In support of their ideas, the Emerging Church claims the following: During recent centuries Western Christianity, like all of Western civilization, has been influenced significantly by modernism. In the 19th century Protestant theologians applied principles of scientific reductionism to the Bible text in an effort to derive the true text and the underlying meaning as well as to establish proven "meta-narratives"(cf. textual criticism). The result was not a unification of theology but rather an additional schism within the Church, resulting in the oppositional worldviews of liberal Christianity and Christian fundamentalism.
The apparent antagonism between science and faith, unknown in antiquity, presents a novel challenge to the Church. The Postmodern church resolves this issue by encouraging followers to deconstruct each element of their faith experience and reassemble the pieces according to his or her own unique journey of deconstruction. In practical terms this faith trajectory may be seen in the young believer who is brought up in a Fundamentalist tradition and encounters the oppositional arguments in early adulthood. He can choose sides, he can reject both sides, or he can construct his own personal faith, but this will involve deconstructing his childhood faith.
The Emerging Church provides a environment for this process of deconstruction and reconstruction. The resulting theology is, necessarily, heterogenous and potentially divisive. The response of the Emerging Church is to seek unity through borrowing from the early Church a variety of symbols, practices, and experiences that form a common heritage and a unifying experience. From this perspective, the Emerging Church may be seens as relatively mystical and traditional while both liberal Christianity and Fundamentalism may be viewed as modern and hyper-rational.
The Emerging Church may also be seen as both a reaction to, and a continuation of the Saddleback/Willow Creek movement, which achieved such great success in the 1990s using a "seeker-friendly" approach. The "seeker-friendly" approach practiced ‘come-to-church’ evangelism while the emergent church thesis is ‘discover church’ evangelism, in which the powerful (and often challenging) symbols and practices of the early church are poured into the modern church.
Both models are marked by their goal of evangelism and by their willingness to retool the church experience as necessary to meet their goal. However, the resulting church experiences can be quite different. The Saddleback/Willow Creek movement sought to forego the "irrelevant trappings" of the traditional church, such as stained glass, liturgy and candles, while the Emerging Church movement tends to value these same symbols as sacred expressions of faith and creativity.
The Saddleback/Willow Creek movement is comfortable applying the tools of modern American marketing (focus groups, advertising, polling, etc.), to deliver a highly polished product to a baby boomer target demographic. In contrast, the emerging church movement recognizes that their own target audience -- post-baby boomers -- has already been bombarded and over-saturated with advertising and thus places a higher value on authentic personal interactions and a de-emphasis on "timeless truths".