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The Five Streams of the Emerging Church

January 19, 2007

Scot McKnight writes an article for Christianity Today that is very similar to a talk I heard of his it is linked below.  I would like to talk about parts of the article and if your interested in such go read the rest.

Five Streams of the Emerging Church 

The five streams are Prophetic, Postmodern, Praxis Oriented, Post Evangelical and Political.

McKnight says that the first characteristic is being Prophetic in the provocative language sense.

Prophetic (or at least provocative)

One of the streams flowing into the emerging lake is prophetic rhetoric. The emerging movement is consciously and deliberately provocative. Emerging Christians believe the church needs to change, and they are beginning to live as if that change had already occurred. Since I swim in the emerging lake, I can self-critically admit that we sometimes exaggerate.

This comes through in statements that exaggerate for effect…hmm I’d never do that.


Living as a Christian in a postmodern context means different things to different people. Some—to borrow categories I first heard from Doug Pagitt, pastor at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis—will minister to postmoderns, others with postmoderns, and still others as postmoderns.

Ray over at The New Freedom Sanction has a series going on a book on breaking the missional code.  It says that we have to get away or over our preferences if we are going to be missional.  Like them/us or not if your going to reach the culture it is increasingly postmodern.


The emerging movement’s connection to postmodernity may grab attention and garner criticism, but what most characterizes emerging is the stream best called praxis—how the faith is lived out.

I actually see this as THE defining factor of the emerging church.  People who are concerned and committed to finding a way to better live out Christianity, not study it.  This living out of Christianity also includes “how we do church”.

Some emerging Christians see churches with pulpits in the center of a hall-like room with hard, wooden pews lined up in neat rows, and they wonder if there is another way to express—theologically, aesthetically, and anthropologically—what we do when we gather. They ask these sorts of questions: Is the sermon the most important thing on Sunday morning? If we sat in a circle would we foster a different theology and praxis? If we lit incense, would we practice our prayers differently? If we put the preacher on the same level as the congregation, would we create a clearer sense of the priesthood of all believers? If we acted out what we believe, would we encounter more emphatically the Incarnation?


A fourth stream flowing into the emerging lake is characterized by the term post-evangelical. The emerging movement is a protest against much of evangelicalism as currently practiced. It is post-evangelical in the way that neo-evangelicalism (in the 1950s) was post-fundamentalist. It would not be unfair to call it postmodern evangelicalism. This stream flows from the conviction that the church must always be reforming itself.

For me this is a reaction against a perception that we have reached perfection…hang on to it, don’t change it.  Oh its ok to change the easy stuff and call it change but there are some topics we are not willing to discuss.  It is not so much a belief that we know better.  To quote McKnight again,

…the emerging movement is radically Reformed. It turns its chastened epistemology against itself, saying, “This is what I believe, but I could be wrong. What do you think? Let’s talk.”

McKnight offers a warning to those who are emergents.

So I offer here a warning to the emerging movement: Any movement that is not evangelistic is failing the Lord. We may be humble about what we believe, and we may be careful to make the gospel and its commitments clear, but we must always keep the proper goal in mind: summoning everyone to follow Jesus Christ and to discover the redemptive work of God in Christ through the Spirit of God.

Finding that balance is where its at.  There are exceptions.  Mars Hill Bible church (where I would seriously drive the 14 hours to hear, Rob Bell preaches) was at one time the fastest growing church ever.  Now I don’t know how many of those people were already Christ followers.  But I get the impression that many were not.  We have been attending a church that I believe is trying to do just this.  Be missional, seeking the lost, but willing to let the mission trump tradition.  Not changing for the sake of change but doing so as needed to reach those that don’t know Jesus.


 I didn’t pull a quote from this stream…because it is the one that interests me the least.  Its is not that I don’t care about politics, and it is not that I don’t care about who leads in our government.  I am a bit Jeffersonian in that the separation is to some degree desired.  I believe that the church can be effective in any culture or under any government.  It transcends these.

Well, if you’ve read this far, you must owe me money or something… Hope you have a great weekend.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. January 19, 2007 10:18 pm

    Before you drive 14 hours to hear Rob Bell speak, let me know. I’ll meet you there.

    A couple in our small group attended church at Mars Hill for a time when they lived in Grand Rapids. They’ve been saying that I should take a drive over there, just once.

  2. January 20, 2007 3:27 pm

    So, how much does Ray owe you? (I owe T for concert tickets, so that’s the only reason I’m here! Ha!)

    I still haven’t fully explored this new language of emergent that’s attempting to describe what’s going on… but I do believe it’s doing just that. A lot of (skeptical) folks believe it’s the other way around, as if something is being created that’s driven by this language (rather than God). But it’s an overarching thing that’s taking place in our age, not just a new fad in the religious realm.

    I am drawn most to the Praxis-oriented stream (though I had to consult Merriam Webster to figure out what a praxis was!) It’s (well, God is) requiring more of me than I’m used to though. I had gotten quite comfortable with my way of doing Christianity & much of that has come with me into the postmodern age that I’m embracing – producing some friction. God’s doing a work in me, for sure.

    And I denfinitely agree w/your take on the church (as Kingdom) thriving under any form of government… Just look what God has been brewing in China all those years.

    Did that comment knock any off my tab?

  3. January 20, 2007 3:36 pm

    well, Ray doesn’t actually owe me anything. As for you… well sure you can knock off the interest for this month.

  4. January 21, 2007 1:22 pm

    I kinda wish Scot had just used the word “missional” rather than “post-modern.” The latter is a term whose definition is just as squishy as the wrist-rest south of my mouse, and just about as helpful – to me. (When you’re too tense to let your wrist rest, them squishy things ain’t no help at all.)

    I can hang my hat on “missional.” Some churches – emergent and otherwise – are missional and some are dedicated navel-gazers. And a lot are somewhere in-between.

  5. January 21, 2007 4:16 pm

    I think Scot is using postmodern also to mean beyond-modern. As in that these churches are trying to move beyond a Metra-narrative that was inheirited. Such as Scientific approach to all matters of life. So missional would’nt hold all that meaning.

    But Postmodern means so many things to so many different people that the word is pretty weak if your wanting to communicate clearly.

  6. January 22, 2007 10:05 am

    Great post, Tommy. Actually you owe ME some moolah for taking a half hour to read it. I could (should) be using this time as billable! 🙂

    Loved the thought here, the admission of exaggeration cracks me up. And I would say amen to that one.

    But, you’re right, the living it out is really what it’s all about.

    I find myself mostly swimming in what he describes as post-evangelical. The church must always be reforming itself.

    I guess that may characterize how God has gifted John in ministry. To help the churches where we are to grow and adapt to the culture for outreach. Churches are s-l-o-w to change in case you haven’t noticed!

    It takes loving patience to bring dedicated Christ-followers along as we all learn to open our eyes to the reality of what is going on all around us.

  7. January 22, 2007 12:43 pm

    Well you and Ray can count me in on the car pool.

    And of course I agree on living out Christianity vs studying it…and my tickets arrived, so all is well!

  8. January 24, 2007 4:41 pm

    Read the article and loved the thoughts.


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