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Any author attempting to profile the phenomenon of the "emerging church" faces a daunting task.

Churches identifying themselves as emerging are new and diverse. Some have distanced themselves from both the mindset of traditional denominations and contemporary "seeker" models of church, while others identify with ancient traditions. Among the latter, some emerging congregations grow within an existing church, while others are new church plants that retain their denominational affiliation. There are also some significant differences between the United States and U.K., to which we might add Australia and New Zealand. This is all to say that D. A. Carson, professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, has had to simplify a complex picture.

Carson characterizes the movement as one of protest against "the conservative, traditional, evangelical churches, sometimes with a fundamentalist streak." For many emergent leaders, the issue is not to protest the old so much as a restlessness to find new ways of "doing church." They seek to relate to a secular—and increasingly post-secular—culture, in which the church is marginalized as traditional Christendom cracks and crumbles.

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Emerging church leaders identify modernism as a large part of the problem. It has given rise to denominations and permeated evangelicalism to a far greater extent than many are prepared to admit. Cultural fragmentation and polarization require churches to redefine and retool themselves in the current context. Many old modernist notions no longer apply, and they inhibit the ongoing mission of the church. But Carson is correct to critique the blanket condemnation of modernity by many of these writers. As with any culture, there is a ...

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In the Magazine

October 2005

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