Four Types of Emerging Churches

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : January 14, 2008

Subcategorizations of “emerging church” abound. Most of the paradigms in which people dissect the broader conversation are worthless…but there are a few that foster understanding and nurture conversation. C. Wess Daniels recently added yet another way of categorizing the subsets of emerging churches that is is definitely worthwhile. Here’s a snippet:

  1. Deconstructionist Model: Probably the most well known group of emerging churches these churches are truly postmodern in just about every sense of the word. These are Christians influenced mainly by deconstruction, a philosophical approach invented on the continent. In their holy readings of philosophical discourse Derrida, Lyotard, Foucault and Caputo would be there. Much of the focus is on adopting postmodernity, and contextualizing the Gospel accordingly. Peter Rollins’ Ikon in Ireland would be a good example of one such group. I think Tony Jones and Brian McLaren would also fall under this category. I would say they are accommodating to postmodern culture, against modernism, and often against the institutional church making them lean towards a sort of non-denominationalism.
  2. Pre-modern/Augustinian Model: This model would be the second most influential within the EC, and can be in (friendly) opposition to the first group. Instead of understanding postmodernism in terms of Nietzschean philosophy as group one would do, this model leans more towards a Renaissance styled post-modernism (similar to what is represented in Toulmin’s Cosmopolis). Whether this group is truly early modern or whether it reaches back further to the pre-modern era I am not quite clear on, but St. Augustine and St. Thomas are key figures for this group. This is the where the Radical Orthodoxy of John Milbank, James K. Smith and others would fall. We see some catholics here, as well as other theologians that tend towards placing a higher emphasis on tradition within the overall framework of the Christian faith, rather than simply contextualization. This group would be see history as having shown us a better way, and if we reach back far enough we may be able to find wisdom that will help us in our quest of faith today. They would be more favorable towards institutional church, and have a pretty clear understanding of what kind of church we ought to become, but would also be seen as nostalgic and trying to uphold an institution that has often oppressed and violated those we are called to help.
  3. Emerging Peace Church Model (Or Open Anabaptism): This model of the emerging church stresses the non-conformist tendencies of Jesus, and thus the church should follow in his footsteps through non-violence, love of enemy and caring for the poor. This one may be closest to a kind of new monasticism that has so often been written about in recent times. While there are people from the various peace churches involved in this type of church, there are also people from a variety of traditions who are seeking to contextualize the Gospel within our culture. This group does not accept any one style of culture as being good, thus their non-conformist attitude is directed at modernity and postmodernity alike. They see Jesus (and his incarnation) as their primary model for engaging culture. They are influenced by Wittgenstein, Barth, Bonhoeffer, John H. Yoder, McClendon and Nancey Murphy to name a few. In this group you will find people like Jarrod McKenna and the Peace Tree, Shane Claiborne, some Mennonites, Rob Bell’s Mars Hill, Submergent, Jesus Radical and convergent Friends, to name a few. This group is counter any kind of Christendom styled church and thus would be sometimes for and sometimes against institutionalization, and would see contextualization as important only up to the point that it remains ultimately an extension of Jesus’ ministry and message.
  4. Foundationalist Model: This model of the emerging church is more conservative in their reading of Scripture and modern approaches to ecclesiology (standard preacher-centered teaching, music for worship, etc) while seeking to be innovative in their approaches to evangelism. This may come in the form of people meeting in pubs, having tatoos, cussing from the pulpit, playing loud rock music for worship and adding a layer of “alternative-ness” to their overall church service. These churches can be found within larger church communities, or can be on their own, sometimes as a large (possibly mega) church. They follow standard Evangelicalism in that they aren’t attach to traditions, and come out politically and theologically conservative, while maintaining a more accomodational stance toward culture in the name of evangelism, they will ultimately look similar to older church communities theologically. This is where I think Mark Driscoll, Dan Kimball, Erwin McManus and many “emerging services” within mega-church congregations like Willow Creek might be found.

Check out the full article here.

I’m certainly biased in my affirmation of this paradigm. After all, #3 gives due consideration to the sort of emerging model that I’m advocating. Most conversation tends to focus too much on #1 and #4. But #2 and #3 are also an essential aspect of what is happening in the emerging church.

for further reading . . .

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3 Responses to “Four Types of Emerging Churches”

  1. Michael Cline on January 14th, 2008 5:23 pm

    This is very helpful. Good summary Mark

  2. Mike Morrell on January 15th, 2008 12:13 am

    I agree Mark–quite helpful, bro. I like 1 and 3 best, though I can appreciate 2 as ‘compost.’ Not too keen on 4, though some of those folks are great and way better than nothing.

  3. mountainguy on January 15th, 2008 5:53 pm

    I find myself more in #3.

    #1: I see very interesting this of deconstruction, but maybe I’m a little orthodox for them. However, I think this kind of EC is the best at understanding the present times

    #2: They try to search for good things in the past, but I don’t want to be in a very institutional churh. Anyway, they might have some good philosophical background, but being more orthodox than #1

    #3: I’m not an anabaptist, but I feel like one. This is the kind of church I’m looking for; comitted with social issues, with some of “christian anarchism”, but at the same time they have enough orthodoxy.

    #4: The least popular for us, but I see as a way to make conservative christians turn a little to the “left”.

    Well, those were my 2 cents by today.

    Goodbye from Colombia.

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