Saturday, June 03, 2006

What about the Emergent Church

Bill Hobbs has an interesting post in which he provides a lengthy excerpt from an article on the "emergent church movement." Although I have been aware of that movement for some time, I have not delved deeply into it due to my sense of ambivalence about it. The excerpt that Mr. Hobbs provides emphasizes both the positives and negatives that contribute to my indifference regarding the significance or value of this movement.

Positively, the movement is being described as one that is Christocentric, focused on worship, and that is seeking to energetically involve disciples in service to their communities. These emphases correct deficiencies that have tended to characterize both the "traditional" churches of the mid and late 20th century and the "contemporary" churches that have tried to supplant them. Such churches have all too frequently turned out to be self-centered in worship and other emphases and overly programmatic in their orientations.

On the other hand, the movement is described as "fueled by postmodern philosophical perspectives," engaged in narrative theology and indifferent to doctrine, and "more at home with blogs than books."

Given postmodernism's indifference regarding truth, it will be interesting to see how attempts to join it with Christian belief play out. Early returns are not encouraging, as all too frequently those who claim to be informing their faith are instead inundating it with those philosophical suppositions. Indifference to doctrine has been a problem, not a characteristic, of modern evangelical Christianity. Indifference to doctrine does not mean that there are no doctrines, and narrative theology is always refracted through the doctrinal lenses of the reader. Everyone believes in doctrines -- Christian or otherwise. The question is not whether we have doctrines, but it is whether we are aware of them and thoughtful about them.

Finally, the reliance of the emergent church on new media is not necessarily a positive. One of the strengths of the movement has been its rediscovery of early Christian forms. Every major movement of the church in American history has suffered from its parochialism and lack of connectedness to Christian traditions. Forsaking deeper reading than what is provided through blogs risks the development of the emergent church becoming atrophied by that narrowness.

In which case, the emergent church will not be a movement: it will be just a fad.


DougieB said...

the thing that strikes me about the whole emergent 'movement', if it can honestly be called that (for example, Mars Hill Bible Church in west michigan is tagged with this title, but really is only a church in and of itself and is not atively attempting to give itself such a label) is about honesty.

About taking a look at what christianity truly means and how that is being portrayed now, today and within this culture, and finding the best ways to honestly portray those truths in a current society. So, blogs get used, services are different, and fundies get upset because it does sound as black and white as christianity 'should' be, and then the 'movement' itself gets labeled as postmodern. But really, it's people who are looking to honestly express this ancient faith and it's ancient tenets in ways that are used by folk today. So, you get streaming video, podcasts, and yep, blogs.

If you would like to read some good thoughts on this whole thing, though, pick up McLaren's "A Generous Orthodoxy" - it's a wonderful book that makes me glad that I follow that Jesus guy.

Kerusso said...

The Reformation was labeled as just a fad (not in those words). But those now known as Protestants (yourself included) emerged. The church is always emerging in its present culture. I have read the primary sources and listened to many of those involved in "the emerging/emergent church" and I do not believe that they are the heretics many are making them out to be. I am the pastor of a consevative traditional church. I believe that you and many others should take the Gamaliel approach (see Acts 5). I would be more concerned about your 'reformed' brothers who are ordaining homosexuals and do not believe the Bible is authoritative. Or be concerned about the ones who are splitting orthodox evangelical churches with divisive doctrines. I believe they are doing much more harm to the cause of Christ.
If you really want to be informed, why not contact the pastors of these churches that you are so concerned about rather than angry people or academes who live in a publish or perish sort of environment. Be brave. Confront the primary sources. I feel sure that they will lovingly respond to your questions. They have been more than gracious in answering mine.
Maybe you should join the conversation. This is not Geneva and it is not the 1500s.
May God richly bless you on your journey.

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