Fault lines in the Emerging Church

Fault lines in the Emerging Church

In the last little while 3 distinct groups have been identified within the Emerging Church: The Relevants, Reconstructionists and the Revisionists.

The relevants are people I’ve called the Coffee and Candles set. Take regular church and tweak the style of worship and preaching to make it more “relevant” to new generation.

The reconstructionists are generally the organic church/house church crowd who want change the way church is structured or in some cases destructure it to the bare minimum.

The revisionists are those who are more theologically adventurous.

It wouldn’t take long to figure out I’m in the reconstructionist camp. To date I’ve generally got along with those that would be considered Revisionist. Among the relevants and reconstructionists there is more theological humility than in generic evangelicalism. Up until now this humility has served as pretty good lubricant.

When I first became intersted in the EC people like McLaren were asking good questions. The same questions a lot of us were asking. I’ve found that when you ask questions without providing much in the way of answers people will generally agree with you. Everyone wants to think their answers are the right ones, so when somebody important asks the same questions and provides vague directions for answers there is a temptation to fill in the blanks with your answers. I think that is what happened to me in the early days of my involvement with the Emerging Church.

As time went on the “answers” became more clear from the revisionsists I recognized that I really wasn’t on the same page. It looks like Robby Mac has discovered something similar. Just over a year ago Forge posted a paper responding to DA Carson’s criticism of the EC and at first glance Forge seemed to be distancing themselves theologically from Emergent Village. This paper generated some controversy and was subsequently removed.

I’m relieved some of these distinctions are coming out. Ministry is hard enough by itself. I’d rather not have to explain to people that I don’t hold position XYZ that recently came to light in the latest book with an inflammatory title.

  1. #1 by robbymac on September 27, 2006 - 11:40 am

    Hey LT,

    Your take on the common questions is spot on for my own journey as well. I’ve been aware for quite some time that I’m not exactly on the same page as a lot of the emerging/emergent crew, but this was the first time I actually posted something to that effect. Wow — wasn’t expecting quite the response that I got, but it’s interesting that it runs the gamut from “Hey, me too!” to “if you’re not revisionist, you’re not emerging” to “can’t we all just get along?”

    Interesting that it’s obviously been on a lot of peoples’ minds for some time already, even if unspoken.

  2. #2 by Kim Worthington on September 27, 2006 - 4:38 pm

    Amazing how many new terms there are related to being a “Christian”/ “Evangelical”. I have heard so many new ones lately. For instance, the terms peggers, communitas, PO MO, and the three that are mentioned here. I can’t keep up. Is there a dictionary or book or something. Surely Scott’s Parable must have some thing so that I can stay current. I mean relevant!

  3. #3 by James on September 28, 2006 - 12:25 pm

    Let’s throw a curve ball in here…I don’t think revisionist is an accurate term, don’t you think that restorationist would be better? Aren’t what you call revisionists just trying to get back to the New Testament version of Church? Granted, in a way that is relevant to the culture, but not compromising the NT way of doing things. What do you think?


  4. #4 by Aaron on September 28, 2006 - 11:37 pm

    Good post.

    James, we’re all trying to get back to the NT version of church, (or at least we should be). Whether revisionists are succeeding in this quest for restoration or not, they are in many respects “revising” the modern theological status quo and therefore the term seems fitting.

  5. #5 by LT on September 29, 2006 - 2:32 pm


    I think it is sometimes hard to come up with adequate names or labels for things. I just picked up the 3 that have been used with out thinking about them.

    That being said I don’t think guys like Brian McLaren or Spencer Burke are always drawing inside the lines of Christian orthodoxy.

    The term restorationist is normally used for groups of people who are trying to return to what they would consider God’s divine pattern for church that was set in the New Testament. Restorationists would tend to believe in a one size fits all ecclesiology, whereas the “Revisionists” would see church a very pliable thing intended to be molded to fit in to specific cultures.

  6. #6 by James on September 29, 2006 - 9:45 pm


    If you define restorationist that way, I would agree that revisionist is the correct term. I never thought of a one size fits all as existing in the NT—just look at all the varieties we see in the Pauline letters and Acts.


    I don’t think a lot of people are trying to get back to the NT. They are trying to be relevant, which is not the same thing. In fact, sometimes it leaves the NT far behind, hence Leighton’s comment about drawing inside the lines of orthodoxy.


Comments are closed.