“Emergence,” or the “Emerging” or “Emergent” Church, is a movement inside and outside the boundaries of Protestant Christianity that has been deeply impacted by the worldview of Postmodernism, and in particular, the Postmodern hermeneutic of Deconstructionism. Although it varies significantly from one group to the next, one of its most common characteristics is a deep distrust of sure doctrinal convictions, which the Church has historically used, in their opinion, to wield authority and oppress the weak. All theological convictions and points of doctrine should be held with “humility”, and open to ongoing dialogue, in which all opinions and perspectives should be embraced and affirmed. Real Christianity, they claim, is not about believing anything in particular, but rather about doing what Jesus did, eating with and loving sinners and the weak and despised.
In much of the “Emergent Church,” this attitude has led to a downplaying or outright denying of some very vital doctrines: the penal substitutionary atonement has often been denied, as has hell and eternal punishment, it has been suggested that “good” moral people of other faith traditions such as Islam and Hinduism are true members of the Kingdom, there has been an acceptance of homosexuality in a “loving” relationship as a positive and moral thing, and many other similar things have been affirmed. At its heart, in much of the movement, Christianity is no longer about faith in a Christ who saves, but about finding salvation through being a good, loving person, accepting those who have been hurt by the power structures of Christianity (which often means affirming them in their sin as well), taking good care of the earth, and so on.
Emerging Churches usually define themselves as those who like to take the life of Jesus as a model way to live, welcome those who are outside, share generously, participate, create, lead without control and function together in spiritual activities or communities who practice the way of Jesus within postmodern cultures. While all of these activities may be good, please notice that all of the above emerging principles are not about what Christ has done for us, but what we do for him. So the the very central core of Christianity is left out. The true gospel, rather, is news about what Christ has already done for us as a Savior, rather than instruction and advice about what we are to do for God. The primacy of His accomplishment, not ours, is the essence of our faith. The gospel of Christ above all brings news, rather than instruction.
We believe that false religion always consists placing the focus on what we do for Christ rather than what Christ has done for us. There are two religions in the world: 1) human attainment and 2) Divine accomplishment. If acting as Christ is what true religion was about then what need have we of a Savior?
Some of the most widely known Emergent leaders who have denied fundamental doctrines such as the substitutionary atonement or else embraced entirely unorthodox opinions of the sort mentioned above are Brian McClaren, author of A Generous Orthodoxy; Doug Pagitt, pastor of Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis; Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, and Tony Jones, a popular Emergent speaker and blogger. There are several good critiques available of the Emergent Church, including The Courage to Be Protestant, by David Wells, Why We’re Not Emergent, by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck, and Don’t Stop Believing, by Michael Wittmer.