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June 01, 2005



great insights ryan. i'm saving this post for future referencing.


oh, and who is in your Restaurant group?



I am curious how you would define the distinction between fundamentalist and foundationalist? It seems to me that while no churches I would consider to be emerging would also be classified as fundamentalist, many might be classified into the category of foundationalist. Curious to hear your thoughts.

Ryan Bolger

Those who were at the RTG last night were Wilbert Shenk, Juan Martinez, Alexis Abernethy, Juan Martinez, Glen Stassen, Linda Wagener, Jack Balswick, David Bundy, and two guests from Holland...

Ryan Bolger

Will, welcome to my blog -- I keep hearing good things about you from others so it is great to finally 'meet up' with you...

Off the top of my head, I would say fundamentalists are foundationalists who stand strongly against culture (and look to pull away), whereas evangelicals are foundationalists who look to engage and speak into the culture.

Regarding the task of emerging churches, in order to create/foster/assist the creation of local theologies, we must hold our particular theological bent very lightly. So, northern European local theologies given birth during modernity (such as Reformed, Lutheran, Baptist, etc) might need to give way so that other local theologies might develop. That is the incredibly challenging task of a missionary today in Western culture.

To insist that a communally oriented person become individualistic (the liberal temptation) or that a non-foundationalist become foundationalist (the conservative temptation) is to put barriers ahead of the gospel, a Donald McGavran no-no (one should never have to change cultures to find God -- Acts 15)...

More food for thought -- thanks for listening...


Great post. My wife and I were just talking about the similarities with minority churches yesterday morning (a few hours before you typed this up). Thanks for the extra input!

Bill Ekhardt

I look forward to reading this article when you're finished, Ryan.

I have noted similarities between the emerging church and my Black Presbyterian congregation. There are definitely differences, but some of what the emerging church is striving for has always been a part of this community.



First, to your kind comments, likewise, and I would love to connect in person sometime. I am looking forward to reading your research. There is too little empirical work on the subject of the American emerging church.

I agree with the delineation you drew and find it helpful. One of the questions I will be curious to read in your research is whether churches that self-identify as "emerging" or "emergent" see their task as creating local theology. Many of the individuals I encounter that cluster into this category are still heavily invested in rethinking praxis. This tends to be less true of those who would identify with the term missional, often because their thinking is rooted in the works of Newbigin, Bosch, Kraft or, more recently, Guder. However, for many that I encounter in the American emerging church discussion, it is a new methodology for completing the transaction.

It is always interesting to me that we read the works of Romero and other Liberation Theologians but rarely ask what the local theologies for the American context should be. More food for thought I suppose...

Tim Bednar

What I want to know is if the congregations of so called emerming churches self-label themselves as emerging? Or rather do they know they are emerging? And if they do, are they then really emerging?



I hear what your saying concerning the “emerging” church not being fundamentalist, but to be fair, it appears that many of them do come out of that background. Is that accurate? If so, it’s not surprising. Fundamentalist groups has tended to take the Bible seriously. Being missional is also Biblical.

I think in the future you will see a lot more evangelicals who lean fundamental become more missional; inevitably, some if not many, will do so in a postmodern context, leaving their fundamentalist roots behind, but none-the-less being influenced by those roots. The reason is that once you have been presented with the idea of missional thinking, you can’t avoid being missional if you have a high respect for the Bible.

Am I way off base here?

Mark Berry

Very interesting and articulate thoughts - one of the major shifts in the UK is "recognition" that missiology is not a sub-section of ecclesiology but the other way round. Therefore the emphasis in "emerging" churches is that they are fundamentally missional - it informs and shapes everything, it is the base question. This means a church has to ask itself what cultural stumbling blocks has it constructed? Most emerging leaders/pioneers in the UK come from conservative/charismatic/evangelical backgrounds - many have moved away from this 'culture' as they feel that it does not enable journey and faith development and becasue it is evangelistic not missional, it focuses too much on bums on pews i.e. Church growth rather than Mission as liberation; spiritual, human and global. This is without saying anything about the consumerism and corporate models evident in middle class evangelicalism and the heavy cerebrality rather than holistic and contemplatve worship.


Ryan, great post (and nice blog, btw). So would you consider the ancient-future passion/practice of some emerging churches to be an example of a 'local theology', or is the ancient-future paradigmatic of something much broader?


Does it worry you that right now in the emerging church "conversation" there seems to be a great deal of concern to write books, define terms, defend critics, clarify, and generally set the parameters of the discussion? I mean, if this goes on much longer then the emerging church will be in grave danger of following the footsteps of every other "conversation" in history: soon it will become a "network", then an "affiliation", then... who knows? It doesn't matter whether you have to sign on a dotted line somewhere or not, the question of "who's in and who's out" can be a subtle thing.

The trouble with this conversation is that it now has too many "defined terms" to be open and fresh. I am beginning to see worrying signs that the emerging church has actually emerged.

Localised missional communities attempting to be fatihful to Jesus and to embody the gospel in their context will always look and feel different from each other, by definition they must! But what I am beginning to see is that a lot of churches that look and feel ALARMINGLY SIMILAR are being identified as the "emerging church".

Will the real emerging church please stand up? Alas, it cannot. For there is no such thing - at least, not that we would recognise I fear.

Ryan Bolger

I would say that most evangelicals are implicitly foundationalist, and most emerging churches have come from evangelical churches. The question becomes then, how much do we foreground our philosophical dispositions? Are we able to lay aside our philosophical leanings for the sake of mission?

I would classify those churches as emerging as those who have a missional perspective and thus have let their foundationalist ideas recede to the background if not abandoning those perspectives altogether.

Again, in starting a new faith community in postmodern culture, one must allow the residents to read scripture for themselves and come up with a viable way within their culture to follow Jesus. If they come up with foundational approaches fine, but my guess is that they will not -- most likely their theologies will be more narrative-based, local, and embodied.

Thanks for commenting...

Ryan Bolger

To me, if a community is only re-thinking praxis, "completing the transaction" as you say, then I see that as a Gen X/Y or young adult community. They are not asking the deep missional questions. From my point of view, an emerging church is a subset of missional church, which requires a whole new missional ecclesiology.

Ryan Bolger

You are not off-base -- I agree with you and I think that is the trend...Well said...

Ryan Bolger

Regarding your question of labels, I think Emerging Churches are wary of labels, of strict categorizations, especially if the label means that by being emerging you can't also be something else at the same time. Many of those within postmodern culture and emerging churches are "both, and".

In spite of the weariness, the label is a fairly loose one that has seems to have stuck. Keep in mind the evolution of labels goes as follows 1993 -- buster church, 1996 - Gen X church, 1998 -- postmodern church, and 2000 -- Emerging Church...
The last one has been around the longest, and seems to be accepted by the residents of the movement.

So, I do believe one can be part of the movement while accepting the label, provided one knows that it is transitory, a helpful device and nothing more...

Ryan Bolger

Mark, well said, and thanks for the UK insights...

Ryan Bolger

Tim (@pgcc.org), thanks for expressing your concerns -- good questions -- the publishing of books/resources, the defense against critics, the dilineation of in/out is a mixed bag. Indeed, all of these writings/responses have an influence on the conversation, sometimes for good, and sometimes not so good.

I think the evaluation of new resources/responses must be made with the following criteria, does this activity/resource/response move people towards the reign of God, towards the in-breaking of the new, or not? With resources that simply copy others or are McDonaldized or exclude or demonize others, the answer must sadly be 'no'.


Jesus overcame the "cosmos" and all it's quantifiable and non-quantifiable laws and governing aspects. That's all there is need to know.
It's nice to hear what Christ in me says about this. Yes, God lives in me and is Spirit. Regulate, moderate, qualify, typify, exprapolate, discuss forever. Nah. When God uses words, things get done. http://boltono.typepad.com "Basic how to live" is a posting describing a way forward which works for me and others because the cultural-global timeline seems right for it from God's perspective regarding how to get out of the never-ending loop of "religious" re-invention which limits Christ. Please feel free to continue in a different direction than the one I propose!


I would like to know what you classify as a 'minority' church.

cigarettes online

thanks. it is really helpful to understand the difference and similarity between missional church and emerging church.
as i am a pastor in Japan, i think ideas of emerging churches fit better than, so called, church growth how-to-techniques.

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  • Hi, welcome to my former blog! My name is Ryan Bolger, and this is where I posted my thoughts on Jesus, culture, new forms of community, among other things. Come visit me at my new blog: http://www.ryanbolger.com. I still teach at Fuller Seminary in Southern California where I'm doing some writing as well. Feel free to bounce around the new or old website -- I hope it might stir your imagination -- feel free to stir mine as well by leaving some comments, preferably at the new site... Peace...


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