Why I am Emerging: A Brief Response to James MacDonald

Let me begin by saying that I do not walk in the same circles as Mr. MacDonald or those he might call friends. I have never met him, talked with him or ever had the opportunity to hear him speak. I walk with a different set of people, a different gathering of followers. While I have never met him, nor read anything he wrote [with the exception of the article I am commenting on] I still hold a respect for him, because even if does not think so we in the emerging would see him as a brother in Christ. While he may not see us the same, we would wish no ill will upon him or his ministry. What Mr. MacDonald needs to understand is that we do not seek his approval, or his acceptance of what we are doing. While I would never dream of speaking for the whole emerging church, I believe I do speak for some [even if it be a small and faithful band] who seek to develop a deeper walk in faith, even if that means people like Mr. MacDonald misunderstand what we are saying.

So, given that and all I have stood for in the past [and will stand for in the future] let me say that I am emerging for many reasons:

Because observing and making comments are not always bad:
MacDonald says, "Knowing the soup is bad does not make one a chef. If successful diagnosis was a license to treat the patient every lab technician would be a surgeon . . . scary." To help Mr. MacDonald with this, let me say that I do not need to be a chef to know the taste of bad food. I find his statement to be both arrogant and self-serving. Does it imply that only those with Â?special trainingÂ? [like DR. MacDonald] are the only people who can see a problem in the church, or speak against what they see the church doing? His argument against the emerging is one of the reasons I am so strong for the emerging. Just because I have a MDiv does not make me better then a person without a degree. I think we can all learn from each other. While Mr. MacDonald does not see that as a reality, we in the emerging welcome all voices, and encourage those who have a desire to speak to do so, regardless of education.

His desire to claim that those "who protest" never get invited to the party may be true, but then again I am not sure I would want to go to his house for a party anyway.

What I find interesting in MacDonald is that he starts ragging on us, but complaining that we rag on the western church - go figure.

Because God is looking for sincere people to express the reality of who God is.
One of the things I am very impressed with people such as Chris Seay, Carol Childress, Dave Travis, Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren and Rob Bell is that they are people who desire to express a reality of who God is. While I do not personally know all these people, I do know many of them and count them as friends; but more then that I see many of them as people I find express a desire to walk deeper in Christ. I have found them to be people who deeply seek to help others walk a deeper faith, and trust in a loving God.

In that, I have never found any of those people degrading, insulting, or even demoralizing of any other person. In fact, I can say in my dealings with the people I know I have never heard them speak poorly of another person. Because of their hearts, I see a deeper expression of who God is in the lives of people, and for that I am deeply moved.

I have never been moved by any member of the "evangelical church." Now, that does not mean I will question their faith, their walk or their expression of who God is Â? as Mr. MacDonald desires to do of those he lists. But it does mean that I have not been impressed with the words of the "evangelical church."

Mr. MacDonald says, "We are expected to obey our Master and to accept His Word without equivocation. Cavalier questioning of the explicit statements of Scripture regarding the necessity of the new birth, the priority of biblical proclamation or the binding authority and sufficiency of Scripture cannot build a stronger, more Christ- honoring church no matter how sincere the messengers. Critiquing the church is good, disregarding or diminishing the revealed truth of our Founder is not good, no matter how Â?niceÂ? the people are who do it." Yet I wonder if he truly knows what the emerging is about? Or is he just striving to "get in" on debating us so he can look good in "evangelical circles?"

Because it IS substaMacDonaldstyle
Macdonald says, "Candles and bells, paintings and sculpture, incense and chantingÂ?great! Let's bring back the best of all those offerings of worship, but letÂ?s not confuse style and substance." Yet again I wonder if he has ever even been to an emerging service, or talked with emerging pastors. Because if he had, he would know we are so not about "style" and we are all about substance - in fact, I would say we have a deeper desire to substance then most "mega-churches" that tapes a message and then sends them to "satilite churches" and think that is church.

He seems to forget that the contemporary church is the one who centers on style over substance, and many in the traditional church are stuck in style, old style. The emerging is striving to see past the "style" and get closer to substance. One of the things I share at staff meetings, and everywhere else i can, with our worship leader at 247connection [Amanda Crump - a great worship leader, with a great heart for worship] is that she takes me from the streets to the face of God during worship. Something I have never experienced in a contemporary church or a traditional church - and I started to follow Jesus at Central Christian Church in Las Vegas [Gene Apple's old church], and i never experienced it there either.

MacDonald seems to forget is that God is a God of creation; in that we are beings of creation. Art expresses who we are and how we relate to the world around us. Art is not designed to "be truth" but is designed to express a reality we live, know and understand.

MacDonald asks the question [even though he did ask it with a sarcastic heart], "...was it the form that was powerful or just the broken routine that allowed my heart to worship with fresh sincerity?" And to that I say, "Yes." Does it matter which is the reality, if the end result is a deeper worship experience and a lasting connection to God?

Because the answer is Jesus, without western cultural.
What MacDonald seems to forget, or maybe he just choises to ignore, is that the USAmerican church sees Jesus through Western eyes - we see Jesus in terms of a western church. The Eastern church has a different view of Jesus and the Church then we do. To ignore culture is to ignore a major reality of our faith. To think that culture does not matter simply shows that Mr. MacDonald is not in touch with the world around him.

To think culture does not matter means he does not see the reality we live in, and sees what he thinks is a "true church."

Because Jesus IS the party and is never hidden.
MacDonald writes, "Why do so many of the emerging church websites speak of God/Father and less overtly or not at all about Jesus Christ the Lord?" Well, he has never been to Ginkworld.net, or The Ooze, or Next-wave, or any of the 400 emerging churches listed on Ginkworld, or the other sites. He must be confusing the contemporary church with the emerging church, again. Many, heck all, the emerging leaders I know and count as friends are very into Jesus. We would never think of hiding our faith, and many of us have it tattooed on our bodies for all to see.

If there is one thing I see alive and well in the emerging church is our desire to truly get past all the market crap and get to the real Jesus. To express a deep desire to know and follow his teachings, without the cultural stuff that the evangelical church has strived to shove down our throats.

Anyway . . .
I am not impressed with MacDonaldÂ?s arguments against the emerging. not because he does not have his point of view Â? he does and he can - but because he is wrong in his views. It shows that he is getting his information from Carson, Mohler and others who do not get us. What I find disingenuous is not that he does not agree with what we think, he has that right. What I find disingenuous is his desire to condemn us for having an honest concern for the church - while doing the same thing he is claiming we do.

What he, and others, desire is that we "change our waysÂ? and be more like them, as if Â?they got it right and everyone else got it wrong." That kind of logic is not in my way. MacDonald, while claiming to be open, is in fact very closed to other possibilities. I love what Brian is writing and what Bell is writing and what Len is writing, because they are stripping away the myths of the church and the faith Â? and allowing us to see and express a faith that shows the real Jesus, and not the western Jesus the evangelical church demands we believe. While he is calling for revival, he is pushing aside the revival that is happening all around him.

He writes, "We need a renewed vision of God's exalted, infinite holiness." And he is right, and it is called "the emerging church."


John said...

so i went back and read mac donalds article and there is a sense of arrogance in it but what i see is that he has picked up on the inability of the emerging church to withstand any type of critique. at its essence the emerging church is sincere and striving for the same things macdonald wishes for the church but it saddens me deeply that there is this divisiveness between those emerging and those not and both camps are guilty of this. i think macdonald is seeing the same things you and i have talked about the exclusivity, the coolness above other things and it is hard to listen to someone point it out and when they are glib it doesnt help can we please have an honest open converesation with all the leaders of the evangelical church and learn from each other instead of attacking each other. its the same fight the liberals and fundementalist had a few decades ago and the damage to the church's image from it is why the emergng church emerged. anyway enuf from me

A Christian Prophet said...

Will the second coming of Jesus Christ be announced on an Internet blog site first? See Holy Inheritance blog:


Peter Gurry said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Peter Gurry said...

I have some problems with your posting, John. Allow me to illustrate:

1. You said, “… I still hold a respect for him [MacDonald], because even if [he] does not think so we in the emerging would see him as a brother in Christ.”
So you’re implying that MacDonald might think of those in the emerging movement as not being brothers in Christ? Where do you get that from? I didn’t find that sentiment in MacDonald’s article anywhere.

2. You said, “To help Mr. MacDonald with this, let me say that I do not need to be a chef to know the taste of bad food.”
I don’t think MacDonald would disagree with you since in his article he said, “Knowing the soup is bad does not make one a chef.” He’s saying that knowing there’s a problem in the church doesn’t qualify you to solve it. Knowing the soup is bad doesn’t mean you know how to make soup that isn’t bad. Now if you disagree with that, fine. But what you’re disagreeing with is that you need to be qualified to know there’s a problem, which is not what MacDonald said. You’re saying that you don’t need to be a chef to recognize bad soup. You’ve misread his article.

3. You went on to say, “Does it imply that only those with ‘special training’ (like Dr. MacDonald) are the only people who can see a problem in the church, or speak against what they see the church doing?”
Again, that’s not what MacDonald is saying. He’s not saying that you need special training to recognize the problem. He’s not saying that the emerging movement can’t recognize what’s wrong with the Western church. What he is saying, is that by virtue of recognizing the problem, you are not out of necessity able to correct is. If you disagree with this, say so. But you’re disagreeing with something MacDonald hasn’t said. You’re arguing against an argument that doesn’t exist in his article. (As a side note, he’s not Dr. MacDonald.)

4. After a quote by MacDonald where he makes the point that disregarding or “diminishing” what the Bible teaches is bad you say, without addressing anything in MacDonald’s point, “Yet I wonder if he truly knows what the emerging is about? Or is he just striving to “get in” on debating us so he can look good in “evangelical circles?”
You’re not attacking what MacDonald has actually said with that comment; you’re attacking MacDonald himself. This is bad in itself but worsened by the fact that by your own admission you “have never met him.” I don’t think you meant to, but you come across as “degrading, insulting, or even demoralizing” another person. You’re making a judgment of his character and you should be careful about doing that since you don’t know him, just as I should be careful not to judge your character without knowing you.

5. You said, “To think culture does not matter means he does not see the reality we live in, and sees what he thinks is a ‘true church.’ ”
Again, you’re making a judgment that I don’t think you have legitimacy in making against MacDonald. Show me from his article that “he does not see the reality we live in.”

6. “…without the cultural stuff that the evangelical church has strived to shove down our throats.”
That’s a bit harsh. I think you make some legitimate points in your post, but statements like this make it hard to read your post with much sincerity.

7. You said, “What he, and others, desire is that we ‘change our ways’ and be more like them, as if ‘they got it right and everyone else got it wrong.”
Again, I don’t see this attitude reflected in his article. I don’t think he’s suggesting you change, I think he’s giving reasons why he’s not emerging. The title of his article is, after all, “Why I’m not emerging,” not “Why you shouldn’t be emerging.”

Sorry for the length of this comment, but I wanted to address what I see are some serious problems in what you’ve said and what you think MacDonald said. Please know that I am just now starting to learn about the emerging church and don’t know much about it myself. I don’t think the emerging church is right, and I don’t think Evangelicals are right. I think the Bible is right and that needs to be our guide; not our favorite Christian author or the pastor of a mega church. My point is not that either one is wrong, but we must always weigh what others say against the Bible. That is our ultimate guidepost. God’s Word determines what the church is and how it functions—in any culture and at any time in history.

john o'keefe said...


i would disagree with your points and simply ask that you reread macdonald's article to see my points. the biggest difference between me and macdonald would be that i am willing to admit i may have gotten it wrong - would he?


Peter Gurry said...

“The biggest difference between me and MacDonald would be that I am willing to admit I may have gotten it wrong—would he?”
He would, and he did!
In fact, he said, “I am glad for the summary you have written and I accept it as a more factual and informed definition than my own.”

john o'keefe said...

and that is cool - i read his statement - but i have questions.

he said that he is removing the article from his site - where?

his words are: "I will remove the article from my own site and..." writen on october 31st and yet as of november 8th, it is still there:


and so, other questions come to light :)

Peter Gurry said...

My guess is that MacDonald is probably not too tech savvy and certainly not his own webmaster. Give him time. I can only speculate that removing this article from his website is not his top priority.

Peter Gurry said...

Oh, and I was wrong, he is Dr. MacDonald.