Emergent Christian Cliches to Avoid

Following the creation of my first five articles in this ongoing series about Christian cliches (links below), I was alerted to the fact that my lists were notably absent of particular cliches often employed by emergent Christians. While the emergent Christians are endeavoring to re-imagine the way we engage faith, one another and the world differently, the movement still is dependent on human beings. As such, we tend to screw it up.

So in the spirit of fairness, I offer you a list of things emergent Christians can and should strike from our daily lexicon…

We Don’t Use Gender-Exclusive Language for God. There has been plenty of pushback against speaking of God only as a “he,” and this has been addressed with new worship music, updated translations of the Bible and from the pulpit. And while it can be affirming to speak of God in broader terms, while also recognizing the baggage some people carry with regard to certain terminology for God, it’s unfair to suggest that any gender-specific descriptions of God are somehow inaccurate or inferior. If some people find comfort in thinking of God as father, mother or even both, it’s not our place to take that away from them. engaging in substantive discussions about why we all use the words and imagery we do to describe God can be a good thing, but not if we’re starting from a position of having some kind of theological high ground.

Is this (fill in the blank) fair trade/organic/locally grown/humanely raised? I think it’s great that part of the ecological and social stewardship at the heart of the emergent Christian movement is to know more about where all of the goods we consume come from, and at what cost. But making a big scene about such values in public serves to draw attention to ourselves more than the cause we value if not done with some discretion. And as the text in Proverbs says, to everything there is a season. There are times to ask where your chicken came from, but probably not when you’re a guest at someone’s dinner table. Trying to make others feel bad because they don’t share your values only serves to buttress the stereotype of Christians as morally superior, arrogant and insensitive.

I’ve kind of moved beyond the whole (fill in the blank) Christian doctrine. I bristle as much as anyone in emergent Christianity when someone tries to pin me down with a certain Christian doctrine like my position on the trinity or my doctrine of salvation. But to reject these traditions outright is both a potential affront to those who still embrace them as well as a rebuff of our religious history. It’s healthy to have a reason for embracing or setting aside doctrines of our faith, but if we talk about getting over them or moving past them, it implies those who don’t agree with us are, well…dumb.

That is a very colonial/imperial attitude. Most people would agree that plenty of harm has been done in the name of the Christian faith, or faith in general, for that matter. And while some call for the dissolution of religion all together, others believe that it is the marriage of faith to the power of a political empire that creates the real abomination of an otherwise peaceful and affirming faith. But while it is a worthwhile endeavor to seek to separate Christianity from its history of Christendom, casting knee-jerk judgments on sentiments or perspectives held by others only deepens the divide between two already deeply-entrenched camps. Yes, Jesus spoke truth, but he did it in love. And if we’re not coming yet from s place of love, it’s probably best not to speak at all.

I love Jesus but not religion/the Church. Though this kind of began as an emergent Christian mantra, it’s actually begun to be embraced even by some evangelicals. But can we really cast such a broad net over the whole of organized religion and the entire history of the church? Has nothing good at all come from our two thousand years of history? Can we take nothing forward with us, despite our resistance to the established norms of institution? The whole “I love this but hate that,” attitude reeks of modernist duality, which seems to work directly against what emergents claim to value. So be bold in critiquing the institutions of power in our midst, religion included, but don’t throw our entire collective history under the proverbial bus because the phrase trends well on Twitter.

We don’t do traditional worship. Emergents tend to define ourselves as much or more by what we’re not than by what we are. And like the cliche above, we have a bad habit (bordering on tradition?) of kicking everything that smacks of traditionalism to the curb. Yes, some traditions become false idols that should be challenged, if not completely toppled. But tradition also is part of how we continue to create and pass on our collective story. Plus, while many emergents reject the very idea of tradition, we’re already in the process of creating some new traditions of our own. I wonder how we’ll react when a future cohort of Christians calls us on our own dusty, rigid ways?


This last one isn’t necessarily limited to emergents at all, but it came to mind as I was wrapping up the list I’ve created so far. Plus, after compiling the list of emergent cliches above, I realized I had thirty-nine, so I squeezed out one more to make for a nice, round number.

I don’t (insert activity here); I’m a Christian. It’s fine that you choose to live differently because of your faith. In fact, one’s faith should inform much about their daily life. But by making public announcements about what you do and don’t do because of your religious beliefs, you’re not only implicitly casting judgment on those who think or act differently than you; you’re also exalting yourself, which I’m pretty sure is something Christians aren’t supposed to do. Yes, I know we can find a Biblical basis for “boasting in Christ,” but if what you’re doing makes you look like a self-righteous tool, you’re probably doing more harm than good.

Brave New Films


Read article one in the series here: Ten Cliches Christians Should Never Use

Read article two in the series here: Ten More Cliches Christians Should Avoid

Read article three in the series here: Nine (Final) Christian Cliches to Avoid

Read article four in the series here: Ten Antidotes to Christian Cliches

Read article five in the series here: Five New Christian Cliches to Avoid

Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004. He is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. Christian has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.Visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

Photo Credit: Emergent-See Po-Motivators


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Christian Piatt

Christian PiattChristian Piatt is an author, founder of the Homebrewed CultureCast Podcast and owner of Crowdscribed, a publishing house, social networking platform and crowdfunding tool.View all posts by Christian Piatt →

  • I’m delighted by the theological soundness of this piece, so unlike many of the pieces that have “emerged” recently on this site which seem to emanate not from any recognizable Christianity but from someone bent on erecting a new totem poll with their own secular opinion as the crowning head.

    Thanks for the wisdom.

    As a reminder: “Speaking the Truth in love” does NOT require that the speaker be nice, inoffensive, and diplomatic to a fault. The Truth is still rightly described as a double-edged sword and the cleansing of the temple was every bit as loving as the confrontation of the Samaritan woman at the well regarding her multiple husbands and the man she was with then who was NOT her husband.

  • “To everything there is a season” is Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 :)
    Great article! Emergent Christianity, like any form of Christianity, needs to avoid militant expressions of particular values, as the article suggests. No one likes militants! Wonderful article!

    • Love the men and women who serve in the ministry…Jesus was a pacifist however. I see no Biblical justification for war at all…

  • I’ve never understood why evangelicals like John Piper demand that everyone share their desire to worship a god with (male) genitals.

    • Medical Evangelist

      Your statement erroneously suggests that 1. Piper’s conclusions reflect his personal desires rather than his understanding of the Scripture and 2. that it has anything to do with genitalia. I assume that you actually know this and are trying to be hyperbolic, but please understand you come off as being inaccurate, unfair, and unloving.

    • SamHamilton

      What does John Piper have to do with this? God doesn’t have genitals. But I think you (and Piper) know this.

  • Augustine.

    Sounds like New Age to me.

    • New Age is an imitation of the real thing – the raw power of God.

  • Benjamin

    Oh, I’ve got an interesting idea that apparently none of you have considered….
    How about we consider God our FATHER because JESUS TOLD US TO?

    I’ve had about enough of this. The reason I don’t just sit calmly by while you rattle off your arguments for your viewpoints is because you do not present any arguments. You just babble on endlessly about being “uncomfortable” about certain doctrines, for apparently no other reason then because you don’t want to be socially outcast. Where is your faith?

    And don’t give me this B.S. about how you “stand up” to people like Pat Robertson, “the Pharisees of our day.” These people are not the Pharisees of our day! They are largely disregarded by society and have little to no power whatsoever! It is absolutely ludicrous to pretend as if you are suffering for an unpopular cause.

    • Benjamin

      I should clarify that I do not believe God has spiritual men’s private parts, whatever that would mean. But I think we should be looking to the Bible and praying for answers, and not try to create a “new and improved” doctrine, or as it seems you like to consider it… a non-doctrinal doctrine.

  • jim

    Wonderful article. Thanks.

    I work in a couple of developing world countries. For the last 30 years the body of Christ has exploded in both countries. Now, in both countries the birth and growth of denominations is very present. In my opinion, these countries are following USA Christianity (ho hum). It will be a matter of time, and not much where the God dependent vibrancy will be a luke warm church.

    At one point in history there was one church. I suppose there is still one church, and a bunch of what I might refer to as “non God honoring” off shoots. Why does a off shoot start? Usually someone is pissed off and things they are more dialed in to God’s will.

    I sure like some of the “stuff” coming out of the Emergents……..but at the same time it makes me feel a bit confused and cynical. Not because of the doctrine, as much as “another movement”. I would have said the same thing about the reformers, methodists, calvary chapelers, etc.

    Do you think all of these movements really fit the ideal for church growth? Some how through our foolishness, God is greater still. That is part of the definition of faith to me.

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