Are you an emerger? Is the emerging church heretical? What should my attitude be toward this “movement”? These are the questions that started this series of blog posts and I hope by the end of this post you will be better equipped to answer these questions in an informed and responsible way.

I will now (finally!) attempt to give you five ways in which I believe one can emerge or identify with, at least to some degree, the emerging movement.

Here they are:

Emerging Ecclesiologically
Emerging Sociologically
Emerging Theologically
Emerging Epistemologically
Emerging Politically

It is important to keep in mind that being “emerging” in any of these categories does not necessarily mean that one is an emerger, it simply means that one identifies, sympathizes, or finds themselves within this particular characteristic of emerging thought.

The examples provided in each group are not meant to be exhaustive or taken as a unified whole. In other words, some emergers may identify with some of the examples and not others.

Emerging Ecclesiologically

This characterizes an attempt or desire to return to some traditional elements of the Christian faith that draw upon a more experience based worship. Many times this will be evidenced by a less formal structure of gatherings or formal church time, allowing freedom of expression without the traditional restraints of more program oriented gatherings.


Less tendency to have a traditional (post-reformation) church program structure
Movement toward house churches
Disdain for “mega” churches
Lord’s supper/Eucharist practiced every week
Artwork as expressions of faith
Candles and incense
Traditional prayers and creeds
Prayer walks
More radical Emergent type examples:

Eastern meditation
Yoga services
Emerging Epistemologically

A desire for an epistemic humility that recognizes the shortcomings modernistic enlightenment philosophy bent on striving for absolute knowledge and certainty in all things. This humility ranges from radical agnosticism (e.g. a denial of our ability to know anything for certain) to essentials-only mentality (e.g. we only focus on the essentials that are clear and have been held by the historic Christian faith).


Suspicious of all truth claims
Willingness to question personal traditions at the deepest level
Doubt and uncertainty concerning an individualistic approach to truth and knowledge—we learn in community
More desirous to broaden perspectives outside subjective cultural norms
Recognition that our knowledge is not objective, we all learn in a biased context
Denial of man’s ability to have absolute certainty (this is reserved only for God)
More skeptical of traditional sources of information and authority (science, denominational authorities, pastors, theologians, media, etc)
More apophatic, emphasizing mystery and our inability as finite beings to definitely and conclusively define an infinite God
More radical Emergent type characteristics:

Denial of the existence of “Truth” with a capital “T” (absolute truth)
Denial of any claims to certainty
Denial of the analogy of language (e.g. language is not a sufficient conduit of truth)
Emerging Theologically

Calling into question many traditional Christian doctrines. This questioning can result in agnosticism toward the particular doctrine, marginalization of the issue, or a settled humble conviction concerning the issue. This is closely tied to being emerging epistemologically.


Missional focus concerning the spread of the Gospel (Christians do not go to church, they are the church)
Less tendency to recognize or give strong credence to traditional theological divisions (e.g. Catholic-Protestant; Reformed-Arminian)
Not too keen to systematic theology since to “systematize” ones theology usually implies a seemingly forced system of harmonization that is seen to be inconsistent with both human ability and divine revelation
Hesitancy about taking traditional labels such as Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Liberal, or even Emerger since the labels associate them with a systematized system of beliefs and thought
1) Agnostic with regards to the destiny of the unevangelized (e.g. we don’t know the eternal condition of the unevangelized)
2) Inclusivistic with regards to destiny of the unevangelized (e.g. Christ’s blood can save those who don’t have the chance to hear the Gospel)
More agnostic toward the nature of hell
Willing to see value in multiple theories of the atonement, not just the vicarious substitutionary view
Traditional Protestant theology of imputation questioned
More radical Emergent type characteristics:

Universalism (all people will make it to heaven as God will redeem all things)
Pluralism (all religions are basically the same)
Denial of hell as a place of eternal judgment
Complete denial of the vicarious substitutionary view of the atonement
Emerging Sociologically

Engaging in and integration with culture and society in traditionally “unorthodox†ways. The integration has to to with a belief that culture is not necessarily evil, but can be part of God’s common grace. The engagement is purposed on sharing the Gospel in places and ways that are seen as taboo for many in the evangelical or fundamentalist communities. As well, this characteristic is bent upon the belief that loving one’s neighbor and sharing the Gospel is not limited to our words, but is more powerfully expressed through out actions—actions of kindness, mercy, and justice.


Having church service in a brewery
Looking like the culture (e.g. dress, nose rings, colored hair)
Talking like the culture (e.g. getting rid of all Christianese language, less sensitive toward vulgarity, etc.)
Focus on bringing about justice (liberation of the oppressed, sympathy toward aids victims, women’s rights in society and the church, etc).
Willing to traverse the Christian sub-culture taboos (drinking, smoking, rated “R” movies, etc.)
More radical Emergent type characteristics:

Denial that homosexuality is sinful
Social Gospel becomes primary (e.g. Gospel of mercy without preaching of sin, the cross, and forgiveness)
Emerging Politically
Sympathizes with many of the more traditionally liberal political concerns. This is closely connected to being socially emerging.


Do not identify with a political party (e.g. they should not be seen as “the republican party at prayer!”)
Anti-war or more pacifistic
Support those with environmental concerns (green peace, global warming, recycling)
More radical Emergent type characteristics:

Approval of homosexual marriages and unions
Support of the women’s right to choose
Definitely identify with more liberal politics
I think that it is important to note that one can be emerging in one category and not so much in another. One might be emerging epistemologically and, to some degree, theologically, but not so politically or ecclesiastically. As well, one might be emerging socially, like Mark Driscoll, but not really too emerging in the other areas. Does this mean that they are still emerging? Yes, but only in those areas. Should they take on the name? I guess if they so choose, but one is always going to have to qualify what they mean.

As I said in previous posts, many of the non-Emergent type characteristics are shared by both traditional Evangelicals and emergers. Therefore, if you are an Evangelical and see yourself in some of these emerging characteristics, this should not surprise you. As I said before, much of the ethos of the emerging movement is simply what I believe to be a revitalization and a “next step” of Evangelicalism as it arose out of Fundamentalism in the 40s and 50s.

As well, there are those leaders in the emerging movement who I would call evangelical-emergers such as Scot McKnight, Robert Webber (deceased), Stanley Grenz (deceased), Dan Kimball, N.T. Wright, Eugene Peterson, Donald Miller, Mark Driscoll, and Dallas Willard (not all of whom would necessarily take the name emerging, but do identify closely with the emerging ethos). In this case, “evangelical” might be used as an adjective rather than a noun. They may be evangelical, not necessarily Evangelical.

So, are you an emerger? As you can see from this series of blogs, that is quite a question.

Will the real emerger please stand up? No, I take that back. Will the non-emergers just sit back down—that seems easier.

I hope this has been a helpful series.

Thoughts? Are you standing or sitting?

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

    1 Response to "Would the Real Emerger Please Stand Up? – Part 5 – Are You Emerging?"

    • Katharine Hemingway

      Hello there. My husband and I left our church denomination (Vineyard) in the year 2000 and began what you might call an emerging church. However, we did not fit into these descriptions you have offered. I thought you might be interested to hear what our intentions were when we started out, and ‘where we have landed’.
      In short, we sought simply to close the gap between the church and the world so as to reach more with Jesus’ message. This journey, however, was an eye opener. We have ‘landed’, unlike Rob Bell and others, just as ‘conservative’ as ever in our beliefs though much surer of their truth in the face of people’s actual lives. However, we find ourselves unable to re-enter the church culture for other reasons and have begun a group we call ‘fight club’ – (cheesy tag line = ‘fighting everything that separates us from God and each other) It’s church, but it includes some of the sociological changes you mentioned – we don’t live immoral or coarse lifestyles, but we do meet in public places and make our language and practices understandable and accessible to the unchurched and irreligious. Beyond this, however, and most importantly, we believe that true discipleship requires actively seeking to share the gospel with others and learning to seek and find those who are ready and wanting to hear it. We believe that as we do this as Christians, we begin to really know God and to grow in Him. Fight Club motivates, supports, and equips this process.
      I hope you found this interesting!
      Thanks for your blog – I really enjoyed it 🙂

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