01 Introduction: Due Diligence in Diagnosing the Emergent Movement

On This Page:

  • Quite a Journey: A Personal Introduction to My Experiences with the Emerging Ministry Movement
  • Due Diligence and “Playing the Complexity Card”

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Quite a Journey:

A Personal Introduction to My Experiences

with the Emerging Ministry Movement

INTRODUCTION. The following is a comment I posted at The Wartburg Watch, on What Tony Jones Should Learn From Stanley Hauerwas About Marriage (January 19, 2015). I’ve edited it slightly for clarity. It was in response to a guy named Joe who said:

I could be wrong and often am, but wasn’t Driscoll going to be the one who married the Emergent gang with the more mainstream evangelical crowd?

I was surprised to see the Emergent gang still going, because the Reformed gang rose up en masse a few years back and made it their favorite whipping boy. For good reason, I might add, and you’ll probably dig that up with little trouble. Also, I think that the movement had an ideology that led the movement to collapse on itself – it refused to be defined by anything and eventually became undefined. But it was appealing to postmoderns, which was Driscolls target audience, hence the connection between the two.

Regardless of what you may think about Joe’s conclusions, here is my response – to which Joe eventually replied, saying, “Quite a journey!”

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The way I see it from my own involvement in “emerging” is that there were multiple perspectives on “evangelicalism” in it, and it actually sifted out into about 6 different streams from when it surfaced (1996) and over the next 10 years. That’s part of what makes it so confusing.

I didn’t fit with the “inerrant theology” approach of New Calvinism, nor with the deconstructive dialogue-forever approach of Emergent Village. To me, they were just opposite ends of the spectrum on an either/or paradigm split at the level of epistemology (information processing styles), axiology (values), theology (doctrines). And those deep-level elements affected the ways they put together their organizations (whether hierarchical or decentralized — both of which allow people to hijack the system for their own benefit and power), their cultures, and their collaborations.

And I was too … what, radical I guess? … to be satisfied with mini-changes to the usual post-evangelical ministry methods, but not “progressive” enough to want to make changes to overthrow what I held as core beliefs or moral/ethical imperatives.

I landed in the missional side of the emerging movement, which to me is the most holistic of the paradigms represented in that primordial soup of emergingness. More emphasis on praxeology (actions, not just talking), freedom from centralization and conformity (Resurgence) or decentralization and chaos (Emergent Village),

And how I define *missional* is like missionary turned inside out — instead of going somewhere else to learn the language and culture and find the people of peace and share Christ through words and deeds, it’s that you root in locally wherever the Spirit plants you and become a person of peace who shows hospitality and kindness while living out Kingdom values and beliefs as part of sharing Christ.

As you can guess, since I didn’t seem to fit well in most of those streams, but knocked on the doors of all of them, I had a lot of questions. This framework of multiple streams came out of my trying to figure out the possibilities, the gaps and excesses in each, and where I best fit. And in the mid-2000 decade especially, bloggers were still working to figure out what had happened as the dust was settling. It’s just not easy to observe and interpret what’s going on around you when you’re in the middle of the most major paradigm shift and culture changes worldwide than have been experienced in the last 500 years. But we do the best we can with what we’ve got to work with … and this [Wartburg Watch] site is one part of how I’ve navigated the currents in the waters of emerging.

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Due Diligence and

“Playing The Complexity Card”

INTRODUCTION. The following article is edited slightly for clarity’s sake (but not to totally clean it up) from a comment of mine on a post at The Wartburg Watch, What Tony Jones Should Learn From Stanley Hauerwas About Marriage (January 19, 2015). I present it here to illustrate why I believe we benefit from a systems approach to thinking about our lives and ministries and the larger culture of community that we create – and how those all intersect. It seems to me that the complex systems approaches help us grapple with what has been happening recently (January 2015). It’s been quite messy with Julie McMahon calling out Tony Jones about personal and organizational issues, and Emergent insiders and outsiders pushing back on Rachel Held Evans and Nadia Bolz-Weber about the upcoming “Why Christianity?” event being facilitated by The JoPa Group, and there having been two blog threads of about 1,000 comments each in the past five months dealing with all manner of people and topics in the Emergent Movement.

I feel this particular post should drop you right in the middle of the mess, and help consider how to slog through the details with due diligence because, no matter what our conclusions and recommendations and actions turn out to be, they will affect the actual lives of everyday disciples of Jesus Christ. I take seriously the essence of the Golden Rule to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” There are personal, organizational, institutional, and cultural problems all intersecting here, and it affects the Kingdom and our corporate reputation. And if we’re somehow connected with any of the people involved in this, it affects us as well; we are not neutral, even if we try to be. That is why I have spent the last six years writing a training curriculum for social entrepreneurs and church planters to “Do Good Plus Do No Harm.”

Final note – I’m not embedding additional links into this article to source where I got certain facts and opinions – the entire rest of this site does that. So, ready or not, here we go …

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Miranda, you bring up some important questions about the larger picture and what is it that is really going on here. I’ve got some thoughts to share about that, however, I can’t help unpack this. [Pesky work, must pay those bills!] These are all huge ideas, but I’ll do the best I can to sketch the outlines, and suggest checking out some categories on my blog to help process it. But I feel you deserve some kind of response.

P.S. This is all off the top of my head and synthesizing on the fly without going back to any records to check, so if any readers can see factual errors in this, please let me know so I can correct them. All this is my own opinion, based on reflections about my own surviving of spiritual abuse plus research into organizational dynamics, social movements, and forms of dissent.


I’ve been sort of an insider/outsider to the whole emerging movement since 1996, and have written a lot about how all that has sifted itself out into six “streams” — emerging, post-Evangelical, Emergent Village, New Calvinism (Resurgence), Missional, and Progressive. Hard to see what’s going on with differentiation of groups within a larger movement when one’s right in the middle of the paradigm shift that’s brought such disparate groups together. Picture being at the Tower of Babel, after the confusion of languages, and running around trying to find your tribe who spoke something you understood. I’ve done a lot of documentation and essays on all this, and so that’s a backdrop to the rest of what I think is relevant to your question.


In the shake-out of these streams, each had leaders/celebrities who rose to the surface. For instance, Mark Driscoll in New Calvinism. Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones and Brian McLaren in Emergent. If you go back into the history of Emergent Village, you’ll find posts from the mid-2000 decade where Julie had been Tony’s #1 advocate and fended off criticism. When the Jones’ relationship changed and he filed for divorce, then eventually that flipped — and what happened in 2009-ish was you had as the focal point of an online eruption about Emergent the divorce situation of Tony and Julie Jones. And now Julie was the target instead of the advocate. While Tony tried to take any revelations off stage (as I believe a reading of the online posts shows) other Emergent followers stepped up to flame Julie, defend Tony, deflect criticism from Emergent.


Okay, so there were maybe a dozen different blogs back in 2009-2010 that were trying to grapple with Tony’s “spiritual vs. legal marriage” theology and the shifts in Emergent (Tony had been the Executive Director from 2005-2008, but that job was ended) and the divorce and the story behind it. [I plan to post as complete a set of those historic links as possible in the next few days so you can read for yourself and see the turmoil going on.] The dozen or so bloggers covering this were from various streams out of the “lake of emerging.” They were emerging insiders, even if not Emergent insiders. Others were more outsider critics to the whole emerging movement. Commenters on those blogs included both insiders (Emergent and non-Emergent) and outsiders.

As part of that “cast of characters,” some of the non-Emergent bloggers had backgrounds of having been on staff in churches where they as leaders were the victims of spiritual abuse. From what I’ve observed of what happens with leaders who got taken for a spiritual abuse ride, they seem more likely to have a slightly different cluster of responses in the long run, compared with those who were congregation members but not in leadership roles. (1) They eventually work through survival issues and come to a place where they start dealing with their own complicity in the abuse of others — because they were often manipulated into carrying out the pastor-dictator’s wishes. I believe this is part of what leads to (2) a deeper/more sharpened “protection and prevention” response. A lot of us who survive spiritual abuse end up committed to prevention: “I will do everything I can so that this never happens to another person!” I just get the overall sense that survivors who’ve been in leadership roles seem to have a stronger “pastoral protection” response, too, that when they see someone getting the life whomped out of them by someone who has no conscience and no compassion, it triggers them to act and protect. That comes from the personal side of things. From the theological side of things, (3) identifying hypocrisy seems to be a stronger trigger for action. Not saying this doesn’t happen for the typical spiritual abuse survivor, but seems to be a stronger response for those who’ve been in leadership roles, who’ve often seen huge canyons of difference behind the scenes between the ideals their employer portrays versus the toxic reality that plays out.

So, how do post-leader-survivor bloggers respond when you have a personal/pastoral situation arise — the social media slapdown of Julie McMahon Jones and the behind-the-scenes meme being spread that she is “batshit crazy” and to stay away from her and she’s out to take down Tony — amplified by a theological/hypocrisy situation — the “spiritual versus legal marriage” bit which seems to be a brash justification for out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new? Eruption. When you read the entire set of posts for yourself, see if there isn’t an adrenalized response to protect, prevent, find justice, end hypocrisy.

P.S. Hypocrisy (whether real or perceived) seems to be one of the core factors in why people leave the church or stay away from it in the first place. So, if we don’t care about removing hypocrisy, do we really care about people entering the Kingdom?


Okay, so maybe that helps explain some of what’s unspoken in the current eruption of 2015 against Emergent. But, I believe, there is more — but it wouldn’t make sense without that larger backdrop and backstory.

Now, get in mind what we know of typical dynamics of abuse at the level of individuals and local churches … and project that outward — blow that up onto a larger stage. We survivors eventually seem to comprehend how we got pimped to be pawns in a local church or ministry or small group. Reverse that out and imagine how things would work on the stage if you were the one who was aiming for something far larger to lead … say, an entire movement, and not just a mini-ministry. How would you go about that, if you wanted to be The Big Fish in The Big Pond?

Along that line, I will suggest there may be at least two larger scale social movement stories that parallel the smaller scale personal abuse/divorce story.

First, trying to promote Emergent Village as the preeminent and authoritative brand coming out of the lake of emerging. Go into the history of Emergent Village and see how hard Tony Jones worked to do that, even to the point of what looks like burnout — (and did the EV board of directors fail in their oversight in allowing him to burn out?), and how other key figures in the Emergent (and Progressive) side of things did what they could to promote Emergent.

As you can imagine, this didn’t always sit well with people from other streams out of emerging. I remember (as a non-Emergent Missional guy) how much pressure there was on me/us to promote certain EV authors, hire certain EV speakers to deliver The Stock Message Memes, the implication being that if you weren’t EV you weren’t really that New Kind of Christian, etc. Frankly, it was aggravating. And Emergent wasn’t the only movement doing that. You could probably track celebrities (authors, speakers, mega-megas) in every stream that were jockeying for attention, and simply shift the names and nuances.

And yes, that tends to builds up some animus, perhaps in reaction to specific people, perhaps just free-floating against a specific movement, perhaps push-back against generally perceived tactics of manipulation.

Second, the Emergent/Progressive Industrial Complex. How do you take over a movement, or have your movement gain wider influence (and higher finances), so it becomes an institution? You connect your celebrities into partnerships with speaking events, publishers, small groups, colleges, seminaries, social media outlets, etc. etc.

And yes, that also tends to builds up some animus, perhaps in reaction to specific people, perhaps just free-floating against Christian consumerism.


So, what if you just happen to have all of those factors overlapping in what looks like just a simple, small-scale, personal story of animosity between a man and his ex-legal wife. But he just happens to be a celebrity in his own movement, which happens to be trying to spread the brand (but cannot, of course, have stains on the label, and hence he deftly bows out by not wanting to sully the reputation of the ex-spouse), and has books and teaching and blogging to do (but what happens if there are character/behavior issues that would disqualify him from serving in those capacities in at least some of those institutional partnerships?). How many key trigger issues does that hit on for different insiders and outsiders?

Voilà! Welcome to Eruption of Emergent, autumn/winter 2009 …

… and in the current pushback of 2015, look at where a lot of the focus has shifted: to the collaborations and partnerships and venues at the Emergent/Progressive Industrial Complex level. And who is doing the push-back? It isn’t all angry outsiders … seems there are a lot of insider Emergent-Progressives involved, and a key trigger seems to be … hypocrisy.

And it could be that this “digital dissent” may be an indicator of a repeat of what we witnessed happening in 2014 with Mark Driscoll and the meltdown of Mars Hill Church and push-back against its many New Calvinism/Resurgent Industrial Complex partners: Acts 29, ECFA, ResultSource, Tyndale House, The Gospel Coalition, etc etc etc.


Which brings me back to my main thesis that I posted a few days ago, about what might be signs of a radicalization of survivors, their advocates, and their supporters. Institutional-level hypocrisy now seems to be a #1 trigger for setting people off into push-back and rage against the [Xn] Industrial Machine.

Okay, way past 9 AM, and my allotted hour for blog commenting is way over. But it was sort of get-it-out-of-my-brain now, or never.

I know this may raise more questions than it answers, and isn’t all the answer, but, it represents the best of my current understanding about the context of complex interwoven layers of this situation and why what seems on the surface to be just a “simple situation of divorce” could possibly raise so much interest and ire. In my opinion, it’s all about the context … and it’s not about a pretext.

If this sparks interest in thinking more deeply through issues, browse these categories on my blog (all in the 1. Spiritual Abuse & Toxic Ministries navigation bar):

* Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse

* Emergent Village

* Deconstructing the Christian Industrial Complex

* Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Case Study and Capstone Series [for parallels, including in the Resurgent Industrial Complex]

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