The Emergent/Emerging Church: A Missiological Perspective -- By: Ed Stetzer

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 05:2 (Fall 2008)
Article: The Emergent/Emerging Church: A Missiological Perspective
Author: Ed Stetzer

The Emergent/Emerging Church: A Missiological Perspective1

Ed Stetzer

Director, LifeWay Research

While recounting his return to the West after serving as a missionary in India for decades, the late Lesslie Newbigin was unsettled by the accommodation of the Gospel to “existing plausibility structures.” Therefore, he set out to “rescue” the Gospel from perpetual inefficacy as defenders of the faith continued to give ground in debate.2 Newbigin called on defenders of the “message” to resist domestication of the Gospel:

It is plain that we do not defend the Christian message by domesticating it within the reigning plausibility structure.3

Newbigin borrowed from Peter Berger in order to explain “plausibility structures” as “patterns of belief and practices accepted within a given society, which determine which beliefs are plausible to its members and which are not.”4

The Emergent/Emerging Church (E/EC)5 often stands as something of a collective voice intent on calling attention to the ways in which contemporary expressions of Christianity have been domesticated. In doing so, it often provides a helpful critique. At the same time, like all movements before, it runs the risk of itself domesticating the Gospel to “emerging plausibility structures”—repeating the same error but in a new expression. This paper will explore its history and pertinent nuances stemming from the development of Emergent Village as one expression of the Emergent/Emerging Church. I will provide some observations as to its current state, particularly in relation to how the gospel engages culture. These interactions will lay the groundwork for offering a way to engage the positive

contributions of the Emergent/Emerging Church movement as well as avoid what I believe to be overly contextualized features of some within the movement.

Therefore, the perspective of this paper will be chiefly based on the work of a missiologist. Thus, the history, the values, and the practice of contextualization by those in the Emergent/Emerging Church movement will provide a framework to suggest bridges and boundaries for an evangelical engagement with the Emergent/Emerging Church movement.

Leaving The Old Country6

While speaking at Westminster Seminary, Scot McKnight, of No...

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