Why Can’t We All Get Along? What the Emergent Church Wants

Conan O’Brien, the trendy younger comic who replaced Jay Leno as host of the Tonight Show, has been unable to hold Leno’s audience. So NBC is moving Leno back to his original timeslot. It seems NBC is experiencing what many churches are experiencing: the challenge of pulling together the older and younger audiences.

Conan O’Brien, the trendy younger comic who replaced Jay Leno as host of the Tonight Show, has been unable to hold Leno’s audience. So NBC is moving Leno back to his original timeslot. It seems NBC is experiencing what many churches are experiencing: the challenge of pulling together the older and younger audiences.

In churches across America we are experiencing the challenge of ministering to both older Christians with more traditional expectations and younger generations with an increasingly postmodern cultural sensibility. Many churches offer separate services for GenX or Mosaics—a church within a church. And many younger Christians are rejecting the traditional way of doing church, turning instead to the Emerging Church movement.

Why? What is the emergent church looking for that it can’t find in traditional churches? In his excellent book, Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional Jim Belcher summarizes the Emergent complaint. In my next few blogs I’ll explore a few of the differences in more depth but what follows is a summary of Belcher’s overview of what the Emergent Church is protesting. Food for thought as we press into a new year of discipleship and ministry:

-The traditional church is captive to the Enlightenment. Too reliant on reason, not open enough to mystery or open-ended inquiry. Overly confident that reason and evidence can give us certainty of our understanding of God and the spiritual life. Condones individualism, rationalism, nationalism and pragmatism-the four pillars of the Enlightenment.

-The traditional church has a narrow view of salvation. Overly dependent on the way of salvation in the epistles and has not paid enough attention to Jesus’ teaching of the Kingdom of God in the gospels. Good news is more than forgiveness of sin and a ticket to heaven. It is entrance into the kingdom of God.

-The traditional church stresses belief before belonging and has set up all kinds of boundaries to keep seekers/outsiders out. People must believe the correct doctrine before they are welcomed into the church. Emergents reject doctrine as a gatekeeper. Believe that relationships trump truth. Outsiders should be invited to be part of community. Belonging precedes belief.

-The traditional church opts for uncontextualized worship. Uses music and traditions that are hundreds of years old. Makes no attempt to speak to the current culture. In fact, sets a posture that is against the world. Result: Traditional churches have become incapable of reaching the culture for God

-The traditional church suffers from ineffective preaching. The experts’ running monologue or "speaching" is old style. Reduces spiritual formation to head knowledge and doesn’t allow people to be involved in the learning process. Emergents belive that more than knowledge is needed to change us. We need shared experience, learning from each other through many different modes, especially the arts

-The traditional church is hindered by weak ecclesiology. Too concerned about form rather than mission. Preserving buildings and budgets. Emergent church is above all missional, cares for the poor and wants to build authentic community. Form should be fluid enough to pursue mission above all.

-The traditional church is characterized by tribalism. Safe in their own bubble they are unwilling, have no desire to engage postmoderns and postmodern culture. No desire to engage and be creative in the arts. Desire for political power (Christendom) has led to a negative, critical stance toward the world.

I have some honest disagreements with the complaints above, but some of the questions and challenges resonate deeply. How missional is my own life and ministry? How negative is my stance towards the world and outsiders? How deeply am I involved in authentic community and accountability? Do I thirst for God? Do I long for his Kingdom—his rule in my life? Am I more sensitive to his presence than last year?

More on these topics from Belcher’s book next time and very helpful distinctions between very different kinds of emergent Christians and churches.







Lael writes and speaks about faith and culture and how God renews our vision and desire for Him and his Kingdom. She earned a master's degree (MAT) in the history of ideas from the University of Texas at Dallas, and has taught Western culture and apologetics at secular and Christian schools and colleges. Her long-term experience with rheumatoid arthritis and being a pastor’s wife has deepened her desire to minister to the whole person—mind, heart, soul and spirit. Lael has co-hosted a talk radio program, The Things That Matter Most, on secular stations in Houston and Dallas about what we believe and why we believe it with guests as diverse as Dr. Deepak Chopra, atheist Sam Harris and VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer. (Programs are archived on the website.) Lael has authored four books, including a March 2011 soft paper edition of A Faith and Culture Devotional (now titled Faith and Culture: A Guide to a Culture Shaped by Faith), Godsight, and Worldproofing Your Kids. Lael’s writing has also been featured in Focus on the Family and World magazines, and she has appeared on many national radio and television programs. Lael and her husband, Jack, now make their home in South Carolina.


  • siboli

    Why can’t we all get along
    Hi Lael,
    Thanks for the summary of the book. What are the honest disagreements which you have you with the book? Or will you cover those next time?

  • Lael Arrington

    More next time on Emergent

    Thanks for the question. Yes, I’ll be sharing insights from Belcher’s book and responding to some of these points– agreeing and disdagreeing–in weeks to come.

    Actually this barely scratches the surface of the book. Belcher goes into great detail on each count and then provides his own critique–a third way that sometimes agrees with the substance of the emergent complaint, but offers another solution, sometimes disagreeing with the complaint. Highly recommend the book if you want to chew on these issues.

  • Sharifa Stevens

    This is Juicy!
    I must admit, I see myself in some of these indictments – both as the traditionalist (I’m pretty sure I share a narrow view of salvation), and the emergent (I do have ‘speeching’ and tribalism complaints). I can’t wait to hear how you delve into this topic.