The Emerging Church is one of the best known offerings from the leaders of the movement which bears this name. This is partially due to the fact that sidebar comments, endorsements and forewords are written by illuminaries such as Brian McLaren, Rick Warren and sadly, Howard Hendricks who seems to have lost all discernment in his latter years. Warren is a surprising entry as well, due to the obvious fact that he and his seeker-sensitive approach to ministry is what the emerging church is rejecting. As a matter of fact, Kimball apparently had never experienced anything but seeker-sensitive churches prior to founding his church, Vintage Faith, in Santa Cruz, California. As a result he has “straw-manned” all evangelical churches into the seeker model and has reacted to them. This should be kept in mind as the book is read, as should the fact that the Vintage Faith Church had only been founded a few months before Kimball wrote this book. Déjà vu is ringing in my head as I remember this same rhetoric in the 1970s from such as Circle Church and their ilk. Such churches and philosophies have since faded into history; hopefully the emerging church is headed for the same destiny.
This is not to say that Kimball does not strike some good chords. In his reaction to the seeker-sensitive model he clearly exposes its Achilles’ heal (developing a consumer mentality and eliminating the sacred). Kimball wants to return the church to being others-oriented and “vintage” Christianity. Unfortunately by “vintage” he is not referring to the Scriptures but to medieval Roman Catholic rituals and practices (candles, incense, prayer stations, labyrinths, darkness, etc.). He wants to give the worshiper (whether believer or not) an experience—that is how he believes they learn. As a matter of fact he naively states the old paradigm thought that, “if you had the right teaching, you will experience God. The new paradigm says that if you experience God, you will have the right teaching” (p. 188).
The Emerging Church focuses largely on methodology and practice rather than theology, and on the surface some of Kimball’s ideas have merit. Evangelism, for example, needs to begin more than ever with pre-evangelism, since many no longer have even a memory of the Judeo-Christian worldview. But what Kimball hides is where he is trying to lead the church. He will make statements such as “[we must] deconstruct, reconstruct, and redefine biblical terms” (p. 178), including the gospel (p. 175), yet he does not flesh this out. But his agenda is exposed through his recommended resources and authors (found throughout the book but especially in Appendix C). Those familiar with his resources will realize that Kimball’s attempt to “emerge” the church is an attempt to deform the church.