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52 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2007
After a while, studying the Emerging Church leaves you wondering if any of the major figureheads of the movement really agree on anything. Robert Webber has created a "boy band" (with one girl) of the Emerging Church with this book - putting together the right blend of different leaders from the movement to show five representative streams and make it an entertaining read all at the same time.

Although the idea may have originated to show the commonality between Emerging leaders, what is better highlighted is the diversity of belief between these folks. Through reading this book you learn what makes a Dan Kimball who he is and how that is different from the approach that a Karen Ward will take.

The book shows the commonalities found in the Emerging Church in a more inductive way. The Emerging Church's focus on those who do not know the faith yet is very apparent, and the missional philosophy of church is a major factor. Additionally, a general feeling that the things that these pastors were taught in seminaries didn't give them all that they needed. Dan Kimball who went to a Baptist seminary goes on and on about the Nicene Creed which was probably not taught all that much. Karen Ward, educated in the ELCA (she actually grew up as an LCMS Lutheran) expresses a dissatisfaction with how she was taught theology as a "big theology" instead of a more localized effort. Lastly, an overwhelming warm fuzzy feeling prevades the book. I don't think this is a mistake, these Emerging Church leaders don't see each other as enemies even when they disagree which says things both good and bad about the movement.

This book is also a rare look into what many theologians want to know about the Emerging Church, the specific theological beliefs of the Emerging Church. However, rather than finding specific theological beliefs, what the reader finds is theological beliefs from all sorts of different Christian traditions (liberal protestant, post-evangelical emergent, Calvinistic conservative, etc) tied together by a sense of urgency and purpose.

There are specific ideas about favorite theological "picking points" in the book. Scripture's role, the Trinity, and substitutionary atonement are all addressed. It would be remiss, however, for someone to claim that this book clears up how the Emerging Church sees these issues as a whole. It appears that the Emerging Church has beliefs, but they are far from homogenized as of yet.

Instead, what the reader finds is a clearer understanding of how they might fit into what this "Emerging Church" looks like. Five of the Emerging Church's most popular pastors seek to show not only the unity that they feel in being "emerging" but in the diversity that they express through their different takes on things from Baptism to ideas about physics.

It's a good read and I would recommend it to anyone who is far enough along in their research to know at least a few of the names in the book. If you don't know who Mark Driscoll, Dan Kimball, and Doug Pagitt are - you should spend a little more time getting to know the movement before you read this book.
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37 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2007 what emerging churches are about, at least according to this book (with the exception of Mark Driscoll's contributions). I say "contributions" because each of the five contributors not only writes a chapter of his/her own, but responds to each of the chapters by the other contributors. So by the time you've finished the parts written by the contributors, you have a pretty good idea of what the contributors are thinking about things.

In addition, this book contains some context for the conversations of the contributors, provided at the beginning and end by evangelical theologian Robert Webber. He contends American evangelical Christianity is at the beginning of the fourth of four roughly twenty-year cycles, seeking how to interact with a post-Christian, neo-pagan culture, finding that the questions to which they have answers aren't being asked anymore.

The placement of the names on the cover is a pretty accurate reflection of where the contributors are theologically. The only change I would make is swapping Karen Ward and Doug Pagitt.

Each of the five contributors have different diagnoses of the problems with American evangelical Christianity in the early 21st century:

Mark Driscoll says the problem is watering down the truth of Scripture, giving Jesus a makeover to make him more attractive to our culture. His prescription is to unapologetically present the message of Jesus as told by an authoritative Scripture. As I read his words, I remembered Bible teacher J. Vernon McGee saying "The chief sin of the church is ignorance of the word of God."

John Burke says the problem is that American Christians are both hypocritical, unchanged in their character and behavior, and judgemental, believing they have a monopoly on truth. His prescription is to invite people to come as they are, recognizing it might take a while for changes in people to take place.

Dan Kimball says the problem is that we're still stuck with those dispensational end-time charts, and scared that someone is going to ask a question to which we don't know the answer. His prescription is to create a worshipping community of missional theologians, people who are well-versed in the study of the nature of God, and inquiring into religious questions.

Doug Pagitt says the problem is any number of assumptions about the way we do theology, an unwillingness to address new questions raised by scientific advances, and an unwillingness to think about the increasing rate of cultural change. His prescription is to challenge these assumptions and address new cultural realities.

Karen Ward says the problem is the modern pastor-as-CEO model. Her prescription is an apprentice model of discipleship, distributing as much of the mentoring as possible. Her prescription also involves a metaphor of theology as the cooking of tasty, nutritious food, as opposed to the metaphor of theology as architecture.

Robert Webber provides a helpful summary of the contributions in his conclusion section. In my opinion, Webber's Appendix 2, "What is the Ancient-Future Vision?" and Appendix 3, "A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future" should have been placed immediately after the conclusion section, because Webber just wasn't finished commenting. It is unfortunate that some readers of this book won't read these parts because of where they are placed.

I considered my complaints about the placement of names on the cover, and the placements of the appendices to be insufficient to take the fifth star away from a revealing book about American evangelical Christians in the early 21st century.

Full Disclosure: I attend Solomon's Porch in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Doug Pagitt, one of the contributors, is my pastor.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on March 3, 2007
The candor and grace of the writers is wonderfully refreshing. The reason this book is helpful is that it presents a critique of the movement from within. While only Driscoll, Burke and Kimball seemed to stick to the topic at hand, Driscoll and Burke were the most theological and consistent. While I would be considered one of those sitting in the coffeeshop eavesdropping on the "conversation," my exposure to the last two writers left me troubled. I think Driscoll's critique to be very helpful and honest, dealing with issues without attacking personalities. That said, I'm not sure where Chrisitan distinctives fit into Doug Pagitt's or Karen Ward's congregations. They talk about God, the Kingdom, and Jesus, but in varied and often redefined ways, according to their own opinions with liitle authority outside themselves. Good exposure to be able to see what's really going on amidst all the buzz.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 22, 2008
Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches lays out the theological foundations for five different "emerging churches." The book features five Emerging pastors explaining some of the core beliefs of their congregations. Mark Driscoll, John Burke, Dan Kimball, Doug Pagitt, and Karen Ward each contribute a chapter and responses to the other chapters.

Mark Driscoll goes first. His chapter is a no-holds-barred "This is what the Bible says and that's what we believe" statement of faith. He focuses on three areas: Scripture, the Trinity, and the penal-substitutionary view of the atonement. He ends with a call for the emerging church to maintain belief in the traditional understanding of hell. Mark challenges the idea that theology must be changeable in order to reach a postmodern generation.

John Burke goes next. His chapter is a call to Christians to be involved in "messy ministry." We are called to welcome people into our fellowship and lead them out of their brokenness. He, like Driscoll, believes Scripture is the foundation of all we do.

Dan Kimball also affirms Scripture as the ultimate authority for Christians, though he places more emphasis on the Nicene Creed than the others do. Where Kimball differs from Driscoll and Burke is in his call to humility and the embrace of "the mysterious." He believes that the afterlife is mysterious, the ways God work are mysterious, and that we should not try to be people who have all the answers.

Doug Pagitt's chapter focuses on "embodied theology" and epitomizes the current movement towards an "everchanging" theology that is never permanent. Within a few pages of space, he criticizes the Reformation, Augustine and the idea of Scripture as ultimate authority. He also leaves as an open-ended question the issue of sexual behaviors expressly condemned in Scripture.

Karen Ward goes last. Her chapter is the most creative, as it incorporates blog posts from people in her congregation. Of most interest in her chapter is her failure to mention "sin" as our biggest problem and her downplaying of the significance of preaching and the cross of Christ. Still, she has some good ideas to offer, such as seeing the idea of discipleship as a life-transforming apprenticeship.

I appreciate Robert Webber's oversight of the book. He was right to choose pastors as contributors. I would've liked to see Erwin McManus and Rob Bell included, but I suppose there wasn't enough room for everyone.

Theologically, I am closest to Mark Driscoll, (though with a somewhat different tone). Throughout the book, Driscoll sticks out like a sore thumb, but I'm not sure that's necessarily a bad thing. I was surprised Mark would still fit the "emerging" category, but I guess it is difficult to ignore his incredible ministry to postmodern Seattle.

After reading Pagitt's and Ward's chapters, I was left scratching my head and wondering, "Why did Jesus have to die? And why is Christianity any better an option than the other religions out there?"

I predict that many of the more vocal and prominent Emerging churches and pastors will continue heading down the path of last century's liberalism and that the Emerging pastors who hold to traditional theology will continue to distance themselves from the label. This is already happening in some circles. "Missional" is now a term for many who like the incarnational aspect of "emerging" but don't want to be associated with all the sloppy theology.

Anyone who wants to know more about the Emerging Church should read this book. The debates are civil, and the conversations are enlightening. At the end, though, one sets down the book, puzzling over the profound diversity within this movement and wondering how long such diversity can be sustained.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on February 14, 2007
Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches is a well-writing book that represents the diversity within the movement. The writings of Mark Driscoll were the real highlight of the book. There were a number of times that this pastor surprised me with his insight and intellectualism. A first example is found in his response to Kimball's chapter. Kimball references his adherence to the Nicene Creed a number of times and he gives the impression that he is unwilling to be dogmatic on theological points that are outside the scope of this ancient statement of faith (i.e., the role of women in ministry). I praise Kimball for his commitment to the Nicene Creed, but Driscoll is right in pointing out that the Nicene Creed is silent on a number of important doctrines. Driscoll writes, "For example, when a gay couple walks in and expects their lifestyle to be accepted, a Wiccan walks in and invites people to attend her pagan eco-spirituality festivals, or The Da Vinci Code fans start inviting people from the church to their house to learn about Jesus' wife and kids, the Nicene Creed, though true, is not sufficient because it does not answer any of these sorts of current issues (107)."

Driscoll is correct that Kimball's adherence to the Nicene Creed is not enough. Another example of Driscoll's intelligent analysis is found in his response to Burke's assertions that religion (including other religions) and morals can lead a person into a relationship with God. Driscoll states, "But Jesus stands against religion and morality as enemies of the gospel because, as Martin Luther said, religion and morality are the default mechanisms of the human heart to pursue righteousness apart from him" (70). Lastly, Driscoll calls some of the other writers out on the carpet for not fulfilling the purpose of the book, which is to address theology within the movement. After reading Pagitt's chapter, he writes, "we were assigned to articulate our views on the Trinity, the atonement, and Scripture, and having read Doug's chapter, I remain uncertain of his position on these issues" (144). Addressing Ward's chapter, Driscoll responds,"Karen's chapter raises the important question of what exactly is the level of authority that Scripture holds in the church. Karen's chapter uses only three Scripture references, an old worship song, an indie rock band, a postmodern philosopher, a church blog, a movie, an obscure theologian, and Hindu Ghandi as her authorities(184)." Here, Driscoll addresses a concern that many within the established church have raised about the emerging church, "What is its view on the authority of Scripture"? The book is a good read, however Ward and Pagitt were a disappointment.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2008
Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches - Five Perspectives is a book edited by Robert Webber that contains theological essays by five leaders of the emerging church. Those of you who have any familiarity with the emerging church know how difficult it is to pin down anything, so this book provides a little glimpse into the theology of a few successful emerging churches.

There are five essays, each followed by responses by the other four authors. The overwhelming tone of this book is one of friendship and respect. Even when there are radically different views the responses provide a glimpse of how I believe God intended us to work through these things. There is no shouting, no condemning, there is love and respect. It is wonderful to behold.

There were a few quotes from Dan Kimball that I thought were worth sharing about the beliefs of the emerging church:


If we are only trying to be "relevant" (a word churches love to use), by adding candles and coffee, using art in worship, and playing hip music, this is not good. Those are only surface fixes. If we merely tweak the surface level of things, we are missing the whole point of cultural change and what the emerging church is about. That is only a re-fluffing of the pillows. I believe true emerging churches must go deep within, and from the inside out, rethink, reshape, and revalue how we go about everything as culture changes. We must rethink leadership, church structure, the role of a pastor, spiritual formation, how community is lived out, how evangelism is done, how we express our worship etc.


But nevertheless, the emerging church needs to revere, teach, respect, discuss, and study the Bible. I think all the more in our emerging culture, do we need to create a culture of hungering for the Scriptures.


I really like what Dan Kimball had to say. I think he "nailed it" with regards to some of the common misconceptions about the emerging church (e.g. it's all about worship style). I also found this line from Webber's conclusion very intriguing:


First, these leaders remind us that we live in a new world. This assertion doesn't mean that emergents feel the old modern world is completely gone. They acknowledge we live in two worlds-the modern and postmodern. What they ask of us is to get ready for the new world, to recognize that we live in a time of transition, where the old Christendom is dying and the new postmodern world is emerging...the church is in a new missional setting.


I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in understanding the theology of the emerging church. Although I certainly disagree with some of the points these guys make (as do the other authors in the book), I found the overall tone and "feel" of this book to be very Christ-like and inspiring. God is doing great things with the emerging church. We need to praise Him for raising up leaders like the five essayists in this book and pray for more like them to lead the next generation of the church.

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25 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on February 21, 2007
I purchased this book hoping that it would be a starting point for some major theological issues in the emergent stream. Unfortunately what I found was a book filled with authors that refused to criticizes errors they may have found in their fellow peers. The only bright spot was Mark, who was not afraid to say that he disagreed with the others. Though I appreciated Mark speaking out, I was struck with the shallow depth to his arguments. I agreed with Mark, but I did find his arguments to be shallow. I assume the shallow waters of his theological arguments were due to the fact that the book was too small to carry much depth.

I would put this book in line with most emergent stream books, shallow theologically while asking good questions. The problem with this continual thread is that we need to begin to answer these questions to the best of our ability rather than just asking more.
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2007
I gave this a five-star rating not because "I loved" everything the contributors wrote but because it is a must read by anyone wanting to become truly conversant with emerging churches.

So many books, reviews, blogs, and watch dog websites have created a caricature, a monolithic "Emerging Church" straw man. They then set their fictional creation ablaze to be warmed in their hearts as they discern the truth.

The truth is, emerging churches are all over the theological spectrum and this book shows some of that spread in their own words.

As a middle-aged evangelical who was raised in a thoroughly modern world, I find (a lot of) the beliefs and tactics described in this book to be encouraging. Not all post-moderns are sacrificing biblical truth on the altar of relativity. Most of the contributors show their belief in historical orthodox Christian doctrine. On the other hand, one contributor in particular shows a markedly lower view of the Scriptures - but he's being consistent since he shows a low view for written words in general. This is played out as he reads additional meanings into the writings of others (meanings that are far beyond the original intent) then attacks what he has added.

Bottom line: regardless of your starting point, whether you see the emerging church as a new reformation or the great end-times apostasy, either way - if you want to make an informed decision on these streams of the emerging christianity... listen to them... read this book.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 1, 2010
The distinction between beliefs (doctrine) and the way in which beliefs are communicated and practiced (style) is an extremely important distinction, and one which is mostly lost on the practitioners of the emerging church, if this book is any indication.

With the sole exception of Mark Driscoll, the contributors don't really want to answer the question, "what do you believe?" Several of them, in fact, criticize Driscoll for being dogmatic--actually saying what he believes. It would seem that they don't regard any fixed doctrine to be the essential feature of the Christian faith. They would rather envision the faith as participation in an ongoing personal narrative or conversation that never arrives at any solid conclusions. The result is a variety of expressions of pragmatism. Church is about how we do things more than about what things we hold to be true.

To the extent these writers do reveal their doctrinal positions, they also reveal that there is no doctrinal unity within the emerging church. Their beliefs range from conservative evangelical to mainline liberal. What this tells us is that the movement is a style movement, not a substance movement-the latest in a long line of Church growth strategies.

The problem with this is that the heart of Christianity is a bit of news--an actual truth claim that the eternal Son of God was incarnated, died for the sins of his people, rose from the dead, ascended to heaven, and will return. To be a Christian, one must hold these things to be true. Certainly that's not all there is to being a Christian, but that's the centerpiece. "If Christ be not raised, then our preaching is vain, and our faith also is vain." The assigned mission of the Church is the proclamation of this message in words and deeds. It has been shown repeatedly in the history of the Church that when we focus our attention on style, we start to forget the substance. This book shows that it's happened again in the emerging church.
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on April 4, 2011
this is a great book on the emerging church. the authors are in a great dialogue with each other. they discuss some of the issues of the church today like Scripture, incarnational theology and then the other authors respond to the designated author for that topic. it's really awesome to see different theologians in conversation with each other like this. you can see how different peoples' backgrounds and beliefs are similar, yet very different from each other. would recommend this book if you're interested in the emerging church
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