Emergent/Emerging Church - Sept 10
Note: From here on in these blogs on this topic, for simplicity's sake, I will refer to the Emergent/Emerging movement with E/E. In making this choice, I also want to note that the movement reflects a broad spectrum of approaches to the variety of ecclesiological and theological questions it brings into the church-post-modernism discussion. I do not want to pre-position myself by the mere use of terminology as that often means we are sloganeering and not thinking hard about the issues that need careful attention. I want to set a context and tone for this discussion before I start. My contacts with folks in this movement go back several years with conferences Christianity Today sponsored in Chicago and Houston. The Seminary also held a Conference at our Center for Christian Leadership on Post-Modernism and the Church at which Brian McLaren was a guest. One of the hour long sessions involved he and I alone taking questions and my interacting with his presentation in a type of dialogue format. He had read some material I had prepared (The first chapter on epistemology, the Bible and foundationalism, in my PURPOSE DIRECTED THEOLOGY [IVP]) as I had read some of his materials as well (A New Kind of Christian). In addition, I have worked with a Thomas Nelson project in which a fresh paraphrastic engagement with Scripture is the goal. As it worked out, I was assigned Luke-Acts, for obvious reasons, given my own expertise and was paired with Brian again as he was assigned those books and I was to give him feedback. We both regard this as having been a good experience for us. I note all of this to say that my contact with these concerns is not theoretical or abstract, nor is it merely second hand or without direct involvement in personal discussion. Now I share with you what disturbs me about the discussion as I have often confronted it. As I have traveled the country about the DaVinci Code, I have often been asked about E/E as if there were a natural connection between the issues I discussed there about university efforts to undermine Jesus and the questions E/E asks. This befuddled me for the longest time, since in my mind these were two completely unrelated questions and topics. One of the times a question was raised was during a media interview I was doing about the extra-biblical gospels. More than the questions is a tone that almost always was tied to its being raised. People were angry about the E/E movement and treated it as if nothing good could possibly come out of it. This also befuddled me as in the meetings I attended and discussions I had, all I saw was a sincere wrestling with crucial questions by members of the movement (Not that I always liked the answers or hesitated to challenge the responses at points in those meetings). Why the anger? Well recently, the connection dawned on me. Those who were angry sensed what they perceived as a dangerous revisionism in the E/E movement, a revisionism not unlike the revisionism I was discussing in some of the topics I was treating. What I want to say right off is that I do not sense that is what is happening in much of the E/E movement as a whole. Let me explain and make a distinction that will be important for us. Much of the movement is driven by a desire to do a "rethink" or "reimage." That in itself is not a problem and on many issues such work is necessary, potentially doing the church a great service. Where that "rethinking" touches issues of church form and structure tied sensitively to culture, that is a perfectly appropriate question to ask and work through. In this area, tied as it also is to concerns about incarnating the gospel and being missional about it, such questions must be asked and pursued. However, there is a certain segment of this movement that is less well connected to the ancient roots it sometimes espouses when it comes to issues of authority (Biblical), leadership (Pastoral), and some aspects of theological articulation (esp the atonement--or at least death for sin-- and the uniqueness and necessity of Jesus for the plan of God in salvation). Now if this reply sounds a bit "schizophrenic" about the movement, that is because that is exactly what my reaction to it is. I find what this means is that I must listen carefully to each E/E speaker rather than generalizing about the movement as if it were a monolith. It also means that the engagement with it becomes complex, depending on what topic and angle is being taken by a given speaker or writer. So you will get no blanket generalizations from me in this series. I also advise that this is the best way to engage this movement and the discussion. That standard I hope to maintain as I pursue these blog entries.