Emergent Divergence

The Acts 29 Network (and Coram Deo along with it) often gets categorized as part of the “emerging church movement.” There are strands of this movement that we are happy to embrace, such as the vision to plant churches which are culturally relevant and immersed in the life of the cities they represent. There are other strands of this movement which are dangerous and unbiblical and which A29 and Coram Deo wholeheartedly reject. The challenge lies in delineating the good from the bad.

Last week Mark Driscoll finally addressed this matter head-on at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina. If you have iTunes loaded on your computer, this link will take you directly to the iTunes podcast (if you don’t have iTunes, sorry, I haven’t seen a standard mp3 link for this message, but I’ll keep my eyes open for one). If you’re wondering how A29 is or isn’t related to people like Donald Miller, Dan Kimball, Doug Pagitt, Brian McLaren, and Rob Bell, this message will make everything clear for you. (If these names are foreign to you, then nevermind.) Driscoll shows how the initial “Emergent” crowd diversified into 3 strands: Relevant, Revisionist, and the New Reformed. His lecture is helpful for making sense of the landscape of American evangelicalism as it stands today.

This message is also Driscoll at his theological best – gracious and charitable yet firm and clear, with enough Driscoll-esque humor to keep things interesting. Mark has his rough edges, like we all do. But the clarity and charity of this message shows why I’m honored to work alongside him and follow his leadership in the planting of new churches across the world.


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  1. I don’t have anything insightful to say about this, but I just thought it was a really clarifying and very engaging talk. I agree that this is Driscoll at his best. I have actually read a book by an author in each one of the strands, and this talk really clarified a “lens” (as Bob would call it) to view all of them. I think it is important to understand where each of the author’s is coming from in order to critically hold their writing up against Scripture and sound theology. If anything this talk convicted me to not just read to read, but to critically look at what is being said.

  2. I agree that this was a very helpful analysis of the ’emerging church’… a movement that I’ve heard people place Coram Deo in, and I was never really sure whether that was good. It’s helpful to know enough to draw the careful distinctions on our commonality with the emergent church movement, especially since we use the same language in some areas.

  3. My favorite line was:

    “The difference between us new Reformed guys and the older Reformed folks is that we want people to become Christians, not just kindling.”

    No doubt unfair to the many evangelistically-minded people in the historic Reformed camp, but certainly an accurate portrayal of how Reformation theology is seen and caricatured by the broader world.

  4. Driscoll’s address can be downloaded from the seminary’s Convergent Conference resource page:

    While you are there, I URGE you not to miss Ed Stetzer’s address. While Driscoll cautions against being too broad in our embrace of things “Emerging”, Stetzer cautions against being too narrow. It had me on my knees. 6 on a scale of 5.

  5. my favorite line:
    “Sectarianism says we are sanctified by distance, not by Christ…as if the world was filled with good guys and bad guys instead of bad guys and Jesus.”

  6. I hope no one thought I was saying that Stetzer negated Driscoll. I meant the two addresses made a great balance.

  7. bob, thanks for posting this. this is a great talk which clarifies a lot. i sent it to my staff team to consider. i did think your favorite quote from the talk was a bit ironic…i.e. mentioning kindling as he burns a whole group of believers. although i agree that we need to change ministry style in order to be culturally fruitful, i also think the word “culture” in a place like america is exceedingly broad. here’s my question for the “cool calvinists.” how do we reach people like my dad who has no interest in that which is cool? how bout my suburban neighbor who is fully immersed in the corporate world and trying to raise 2 kids? or the hispanic teenager in east austin, for whom cool means something different than sufjan and soul patches? my point is, cool has many contextual meanings. and what does jesus think about “cool” anyway, when he seemed to spend so much time with the uncool?

  8. Stewman… that’s what Stetzman’s wonderful address at the same conference is about. Country-western is a culture too :^)

  9. Stewman,

    yeah, I totally feel that. I work at a suburban church where “cool” things make the K-lovers feel like we’re dangerous for the whole family.

    So, it’s a delicate balance, because we’re trying to reach out. I think it’s interesting because alot of times the older/more established sub-culture will actually enjoy the cultural trappings of youth, because it makes them feel younger. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to go the other way alot, . .where younger folks will simply move down the street to the hipper church if they perceive a ministry to be “old”.

    It’s all secondary to the gospel, of course. That’s why I love Driscoll and the newer Calvinist movement because you know that regardless of the trappings of culture, the gospel will be preached.

    Stetzer is great about teaching all of us to not try and copy a “Seattle cultural engagement” model or (fill in hip city here). God has you where you are and you need to minister to those folks. It’s a word that’s seriously needed.

    Aaron(hippie boulder-ite)

  10. The level of pessimism among Longhorn fans is starting to concern me… as though you all have a conspiracy to butter ME up and make me over-confident. I can only hope Texas’ performance this weekend is as dismal as you guys anticipate!!

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