Our Response to Critics of Emergent

We offer this in response to recent criticisms, with the hope that it will cause  some to better understand us and others to find hope in a document that they can sign on to.

PDF here for download.

By Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Spencer Burke, Brian McLaren, Dan Kimball, Andrew Jones, Chris Seay

We continue to be amazed by the enthusiastic interest in the work of emergent, a conversation and friendship of which we are a small part. This conversation is bringing together a wide range of committed Christians and those exploring the Christian faith in wonderful ways, and many of us sense that God is at work among us. As would be expected, there have also been criticisms. A number of people have asked us to respond to these criticisms. These ten brief responses will, we hope, serve to clarify our position and suggest ways for the conversation to continue constructively for participants and critics alike. It is our hope and prayer that even our disagreements can bring us together in respectful dialogue as Christians, resulting in growth for all concerned.

First, we wish to say thanks to our critics for their honest feedback on our books, articles, speeches, blogs, events, and churches. We readily acknowledge that like all human endeavors, our work, even at its best, is still flawed and partial, and at its worst, deserves critique. We are grateful to those who help us see things we may not have seen without the benefit of their perspective. We welcome their input.

Second, we have much to learn from every criticism – whether it is fair or unfair, kindly or unkindly articulated. We pray for the humility to receive all critique with thoughtful consideration. Where we think we have been unfairly treated, we hope not to react defensively or to respond in kind, and where we have been helpfully corrected, we will move forward with gratitude to our critics for their instruction and correction. We especially thank those who seek to help us through cordial, respectful, face-to-face, brotherly/sisterly dialogue. As we have always said, we hope to stimulate constructive conversation, which involves point and counterpoint, honest speaking and open-minded listening. As a sign of good faith in this regard, we have invited and included the voices of our critics in some of our books, and as far as we know, have always treated these conversation partners with respect. We have also attempted to make personal contact with our critics for Christian dialogue. Even though most of these invitations have not been accepted, we hope that the friendly gesture is appreciated.

Third, we regretfully acknowledge that in our thought, writing, and speech, we have at times been less charitable or wise than we wish we would have been. Whenever possible we will seek to correct past errors in future editions of our books; when that is impossible, we will make other forms of public correction.

Fourth, we respect the desire and responsibility of our critics to warn those under their care about ideas that they consider wrong or dangerous, and to keep clear boundaries to declare who is "in" and "out" of their circles. These boundary-keepers have an important role which we understand and respect. If one of your trusted spiritual leaders has criticized our work, we encourage you, in respect for their leadership, not to buy or read our work, but rather to ignore it and consider it unworthy of further consideration. We would only ask, if you accept our critics’ evaluation of our work, that in fairness you abstain from adding your critique to theirs unless you have actually read our books, heard us speak, and engaged with us in dialogue for yourself.  Second-hand critique can easily become a kind of gossip that drifts from the truth and causes needless division.

Fifth, because most of us write as local church practitioners rather than professional scholars, and because the professional scholars who criticize our work may find it hard to be convinced by people outside their guild, we feel it wisest at this juncture to ask those in the academy to respond to their peers about our work. We hope to generate fruitful conversations at several levels, including both the academic and ecclesial realms. If few in the academy come to our defense in the coming years, then we will have more reason to believe we are mistaken in our thinking and that our critics are correct in their unchallenged analyses.

Sixth, we would like to clarify, contrary to statements and inferences made by some, that yes, we truly believe there is such a thing as truth and truth matters – if we did not believe this, we would have no good reason to write or speak; no, we are not moral or epistemological relativists any more than anyone or any community is who takes hermeneutical positions – we believe that radical relativism is absurd and dangerous, as is arrogant absolutism; yes, we affirm the historic Trinitarian Christian faith and the ancient creeds, and seek to learn from all of church history – and we honor the church’s great teachers and leaders from East and West, North and South; yes, we believe that Jesus is the crucified and risen Savior of the cosmos and no one comes to the Father except through Jesus; no, we do not pit reason against experience but seek to use all our God-given faculties to love and serve God and our neighbors; no, we do not endorse false dichotomies – and we regret any false dichotomies unintentionally made by or about us (even in this paragraph!); and yes, we affirm that we love, have confidence in, seek to obey, and strive accurately to teach the sacred Scriptures, because our greatest desire is to be followers and servants of the Word of God, Jesus Christ. We regret that we have either been unclear or misinterpreted in these and other areas.

But we also acknowledge that we each find great joy and promise in dialogue and conversation, even about the items noted in the previous paragraph. Throughout the history of the church, followers of Jesus have come to know what they believe and how they believe it by being open to the honest critique and varied perspectives of others. We are radically open to the possibility that our hermeneutic stance will be greatly enriched in conversation with others. In other words, we value dialogue very highly, and we are convinced that open and generous dialogue – rather than chilling criticism and censorship – offers the greatest hope for the future of the church in the world.

We regret that some of our critics have made hasty generalizations and drawn erroneous conclusions based on limited and selective data. We would welcome future critics to converse with us directly and to visit our churches as part of their research. Of course, they would find weaknesses among us, as they would among any group of Christians, including their own. But we believe that they would also find much to celebrate and find many of their suspicions relieved when they see our high regard for the Scriptures, for truth, for worship, for evangelism, for spiritual formation, and for our fellow Christians – including our critics themselves.

Seventh, we have repeatedly affirmed, contrary to what some have said, that there is no single theologian or spokesperson for the emergent conversation. We each speak for ourselves and are not official representatives of anyone else, nor do we necessarily endorse everything said or written by one another. We have repeatedly defined emergent as a conversation and friendship, and neither implies unanimity – nor even necessarily consensus – of opinion. We ask our critics to remember that we cannot be held responsible for everything said and done by people using the terms "emergent" or "emerging church," any more than our critics would like to be held responsible for everything said or done by those claiming to be "evangelical" or "born again." Nobody who is a friend or acquaintance of ours, or who agrees with one of us in some points, should be assumed to agree with any of us on all points. Nobody should be held "guilty by association" for reading or conversing with us. Also, contrary to some uninformed reports, this conversation is increasingly global and cross-cultural, and because North Americans are only a small part of it, we urge people to avoid underestimating the importance of Latin American, African, Asian, European, and First Nations voices among us.

Eighth, we are aware that there is some debate about whether we should be considered evangelical. This is a cherished part of our heritage, but we understand that some people define this term more narrowly than we and in such a way that it applies to them but not to us. We will not quarrel over this term, and we will continue to love and respect evangelical Christians whether or not we are accepted by them as evangelicals ourselves. However others include or exclude us, we will continue to affirm an evangelical spirit and faith by cultivating a wholehearted devotion to Christ and his gospel, by seeking to join in the mission of God in our time, by calling people to follow God in the way of Jesus, and by doing so in an irenic spirit of love for all our brothers and sisters.

(We hope that those who would like to disassociate us from the term evangelical will be aware of the tendency of some in their ranks toward narrowing and politicizing the term so that it only applies to strict Calvinists, conservative Republicans, people with specific views on U.S. domestic, foreign, military, or economic policy, single-issue voters, or some other subgroup. We pose no threat to these sincere people, nor do we wish to attack or discredit anyone, even though we do not wish to constrict our circle of fellowship to the parameters they propose.)

Ninth, we felt we should offer this encouragement to those who, like us, do not feel capable of living or explaining our faith in ways that would please all of our critics: if our work has been helpful to you, please join us in seeking to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace by not becoming quarrelsome or defensive or disrespectful to anyone – especially those who you feel have misrepresented or misunderstood you or us. As Paul said to Timothy, "The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, patient when wronged." In addition he warned Timothy not to develop "an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions, and constant friction." The apostle James also wrote, "the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness." We believe it is better to be wronged than to wrong someone else; the Lord we follow was gentle and meek, and when he was reviled, he didn’t respond in kind.

Instead of engaging in fruitless quarrels with our critics, we urge those who find our work helpful to pursue spiritual formation in the way of Christ, to worship God in spirit and truth, to seek to plant or serve in healthy and fruitful churches, to make disciples – especially among the irreligious and unchurched, to serve those in need, to be at peace with everyone as far as is possible, and to show a special concern for orphans and widows in their distress. We should keep careful control of our tongues (and pens or keyboards), and seek to be pure in heart and life, since this is "religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless."

With millions suffering from hunger, disease, and injustice around the world, we hope that all of us – including our critics – can renew our commitment to "remember the poor" (Galatians 2:10) rather than invest excessive energy in "controversies about words." "They will know you are my disciples," Jesus said, not by our excessive disputation, but by our love. Words and ideas are essential, for they often set the course for thought and action, and constructive dialogue is needed and worthwhile, but we cannot let less productive internal debates preoccupy us at the expense of caring for those in need.

Tenth, we should say that along with a few critiques, we are receiving many grateful and affirming responses to our work. Respected theologians and other leaders have told us, either in private or in public, that they are grateful for the emergent conversation and that they stand with us and support us. We are frequently told that people sense God graciously at work in the emergent community. We hope that those who see problems will not overlook the signs of God’s presence and activity among us, just as we do not overlook our many faults, including those pointed out by our critics. Only time will tell what the full outcome will be, but in the meantime, we welcome the prayers of both friends and critics.

We must once more thank both our critics and those who affirm our work, because we know that both are trying to help us in their respective ways, and both are trying to do the right thing before God – as we are. At the risk of redundancy, let us state once again that we welcome conversation with all who desire sincere and civil engagement over ideas that matter.

If you would like to be involved in the emergent conversation and friendship, we warmly invite you to visit emergentvillage.com. And feel free to pass this response on to others for whom it may be helpful.

Posted on June 02, 2005 at 08:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack (2)

Five Years Ago, Five Years From Now

Table600by Tony Jones

Almost exactly five years ago, a group gathered at my family cabin in northern Minnesota to talk about the future of this thing we were/are a part of.  We were in the process of leaving the protective umbrella of Leadership Network, and we were branching out on our own.  As you can see, sitting arond the table, were a great group of people: me (with son, Tanner), Brad Cecil, Sally Morgenthaller, Brian McLaren, Al Roxburgh, Todd Hunter, Danielle Shroyer, and Tim Conder; Doug Pagitt and Julie Jones are standing in the back, and the inimitable Rudy Carrasco took the picture.  Jason Mitchell is not pictured.

Recently, Danielle found her notes from that meeting, and here's what they say:

Initial Musings:
Something's not working.  Why?
How can we be honest about our faith and our doubt?
We have expanding misgivings about our beliefs, our belief systems and practices.
We think some of our beliefs are wrong, we think some of our systems are unhelpful, and some of our practices are misguided.
We retain confidence in Jesus but are convinced that a thorough revolution, re-evaluation, re-formation, deconstruction, reconstruction of our ways are needed.
alternative space----recover the story----transmit to the world
books- joint projects as well as individual
consulting to churches, denominations
new churches
mentoring artists
more networking
learning structures/training centers
monastic communities
seminary/parachurch presence
media/arts influencers
mentoring emerging leaders
Top 3 First Year Goals:
learning structures

We're having another meeting next week, five years and two weeks later, again at my cabin.  Some faces in the current Emergent Coordinating Group are the same, and there are some new faces.  We have lots to celebrate, five years later.  Much of what we dreamed has come to pass.  But we still stand at a liminal moment, one in which the church needs thorough revolution if it hopes to stand as God's partner in the Grand Re-Creation.

So we ask for your prayers as we meet next week.  If you know someone on the ECG, and you have some ideas about what we should aim for in the next five years, drop us an email.

Posted on May 31, 2005 at 03:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)



The protest4 site is up and running. According to the site, "Protest4 is an open collective of individuals and groups in emerging culture responding to the issues of injustice in our world." Protest4 is organized in England but concerned with issues of social justice around the world.

Although this is the Emergent US blog we like to point out exciting things that are happening in the emerging church around the globe. Stop by and check it out.

Posted on May 09, 2005 at 12:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

There's Still Time


If you are not sure whether you can still come to the Emergent Convention in Nashville, there is still time to sign up. This is the last convention of this kind we will host, so we encourage you to come!

To sign-up, click on the Emergent Convention link.

Posted on May 06, 2005 at 11:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

On The Church

by Ivy Beckwith

While Emergent is about many things – what it’s about is probably as diverse as the people who identify with us – one of those many things we are about is the church. Many of us are about figuring out what the church of the 21st century ought to be.

Right now I have an ambiguous relationship with the church. Since leaving my church position at the end of 2004 I have not affiliated with another community. I identify with the community that is Solomon’s Porch; I’ve attended my parents’ Presbyterian church in Florida; visited a church in Brooklyn where a friend is the pastor (will be there this coming Sunday); and celebrated the start of a new church in the area on Easter Sunday. But on most Sundays when I’m home in Minneapolis church for me has been coffee and the New York Times. And there has not been much I have missed about the church experience until recently. First, I found myself missing the Eucharist. Celebrating and participating in the Eucharist came to be one of my most meaningful ministry experiences in my last church. Repeating the words of the liturgy and feeding the congregational flock were experiences that kept me in the vicinity of God when I was ready to walk away forever. I came to understand the centrality of this rite to the church in a way I’d never seen in my liturgy free past. I sorely miss that experience.

And I’m starting to miss the community. I’m starting to miss seeing people on Sunday morning or evening and am starting to feel a little isolated because of it. Missing these 2 elements of church life will ultimately drive me back to more regular church attendance in good time.

But I must admit that every time I think about finding a new church home I’m stopped dead in my tracks by the question of “what church could I possibly go to?” I don’t ask this question because of a lack of churches where I live. I live in, perhaps, one of the most churched areas of the world. It’s a question of finding a church which resonates with my sensibilities of what the church should be all about (sensibilities that are more felt than delineated in a logical list) and where I am not asked to join in or reveal too much of myself too quickly. When I go back to church I want to be left alone for a while. Not many churches understand this.

I’ll go back to church eventually. The very fact that I’m entertaining thoughts of going back is progress. And I’ll continue to ruminate on (as will the Emergent leadership team in upcoming conversations) what do I think about church and what it’s meant to be in our times.

Posted on April 21, 2005 at 04:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (52) | TrackBack (1)

Pope Benedict XVI

For those of you planning on attending the 2006 Emergent Theological Conversation with Miroslav Volf, you'll be interested to know that Volf's excellent book, After Our Likeness: The Church As the Image of the Trinity, deals extensively with the ecclesiology of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.  Volf's other dialogue partner is John Zizoulas, an Orthodox scholar. 

Being an excellent defense of a "free church" ecclesiology in the face of these two very different ecclesiologies, Volf's book should be an excellent guide for many emerging churches.

By the way, here is a nice profile of Volf.

Posted on April 21, 2005 at 03:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Andrew's "Open Letter to DA Carson"

The following is from Andrew Jones' blog today. Andrew was one of the originial creators and shapers of Emergent. He has been an active participant in the emerging church conversation for years. If there is such a thing as an "expert on the emerging church" it would be a title easily applied to Andrew. He is friend of the US Emergent conversation and a personal friend of many of us. The following sets a wonderful pastoral tone that many of us are praying will become the tone of the overall Emergent conversation:

An Open Blog Post for Don Carson
by Andrew Jones

Hi Don. Your book
"Becoming Conversant with Emergent" comes out in June and I am awaiting my copy. But some clarification before then would help me. We bloggers are sticklers for the truth . . as Dan Rather found out.

Hey – I hate open letters . . . they are too long, too formal and they assume a personal enmity that is not always there. I thought an open blog post would be a little less formal, and would carry an extra level of communal accountability – for both of us. Readers would be welcome to say if my post was unfair or inaccurate, and they could also hear you say something (anything you want) as a response. Or you could ignore it and no one would ever know if you read it or not - then you could maintain your reputation without resorting the demands of us bloggers.

Sorry to bring you over to our new media world. I requested your email address on September 3, 2004, hoping to send you a personal email, but was denied by Christway Media - they said you would respond before Christmas in your book - and now we have to wait until June . . and even then we don't know if you will be responding to our concerns or not. Forgive me if i am impatient, but there is a lot at stake.

Continue reading "Andrew's "Open Letter to DA Carson""

Posted on April 15, 2005 at 03:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (40) | TrackBack (1)

On Faith and Politics

by Brian McLaren

Greetings, friends - I'm thrilled to see increasing numbers of Christians turning away from the entrenched culture-wars polarization of the religious right versus the secular left. As my friend Jim Wallis says, the best way to find common ground is to seek higher ground - and more and more people are leaving the "low ground" of polarization to find the higher holistic, integral mission of Jesus Christ.

The article below, from Minnesota, gives you a feel for the excitement that's brewing in many places in our country. Let's prayerfully see and participate in this moment. I'm currently working on a plan to mobilize Christians in our city - and with your help, maybe around the country and perhaps beyond - to bring the needs of our neighbors in Africa (especially Darfur) into the public light - to "change the wind" on behalf of the poor. Stay tuned for more details soon.

In the meantime, I hope you'll find some hope in this article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune. - Brian

Faith that's of the people, by the people, for the people
Nick Coleman, Star Tribune
April 8, 2005

We need a religious revival. And we may get one. ... The revival that Jim Wallis predicts.

Wallis, the author of the best-selling book, "God's Politics," spoke to an overflow crowd of 1,200 want-to-be believers at the Westminster Town Hall Forum on Thursday in Minneapolis and restored their faith in the F word:


Continue reading "On Faith and Politics"

Posted on April 11, 2005 at 03:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack (3)

John Paul II and the Story of God

by Ivy Beckwith

I have been struck by the outpouring of emotion over the death of John Paul II over the last week. Watching the crowds holding vigil in St. Peter’s Square or those waiting in line for 16 hours for a chance to stand before his body has given me pause and made me wonder about our secular world. One of those participating in the endless cable TV chatter about the pope said he “could fill the squares and but not the churches.” Perhaps this is much more an indictment of the church than the pope. Secular Europeans have showed up in the millions to venerate this man in his death. Somehow his story intersected with and touched theirs in a way we could ever have fathomed until now—and in ways the church never could or wasn’t allowed to.

I think this event speaks to something many of us agree to intuitively – the power of story and the power inherent in our willingness to share our entire story with others. John Paul II was maybe the most transparent pope in history—he didn’t shirk public life even in his illness and injuries. He shared his story with the world. And, apparently, a large part of the world loved him for it and, maybe, got a little closer to God in the process.

Blessings this Easter season,


Posted on April 08, 2005 at 07:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

emergent churches making the news

Always exciting and usually interesting to see how people capture people rethinking church and how the church interacts with culture.  This article ran on Easter in da 'burgh (Pittsburgh) and looks at three seperate communities and a tattoo shop.  :)

Enjoy.  It's also El's (my daughter Ellie) five minutes of fame - her bright baby eyes wide for the camera lens.

Posted on April 06, 2005 at 11:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)