Jana Riess Asks, "Can a Mormon Be an Emergent Christian?"

Jana Riess Asks, "Can a Mormon Be an Emergent Christian?" August 31, 2010
Jana Riess

I’ll admit, I don’t know many Mormons.  In fact, Jana is one of the few that I know.  I like her and consider her a good friend.

One of the things that I like most about her is that she always keeps her good-natured smile when answering one of my questions about Mormonism, questions that are usually laced with incredulity.  For all of my (supposed) openness, I don’t tend to be that open or understanding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  To me, it seems secretive and odd, and its founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., smacks to me of a half-crazed charlatan.

Jana, however, is neither half-crazed nor a charlatan.  She’s thoughtful and literate, and she’s an adult convert to LDS, so she went in with her eyes open.

Thus, when she talks about Mormonism, I listen.

For years, people have asked me the hypothetical question, “If emergent is so open, would you allow Mormons in?”  And I have answered, “That’s a silly question because I cannot imagine that Mormons would have any interest in emergent.”

Well, Jana has declared herself the first (and only?) eMORgent, a hyphenated Mormon-emergent, and she explains why in the post linked below:

What does Emergent offer to me as a committed Latter-day Saint?

At its best, the Emergent ideal can enliven burned-out people and put some new wine in tired wineskins. Emergent does this by balancing focus on Christ–Christ as savior, Christ as Lord–with a focus on Jesus.

(via “Emorgent”: Can a Mormon Be an Emergent Christian? – Flunking Sainthood)

Jana goes on to note at least one fork in the road for Mormons.  She writes about attending a talk during which Rob Bell emphatically stated that Jesus did not come to found a church (or, I think, we could substitute, a religion).  Jana says that Mormons believe that, to the contrary, Jesus did come to found a church, and that is the Church of LDS.

I would also ask more pointed theological questions of Jana and any other eMORgents out there:

  • What do you do with the emergent focus on the relational/social doctrine of the Trinity?
  • What of the obvious challenges of jibing the emergent community’s consensus of the normativity of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures with the Book of Mormon?
  • And what about possibly the most significant trait of emergent, and that is egalitarian leadership and non-hierarchical structures?

I’m not saying that any of these questions cannot possibly be answered, just that they loom large in a potential dialogue between Mormon and emergents.

In any case, I am enormously grateful to Jana for opening this can of worms, and I’ll be very interested to follow the comments on her blog and mine on this issue.

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  • I wish I had been consulted on the naming of this group. About a year and a half ago I came up with the term Mormergent, which I think is superior. Here is the blog posting: http://djword.blogspot.com/2009/02/other-mergents.html

    Ask Jana to consider changing the name to this, which flows from the tongue much better.

  • There’s already an emergent movement within Mormonism. It began on New Year’s Eve 2008 with Elder Napoleon. http://homebrewedchristianity.com/2009/01/18/meet-elder-napoleon/

  • CJ biggs

    If a Mormon can be the “new leader of the Christian Evangelical Right”, why couldn’t they also be leaders of the left?

  • Kenton


    My question: How do Mormons who consider those outside their church to be apostate, reconcile with the emergent value of ecumenism?

    (Yes, I do recognize the irony in posing that question.)

  • Steve K.

    Love Jana! Love this conversation. Thanks for posting this, Tony.

  • I once had a great conversation with a pastor in the former Worldwide Church of God after the leaders basically eschewed heretical doctrine and joined orthodox Christianity.

    This led me to a conversation with a religion professor who noted that if a Christian sect (or cult) is based around a charismatic leader and alternate scriptures but still consider the Bible scripture, over time they start to merge back into mainstream (I’m using this term loosely) Christianity .

    I have seen a noticeable difference in the way my mormon friends view their faith in Christ, and the eagerness they have to be seen as Christians. I think it may be just a matter of time.

  • Bo Eberle

    I have quite a bit of experience with Mormons- working with them, working for them, talking to missionaries where I worked on a daily basis, and I never would have imagined that any of them would be interested in anything even marginally affiliated with emergence, in my experience, it has always been about the “emergent” truth of the 1830s via Joseph Smith. The truth emerged alright, and you pray to God to confirm it for you. If God hasn’t confirmed it for you, you havent prayed enough. Thank God for internet communities that can broaden my conception of an entire faith, I would love to hear eMORgent responses to these questions and honest reflections about their church’s doctrine (past and present) and their controversial history (polygamy aside). I sincerely hope this develops further!

  • Again, I am not fully versed in the “emergent” movement so I trust I will be corrected/taught/told where I go wrong here. Tony puts the following questions to anyone who considers him/herself LDS:

    1. “What do you do with the emergent focus on the relational/social doctrine of the Trinity?”
    Would this same question apply to a Unitarian Universalist as well? Is this specific to a someone coming from the LDS, and if so, why?

    2. “What of the obvious challenges of jibing the emergent community’s consensus of the normativity of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures with the Book of Mormon?
    How normative are these texts for the emergent community? I guess I’ve always been told that the emergent community avoids normative consensus and remains open to various expression and/or sources of revelation, such as non-canonical texts (Didache, Gospel of Thomas, etc.), and the Apocrypha (canonized for some, but not others). Which of these texts would the emergent community consider normative and which do are not considered normative? Do the obvious challenges that exists of jibing the scriptures with the Book of Morman also exist for jibing the scriptures with non-canonical texts as previously mentioned? If so, then perhaps Tony’s question is not only a good one for those who are LDS, but those who look to these texts as well.

    3. “And what about possibly the most significant trait of emergent, and that is egalitarian leadership and non-hierarchical structures?”
    Would this same question apply to Roman Catholics and/or Eastern Orthodoxy and possibly Anglicans or any other tradition with a more complexly developed clergy structure?

    I am not an expert in these matters, but am asking some questions that have probably already been answered and dealt with else where. If so, perhaps some one can point me in the right direction.
    Thank you for the conversation.

  • Kenton


    Good questions. I would suggest “A Generous Orthodoxy” by Brian McLaren as a good place to start with those.

    My two cents (WAY overvalued): I think most of us self-described emergent Christians would call ourselves trinitarian, would remain open to those other texts, (but *not* at the expense of normatively valuing the Hebrew and Christian scriptures), and we would devalue the hierarchical structures in institutional denominations. (Although to that last point we recognize that, rightly or wrongly, those hierarchies have been historically established and we seek to work within them as much as we seek to level them.)

  • Ryan Braley


    One of the questions I have had for sometime, in regards to Emergent and its inclusion, is why does the Emergent movement seem racially homogenous. I have visited Solomon’s Porch a couple of times, and for its location in South Minneapolis, I expected to see more racial diversity, quite honestly. I did notice more diversity my second time visiting, but still noticed the absence of a significant African American representation. I have visited Anthony Smiths blog (which I enjoy), and read some of his thoughts. Why do you think it seems the Emergent Movement has not involved the African American population as much as some would hope?


  • Mac Frazier

    I am really enjoying this conversation! Thank you!

    I, too, have been wondering about how big the emergent tent really is. Is there room for Unitarians? What about Swedenborgians? I was just a moment ago reading “A Response to Our Critics” (Appendix B of The New Christians), and was struck by this phrase:

    “…yes, we affirm the historic Trinitarian Christian faith…” What grabbed me was that word “historic”. There’s a bit of cultural bias built into the “historic” development of trinitarian theology that has become quite crusted over by tradition.

    (For instance, the Council of Nicea was an extremely political event, fraught with all sorts of agendas. Up to that point there was a fairly free-for-all dialog going on with differing interpretations of the Trinity; then all of a sudden the Roman Emperor declares that there has to be a single consensus. The divinity of Christ was successfully defended, but further discorse on what that might mean was then severely limited.)

    So it got me wondering if a Bible-reading Jesus-worshipper who believes in living a life of love to God and to neighbor would really be welcome in the emergent conversation if they had an unorthodox idea of what the Divine Trinity may or may not be. Is there room for Mormons, Unitarians, Universalists, Swednborgians, Jehovah’s Witnesses or even modern-day followers of Sabellius or Michael Servetus (if such exist)? And yes, I know there are all sorts of additional sticky points in that list. But is traditional orthodox trinitarianism a sine qua non of emergence?

  • Just came across your blog and I look forward to reading more from you. As a self-described post-modern Mormon (and gay to boot!) it’s good to hear that there are other emergent Mormons out there 🙂

  • Kelly Knight

    As a member of the LDS Church, I have to ask myself why I would want to be affiliated or associated with Emergent (acknowledging that I know nothing of Emergent). To do so would suggest that I have not found the full truth as the LDS Church proclaims it has and that I have to also look elsewhere. Contrariwise, I do believe that the LDS Church is the seat of all truth, and therefore I have no need to seek communion outside the Church. Rather, I would invite all to come and commune with the Saints and worship Christ through the restored Gospel.

  • Having been a Mormon for a while, I have to say that their spirituality is often powerful. However, a doctrinaire Mormon can’t be a Christian. That doesn’t mean the average attendee who trusts Christ for their salvation, and takes the Bible seriously is not a believer, just that their status as a believer remains uncertain until they engage the theological/historical issues with Mormon teaching, after which, if they are honest will force a separation from Mormonism or reabsorption in Mormonism. This isn’t like a Catholic awakening where the believer will find Christianity at the roots of Roman Catholicism.

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