The Christian Standard and the Gospel Advocate on the Emerging Church Movement

christianstandardThe Christian Standard is, I’m sure, the most widely read periodical of the independent Christian Churches. It’s been in continuous publication since 1866 and was founded by Isaac Errett, Alexander Campbell’s son-in-law. I strongly recommend buying a subscription. It’s a great magazine. 

While Church of Christ publications are desperately trying to cut costs by going from monthly to bi-monthly (six issues per year) or dropping their print editions altogether, becoming internet magazines to save postage and printing, the Standard publishes weekly, and each issue is a gem. And they seem to be doing well despite also publishing their articles on their website

Here’s the latest line up —

Elders & Ministers: Speaking the Same Language – Darrel Rowland
Should the Minister Be One of the Elders? – Darrel Rowland
Two Elders Now Ministers Talk About Elder-Minister Relationships – Darrel Rowland
What Elders Don’t Understand About Ministers – Darrel Rowland
What Ministers Don’t Understand About Elders – Darrel Rowland
Changing Signs and Signs of Change in a Tulsa Congregation – Greg Taylor
Beautiful Ugly Scar (Communion Meditation) – Max E. Smith

ga.jpgMeanwhile, the Gospel Advocate, surely the most successful of the Church of Christ theological publications (the Christian Chronicle may have more subscribers, but it’s mainly a news periodical) makes little use of the internet and emphasizes defending the 20th Century way of doing church. The Advocate was founded in 1855 by Tolbert Fanning and William Lipscomb. 

By interesting coincidence, both periodicals have just published issues that address the Emerging Church Movement (ECM). As I’ve written quite a bit on the subject here lately, I was intrigued to see what the periodicals have to say.

Well, the Standard is pretty good. The November 23 issue has the first of a two-part article “The Emerging Church and the Stone-Campbell Movement: Some Striking Similarities” (regretably not yet on their website) and an editorial “Emergent, Emerging, and So Forth” saying,

For the most part, however, I am encouraged by the emerging church as it has found expression within the Restoration Movement. These young leaders are not afraid to ask tough questions. They understand the limitations of the language of modernity, as they search for new paradigms that will convey the ageless message of the gospel in these postmodern times. And, I might add, contrary to popular opinion, they are as doggedly interested in truth as the generations before them. …

They seem to take the [Restoration] movement’s existence for granted, such that somehow it should be self-nurturing and self-sustaining. … And they need to understand that a healthy Restoration Movement can play a big part in answering Jesus’ prayer for unity.

The main article notes the desire of emerging church leaders to seek “vintage” Christianity, that is, the earliest forms of Christianity and so enjoy the same sort of growth enjoyed by the early church. Sound familiar?

An undated editorial (I think planned for the upcoming issue) by Mark Taylor says,

And I relish the satisfying fresh air I discover when I encounter principles like some of those espoused in this issue:

“Be the church, don’t just come to church.”

“Participate in worship instead of watching it.”

“Produce, don’t consume—in the church community and amid a needy world.”

I want to lift up such notions, because I believe they could revitalize many congregations. …

Let’s not reject the emerging church just because it may call us to unfamiliar experiences or forms. Instead, let’s figure out where it’s capturing the genius of the first church, and then compare our own congregations to the picture we discover.

Is it possible some leaders outside our movement are restoring aspects of New Testament church life better than we have? If so, let’s not be too proud to learn from them.

Oh, wow … an editor willing to admit that he doesn’t know everything! An editor so confident that he can admit that he can learn from folks outside his own denomination! Good stuff.

Meanwhile the November issue of the Advocate has four articles on the Emerging Church Movement, filling 12 pages. The authors find much to fault and, other than Matthew Morine’s article, find nothing to learn.

Now, the Standard writes from the perspective of traditional churches that have planted many churches across the country, some of which have adopted much (not all) of the ECM’s ideas. The authors know the men who lead these churches. They are thrilled with their effective evangelism and rapid growth but concerned that the new churches won’t be full participants in the Restoration Movement, supporting the Movement’s institutions, and will instead become island congregations — doing a great local work but not joining hands with the Restoration Movement’s more traditional churches to work cooperatively to do even bigger things. 

In short, the Standard works in dialogue with those it speaks about, and so the Standard speaks with an authenticity that comes from firsthand knowledge.

Anyway, I say all this to encourage you to subscribe to the Christian Standard  — and to flee Advocate. And while I certainly do not endorse everything within the Emerging Church Movement (there is much internal disagreement, so they don’t either!), I do endorse taking the time to read their stuff for yourself. It’ll get you a lot closer to the heart of God than the Advocate

The Standard, on the other hand, has found a good place within the Restoration Movement: proud of its heritage and yet humble and confident enough to learn from others.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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21 Responses to The Christian Standard and the Gospel Advocate on the Emerging Church Movement

  1. mattdabbs says:

    The biggest difficulty in dealing with the Emerging Church "movement" by those in the Stone-Campbell movement is trying to get the modern mind around what is actually happening. In the Stone-Campbell tradition we have gotten used to learning core doctrines and tenants of denominations and movements in order to understand them, critique them, and even debate or attack them. The tough thing here is that much of the Emerging discussion is not something that can be nailed down into a set list of agreed upon doctrines or standards.

    Much of the criticism then looks at the extreme voices with little attention toward the more moderate or even conservative voices in order to say this is not something we even need to consider. They will point out things like Brian McLaren's statements about Buddhists and Hindus keeping their beliefs not being an issue and blast the movement as a whole. That often worked when discussing baptist doctrine or pentecostal doctrine but that just doesn't cut it when discussing emerging church because no one is saying there are official spokespeople for the movement.

    The other thing to consider is that many believe this is not a movement at all but is just a reality due to a changing culture. That is hard for us to get our minds around and we aren't used to debating people like this. So what it comes down to is that Emerging Church has many pluses (including a desire to understand our culture and reach out like local missionaries in our neighborhoods and workplaces) that we should not ignore. This is like anything else we encounter – see what lines up with scripture and what does not and don't be afraid to take the good and discard the bad.

    What is uncomfortable about all of this is that it is quick to challenge some of our valued traditions. We have to be honest about what is scripture and what is an artifact of the way we happened to have done things for a number of years (traditions). Not many of us are quick to do it but it important that even if we continue to hold tightly to traditions that we realize they are just that – traditions.

  2. Joe Baggett says:

    Jay, I appreciate your post so much. If it wasn’t the so called emerging church it would be the liberal churches of Christ or anyone else that the loyal institutional religionists consider a threat. I keep telling people that the so called emerging church movement is not a movement like the restoration movement or reformation movement or another institutional religious movement. There is Baptist emergent, church of Christ emergent, Presbyterian Emergent, Methodist Emergent and so on. So it is not a movement, they don’t have an official headquarters or institution. They don’t have a publication entitled “Why I am a member of the “Emerging church”. It is not a movement but rather a phenomena present in all major faith traditions in the USA and other Post Modern countries. It is a visceral reaction to the arrogant modern thinking that came to dominate most traditional Christian religions. There are Baptists, Methodist, Lutheran, and Catholic publications similar to the Advocate that regular attack the so called emerging church. Why you ask because they are losing members to them like crazy. The doctrine of fear is dead so people are questioning everything they were taught growing in church and when they come to different conclusions their conscience compels them to seek communities of faith more open and meaningful than they have previously experienced. Traditional church culture is collapsing right before our very eyes, the bubble has popped and institutionalism is dying not only in the church but in the broader secular culture. Is it not ironic that OK and TN is where by any measure the churches of Christ have lost the most members? Last night at church I asked the preacher to bet a cup of Starbucks coffee what the average age was of the people attending Wednesday night classes he said it was less then 50 and I said it was over. It was 61! Our church is a relatively young church. I explained that people are sick and tired of coming and saying and studying the same thing over and over again in same way. Their idea is to visit each young family and explain how important it is to come on Wednesday nights. Here is the nemesis. Instead of listening to the young families and responding, their (Elders) idea is to coerce the young families into continuing an institutional tradition through vindictive methods. I hope I don’t paint with too broad a brush but I can tell of hundreds of churches that going through this exact issue. The result is that people in the baby boomer and generations younger are either staying at home or going to other churches that don’t have church of Christ on the sign outside the building. Bring it on Jay; it would not bother me at all if the GA stopped printing tomorrow!

  3. Terry says:

    The Christian Standard's articles are published on their website on the Wednesday before their Sunday publication date. Another good magazine from the Christian Churches would be the Lookout magazine, which can be read at It is also published by Standard Publishing.

  4. Nick Gill says:

    I was SO frustrated, Jay, by the confluence of these articles.

    I got to the gathering the first Wednesday night of this month and saw the November GA, with its 3.5 articles BLASTING 'emerging thought'.

    Then I got home Thursday night and opened my mailbox and found my Christian Standard with the first of the two-part series.

    You've depicted the contrast perfectly. The CS is working in dialogue with emerging thinkers and leaders. They seem to understand that all truth is God's truth, and that since the gates of Hades shall not prevail against the kingdom of God, we have NOTHING to fear.

    The tone of the GA's contribution was mostly a bullying posture — outwardly brusque and aggressive to mask an underlying terror and incomprehension.

  5. The sold-out edition of the Gospel Advocate has been made available in PDF form at this URL. I admire the way Matthew Morine handles his subject with the kind of dispassionate examination that used to mark classic journalists.

    I'm not a fan of the way the other authors – most of whom would demand scriptural authority for others' points of view – simply fling theirs about in the article as if they were from the lips of "God-Himself-and-don't-you-recognize-His-voice-when-I'm-talking?".

    Morine attributes quotes to those who spoke/wrote them. The others attribute their quotes and then portray them as representative of all emergents. There is, in fact, quite a variety of points of view on virtually all of the matters attributed generally to emergents.

    I find that perilously close to lying.

  6. Jay Guin says:


    Thanks for the URL — and the comments. You've put your finger on a serious problem in the polemics of many of our more conservative brothers.

  7. Joe Bagget says:

    I just read it. It reeks of fear! Fear I say. I wold ask these authors if they have ever bumped shoulders with these people they criticize to really know them rather than just reading about them and making a bunch of assumptions.

  8. Matthew says:

    Thank you to everyone that had positive words concerning my article in the Advocate. Thank you Jay too for the kind endorsement.

  9. Jay you do good work as always. We need serious thinking about what "restoration" is and how it has been understood. There are other manifestations of it that are not quite like Barton Stone or Alexander Campbell and they were not exactly the same themselves. I think we have a lot to be grateful in the ermerging and emergent movements … not all perhaps but we are not at all pleased with how restoration has been understood by all either.

    Bobby Valentine

  10. mark says:

    Bobby said…
    "We need serious thinking about what “restoration” is and how it has been understood. "

    Again the restoration like the emerging church must have some connection to either Biblical prophecy or Gods grace in how we interpret. This of course goes back to our views of history and how God works past the scriptures. Can a new movement supersede the last movement because the scriptures are not as finite as we always hoped?

    What I find is that the scriptures that once guided us 50 years ago no longer have the same meaning. Therefore what choice do have other than to remold those verses or any others to the changes of the future.

    However if restoration or emerging church is more than symbolic and is a clear prophecy we ought to pay a more attention to its spirit.

  11. Jay Guin says:

    The second part of the Christian Standard's article "The Emerging Church and the Stone-Campbell Movement: Some Striking Similarities" is now posted here:

    The author concludes,

    This study has identified seven traits of emerging churches that overlap with the historic concerns of Christian churches and churches of Christ, congregations connected to the movement that has grown from the ministries of the Campbells and Stone. To be sure, these two movements are not identical and should not be identified as the same. But the significant areas of overlap make it not at all surprising that some American congregations identify with both the historic Stone-Campbell Movement and the contemporary emerging church movement. It should be expected that this number will continue to increase, or at least that congregations will share some characteristics of both as they try to cope with the reality of bringing the Christian message authentically into a postmodern, post-Protestant environment.

    As both are viewed with suspicion by the evangelical and Protestant communities, emerging churches should see Christian churches and churches of Christ as comrades in arms on many fronts. Opportunities for dialogue between congregations from these two orientations should abound and be explored enthusiastically.

    It's hard to imagine a greater contrast with the Gospel Advocate position.

  12. rey says:

    I think its clear that the "Emerging Church Movement" began as a revolt against Calvinism. But its been hijacked already by Calvinists (like Mark Driscoll) who saw what was happening and realized they could subvert it. Although I am not keeping up with the whole thing too much. It may be that's he's been run out for the most part already, based on what this Wikipedia article says. But I doubt the Calvinists are done with their subversion attempt just yet. They're doing a good job subverting the SBC right now, so why not the "Emerging" too?

  13. rey says:

    The question is, does the Federal Vision movement among the Presbyterians classify as "Emergent"? Why or why not? It also is a revolt against Calvinism, except it is a revolt only against the stilted *language* of Calvinism and not the doctrine of Calvinism itself. It is basically a movement to keep believing Calvinism but preach like an Arminian. As such, in a way, it could subvert the "Emergent" movement if it began to be classified as "Emergent."

  14. rey says:

    This article (in google cache)…
    shows the probable imminent defeat of Calvinist heresy by the "Emergents" when Driscoll complains:

    "With the authority of Scripture open for debate and even
    long-established Church councils open for discussion (e.g. the Council of Carthage that denounced Pelagius as a heretic for denying human sinfulness), the conversation continues while the original purpose of getting on mission may be overlooked because there is little agreement on the message or the mission of the Church."

    I hope the false accusation that Pelagius is a heretic is overturned and people realize (as I have in reading his commentary on Romans) that he did not teach that men save themselves by works. He taught grace. It was Augustine who was the heretic, teaching FATE and calling it grace. If the Emergents will turn the tables, and the popular view will become that Augustine was the heretic and Pelagius was more in line with Scripture, I will be happy. Note Driscoll's spin in saying that the Council of Carthage "denounced Pelagius as a heretic for denying human sinfulness." He didn't deny human sinfulness! He denied that we are born with the inherited guilt of Adam's sin and with inability to do any good. He admitted freely that we are sinners in need of grace, but asserted that our sin is our own fault due to our misuse of our free will and not something we inherited or that condemns us before we even do anything. In other words, he taught that sin is something we do not what we are, i.e. that lying and killing and stealing are sins but simply being human is not. So long as this becomes a remains the main focus of Emergentism, it is good. But unfortunately it is already being hijacked by the Calvinists trying to reestablish their Augustinian Manichean (Gnostic) heresy of sin as a nature rather than an act, and by the other Gnostics who want to make God a girl.

  15. Terry says:

    By publishing the positive article about Emergent Christianity, the Christian Standard may have unintentionally given the impression that independent Christian Churches generally accept the emergent church movement. However, many (very likely most) within the Christian Churches would not be comfortable with the moral relativism and rejection of biblical inerrancy found among some of the most prominant Emergant leaders. After all, if they had been comfortable with moral relativism and the rejection of biblical inerrancy, they would have remained within the Disciples of Christ denomination. Generally, I have found members of Christian Churches to be solidly committed to respecting biblical morality and inerrancy. Letters to the editor in the Christian Standard since the publication of the article have been supportive of my understanding of where members of Christian Churches generally stand ( Thank you for allowing me to add this to the conversation.

  16. Jay Guin says:


    While there are aspects of the emerging movement that I disagree with as well, I'm not aware of moral relativism being a defining doctrine.

    There are some who question biblical inerrancy, it's true, but most respect the scriptures as the very word of God that is to be obeyed. This may seem illogical, and perhaps it is, but it's still their position.

    As you'll see in the Blue Parakeet series I'm posting, when McKnight, a thought leader in the ECM, talks of scripture, he does so with the goal that we actually obey it — and his teaching is very far removed from moral relativism.

    I took the time to read some of the letters to the editor. I have to say many are nothing but hatchet jobs (or link to hatchet jobs) dealing in half truths and innuendo. For example, one letter cites to this article by Norman Geisler:….. It's a revolting example of how to take comments out of context in order to commit slander.

    Again, I'm not advocating all that's taught in the name of the ECM. I certainly don't agree with all that Brian McLaren has said (particularly on substitutionary atonement). But that hardly means that there's nothing there worth studying. I disagree with much of Anglicanism, but I still profit from C. S. Lewis and recommend his books.

    For an emerging church response to the criticisms of D. A. Carson (and I'm big DA Carson fan, too), check out —

    The fascinating thing is that this emerging author accepts some of the criticism as fair (I pray for the day I see Restoration Movement thought l leaders routinely be this humble!) but he disputes some criticism as overblown, and I think he's right.

    The point I wish to make is that we need to be in conversation with this movement. We share a lot. We can learn from each other. And neither of us has it all together.

  17. Al Jean says:

    Fortunately, and blessedly, most members of churches of Christ still believe in strength of doctrine while keeping an open heart in dealing with people who do not subscribe to following the "ancient order of things." However, in matters of doctrine, we do still hold to unity of thought.

    Those who wish to subscribe to the doctrine (or magazines) of the "Christian Church" or the "Disciples of Christ" are free to do so, but please do not confuse love of those doctrines with being a faithful member of the churches of Christ.

    In other words, if you like them better, go! But stop portraying those of us who still admire the Gospel Advocate and other faithful brotherhood publications as "backward" or as people who "just don't get it."

    We "get it" just fine–you are trying to change the church. And in many cases, you have succeeded with specific congregations. Why don't you have the integrity just to leave? Start another church–call it something different, or "join" those denominations that already exist. But please quit masquerading as members of churches of Christ. You've left our fellowship long ago.

  18. Terry says:

    Please forgive my unintended slander. In referring to the letters, I did not mean to endorse everything said in them. I was trying to point out that many members of Christian Churches are uncomfortable with some Emergent theology and some Emergent leaders.

    I am not saying that "we" have it all together, either. I also apologize for any arrogance on my part that came through in my previous comment.

  19. Jay Guin says:


    You sound an increasingly familiar refrain: if you don't agree with the traditionally taught teachings of the Churches of Christ, leave. Why? If your position is sound, then you should be able to persuasively defend it. What do you have to fear from me?

    Many people who disagree with me have posted on this site. I've never asked them to leave. In fact, I find their disagreements to be an opportunity to grow — either to be corrected or to express myself more clearly.

    On the other hand, sometimes, when I post on more traditional sites, I find my commends moderated and excluded. This site is not moderated because I believe iron sharpens iron and disagreement is an opportunity for both parties to grow.

    So I'll be staying. And you are welcome to post your disagreements and join in the conversation. I'm sure that I and my readers will all be better for it.

    If you want my influence to end, prove me wrong.

  20. Jay Guin says:


    I don't perceive you as having been guilty of slander. However, some of the letter writers certainly are. I'm sure you're right that the Standard does not speak for the entirety of the Christian Churches — no more than the Gospel Advocate speaks for the entirety of the Churches of Christ. I just wanted to say that I find the Standard to have a heart far closer to God than the Advocate.

  21. Joe Bagget says:

    I 'll go a little further than Jay. I don't mind disagreement either. But the attitude of your tone in your post seems to be associated with and attitude that has caused many people to leave the "churches of Christ". People have been told to agree or leave and they have. I hope that you see that this attitude no matter how "doctrinally" correct is against the character and nature of God. I do not beleive Jesus would act this way.

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