternative ideas and perspectives? The more willing, the more emerging.

Yet at the same time, I am not comfortable with the label as its associations, at least in my circles, are too closely tied with those who are more Emergent. Plus, I, like Roger Olson, believe that the name Evangelical can be saved. Call me idealistic, traditionalistic, or a bleeding heart, but Evangelicalism is not dead yet. (Maybe emergers can save it? 😀 )

It is important to know that there are many who are not even willing to entertain any questions. They are not willing take off, being settled and having their fortress built with walls of traditional confidence and conviction. Right or wrong is not the issue, but a willingness to legitimize the flight. This is the essence of fundamentalism (in the contemporary sense). When fundamentalism begins to emphasize non-essentials as essential, this is where they depart from traditional orthodox Christianity thereby creating their own form of Christianity. That is why there is a unorthodox form of fundamentalism—legalistic fundamentalists.

In a sense, I think that there are aspects of emerging that represent and revive the best of evangelicalism. Sadly, much of this pioneer confidence that marked 20th century evangelicalism as it rose out of the clutches of deteriorating fundamentalism has been lost. Evangelicalism is in danger of becoming the new fundamentalism and in many ways emergers look more evangelical than evangelicals! Does that make sense?

Here, sense everyone likes charts so much, let me give you the concentric circle of importance that I teach in my Introduction to Theology course of The Theology Program. I will modify these so that they represent each group: fundamentalists, evangelicals, emergers, and emergents.

The above is the key for the charts below. Notice, the further to the center, the more important the issue or doctrine. Those that are in the center circle are those which the representative tradition believes are essential for one to believe to be saved. Next is the circle of orthodoxy. This represents those issues or doctrines that the representative tradition believes is essential for one to be orthodox, not necessarily salvation. The outer circles represent a depleting belief in importance and emphasis.

Notice the concentration toward the center. Fundamentalists (at least in the contemporary sense of the word) would place just about everything in the center. “If it is in the Bible, it is absolutely essential, and we are certain that we are right!”

Notice that the Evangelical concentric circle is much more balanced, having a definite place for all issues. The center circle would have less representation.

Notice the change. The center circle has little change, evidencing that non-Emergent emergers do have a definite center. As well, there would be fewer items in the “circle of orthodoxy.” Most issues would be pushed to the outside with the result that those toward the center have more emphasis.

Now you can probably see the resulting difference. Those in the Emergent camp seem unwilling to land their plane anywhere near the center. In fact, the most emphasized and essential point may be that one cannot land near the center!

In the end, I want people to notice the difference between emerging and Emergent. I also want to draw attention to the similarities between evangelicalism and emerging.

Of course, not everyone will agree with or like these charts—they are not Gospel—but understand their intent in giving perspective.

Next, I will give the five ways which people can be emerging.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    3 replies to "Would the Real Emerger Please Stand Up – Part 4 – Comparing Fundamentalists, Evangelicals, and Emergers"

    • Dan Powers

      Very interesting. I must admit these are new terms for me.
      On one hand I might call myself an Emerger. I have always been willing to challenge my thinking and in some cases it has verified it and others it has changed.

      On the other hand, I would identify with the Evangelical chart.

      If every thing is speculation, why try, why worry, why care, and what’s the point? Do you really have a belief system?

    • James McKinnell

      In the concentric ovals of issues, I think that one might be added, “Essential for Community”. It is something like essential for orthodoxy, but especially in the local or denominational scene, faith community seems to involve other factors than doctrine. Sort of like the church growth observation of “homogeneous”. It seems to me that the emerging church model is based on the value of diversity, and eschews all orthodoxy or homogeneity.

    • Steven Miller

      I stumbled upon your blog by searching for images of “concentric circles”, and very much enjoyed your comments. I would agree with the comment of Dan above, regarding the essential nature of core beliefs. To me, the fundamental nature of Christ’s church was that believers accepted the core doctrines as well as they could understand them. I think that differing interpretations of core doctrines do not necessarily separate denominations, though as you point out, willingness to entertain (or not entertain) new perspectives on these doctrines might still stratify individual members or groups among a certain denomination.

      I note here that I would not describe myself as being evangelical in the way that you’ve defined it, but I definitely ask questions about the validity of established doctrines and practices as they are commonly perceived.

      I appreciate your insights and note also that there is much that we can learn from others, no matter how we judge their beliefs in relation to our own.

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