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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.

Carson focuses on Brian McLaren, as well as a small number of other authors such as Dan Kimball, Spencer Burke, and Mike Yaconelli (in the U.S.), and David Tomlinson and Steve Chalke (in the U.K.). This tends to skew the discussion because it highlights those who have come out of house-church fundamentalism or seeker-driven megachurches. Research by Ryan Bolger among more than 50 emergent leaders indicates that N. T. Wright, the eminent New Testament scholar, and Dallas Willard of the University of Southern California are equally influential. ...

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October 2005

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