Pioneers of the Emergent Movement

Updated 9:14AM, Friday November 2nd, 2012 by Sam Hailes, 3 comments seperator

The Emerging Church has no central hub, statement of faith or list of leaders. Those who identify with the movement are often rebelling against these very things.

While the Emerging Church can simply be thought of as Christians seeking to re-think old practices and ways of doing church, the Emergent Church is more organised, and has attracted more criticism.

In the Emergent Church, also known as Emergent Village, everything is up for discussion. Dialogue is a key value in a movement that often self describes as a “conversation”. This conversation has often led to more theologically liberal views being embraced. 

Here we examine three key leaders in the Emergent Movement:

Brian Mclaren

(c) Blair Anderson

The Founder – Brian Mclaren

As a founding member of The Emergent Village, Brian Mclaren was there at the very beginning. The author and speaker is also, according to his website, an activist and networker. When it comes to the formidable figure, there seems to be just as many websites criticising him and calling him a heretic as there are those that praise him. He has gone on record saying that both Christians methodology and message "must change”.

The intriguing title of The Secret Message of Jesus is one of the author’s best known books. The premise is Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom but we ended up with the Church, so what would happen if Christians became kingdom-minded? According to the wealth of feedback Brian has received, the book is perfect for group study, including groups of both Christians and non Christians. 

Brian’s latest book his probably is most controversial of all. Why did Jesus, Moses the Buddha, and Modhammed Cross the Road? Christians have in the passed fought, debated with, ignored and accepted other religions teachings. But Brian claims to have a better solution.

Peter Rollins

The Thinker – Peter Rollins

Irish philosopher Peter Rollins first enjoyed international recognition as the founder of Ikon – a group self described as “iconic, apocalyptic, heretical, emerging and failing”. Blending live music, theatre, ritual and reflection together for their Belfast meetings, Rollins wrote about the theology and practice of Ikon in some depth for his book How (Not) To Speak of God.

Rollins can frustrate interviewers eager to find out more about the intriguing philosopher. Blogging on the BBC, William Crawley bemoans Rollins answers to the questions he asked him in 2009.

“I would ask a question, like, "Do you believe in God?", and Peter's answer would involve saying "Yes and No", followed by a parable, an illustration, a story, or a cryptic quotation.”

His latest book The Idolatry of God is bound to infuriate some and liberate others. With a self described aim of breaking people’s “addiction” to certainty and satisfaction, the process is bound to be a painful one for those brave enough to pick up the book and engage with it.

Rob Bell

The Teacher – Rob Bell

Finally the most notorious figure of all, Rob Bell. The ex-pastor of Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, Michigan had created a stir with Velvet Elvis (his repainting of the Christian faith) back in 2005. But it was his 2011 book Love Wins which really caused upset. Doubting the traditional view of heaven and hell meant evangelicals who had previously been attracted to Rob’s teaching, immediately distanced themselves from the pastor.

Now living in California, Rob is working with Lost producer Carlton Cuse on a new television series. Known for his creative and visually impressive teaching series NOOMA, fans of Rob’s work are looking forward to seeing what the future holds. Rob's latest book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, challenges another traditional view to redefine the traditional concept of God helping spirituals connect, or reconnect with religion.




Sam writes news, features and reviews exclusively for The job involves meeting influential and interesting Christians from across the country and beyond. Most importantly, he never talks about himself in the third person.

This article was written and published by Sam Hailes for


Pioneers of the Emergent Movement Discussion

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Randall Ajimine
Randall Ajimine said...
November 14th, 2012 at 7:27PM • Reply

So there aren't any women or people of color in the emergent world?

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Drew said...
November 14th, 2012 at 8:00PM • Reply

There are quite a few. This is not a representative sample of the players in the Emergent world. Mainly folks who have hit the best sellers list a few times. (To be clear, I think all 3 are smart and gifted men, but not representative of the work going on in the Emergent world.)

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Gladys Ganiel
Gladys Ganiel said...
February 21st, 2018 at 3:35PM • Reply

I think Ikon would be surprised to find out that the last ever ikon event was in 2009, see
James Wellman's new book on Rob Bell claims that Bell does not identify specifically with 'emergent' or 'emerging,' and I can't recall Rollins ever doing this explicitly either. Both are in conversation with emergents, however.
Otherwise, thanks for the summary!

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