The Emerging Church and the Emergent Movement

In late July I will be participating in a two-day course/colloquium that focuses in part on the Emerging Church. While I have dipped into the broader discussion here and there, in order for me to participate intelligently, I need to do some substantial reading. So for those of you who have read on the subject, what resources do you recommend? I want to focus mostly on reading folks within the emergent movement itself, since I am generally familiar with the criticisms raised.

N.B. This is not the place to begin the debate on the Emergent Movement! As time passes and I read on the subject, I may in fact post on it. But for now I am in the research stage!

18 thoughts on “The Emerging Church and the Emergent Movement”

  1. Matt,

    A good place to begin is online. There are numerous blogs by “emerging people.” I would recommend the following as a good starting point:
    Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed
    Dan Kimball’s Vintage Faith
    Christianity Today’s Out of Ur blog has frequent contributions by emergents.
    There are far more than that, but the links on these should give you a good start.

    As for books, they are almost too numerous to count, but Zondervan, Baker, and IVP seem to be the main publishers. IVP has a new one that just came out:
    An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches
    And this one from Baker is also good:
    Emerging Churches

    Not sure if this would qualify as emerging, but it is also good:
    The Great Giveaway. Of course, that is part of the problem-what is emerging? How do you define it? Are house churches part of the emerging movement?

    I think some of the controversy over “emerging” has its origins in not ever bothering to define it…

    Hope that helps,

  2. Hi Matt,

    I’ve been trying to read up on the emerging/emergent movement as well. You really can’t speak fairly on the subject without reading Brian McLaren. I’d start with his “A New Kind of Christian” trilogy and also read “A Generous Orthodoxy” and “The Secret Message of Jesus.”

    After McLaren, names like Marc Driscoll, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt and Dan Kimball should be next in line.

    Kimball’s two main works are “The Emerging Church” and “Emerging Worship.” Both are easy reads.

    Doug Pagitt’s “Re-imagining Spiritual Formation” has been talked about a lot. I have not personally read that one yet.

    Dave Tomlison’s book “The Post-Evangelical” is a key influnece from the early days of the movement. It’s worth reading.

    Then, of course, Rob Bell’s book “Velvet Elvis” and probably his new book “Sex God” are becoming highly influential in this movement.

    To get really involved in thinking through this movement, Carson’s book “Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church” is the best critique I’ve seen. He raises some excellent points.

    You might also look into “Jesus in the Margins” and “This Beautiful Mess” by Rick McKinley, Donald Miller’s pastor. I’ve never seen McKinley openly align himself with emerging/emergent thought, but his writings seem to flow in that direction … as do Don Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz” and “Searching for God Knows What.”

    That’s quite a list. Plus, in all honesty, the Wikopedia online encyclopedia gives great definitions of these two groups that really helped me sort out the differences and made me realize that I am emerging, but not emergent.

    Sure do hope that helps. If you’ve got any questions or would like me to e-mail you the 7-page analysis on this issue that I wrote for the pastoral search team of the church that hired me back in November, I’d love to help channel you to the right information. My e-mail is

  3. I know I’ll see you in a bit, but I’d thought I’d post here as well.

    Total agreement with JPS above. Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed is a particularly good source from a good scholar. He has recently been posting email conversations he has been having with those who have questions about the EC or who are in the EC.

    Hey Dale. Good to see you reading Matt’s blog….anyway I would have to take slight issue with lumping in Driscoll with the other guys. Early on in the movement he was half involved but quickly realized that they were going in different directions theologically. He has recently written an article on why he is not involved with the EC. Matt, I have that article if you would like it.

    Probably one of the best overviews of the EC comes from authors who are fairly neutral towards the movement. Gibbs and Bolger did great research on the book Emerging Churches.

    Certainly names like McLaren, Jones, Karen Ward, Pagitt, and Kimball are worth reading to get an inside glimpse of the conversation. Love to talk further with you on this topic.

  4. Matt, in addition to what’s been said: Driscoll is neither emerging nor emergent, Carson’s book is vitriolically treated by emergents as naive, and Tony Jones, head of Emergent, has said he will no longer discuss the “conversation” with anyone unless they’ve read Peter Rollins’ *How (Not to Speak of God.* That’s the first book, after McLaren, to got to.

  5. Hello Matt,

    Good to hear you will be studying the subject. It is important that we do as the underlying thrust – postmodern hermeneutics – is what we’ll be called to answer in the next several years.

    A book that may not get much mention is Colossians Reminxed by Walsh and Keesmaat. It isn’t directly on the issue of the EC but it is thoroughly embraced by many ECs. Further, it is the kind of postmodern hermeneutic that ECs use.

    I’ve just finished it and think that many evangelicals should read it b/c it is the direction where neo-evangelicism is going.

    Another book that is especially helpful on the issue of postmodern hermeneutics is The Humiliation of the Word by J. Ellul. It is somewhat of an old book but very interesting and somewhat prophetic.

  6. I second the motion for JesusCreed and Scot’s papers about the subject. There are links on the sidebar there; an earlier post here linked to one of the essays as well. Scot is gracious, informative, and nuanced. Just the thing you need!

  7. Matt,

    The several resources already cited are good, especially MacClaren’s works. A great resource for a different persepctive would be the Master’s Seminary Journal from Fall 2006. The entire issue is devoted to this topic and is extremely informative.

  8. A very good source on the dangers of the emergent church can be found in under the headings of “The emergence of a mystical Church”
    and “The Emergent Church – A new wave of evangelical identity.” There are others on this web as well.

  9. I’m a member of the Emergent Village National Coordinating Group, so, for whatever that’s worth, here’s what I’d recommend …

    For a good introduction: Scot McKnight’s article “Five Streams of the Emerging Church” (

    For a primer on one of the emerging church’s most influential thinkers/leaders: Brian McLaren’s book “Generous Orthodoxy”

    For the latest and greatest on the theological trajectory of the emerging church: Peter Rollins’ book “How (Not) to Speak of God”

    For an in-depth background on “missional” thinking: David Bosch’s book “Transforming Mission”

    For regular updates on emerging church news/happenings:

  10. Matt,

    A big challenge at the beginning is to even get a handle on who the Emergents are, as there is much resistance to categorizations. So I think it would be helpful to consider 3 general groupings of Emergents offered by Ed Stetzer: The wonder of it is that it seems to be well received by many Emergents themselves (one example here:

  11. Thank you to all who have contributed here. I look forward to checking out these (and many other) resources. Please feel free to continue to add on as things come to mind!

  12. Matt,

    For what it’s worth…

    1. Lauren Winner’s *Girl Meets God* and *Real Sex*. I believe Winner is now a lecturer at the div school at Duke.

    2. Everything by Robert Webber (especially *Younger Evangelicals*)

    3. Several years ago N.T. Wright gave a few lectures at an Emergent Village Conference. Very interesting to hear an Anglican bishop interact with the EM leaders.

  13. Matt,

    A few recommendations gleaned from emerging churches proponent Andrew Jones’ blog. The “tall skinny kiwi” writes:

    “1. Shaping of Things to Come by Frost and Hirsch, for some missiological background.
    2. Emerging Churches by Bolger and Gibbs for some good examples of what church might look like.
    3. Out Of Bounds Church by Steve Taylor for a church planters view of the culture.
    4. Church Planting Movements by David Garrison to understand church planting principles.
    5. Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture, by Michael Frost for the heartbeat of the church planter towards community transformation.

    “Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire” by Brian J. Walsh, Sylvia C. Keesmaat. Dang good book that covers globalization, internet and lots more.

    I really should be recommending Transforming Mission by David Bosch”(This book indeed changed my thinking: PK)

    He also recently highlighted: “The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church” Alain Hirsch

    From other sources, some influential voices / books are:
    Zygmunt Bauman
    Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard
    Jesus and the Victory of God by N.T. Wright
    The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder

    Happy reading!

  14. I have 2 recommendations:

    Organic Church by Neil Cole


    The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church by Michael Frost.

    Michael Frost is particularly good because he is from Ausralia and has been a part of the EC in America and the UK, which he indicates are somewhat differnt in their approach.

  15. Emerging isn’t confined to the west – Malaysia seems to have quite a burgeoning movement that actively seeks to ask questions specifically in what they would say “a postcolonial context”. The two blogs are

    I think the bibliography given so far is more than enough, however, another critique which has been received better than Carson’s is R. Scott Smith’s Truth and the New Kind of Christian, which takes a distinctly philosophical approach while writing for a relatively popular audience.

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