Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Emerge-ency?

I have a tendancy to write a lot about myself and my family, and although there is certainly nothing wrong with that, I also want this to be a place where information is shared and "big picture" issues are discussed. In light of that, I thought I'd share with you some information about a new movement within the church known as "The Emerging Movement." As a pastor the church is pretty consuming to me, but The Emerging Movement has been particularly fascinating, and I hope you leave this blog more informed after sinking your teeth into this entry.

Throughout history the church has been transforming its methodology (and sometimes its beliefs) based on the changes that have occured in the culture at large. One wonders whether The Reformation would have even been a blip on the map had the printing press not been invented within the same time frame. Had the writings of Calvin and Luther been hidden from the masses, would the movement have changed the face of the church? Would the contemporary churches of the late eighties and nineties have made such a mark without the advent of broadcast media (television)? Does the digital age that we are entering have any implications for the church, and if so, what are they?

These are questions for every generation, but they are particularly poignant in light of our rapidly changing, technologically advanced culture. We have entered a new world, and although the gospel of Jesus Christ is as true as ever, the methods by which we communicate that truth are as broad as ever. This is where The Emerging Movement (EM) comes in.

Scot McKnight, a professor in religious studies at North Park University in Chicago, has recently written an article on EM, and offers much insight into this oft misunderstood movement. In it he writes, "(EM) is a conversation about the future direction of the evangelical church in a postmodern world; it's a reaction and a protest against traditional evangelical churches; and it's a conversation focused less on theological niceties and more on 'performing' the gospel in a local setting." In other words, EM could be best described by three main characteristics:
  • EM seeks impact in a radically changing culture
  • EM is frustrated by traditional approaches to ministry
  • EM is missional
Some clarification needs to be made on the second of these characteristics. From what I've read and discussed, EM does not seek to trash traditional methods of "doing church" as much as it despises traditions that highlight methodology over and above true Christian practice. This reaction comes from a long history within the church of majoring on things like building projects, hymns and Sunday attire to the exclusion of concepts like grace, freedom and service. Leaders of the EM would never argue that traditional churches aren't necessary to the universal church. On the contrary, EM leaders would be more prone to seek convergence with these churches in order to work together toward a greater call, that of the gospel.

There is another aspect of EM that is causing a lot of controversy these days. Many have contested that EM is not simply a discussion of methodologies and missiologies, but of doctrine and theology. There have certainly been many EM leaders who have voiced questions about the orthodox docrtines of the faith. Brian McLaren, one of Time magazines most influential Evangelicals, is a leader in the EM and has raised questions on doctrines such as the Trinity and the virgin birth. He has also failed to take any sort of hard stance on other traditionally important issues such as homosexuality. This has been troubling to many who tend to define EM as a fringe, theologically liberal movement.

Mark Driscoll, a pastor in Seattle, WA, is one of the key voices in the EM. He is theologically conservative, but refers to himself as "the cussing pastor." Obviously he's not your Father's preacher. In a recent article in the Criswell Theological Journal, Driscoll writes,
"As a pastor I find the entire conversation encouraging, stimulating, and frightening. What I find encouraging is the groundswell of interest among Christians who do not want to separate from culture like fundamentalists, or simply baptize culture like liberals, but want to earnestly wrestle over the nature of the gospel and how can it be most faithfully contextualized in culture. What I find stimulating is the growing focus on docrine and the way it forces people to consider their docrinal positions and dig more deeply since pat answers to tough questions are no longer sufficient. But, what I find frightening is the trend among some to drift from what I consider to be faithful conservative evangelical theological convictions in favor of a less distictively Christian spirituality. The relust is a trip around the same cul-de-sac of false doctrine that a previous generation spent their life driving around while touting their progress."
I couldn't agree more with Driscoll's assessment, and I look forward, with nervous anticipation, to the conversations to come. It's a very exciting time to be part of the church!


2 comments:

ryan said...

By the definition you gave, I would say I'm entirely onboard with the emerging church. If you look at it, isn't the emerging church pretty much like the New Testament church?

* They sought impact in a radically changing culture.
* They were frustrated by traditional approaches to ministry (ie the law)
* They were missional

I see this playing out in all kinds of ways. We do stuff in church now that I can totally see happening in the first century church - feeding people, building homes, sharing cars (or donkeys), sending small teams to serve the church in other countries, heck even lighting candles. On the other hand, I can't imagine New Testament churches launching building campaigns called "Vision 2020", or getting worked up about someone not wearing their best robe to church, or hosting forums wherein they endorsed one party of political leaders over another.
That's not to say that I think we should always try to be just like the first century church. I'm just saying, EM's appeal, at least to me, is in its focus on essential - or at least meaningful - elements and its carelessness with "disputible matters."

r! said...

man! the thing i am encouraged most about the emerging church is the renewed interest in doctrine and theology. i personally believe that we don't know how to truly live for God if we have a poor doctrinal foundation. the teaching of doctrine and theology in church is so very important and i'm not talking about the way it is taught in seminaries and bible colleges either. doctrine and theology needs to be taught with a goal of application in the lives of believers.