I have been asked to brief a fellow professor on the Emerging Church Movement. Here is how I responded.
In my opinion, "The Emerging Church Movement" is a description for the new styles of evangelical churches that are being led by younger pastors who are between the ages of 25 and 40 today (who we used to call "Generation Xers"). (There are people younger and older but I’m trying to give you a ballpark sociological description). Most used to be youth pastors and are now senior pastors. They are using their youth ministry experience to help create churches that better reach younger people. Of course any changes in church structure or practice could become heretical and deserve reflection. But, it seems to me that all of the main "emerging church" writings would easily fall within the boundaries of the National Association of Evangelicals statement of faith. The most controversial things some emerging church writers have questioned include how to best reach out to homosexuals (see an example from Brian McLaren at Leadership Journals’ Out of Ur blog 1, 2, 3) and whether hell has been biblically taught correctly within evangelicalism (See again McLaren at Out of Ur 1, 2, 3). In my opinion, these are standard conversations within evangelicalism. (As you can see, they are happening on Christianity Today’s website).
As theological educators, I think we should view it this way:
the emerging church proponents = innovative evangelical youth pastors
They will make some mistakes in their enthusiasm for changes and relevance but they are trying their best to reach young adults and teens. These are not enemies to argue with but rather people to cheer on, put your arm around, and offer guidance. They will also challenge us in good ways and keep our churches fresh.
Below I have provided some resources. Let me know if you have questions or concerns.
The proper term is "The Emerging Church Movement" not "emergence" or "emergent." And it does fit the sociological definition of a "movement." The "Emergent Village" is the most organized group within the movement. You can read their "statement of faith" which they call an "order" here.
You can read a decent description at Wikipedia on "Emerging Church." (Wikipedia is a user generated encyclopedia that anyone can edit and both critics and supporters of the emerging church have basically agreed upon this description).
The best scholarly book on the subject is:
Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures
by Eddie Gibbs, Ryan K. Bolger
Baker Academic (November 1, 2005)
You will be interested to know as well that the highly respected Trinity Evangelical Divinity School New Testament professor D.A. Carson has written a book that is mostly critical of the movement.
Zondervan (May 1, 2005)
Carson tries to analyze the movement by analyzing Brian McLaren's epistemology. It is a theological and philosophical analysis of what is really a practical phenomenon.
See especially North Park New Testament professor Scot McKnight’s review of D.A. Carson’s Becoming Emergent with the Emerging Church
Or if those links don't work, the first eight parts are here.
Here is Scot McKnight’s description of the emerging church:
I have my students read a book about the emerging church in Program and Curriculum Development. They compare it to the megachurch movement. We look at them as both influential church models within evangelicalism.