Young, missional, but not emergent


I would like to apologize to all the missional pastors in America who are currently under attack and struggling to raise support because many religious traditionalists and conservatives do not know the difference between a missional church and an emergent church. Many Protestants seem to easily equate missional church plants with emergent churches for reasons that might be generational. Increasingly I find myself defending missional church plants across the country from those who are so unfamiliar with what an emergent church is that many assume any young congregation organized to reach non-Christians by mixing historic forms in new ways and lacking propositional dogmatism must be an "emergent" church. This is what Protestants do: re-invent Christianity every generation or so.

Since we have not convened an ecumenical council to finalize the definitions of words like "emergent," "emerging," and "missional," they remain dynamic and unsettling for many. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, defines missional churches as those "adapting and reformulating absolutely everything [the church] does in worship, discipleship, community, and service---so as to be engaged with the non-Christian society around [it]." Now to some, this might sound like Brian McLaren. It is, however, possible to have a church with an unconventional church name that values innovative worship, informal dress, social justice, narrative and inductive forms of preaching, less propositional theological dogmatism, and also remain committed to a Bible inspired by God and gospel message of hope, restoration, salvation, and the historic teachings of the church?

What if one of these so called, "emergent" churches posted something like this on a website regarding the Bible:

"It was in the Body of Christ, to 'the saints,' that our holy faith was delivered 'once and for all'; the one who does not belong to this Body cannot interpret correctly the holy Bible (2 Thessalonians. 3:6; 2 Peter 3:16; Jude 3-4). In this context, the Divine Tradition is the experience of the Church, the divine memory of the Church, which is kept like a priceless treasure (2 Tim. 1:13-14).

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"The Holy Bible does not include the completeness of the divine revelation. The importance of the spoken tradition and the care taken for its spreading from generation to generation was already underlined from Old Testament times (Psalm. 43:2; 44:1; and Joel 1:3). The New Testament notes that it does not contain the completeness of the words and works of Christ (John 21:25).

"That very book, the Holy Bible, makes use of the tradition (Numbers 21:14-15; Matt.2:23; Acts 20: 35; 2 Tim. 3: 8; Jude 14). Christ did not motion his disciples to write books but to preach. . . ."

If this same hypothetical church then focused its congregation on experiencing community life together, especially in the liturgy, interpreting the Scriptures in community, opening parishioners to the idea that God is still revealing himself, and that the Bible, while sufficient for salvation, does not answer all of life's questions nor reveal how God thinks about everything. Plus, if the church is not interested in reading books about doctrine, and embraces mystery, it would likely raise eyebrows and suspicion of being postmodern and unbiblical. The fact is, however, that a church that would post such a statement is nothing but truly orthodox-that is, Eastern Orthodox.

Because a young church planter is doing whatever it takes to reach his local neighborhood by adapting and reformulating absolutely everything the church does so as to be engaged with the non-Christian folks in the area does not mean the church is "emergent." It only means that the church in Protestant.

Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of The Political Economy of Liberation and Black and Tired. Follow Anthony on Twitter @drantbradley.


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