Whether liberal or conservative, emerging leaders believe they must prove they are up-to-date. So they seek an accommodation to the spirit of the present world. They feel compelled to make Christianity more "relevant" to the spirit of this age. They beat their drums for a new theology "by, for, and about" the spirit of today’s generation.

Their ultimate illusion, in other words, adapts God to "where people are at."

So the emerging church finds its legitimacy in the latest "buzz." This legitimacy includes researching the "market," then bringing commercial success to their "product." It includes Madison Avenue marketing and show-business spirituality. And it includes anything that sells—even the hidden (or not so hidden) seductions of sex.

Of course, kids are the main targets. With the latest lingo and state-of-the-art technology, emerging leaders morph the "cool" of kids into a religion.

Why not? We’re all creatures of culture. We all need a sense of belonging. We all seek sympathetic agreement with how the world works. So it’s no big surprise that we’ve always tailored religion to the tastes of culture. We’ve always made "religion" a socially acceptable agreement about who God is. And, whenever necessary, we’ve always reinvented faith to conform to that vision.

And how do we get away with it? We simply "baptize" culture.

The resulting problems should be obvious. Culture is not the same as Spirit. Never was, never will be. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a worse fit. Cloaking Spirit with culture leads only to consensual delusions, for we end up being something other than who we think we are—or even the opposite of who we think we are. This is a dangerous game we’re playing, for any belief contrary to the original message is—by definition—"heresy."

Yet, wait. Shouldn’t the church want to be effective in its community and in its culture? Shouldn’t the church want to connect successfully with anyone and everyone—anytime and anywhere? And shouldn’t the church want to "talk the talk," to find relevance in "real" life, to speak the language of the "latest" and the "greatest". . . .

. . . especially when a new culture is "emerging"—and, even more especially, when the Lord of History is "moving"?

Yes, but we do these things blindly. Usually, the latest medium becomes the latest "Message," the latest trend becomes the latest "Word," and the latest ethos becomes the latest "Spirit." In this caricature of culture, counterfeit "signs" move deceptively close to the real—illusory "angels of light" hide deceitfully from our discernment—and bogus "spiritualities" masquerade cunningly as spiritual "kicks."

So it seems we’re "damned if we do and damned if we don’t." Where are we missing it?

To begin, too many emerging leaders put too much trust in anything "new." They track the "cutting edge" at any cost. They think, "If we can just get ‘far out’ enough, God will be there." But this reflects the unfortunate confusion between "keeping relevant" and "keeping up"—or between "relevancy" and "recency."1

After all, something new can become an overnight cliché just as easily as something old. In other words, the most "relevant" is not necessarily the most "recent." A suicide leap into the "unknown"—without a powerful hold on the "known"—does not open up new worlds. There’s a difference, after all, between "trends" and "transcendence."

Yet, to accept the message of the emerging church is to accept culture. And to accept culture is to accept the message of the emerging church. That means secular spirituality—whether unreal or surreal, wild or otherworldly—remains "untested, undiscerned, and ungrounded.2

Such foolishness flies in the face of the Gospel which is totally autonomous to culture—completely unconstrained by culture. For the Good News is transpersonal, transcultural, and transrational.

Yes, the Lord of History is "always doing something new." But His "newness" is not a trendy "newness." His Truth, for example, is not a matter of something in style or out of style. Instead, it’s a matter of something hidden in a live metaphor or lost in a worn-out metaphor—old or new. Transcendence, in other words, comes only from the tension between the unknown and the known—the tension, for example, between "being in tune with the Spirit" and "being in touch with culture."3

More than "infinite passion" for our culture, we need "passion for the infinite." Again, culture can’t hear as deeply as God speaks. It can’t move as quickly as God moves. And, it can’t repent as rapidly as God demands.

The emerging church risks the re-emergence of a pagan culture. And, emerging leaders won’t be able to criticize culture if they’ve already become culture.

© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt


1. Leonard Sweet, quoted in Peter Walker and Tyler Clark, "Missing the Point?" Relevant Magazine, Issue 21, July-August, 2006, pp 70-74.

2. Gordon D. Fee, Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996) p. 188.

3. Sweet.

Future Church Administrator