rebelling against low expectations

Emerging Church Panel Discussion


Brett and I recently had the opportunity to sit on a Christianity Today panel on the “emerging church” at the Christian Book Expo in Dallas — along with experts Kevin DeYoung, Tony Jones, and Scot McKnight.

To be honest, we were a little bit intimidated to discuss such an important (and controversial) topic with men who are much older, wiser, and more learned than we are. Our goal was to listen, ask questions, and to bear testimony to what we do know — a newer generation than the emerging generation, a newer movement than the emerging movement.

We’re talking about a generation of Christian young people who passionately pursue timeless truth and biblical orthodoxy, and at the same time are deeply committed to really living out the life, love, and teachings of Jesus Christ. We’re talking about a movement of rebelutionaries.

Brett and I certainly shared some of Kevin’s frustrations about the discussion — and I know Scot and Tony were frustrated as well. But at the same time, we were encouraged by how the panel ended — with hope for a new generation, grounded in love and truth, living it, and proclaiming it boldly.

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About the author

Alex and Brett Harris

are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


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  • Guys, I’ve just watched the first twenty-seven minutes, but so far I think you are doing great. I’m really just past your opening comments, and I can’t wait to see what is said.

  • This discussion looks like it could be juicy. 🙂 I’ll continue watching it later.
    You know, I do appreciate you guys taking a Godly stand out there (same goes for everyone else!)
    All the best to you as we live the life of a Rebelutionary!

  • Wow, Tony does sound frustrated at the end. I feel like his last comments were less argument than defensive attack. And yeah, I don’t think that cleared up for me at all what the “emerging church” is. Interesting discussion, though.

  • My family and I just listened to this panel discussion, and my Dad(who is a pastor) was incredibly impressed with your grasp of the issue, and is continually encouraged by the fact that there are young people who are really thinking issues like this through and speaking about them. He agreed with you guys 100%. I, myself, am looking forward to the Rebelutionary connference this summer. Thank you so much for starting this movement. God Bless you guys!! (We are HUGE fans of Wayne Grudem!!!)

  • I just wanted to let you know that I appreciated what you said on the panel. It is easy to get into these “conversations” and start attacking people and not the real issues. Thank you for not going attacking people, but pointing out that doctrine is important and that it is to affect the way we live our lives. The Truth that we hold fast to should compel us to love others with our words and actions.

  • I’m only about 50 minutes into this movie and I am uncertain of the purpose for which this panel was intended. What did they come together to talk about?

    So far each has begun to present his thoughts on the Emerging Church, which, according to Mr. Mcknight, is an incredibly broad group of people. They also seem to be defending their position when no affront has been made.

  • Awesome representation, guys. I didn’t watch the whole thing, but I listened to some of your comments, and I really was encouraged by your respect for the other guys, and your knowledge of the situation. Good work, and God bless!


  • I really agree with Kevin’s closing statements. I wish the discussion had stayed more to what the issue is rather then “he says, she says.”

    However, you guys did a great job. Thanks for representing our culture!

    God Bless,
    Eric Novak

  • I had to think about this for awhile before I could comment. However, before I jump in let me say this is the first time I had ever even heard of the Emerging Church, so I by NO means am I an expert.

    Let me say first, the church I attended for the first ten years of my life was all sound doctrine and not alot of action. The church we are attending now has the sound doctrine, but they have compromised alot of standards in order to attract teens from today’s culture. In other words, they have tried to reform themselves to fit the culture too much. In fact, I avoid being in with the youth group whenever possible because too many standards have been done away with. I think this is what this is about, correct?

    In this instance I must agree with Alex and Brett. Where is the middle ground? Can we not have the sound doctrine AND still have action without sacrifising standard?. I am dying to get out and work for Christ with kids my age, but the teens at my church are more worried about looking good around their friends and having fun than being Christ’s hands and feet.

    This is getting long but, those are my thoughts. This is what you guys mean, right? Hopefully I read the whole conversation correctly.

    In Christ,

  • Alex & Brett
    Brett & Alex

    (there, i used both of your names first)

    as a youth pastor who find great interest in a lot of stuff coming out of the emerging movement, i am pretty pumped about your involvement and your responses in the discussion. it was comments like yours that are very helpful for the conversation. you approached the emerging people with humility, honesty, and faithfulness to Truth.

    i think you nailed it when you (i can’t remember which harris) said “our generation doesn’t understand why we have to choose?” that is exactly true. i attended a very conservative college where i was made to feel like a heretic if i brought up something related to tony jones, brian mclaren, or other emerging church voices.

    there is definately truth echoed from scripture that is being pumped out of the emerging church discussion and those who choose to cut themselves off from that truth are grossly missing the message/life of jesus. however, those who whole themselves up in the emerging church circle and miss the truth coming from outside of it are doing the exact same.

  • Echoing the fellow commentors I must applaud your participation in this difficult discussion. I would have to agree with your stance. But to put another twist on it(perhaps one already inherantly there), not only can we have sound doctrine AND reach out, serving others with compassion; our sound doctrine can be the fuel behind our service. It seems like every time I turn around, the Apostle Paul is constructing his arguments for Christian living and serving on the foundation of the gospel truths. “Because God has saved you through the death of Jesus….go and live in this fashion.”
    Just a thought…

  • Both of you were wonderful, your comments and questions were really thought through and respectful. I’m in the “why do we have to choose?” category, and I really liked how you used that example.

  • WOW, If nothing else this has really gotten me thinking about this subject and going further into what I believe. THANK YOU, alex and brett. There is no way I would have even watched this if you hadn’t sent it to me through e-mail. I thought it was going to me some ten minute thing, and then it stretched to some odd 87 minutes. I wanted to stop watching it because so much of it was going COMPLETELY over my head. But how else do you learn if not to hear things you don’t understand and try to wrap your head around it?
    These men are obviously very learned men who know what they are talking about. While a whole lot of the disscusion how the emerging church differs of includes, I was left hoping there would be more talk about what the emerging church really is and the ideas they embrace. If any books could be recommended about their beliefs that would greatly help me understand more. 🙂
    There are a couple of things I was able to pin point down in what they believe. First of all with Scot McKnight, I completely disagree that the youth today should not be concered so much with the complete truth and use of scripture. I forget exactly what he said but it was somethig to the extent that the scripture is not the foundation of today’s youth when they come out of college. Let me tell you that scripture is my solid rock of truth and every single word in the Bible is perfect and without flaw. That is my constant in life and without it there is no Christianity.
    Based upon the Bible I believe that we are born in original sin and that based upong Leviticus 18:22 homosexuality is dead wrong. No if ands or buts. The truths explicitly spelled out in the Bible are principles which I will NOT be swayed through “humility” or anything else you want to call it. The theology which is not spelled out in the Bible such as infant baptism ect… are what we can debate and differ in.
    I am sorry that this was so long, but I really felt a burden to write this. I hope you found this helpful. All I know is this video got my mind thinking. So thanks a TON for posting it. Please tell me what you think!
    Soli Deo Gloria

  • You guys make me smile. I had the privilege of being the National Youth Ministry Conference as a student leader from me church at the end of Feb. I hadn’t heard you guys speak yet and it was awesome to listen to you two. Your book is beautiful!

  • Sarah, I agree with you and feel your frustration.

    Alex & Brett, Thank you for posting this! It has really made me think. I can’t wait to share and discuss this issue with my family and friends.
    In Christ alone,
    ~Charlene V.~

  • Sorry, to clarify- Sarah Beth. Though I agree with you too, Sarah Lawton, on the truth of Scripture! 🙂

  • “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” II Timothy 4:2

  • Hey guys…I’m so sure I’d love to watch the video…but for some reason it’s not coming up on my computer. Help!?!

  • Hey guys, I’ve only seen about an hour of this video (it is SO LONG) but I must say that you guys and Kevin are the only ones on this panel actually making any sense and actually expressing SPECIFICS about what you believe. Tony and Scot don’t seem to get that, while asking questions IS good, eventually, someone needs to point out the answers. That is why so many kids are questioning what they, as Christians believe, because they have gone to a church or churches, with a lot of nebulous teaching and feel-good theology.
    One thing that I have heard over and over from people who are into the emergent/emerging church movement is this,”We just want to be more like Jesus.” The problem? These are people who get incredibly uncomfortable when ever anyone talks about a)the inerrancy of Scripture and b)the “tough” teachings of Christ. If you want to be more like Jesus, then accept that the Jesus who talked about both love AND sin is indeed the Jesus of the Bible. Jesus wasn’t some hippie talking about love all the time. He IS God, and is part of the God-head. You can’t take one aspect of Jesus teachings and claim that it is the only aspect of Jesus worth teaching. If nobody talks about the fact that Jesus taught plenty about sin, then His death becomes worthless and a complete waste. This is my problem with the emergent/emerging church.

  • Nice explanation Irina :).. I watched this video like 3 am in the morning, and yea still a little confuse with emerging church. I’ve been hearing about them since i attended College, and really got me worried because I have friends who are in this emerging church, so If there’s any book you can recommend to read, books that there’s not much confusion going on 😀

  • I’m a mom of three teenagers and I have to say you guys did an awesome job. It’s so nice to see young people serving the Lord. The other three on the panel left me frustrated, but you guys were an inspiration and the love of Christ shined though. God bless…keep up the good work.
    “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1Cr. 15:58

  • very impressed with your presentation. thank you for your humility. you guys definitely encouraged me, a 25 yrs old, to study the scripture and know God’s Words.

  • Great job guys! I think we can look back at all the major splits in church history and see that yes, there was a difference in views of orthodoxy, but there was also a lack of humility and other fruits of the spirit that caused them to break fellowship.

    Thanks for making that point clear, Brett, in the subdued muddledness that seemed to overtake the discussion!

  • I, too, am grateful for your humility. And I think you both did a great job, though it must have been very frustrating in several places. I admit, I couldn’t help but chime in as I was watching, responding to a couple points of the two gentleman in support of the Emergent church. Must have been those debate classes. 😉

  • You guys did an amazing job! I know that had to be really stressful. Kevin and you both seemed to have more answers instead of throwing out more questions. I agree with Irina, more questions instead of answers just leaves us looking fo more answers as well. You both did a wonderful job!

  • For those curious to read more and try to understand rightly the breadth and meaning behind the emerging/Emergent movement so that you are not just another “ship passing in the night”, I would highly recommend C. Michael Patton’s Will The Real Emerger Please Stand Up? post series found here. Prepare for a long read, but I think it is worth it if you want to understand the breadth of views that the various people named by the panelists represent and what we can learn from those views. Thankfully he has a sense of humor and love of charts that keep the read from being dry. If you find that post useful, he has a number of others on the Emerging church which delve into the various topics to greater depth.

  • You both did an excellent job on that panel! I praise God for the questions you asked and for the clarity you ended with, that the Bible is your standard for truth. Too many are abandoning Scripture as their plumbline for truth. Keep standing fast in the Lord! You are making a difference in your generation,

  • Everyone: If you’re looking for a good book to read regarding the emerging/emergent movement we would highly recommend Kevin DeYoung’s book, “Why We’re Not Emergent… As you can probably tell from the panel, Kevin is a very thoughtful, charitable, and solidly biblical pastor with great insight into the problems of the emerging church movement.

  • An interesting video, but I admit that I share the frustration. If the emerging church is not represented by some of those names (forgot which ones) then who exactly does represent the emerging church? Who is coming up with the doctrine and what is the doctrine? (by doctrine I mean the foundation of beliefs that guides them.)
    Just some initial gut reaction and thoughts.

  • Thanks Alex! I want to read that book. The video really got me interested in what the emerging movement is all about. I want to learn more. Thanks again.

  • There seemed to be too great of an emphasis on who is the voice of this movement and what does this individual say in this book, then really getting into the issues that might help to find the middle ground that you two mentioned..such as really attempting to define orthodoxy, as Brett said. I appreciated the closing statements, which was the only point at which I felt that some of the panel actually expressed a cohesive thought, however, the way in which books and authors were discussed and argued only left me with the feeling that this is exactly why the statistics of young people leaving the church may be so great, i.e. there is so much discussion of who is a follower of whom and what does this new book say, rather than going back to the gospel and seeing what it says, which applies to all ages.

  • Wow, I could feel the tension through my computer. Alex and Brett, I think you did an excellent job of getting involved in the discussion just enough to both respect the men on the panel and give a voice to us, the rebelutionaries. I enjoyed watching this very much, though, I would have liked to have taken out of it a better understanding of the Emergent Church, which I did not. Thank you for the post!

    In Christ, Leah

  • Is anyone else having problems watching this video? It keeps getting to 7 min. and 34 sec. and stopping. Any suggestions as to what to do? Thanks!

    And Alex and Brett, I can’t wait to hear what you have to say. This topic is of great interest to me and hearing other young people speak on it will be great! God bless

  • I watched about 70 minutes of it, taking notes and articulating like a high-school debater.

    My question, still, is the same one that Alex asked at the beginning: “Why do I have to choose?” Why should I choose one theology or doctrine above another? Why is it important? Is it important? Why am I watching a long video when I could be doing hard things for Christ?

    My point is this: These guys have been writing and elaborating on this subject for years. You wrote only one book so far, but those who are making a difference, being the change they want to see in the world, and getting their hands dirty with the work God has called them to do are you.

    I would much rather join the Rebelution (a group of people who respects each other’s Holy Ambitions and lifts each other up to change the world) than the “Emerging church” (Who can’t agree on definitions within an hour) any day.

  • I was frustrated as I listened to this, as there was no real definition of the Emerging Church or what it stands for. I eventually heard they believe in homosexuality as okay, and it sounded like a belief based on relativism. As I watched this dialogue, and especially towards the end, I kept saying out loud to my computer, (yes I spoke to my computer!), “Bring it back to the Gospel! Bring it back to the Gospel!” Thank you for doing that! Your closing remarks were great!

  • I want to comment on what Irina wrote.
    Of course Jesus spoke on love and sin. It is a broad over statement to say that the emergent church believes Jesus to be a hippie. The view of the emergent church is that Jesus is not all about laws and rules-He came to fulfill the law and the prophets remember?
    When asked about laws Jesus said, love the Lord your God with all your heart and love others as much as you love yourself.
    I think Augustine said it well when he said, “Love God do as you please.” The fact is when you live your life to love God and others you wont need to worry about sin because sin is already abhorrent to you. I agree the emergent church has a tendency of being overly simplistic but on the other hand is everything really as complicated as we’ve made it out to be?
    By the way kudos to Alex and Brett for drinking out of a washable water bottle instead of a disposable one! I think the “emerging” group should have done at least as much to protect what God created:)

  • This debate was facinating, yet obviously reminicient of 1 Cor 1:10-17 on Divsions in the Church. Tony and Scott kept quoting names of men whom they follow, authors and human leaders they look to for their identification of truth. I could not stop thinking about Paul’s words in 1 Cor…”One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ. ‘ Is Christ divided?….” and so on. Why does the emerging church have such a complex with its own identity? It obviously struggles with the plain truth of the scripture and looks to men rather than Christ. Imperfect men will lead impeferct, but Christ being perfect, fully God and fully man, can lead perfect. Alex and Brett, I encourage you to continue to challange post modern thought and urge the return to solid biblical doctrine because only there will we be guided fully into maturity and understanding of the precepts of a holy and merciful God.

  • Hey guys,
    I just finished the video. I appreciate your humility and focus on honoring God and those on the panel with your words and actions. Keep up the great work and may the Lord continue to bless you with both the rebelution as well as your time at PHC and beyond.


  • Exactly What is the emerging church? If you could get me back on that it would be great. Thanks. Oh by the way, where are the commenting guidelines? I have read them before but would like to see them again.

  • Jones made comment about Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Menno Simmons as being Emergent in their own context, responding against the “stuffiness” of the church then. That’s honestly a mistake, because these men were pulling practice back in line with theology, a theology which came from the beginning, in Paul, in the Gospels with help from mayve Aquinas and Augustine on the way. It appears with these modern Emergents and emergings (Mr. Mcknights forgets that gerunds are annoying as “pure” nouns) are beginning now with a context and then trying to find Bible verses and church fathers to back them up. Jones also made comment about modern Cartesianism. While he may complain that DeYoung, Carson, et al. may not have read the postmodern philosophers, he has missed the meaning and story, if I may use that term, behind “Cogito, ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am), Descartes’ most famous maxim. Descartes, a learned man of the Renaissance, wilfully stripped himself, as much as he could, consciously, of any foreknowledge that he had and considered the question of “How can I know that I know?”
    His conclusion, after beginning with DOUBTing everything around him (physical existence, other personages, etc., etc.) was that he could know through reason. Now, if the emergings have also so begun with a “chastened epistemology”, that they may not know all, that they are however so much a product of their enviroments, without a shred of objectivity, how can they expect any different than the workings out of Cartesianism, if they both begin with such a doubt?

    As to McKnight, does he mean to take away certainity b/c that doesn’t work?

    I am aware that this may be a preaching to the choir kind of moment, however, brothers and sisters, do remember where, to whom, and when, our estranged bretheren appeal.

  • An interesting topic, the first time I heard a sermon about the emerging church I walked away asking “So what is the emerging church?” This discussion panel seemed to never accomplish what it was formed to do, but even that purpose was questionable.
    After being involved with a church college group for the past year I clearly see how we have found the middle between solid doctrine and the emerging church. Its about relationship, getting to really know people and deepening your own relationship with God. There is a clear distinction between our parents generation and the current one.
    We don’t want to just sit in church and talk about how to be Christ like, we want to go out and be Christ like.
    Could go on for hours but I have some laundry to do….

  • Gentlemen,
    I must say that the opposite ends of the table I found to be refreshing and faithful to the essence of such a panel. I think you (Alex…I think) were right on bringing in a note about basic debate format and how the two middle participants weren’t doing a great job at it. The tension was felt through the 5 inch window on my screen…what was it like two chairs down?
    Kevin nailed the issue…and you confirmed it at the end. The real issue is the Gospel. When all is said and done, the Gospel is what is at stake. Your question is right….why do we have to abandon Biblical doctrine in order to help a heighbor? Why must we be tollerant of all beliefs in order to be intolerant of suffering and injustice? Why must hyperbole ruin every “conversation” and then follow be followed up with “humility”?
    What I fear in what I read from the emerging authors, what I see in the lives and “narrative theology” of some of my friends is that the Gospel is becoming a footnote. It seems as if the emerging movement is actually trying to defend unbelief and those who are unregenerate. They are casting such a wide net, such a generous approach, that those who are still unconverted are welcomed as being covered by the ‘power of the resurrection’. This is scary and actually heart breaking.

    I’m going a little long here…but in short…I thought you were both humble and reasonable in your place on the panel. Don’t sell yourselves too short on these things. You guys have a pulse on the culture at its root. You both have been an encouragement to me as a Pastor of Students. Keep it up…keep on being rebelutionaries!

  • The most fascinating question addressed in the entire panel was by Alex and Brett Harris: “Why can’t we have both orthodoxy and also be concerned about helping our neighbor”? Very interesting question, if they did not mean the question to be rhetorical. Why is it that people concerned about feeding the poor, civil rights, women’s rights, and child welfare tend to be your more liberal, emergent Christians, and not your traditional reformed Calvinist Christians? I suspect one reason is orthodox Christian’s strong insistence of the doctrine of hell. Suppose there really is a hell and that most people in Africa are going to go there because they aren’t Christian. If this is the case, then we are really hurting the people of Africa by being concerned about physical hunger and AIDS programs when they are on the way to hell. Why be concerned about a person’s temporary physical state when they eternal state is at risk and is far more dire? Indeed, feeding the poor who are going to hell would be like mowing a person’s lawn when their house is on fire.

  • I hope it’s ok for me to post here–I am almost old enough to be your grandmother. I was cheering you on through the whole thing–you guys did great! That was wonderful when one of you pointed out that the reason young people raised in the church are leaving the faith is not because the church taught with certainty but because the church did not teach enough. It was brilliant when you sorted through the verbiage to diagnose that the emergent/emerging group’s worry over creating divisions was the cause of a big problem in the panel: Scot really represents a separate category but insists on going under the emergent/emerging label, and then is offended when he’s included in the criticism. Also, your basic question, which no one ever addressed, why can’t we have both sound doctrine and concern for our neighbor, was an excellent one. Many years ago when I was your age I had exactly the same question for the church, only related to the issues that were at the forefront at that time–something about sound doctrine vs. Spirit-led living. The sound doctrine lost out and since there’s no such thing as Spirit-led living without it, you can see how we got where we are now, adrift in a sea of well-meaning uncertainty.

  • Guys, I was seriously impressed with how you handled yourselves and what you stood firm on. I agree with your assessment about “biblical illiteracy” being a huge problem, and also loved your analogy of the fire in the fireplace where it belongs. Well said, and seeing you guys being respectful while speaking the truth was very encouraging for me. God bless you!

  • Hey guys,
    I was reallt impressed with you guys too! Way to represent!
    I really liked the point about how the reason young people leave the church is because we’re really not being taught strong Christian doctrine as well. I had an experience with this today that really shocked me, just because I realized how true it really is. I go to a Christian school and during class discussion a girl told me she didn’t believe in the depravity of man, and thought man was basically “good” and that society turns them bad. This really kinda shocked me,(that a Christian girl whos been going to a Christian school and church for 18 years could think that)
    So, in short, your point is really true. Its so important for us, to be rooted in God’s word and to be taught and teach what the Bible says! Also to read, study and become a “workman approved unto God.”anyway, just thought I’d share this story because as soon as it happened I thought about this video…
    Oh and Karen, keep writing. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us!

  • Thanks for sharing this with us. I appreciate your humility in this discussion/debate. I would be interested in hearing your view on the emergent and emerging church (blog ideas?). Some of the things Tony Jones had said scare me of where the church may be heading.

    Thanks again,


  • Thank you for representing those who are tired of the talking on modern theology and ready to get back to living and knowing the truth and the core of the message of Jesus Christ.

    I am a youth leader and it is a constant challenge to help the young people weed through everything coming at them and get back down to the core of what the gospel says. It is time to fight against Biblical illiteracy.

    It is refreshing to have young men stand up and say we can have solid theology intertwined with action.

  • I must say Guys, I was really blessed by the way you both handled this panel. Very thankful that there are young people out there that are standing on the firm foundation of the Bible and being an active force in the world for Christ. Soli Deo gloria!

  • After watching the discussion, I, too, share in your frustration. I thought after watching a discussion that long, I would better understand what the emerging church is, what they believe as a whole (even if there are some distinctions and disagreements), and why they believe some of the things they believe. I seemed to hear more about what emergents don’t agree on than what they do, and that left me unclear on the whole topic overall.

    However, I deeply appreciated your insights and attempts to steer the conversation back to what is essential. “Why choose?” is the perfect attitude for Christians to have. I was so glad to hear the centrality of the gospel proclaimed in the end. Thanks!

  • Nick: I would disagree with nothing you’ve said. Gilbert is a red herring. He’s no longer a part of the discussion, which at this point is McCoy and Ash. Although I submit it would have been real interesting to see what part Gilbert could have played this season and how the coaches would have handled it had he chose to stay and compete (sans injury?)

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rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →