Tuesday, December 05, 2006




What is the emerging church? Some Definitions

Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger, Emerging Churches

"...emerging churches are missional communities arising from within postmodern culture and consisting of followers of Jesus who are seeking to be faithful in their place and time" (pg. 28).

"Emerging churches are communities that practice the way of Jesus within postmodern culture" (pg. 44).

Mark Scandrette (ReIMAGINE!) quoted in Gibbs/Bolger: "The emerging church is a quest for a more integrated and whole life of faith. There is a bit of theological questioning going on, focusing on kingdom theology, the inner life, friendship/community, justice, earth keeping, inclusivity, and inspirational leadership. In addition, the arts are in a renaissance, as are the classical spiritual disciplines. Overall, it is a quest for holistic spirituality" (pg. 42).

Gibbs and Bolger see three primary practices in the emerging church: "(1) identify with the life of Jesus, (2) transform the secular realm, and (3) live highly communal lives" (pg. 45).

Bob Whitesel, Inside the Organic Church

"An emerging congregation is an appellation attached to churches populated largely by young adults under the age of thirty. Though attendees and especially leaders may be over thirty, an ability to effectively reach out to those under thirty years of age characterizes these congregations" (pg. x).

Whitesel sees four melodies behind the emerging church: (1) the melody of orthodoxy, (2) the melody of authenticity, (3) the melody of engagement, and (4) the melody of missional church growth.

Five Emerging Churches

Church of the Apostles, Seattle, WA (http://apostleschurch.org)

  • Pastor: Karen Ward
  • Associations: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, The Episcopal Church
  • Size: 40-55

Mars Hill Bible Church, Grandville, MI (http://www.mhbcmi.org)

  • Pastor: Rob Bell (teaching)
  • Associations: Nondenominational
  • Size: 10,000

Solomon's Porch, Minneapolis, MN (http://solomonsporch.com/)

  • Pastor: Doug Pagitt
  • Associations: Evangelical Covenant Church
  • Size: 250+

Tribe of Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA (http://www.tribela.com/)

  • Pastor: Rebecca Ver Straten-McSparran
  • Associations: The National Association of Congregational Churches
  • Size: 25-55

Vintage Faith Church, Santa Cruz, CA (http://www.vintagechurch.org/)

  • Pastor: Dan Kimball
  • Associations: Nondenominational; assisted by Santa Cruz Bible Church
  • Size:375-450

Practiced Ecclesiology: Some Repeated Themes

Know the Story

The story of which we speak is the story of God, stretching back to the very beginning and forward to the consummation of the Kingdom. We hear the story in Scripture and tradition. We participate in the story by following Jesus. And we tell the story through words and actions. Emerging Churches intend to know the story, telling it and living it as followers of God in the way of Jesus. Three practices revealed this theme:

  • Commitment to truth and Scripture
  • Holistic view of knowledge (especially in regard to physicality)
  • Commitment to tradition

Be the People

We are the people of God. We are peopled through our connection with the Triune God, not by our affinity. Community is essential to our being. Emerging Churches intend to be the people, structuring gatherings and practices to make space for and encourage relationship. Three practices revealed this theme:

  • Communal decision-making
  • Communal practices
  • House Church

Expand the Kingdom

The kingdom was announced by Jesus during his earthly ministry. He called his followers to enter the kingdom. The Kingdom of God has come and has not yet come. Jesus announced its in-breaking, but is will only be consummated in the eschaton. For now, Christians expand the kingdom through regular life together, centered on Jesus, and for the sake of the world. Together we declare the Kingdom until Jesus comes. Emerging churches intend to expand the Kingdom in all of life, living a life that demonstrates and declares the reign of God in Jesus. Three practices revealed this theme:

  • Contextualization of the message and practices
  • Commitment to missional identity and practice
  • Commitment to holding believers responsible for their faith practice

Evaluation Rubric

The remainder of my thesis will evaluate emerging ecclesiology using the following questions:

  • Does the practiced ecclesiology of the emerging church correspond to their stated theology?
  • Does their ecclesiology properly interpret their stated biblical underpinnings?
  • Does their ecclesiology properly interpret their stated theological underpinnings?

Needed Research

  • Theology of the Kingdom, especially as revealed in the Gospel of Matthew
  • Relationship between Trinity and the communal nature of the church (Fred Sanders on missio Dei, the Trinity, and the church)
  • Missiology of Lesslie Newbigin
  • Emerging theology books due out in 2007: Soul Graffiti: Making a Life in the Way of Jesus, by Mark Scandrette; Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches, by Robert Webber; and An Emergent Manifesto, by Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones
  • The international emerging-missional church, especially in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand
Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures
by Eddie Gibbs, Ryan K. Bolger
Baker Academic (November 1, 2005)

Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations
by Bob Whitesel
Abingdon Press (August 2006)

NOTE: This is a rumination ("1. The act of pondering; meditation. 2. The act or process of chewing cud." American Heritage Dictionary) in search of synergy ("1. The interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects.")


See CC License

“Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.” http://www.esv.org/


  1. Laura,

    Thanks so much for sharing the knowledge you are gathering in your research.

    A question:
    How should I understand the theme:
    "Holistic view of knowledge (especially in regard to physicality)"?

    Is that the idea that somehow everything has to hang together - biblical truth and scientific truth must be parts of one whole?

  2. I will flesh out the themes after I finish the paper, but basically "Holistic view of knowledge (especially in regard to physicality)" refers to idea that learning happens through more avenues than intellect. We also learn emotionally, experientially, and even physically--through kneeling in prayer, for example. Doug Pagitt talks about his a lot.