Emerging Church/Church Tradition

Those who know me know that historical rootedness, The Christian Tradition, and liturgy are important to my understanding and practice of the Faith. For this reason, Paula sent me a link to a post about the Emerging Church and the Christian Tradition by the Reverend Dr. Leander Harding who teaches Pastoral Theology and is the Head of Chapel at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, one of the leading seminaries of Anglican orthodoxy. Below is an excerpt from this post, and below that is the link to the post itself. Read it, and tell me what you think.


It seems to me that God is doing in the Emergent Church movement something that He does over and over. When His gift is rejected by the people He has prepared to receive it, He seeks out a new people. So it is that sons and daughters of Anabaptists and Pentecostals are being drawn to the Great Tradition. It is a moment for repentance for those of us in the historic churches which have stewarded the Great Tradition but have lost touch with the life which generates the tradition and which carries it forward. It is also a moment of testing for that which is emerging. Will they marginalize doctrine and the labor of seeking a consensus in faith and order? Will they succumb to the motto that deeds unite and doctrine divides and then find themselves in the midst of church dividing controversy with no deep doctrinal consensus to guide?


Reflections On The Emerging Church

9 Responses to “Emerging Church/Church Tradition”

  1. Scott B.  

    Harding’s series on postmodernism and the Church looks fascinating and I hope to get a chance to read it. However, his reflections on the Emergent Church leave me wanting. The post is too vague to allow me to really make any assessment of what he truly views the Emergent Church is. Not familiar with Harding’s views nor with the breadth of ideology in the movement tagged as the Emerging Church, I am hesitant to make assumptions and am wary of vague references to historical rejections of the gifts of the Spirit, to the marginalization of doctrine, and to the luring of trivial and faddish relevancy. To what specific events is Harding alluding? I am all for the renewal of liturgical and even sacramental orientation of the church, but it seems that too often, that which is viewed as a resurgence of traditionalism is itself a veiled move in opposition of peace and justice. Are relevancy and “worldly” politics necessarily exclusive of peace and justice when without being relevant we cannot be a peaceful influence, and when the world’s politics at times seems strides ahead of the church in terms of achieving justice? A truly sacramental approach will embrace and work through relevancy and politics while not confusing traditionalism with moralistic justification of old-fashionedness. I would need some clarification of Harding’s broader understanding of the place of the church in contemporary culture before I could really assess his meaning in this post.

  2. Anthony Velez  

    Scott – I think the problem that Harding, or anyone, whether within the movement or on the outside, has with clearly defining or identifying the Emerging movement is that it is, as he says, “a term that characterizes a wide spectrum of Christians and churches.” However, he did point to the following characteristics:

    -interest in ancient practices of prayer and spiritual discipline
    -a turn toward the writings of the earliest Christian centuries of the Patristic period
    -an interest by formerly free church types in sacramental theology and in the theology of the church

    In agreement with your critique, I am not sure what he means be squandering the gift of the Spirit. I am wondering if it might be more fruitful to see the various renewal movements of the 20th century that emerged and faded, not as failures, but rather as minor movements in a larger orchestration of renewal that is yet to come.

    Anyways, what I liked about what Harding said was the idea that the historic churches (i.e. us Anglicans) are stewards of the Great Tradition. Of course, he put this in terms of the need for historic churches to repent of losing touch with the life that generates the Tradition, even as he offered a warning that the Emerging movement might succumb to faddishness and worldly politics. On the other hand, I am a little uncomfortable already calling this movement a “new wind of the Spirit.” First, to be honest, this is not my language, and second, I am a bit cautious when it comes to assessing what is and is not a movement of God. I realize, however, that this could be a fault on my part.

    Finally, I think the caution against worldly politics is legit, as the Church cannot let its agenda be established by what emerges in the world, even when what emerges accords with justice and peace. I know my saying this might raise an eyebrow, and I am not sure if I can quite explain it, as I am responding intuitively. But my sense is that even though the world is comprised of creatures who are made in God’s image, and who therefore have a longing to pursue justice, in the end, the methods and means used will deny God in someway shape or form.

  3. K.L.B.  

    Hey Tony!

    I’ve been formulating an answer, and the lack of an elongated tome from my fingers shouldn’t be misconstrued as a lack of interest.

    On the contrary!

    May I suggest you read “Calvin, Conversions, and Catholicity,” by Jordan J. Ballor, published online Jul 10, 2009?

    It’s available online (of course!) at –

    I think this article wholly germane to your question, and in some regard, quite above what I perceive to be the “fray” that is, in my opinion, embroiled in the author’s post ( the one to which you refer by Reverend Dr. Leander Harding, that is). And, I have read the entire post, naturally, which is why I describe the “fray” in his article.

    I would be interested in reading your response/thoughts after reading “Calvin, Conversions, and Catholicity.”

    (And, I’m still working on my thoughts in response, of course.)

  4. Roger Green  

    I think it’s fine to look at the early writings. But the Church over its history has been too willing to be submissive to the state (from feudal pacts between monarch and clergy to support of slavery to an Americhristianity) and be antipathetic to science (from the geocentric univerrse to “intelligent design). So i suppose it depends on what being read…

  5. K.L.B.  

    On some level, I find talk about the “emerging church,” (from what is it emerging?) to be disingenuous.

    If it is emerging, it is coming out of something, and the only thing I can see the Anglican Church “coming out” of is their homosexual closets.

    “Anglican orthodoxy”?

    How about instead, Anglican unorthodoxy? And try this on for size: SIN.

    The recent decision in Texas by the Episcopal Church to reaffirm homosexuality among their clerics is a slap in the face of orthodoxy! (And that, as you well know, is merely one very minor symptom of a significantly sicker organism.)

    The author’s statement, “When His gift is rejected by the people He has prepared to receive it, He seeks out a new people. So it is that sons and daughters of Anabaptists and Pentecostals are being drawn to the Great Tradition,” could be interpreted to be a cleansing… but how long will it take?

    When he writes, “It is a moment for repentance for those of us in the historic churches which have stewarded the Great Tradition but have lost touch with the life which generates the tradition and which carries it forward,” I think that perhaps his views are waylaid, and concerns unfounded.

    The “new people” about whom he writes will, hopefully, cleanse it before it disintegrates from within.

    This paragraph from the article “Calvin, Conversions, and Catholicity,” sums it up quite well:

    “As Betancourt says, “converts appeal to the Catholic Church’s antiquity,” reasoning that “since the Protestant tradition is only as old as the sixteenth-century Reformation, then it cannot be the true expression of the early apostolic faith and tradition.” The strategy of Betancourt and Geisler to answer this reason is to contend that “truth is not determined by age. To say so is to commit the fallacy of ‘chronological snobbery.’””

    If it’s orthodoxy you want, don’t kid yourself.

    Become Catholic.

  6. Anthony Velez  

    Kevin – I am not sure if I am following your response, but just the same, I want to point out that the Emerging movement is something that goes beyond the boundaries of Anglicanism, and in some measure tries to be transdenominational. As the article stated, it is a “disparate” movement, and so nailing down what it is specifically is challenging. However, I will point out, again drawing from the article, that it is an attempt to move beyond “trendy consumerist relevance,” which many of have come to see as the unfortunate byproduct of Evangelicalism’s attempt to do church without traditional garb, and to thereby be culturally engaging on some level. Shooting from the hip, I would say that the Emerging movement is populated by children of Boomer Evangelicals, who have a genuine faith in Christ, but who, generally speaking, became tired of their parents historically myopic, bibliocentric yet culturally determined expression of faith.

    In commenting on a quote from Leander, you mentioned that he could be understood as talking about a cleansing. Are you talking about the challenges of the Episcopal Church, and the larger Anglican Communion? If so, I don’t think Emerging types are particularly interested in renewing denominations, so much as they are in moving beyond them, as they try to recover tradition, and the practices of the Ancient Church. The problem with this, however, which I think Dr. Leander points to, is that this recovery is rather ill conceived, and from what I have read, and seen, has been a kind of buffet approach to liturgy and tradition. So, though I applaud the desire of Emergents to move beyond divisions, and their desire to recover the tradition of the Church, it seems to me that it will ironically end up repeating the errors they are reacting against.

    Regarding the article you pointed me to, and your closing comment, I certainly agree that to assume that because something is older it is closer to the truth, is to commit “chronological snobbery.” However, I also think that there is something to Apostolic Succession regarding the communication of truth, and this is something that requires historical connectedness, which means that what is older does matter at least a much as what is present. Related to this, I liked the fact that the author, Jordan Ballor, pointed out that the response of the Reformers regarding the critiques of novelty, was to assert that they were merely trying to recover the ancient form of the Faith, and that they are thereby upholding the Catholic faith. In fact, in their counter critique of the Catholicism of their day, they said that what they were reacting against was unbiblical novelty on the part of the Catholic leadership.

    Finally, regarding the nature of the Church that all of the above implies, I will say that the tensions of its existence are intimately connected to the tensions that exist in the Church’s confession of Jesus Christ as fully human and fully divine. It is a mystery that invites reflection, and provides understanding, even as it ultimately remains beyond comprehension, and it is a mystery that requires an entering into before any kind of understanding can come.

  7. Jackie Rios  

    Having used to be a follower of emerging church ideas, I have a thoroughly thought out opinion on this, and a less than intellectual explanation at the moment, (mostly because it is almost 2am and I can barely explain to anyone why i am still awake reading blogs.)

    What concerns me most about the emerging church ideas is their interpretation of what the Gospel is. I don’t believe they view it in a biblical manner, which to me, is the most important thing.

    This book should make for a good read: http://www.monergismbooks.com/Why-Were-Not-Emergent-By-Two-Guys-Who-Should-Be-p-17763.html

  8. Anthony Velez  

    Jackie – I understand your concern regarding the Emerging movement, but I think it’s wise avoid generalizations when making assessments about movements within the Church, which is to say that we should affirm what is good and critique what is bad in any movement. The Emerging movement is not a monolithic reality, and when you look at the people who are identified with this movement, you will find a diversity of theological opinions, some of which are disturbing, and others of which are appropriately challenging to the subtle and different ways the church capitulates to the assumptions of the larger culture. For example, I would currently not place Scot McKnight alongside Brian McLaren (and at this point, particularly after Brian’s recent book, neither would Scot). In emerging literature I have read exemplary expressions of the Gospel, which uphold the vicarious aspect of the atonement, as well as how Christ has overcome the powers and the principalities; I have read attenuated expressions, which focus only on the Christus Victor model of the atonement, and I have read aberrant/heretical expressions of the Gospel, which reduce it merely to a critique of violence or oppression.

    Often, a variety of evangelicals have charged those identified as Emerging with cultural accommodation, which I am sure is correct in some instances and in some degree. The irony is that many Evangelicals, particularly of the Reformed variety, have accommodated culture as well, but in different ways, in ways that bring them into conflict with the ways the Emerging movement may have accommodated culture. Regarding the spread of the Gospel, however, there is always a need to meet people where they are, which is to say that Gospel is always incarnating itself to meet people within their framework, and from within transform it. In communicating the Gospel, the Church needs to engage culture in a discerning way, and all who name Christ need to be aware that we all are blind in our own particular ways, which is why it is important to hear the voices of brothers and sisters from across cultural, denominational, and historical lines.

    I think where the Emerging Church gets it right is to question the ways the modern Church, particularly Evangelical Protestantism, capitulates to concepts of truth and knowledge that we have inherited from our Early Modern and Enlightenment ancestors, ways which do not necessarily accord with how the Early Church understood the nature of the truth, or how the Gospel is embodied in life. This is not to say that we all need to turn back the clock and do all the things that the Early Church did, as they too had their shortcomings. However, we do need to reverently listen to those voices, for in doing so the Spirit will enable us to identify the ways we are blind to the fullness of the Gospel, because of how our culture negatively influences us to view the world and interpret God’s word.

  9. Jackie  

    Touche & also, I agree with you.

    If I seemed hard or shut toward the Emerging church movement I apologize. I could only attribute that tendency towards my previous experience with authors like Rob Bell, Shane Claibourne, and Donald Miller. I was caught up in the Emerging Church ideas while attending FPU and it wasn’t until I took a step back to see what these people were pointing me to, that I realized they were only pointing me towards doing works of social justice, ideas of community, and they overall, just had a very liberal view of the Bible. I wasn’t pointed to Christ, and I had no biblical understanding of sin. They seemed to understand the gospel as doing works of social justice, but if that is all the gospel had to offer then… that would be a pretty shallow gospel.

    Now, I do want to agree with your suggestion that it is not wise to make generalizations, so indeed, I certainly cannot attribute this single three-year experience to ALL Emergent Church people. I do believe that it is good to as you said, “to winnow out the wheat from the chaff” and hear out our brothers and sisters in this category. 🙂 It is likely that my view of the Emerging Church is a little bias to my experience. 🙂