We have worked through the nine key traits of this movement with evaluations. So how does one sum it up? There are several strengths of this movement and several concerns about this movement. I see these clear strengths: 1) There is a problem with modernity in its spirit of freedom and quest for human autonomy. This is a cultural value that needs to be challenged. 2) There is a problem with modernity in the dominance of the consumer culture and the way it can lead to compromise of values of the faith. This also drains the ability of the church to serve others selflessly. The missions budget of many churches is a shame to reflect on. Many other resources could help make an impact as well. However, many of our resources go to things that do not advance the kingdom. 3) A problem with modernity is that efficiency and technology can depersonalize or overwhelm life (leading to the [over]saturated self). I see these strengths (in other words, these are positives but they also need qualifying in how they are applied): 1) Interpretation is never totally objective (We all read from a place and perspective). This does not mean that we cannot affirm what a text says. But it does mean that how we read and the lenses we bring may draw us to certain texts and cause us to miss certain texts. 2) Communities matter. There is more to faith than just walking as individuals before God. 3) Differing perspectives can teach. We can learn from the engagement that comes from disagreement, as there is always room to learn. (This is a two way street as others can learn from us) 4) Interpretations need testing (There is an appropriate plea for a proper humility). Appreciating the Bible as the Word does not mean that our interpretations are automatically correct. Community can help to check us. 5) Pushing for authenticity is solid value. 6) Recognizing one's social location is an important factor to appreciate in life (where we fit in the world and how that helps and blinds us). 7) The effort to evangelizing outsiders is stronger (esp. those on the fringe). 8) There is a valuable probing links back to tradition. 9) There is often better success with people on the edge because of the value of concentrating on this group. But there are also major problems. These are issues of concern that could cause the movement to lose its edge. 1) The analysis of modernism oversimplifies and characterizes the period to a degree (which is more diverse in expression than suggested by the absolutist contrasts of much of the presentations. Some modernists share the concerns and values that many E/E churches are concerned about) The contrasts with modernism are more like relative emphases to be viewed as pressure placed at different points of a see-saw versus absolute contrasts where each side sits on the end. 2) There is a seeming devaluation of confessional expressions of Christianity and the content elements of the faith. The attitude toward the Word tends to elevate Jesus at the expense of the rest of God's word (a canon within a canon, when the apostolic reflection of Jesus is a key part of how God reveals himself to us through their lived out experience of Jesus in light of his teaching). Jesus does have much to tell us by the way he lived, but he also could say uncomfortable things to people and make serious warnings of accountability to God (This side of the equation is often missing in challenging people to consider the gospel and what it teaches us about us). What the rest of Scripture teaches also rounds out what his life and ministry represents. The claim to honor the Word's authority and seek to incarnate it while underplaying aspects of its message are not consistent (and we are speaking here of more than whether or not one affirms the total veracity of the Word) 3) There is too much either/or thinking (or better) rhetoric when both/and modes and relative emphases are really the point (Leaders when pressed acknowledge these are not as either/or as their rhetoric.). This kind of language has alienated many in the church and often has meant that E/E's legitimate criticism of the church has not been heard or taken as seriously as it needs to be. 4) There is a tendency to avoid discussion of hell and judgment (i.e., to confront on sin) or accountability to God as His creature. The effect is that the need for Christ is devalued. I am not saying one needs to pound away at sin (which is what some in the E/E movement are reacting to). However a awareness that everyone has a broken relationship with God that he takes the initiative to repair is fundamental into leading to the emphasis on the life God graciously gives through the Spirit. The tendency to be unclear about the state of those outside of an embrace of Jesus is also a major problem for some in the movement. I view this as one of the more alarming aspects of the movement but it is not unique to the emergent. 5) There is a tendency to equivocate on moral issues (like homosexuality). Attaining a balance here of love, compassion, outreach and ministry alongside a real moral need for change is something everyone in the church wrestles with. E/E is right that all wings of the church need to develop how to communicate the move to holiness in all areas of life in a way that presents the gospel as good news (and not just highlight "special, serious" sins of our own choosing). The danger of conservatives is that homosexuality and issues like it are treated as especially bad, when all sin stains us before God (including gluttony, greed, lust, gossip. adultery, divorce, etc; things we tend not to get as "worked up" over). Even though soem contend for a normalcy for these lifestyles, somethign the church needs to stand up against, the fact that the divorce rate in churches is pretty equal to those outsdie the church is a shameful fact for the church. We are far more comfortable (accepting?) of divorce than we are of issues like homosexuality. Yes, some sin is seen as particular evidence of a serious fall, but all sin is bad, or else Jesus woudl have never equated anger with murder. E/E is right to remind us that singling out particular sins is not particularly biblical. 6) There is a tendency to underplay or underestimate the nature and role of Scripture in the face of problematic, factors in reading it. The tendency to speak of the Bible becoming God’s Word in response versus being God’s Word regardless produces an imbalance for what the Word teaches is true whether I embrace it personally or not. There is a power to the Word embraced that is worth highlighting. But the Word presents a reality that is whether I recognize it or not. The Word must remain a key basis for forming a worldview that reflects God's heart. Yes, there is a danger of being to cognitive and nor consistent in practice, but I cannot knjow what practice shoudl look like without God's direction and guidance through the Word. So there it is. The E/E movement is an important development today. All the church would do well to engage it and reflect upon the questions it is raising, not simply praise it or condemn it in a dismissive manner. There are important issues here. The long term health of E/E and the church at large are in play. I hope this series has proved of value. Please let me know what you think and if you want more discussions like this.
Summary on Emergent/Emerging Church Movement - Oct 6 (revised and updated - Jan 12)