There is much confusion over the use of the terms “emerging” and “emergent” as it pertains to current trends in the Christian church. I in no way claim to be an authority over how these words should be used, but seeing as how I interact with them frequently in my posts I think it would be appropriate to share how I use them.
The whole mess of this stuff revolves around how the church deals with the idea of post-modernism and post-modern culture (of course, post-modernism is deserving of its own explanation, but I’ll let that fly for now). There are still a great number of congregations in the world which haven’t even heard the word “post-modernism” before and as such would not be considered either emerging or emergent. I would typically call these types of churches and their adherents modern or contemporary.
Moving into the churches which actually do recognize post-modernism is where we begin to get into the emerging/emergent distinction. In general, I use the term “emerging” to speak about a teacher or a congregation which engages post-modern culture either through their evangelism, their ecclesiology, their preaching, or any other number of the doctrines of the church. This makes it a broad brush painting of churches, both conservative and liberal, which simply have a particular cultural involvement.
Keeping this in mind, I would then use the term “emergent” to describe a teacher or a congregation which actually embraces post-modern culture and ideology. This would include things like stating that there are no objective or absolute truths for us to follow (or that they are not obtainable by us), that Biblical interpretation should be governed by our cultural evolution (i.e. trajectory hermeneutics), etc. Note that by embracing post-modernism one is also engaging post-modernism, and therefore if something is emergent it is by default also under the umbrella of emerging, though not the other way around.
A list of authors/ministers that I would classify as being emergent are Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Rob Bell, Shane Claiborne, Scot McKnight, Phyllis Tickle, and Tony Campolo. Authors/ministers that I would classify as emerging but not emergent would be Mark Driscoll, Dan Kimball, Erwin McManus, JD Greear, Matt Chandler, and Tim Keller. (Note, I don’t claim that these lists are comprehensive, but only that they can serve as a barometer).