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
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!