Emerging/Emergent, Trait 1: On Identifying with Jesus - Sept 14
I work with the book, EMERGING CHURCHES, by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger, which Emerging church leaders have called "the best book on the emerging church." It notes 9 traits of the movement. I will work one at a time. First I will describe the trait without evaluation using the language of the categories of the book. Then I will evaluate. So here we go. Trait 1 is identifying with Jesus. Description: The focus of this trait is on the gospels, the example of the life of Jesus, and the teaching of the kingdom. "We focused on the humanity of Jesus and lost all the categories of church history." Jesus' way of life is the model for these churches. He served, forgave others, and encouraged the early church to do likewise. Hospitality and a missional emphasis are key to the movement. The goal is to go versus have others come, to be out there, in their neighborhoods. The goal is to find where God is working and participate there. "I don't take God into somewhere but find God and join where he is." The message is to announce the arrival of the kingdom. to call others to experience the kingdom through invitation, healing, and restoration. The cross pictures the supreme demonstration of love and the God-provided means to reconciliation. The gospel is not restricted to a message giving an individual assurance about eternal destiny. Here Dallas Willard's DIVINE CONSPIRACY is an influential work. Community groups are where these relationships are seen. The goal is to have Christianity be a way of life in a participative gospel message, a call to live distinctively in the world with an up front missional challenge. There is a costly message versus a seeker sensitive one. "Following the mission of Jesus entails putting my whole family in the middle of the chaos in order to see the kingdom of God in operation." Jesus created an alternative social order. Paul continued this model building an international, anti-imperial, alternative society. Calling Jesus Lord dethroned the emperor. There is a kingdom focus instead of a church focus, a huge paradigm shift. Evaluation: There is much to like here. The emphasis on Jesus and the gospels is healthy, drawing on what it means to follow him, a key theme of the gospels. The values of service, hospitality, of going, of thinking about how the gospel touches life 24/7 are all good. However, to focus on the humanity of Jesus and lose all categories of church history is to say that the church of the past has little to teach us and demeans the work of the Spirit in the past (or at least risks this). This is one of many such contrastive statements that suggest God works with one form. Is that correct? Are we really forced to such either/or choices? Are there not both/ands present? Have not many people been nurtured in these other communities and found a home? Yes, we can all do better, but such contrasts are often painted too starkly. Here is another statement from a leader: "But the good news is not that he died but that the kingdom has come." Why not, the kingdom has come in and through his death? Or try another statement: "The gospel is not that we agree with some abstract propositions in order to qualify to go to heaven when we die but an invitation to live a new way of life." Now the emphasis is correct, and I am well aware that theology can be done in a way that is dry and disconnected from reality, but the role of statements, even abstractly stated ones that are biblically grounded is important to the formation of a worldview that helps the Christian to discern and mature (Eph 4:17-24). The hope here is of life everlasting in this age and in the life to come. Also is Paul really as anti-imperial as the remarks about him imply? How does that fit with a text like Romans 13:1-7? Yes, the gospel challenges with alternative values and a mission that reaches out to the fringe, the poor, and that crosses ethnic boundaries. It challenges selfishness and greed (and there is much in our world that deserves to be challenged at this level). But the way this was most effectively done was to be the community that was different and lived differently in a way that stood out. What disturbs me most is that there is sometimes a sense of "I am of Paul," "I am of Apollos," and "I am of Jesus" about some of these statements. However, we need to avoid such a contrastive emphasis. We all need to follow Christ and his example of service and outreach. We all need to walk with Paul as he imitates Jesus and reaches out to a world crossing ethnic boundaries. We all need to pursue the call of John to love our brother, especially those in the faith. We all need to follow Peter and see the church, all of it, as sacred with a calling to be believer-priests to a needy world and treat the entirety of the church as the sacred temple it is. Yes, follow Jesus and identify with him, but one way to do so is to connect with those who were closest to him.