Why James MacDonald Is Not Emerging (Part 1)

(James MacDonald is pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, and its several satellite campuses. His preaching is featured on the radio program Walk in the Word. His is another perspective in the postmodern, emergent church dialogue.)

Let me begin with a word of personal appreciation for the current leaders of the emerging church movement. I am deeply grateful for your courage in standing against the many shortcomings of the modern Western church. Thanks for insisting that authenticity in relationship is the foundation of genuine Christian community. Thanks for standing against the formulaic/instant Gospel which fills our churches with tares and insulates the human heart from a genuine transformational encounter with the living Christ. Thanks also for daring to believe that failure is not final and that Christ yet longs for His bride to function with the health and wholeness He created it to enjoy.

In case you are wondering why my gratitude for the leaders of the emerging church does not translate into enthusiasm for their current emphasis and direction let me take a few words to explain why I am not emerging.

1. Because observing the bad is not a credential for guiding us to the good.

Even if every placard-carrying protestor across from the White House has a legitimate complaint they will not soon be invited to cross the street and participate in governing our nation. The hippies of the late sixties told us that the choice to "make love, not war" would go a long way toward solving society's ills. We now know however that free love is a fast track to rampant perversion and escalating victimization of the innocent among us. History is replete with proof that those most articulate about our shortcomings are often least able to bring balanced, objective solutions.

I resonate deeply with much of the criticism flowing from the emerging church against current Western Christianity, but I am deeply grieved to see the emergent remedies accepted so uncritically by those who feel gratified by the accuracy of their critiques. 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.

2. Because God is looking for obedience to revealed truth, not just sincerity.

I have had numerous interactions with and time to personally observe several of the key emerging leaders such as Chris Seay, Carol Childress, Dave Travis, Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren, and Rob Bell. Some I have only spoken with, others I consider to be dear friends, but each that I have been exposed to gives strong evidence that they are sincere and genuinely committed to Jesus Christ. If all that Christ asked of us was a gracious, kind demeanor they would be exemplary indeed; however the Lord is asking for much more.

October 17, 2005

Displaying 1–10 of 32 comments


February 09, 2006  11:08am

It seems that the "emergent church" is unaware of the role of the Holy Spirit. It is difficult for me to call such a church.

Report Abuse

Call Me Ishmael

January 20, 2006  8:24am

An excellent, encouraging and stimulating article!

Report Abuse


November 17, 2005  4:14pm

I lot of the response I see to this article sounds a lot like, "you don't know me, don't act like you know me". It is possible for a criticism to always incorporate every individual that takes part in whatever appears to be the emergent church? If you keep your doctrine and theology purposely open for dicussion, how can anyone argue with your stance. I mean it's the ultimate defense against debate because no matter what someone says they always don't know it completely. The problem is many people who claim to be emergent don't know it completely either.

Report Abuse

Frank Emanuel

November 13, 2005  9:36am

R.Miller, it seems a car hit your sacred cow. There is a lot going forward in our day. I think that it is only fair that critics speak up with their concerns about any new movement, including the Emergent movement. I disagree with the points, but it does represent a perspective of what the Emergent church is doing. I think that is important to address because the Emergent movement has its most value as a dialogue partner with the whole church. In any case, no matter where you belong, why not let us start by rejoicing that the gospel is being preached - the good news is getting out there. I know, as an Emergent pastor (boy I don't like that term - I'm just trying to live faithful to the scriptures) I have had the privilege of seeing the gospel penetrate hearts of folks who wouldn't set foot in a traditional church building. These same folks are coming alive with the Spirit as we have simply been exploring the gospels together. Sure we don't give pat answers (really, do you have a different bible than me? because I never found Jesus giving easy answers and I wrestle with this book almost daily) or tell people what/how to believe. But we live it before them and they get it, and Jesus gets them. Isn't that what we are all trying to do?

Report Abuse

R Miller

November 08, 2005  10:08pm

To equate the "emerging church" with Martin Luther is an insult to Martin Luther, and shows a lack of dpeth of understanding of history. It is also a slam at evangelical christians.

Report Abuse


November 03, 2005  10:33pm

Dave Brazz, 1) Not very generous of you. 2) Not very helpful in fostering any form of conversation.

Report Abuse

Dave Brazz

November 01, 2005  6:45pm

Here's some ideas for part 2: 1. I am not emergent because I really don't understand what the emergent conversation is all about. 2. I am not emergent because people might stop listening to my radio program. 3. I am not emergent because I have too much invested in the old system, after all I could lose my power and influence…uh…and my salary.

Report Abuse


November 01, 2005  8:44am

Not sure how to respond to these comments because, ironically, there is no "substance" to them...they are basically rhetoric and style. He launches a number of red herrings and straw mans and thinks he has said something convincing. The problem is that no "emergent" people I know would say the things he accuses them of. If you are going to criticize the emergent church, lets have some real examples please! Engage the writers! I must conclude (by these posted comments) that their author doesn't understand what he has read. In some ways, I appreciate the charity his gives emergent leaders at the beginning of his comments. But then again I'm not sure I buy it, because it serves his accusation that emergent supporters are simply sentimental hippies that we need not take seriously.

Report Abuse

Henry Bell

October 29, 2005  9:59am

I must say thanks to Pastor James for your outstanding observation of how the church of today has totaly missed the Biblical truth of what the New Testament Church is and its purpose in the world. The Church (NT:1577 ekkl¢sía GK.) denotes the NT community of the redeemed in its twofold aspect. First, all who were called by and to Christ in the fellowship of His salvation, the church worldwide of all times, and only secondarily to an individual church (Matthew 16:18; Acts 2:44,). The church house is for the teaching of Gods Word to learn how to live according to His Word,to love one another on one accord and to be taught how to be true diciples carring the Gospel of Christ to a lost world. There are too many people hid behind the four walls of the church being satisfied with fancy dress,great singing in which was only found in temple worship of the Old Testament, totally relaxed sitting in their comfort zones and being totally satisfied with the shape the world is in today. I have a hard time myself as Bro. James in seeing the church of today being even close to what Christ organized it to be in Matt.28:19-20. Keep it up Bro. James because Satan is screaming out because you are on his big foot! To you who are trying to prove that we are wrong to agree with Pastor James, please compare what we say with the Word of God.How can a church be a Democracy when only Christ rules. The church of today has forgotten who rules.

Report Abuse


October 24, 2005  7:11pm

I agree totally with Pastor James. To attack Atheism you don't have to read all the books written by Atheists. It is SILLY to do so. And to criticize the emerging church movement, you don't have to read every book, interview everybody in US (the world) who are emerging church proponents. What Pastor James is concerned about, is about Emphasis. Style is not evil, but if it is emphasized more than substance, it becomes evil. It is also about the center of Christian faith. Worship is a must, but if worship occupy the center of Christian faith, it is a heresy. Nothing should replace the proclamation of the Gospel (read: Biblical Preaching) as the center of Christianity in the church, family, or anywhere. What Pastor James asks is: "Repent from all efforts to decentralize the biblical preaching and replace it with something else." We exist today as Christians because there were recorded proclamation of the Gospel from the Past. Not because there were church building, candle, style (art), etc. And this is what we should spend time most to pass it to the next generation. The emerging church just thinks about the present time (short-term satisfaction) rather than long-term (eternal) consequences. "Repent from your short-sightedness."

Report Abuse