Friday, January 20, 2006

The Emergent or Emerging Church

Last Saturday I made a trip back home. Back home for me is the Arkansas Ozarks. I currently reside in the Missouri Ozarks. I remarked to my husband as we crossed over into the more hilly curvy divide that, no matter how many years I live away from Arkansas, I still get that thrill as I cross the State-line that I'm going home. It's funny, I grew up partly in the Missouri Ozarks, in fact, I actually spent as much time here and have as much family here as in the Arkansas Ozarks but there is something about the mountainous landscape and the people in Arkansas, the warmth, the friendliness, the slower pace, the southern drawl, that gets under my skin.

My Father and Step-Mother always have some musical adventure for us to experience while we're spending time with them. This trip was no different. On this trip we went to a quarterly "gospel sing" at Rally Hill, a non-denominational church in Valley Springs, Arkansas. A term I would use to describe it would be charming. There were so many people already there when we came in, about five minutes late, that my husband and I had to sit in a different pew, separated from my Dad and Step-Mom. I sat directly behind the leader of the Marion County Choir. He was fun to watch and it was a joy listening to him sing the echo verses of the old time gospel songs we sang. We sang from two different old time hymnals. Switching back and forth from one to the other according to the wishes of the song leaders, who, by the way, were chosen almost randomly from the crowd by a woman named Elizabeth. Who she was and how she was positioned in the church I don't know, but she reminded me of a dear friend I have here in Missouri.

We stayed at Rally Hill about an hour and a half. We sang, we listened to special music performed by gifted people from all around the Arkansas Ozarks. There was an Evangelist there who was to be preaching at a revival the following Sunday morning who performed with his guitar and vocals then invited those who had no plans on where they would be attending church to come to the church where he would be preaching.

Now, you might be asking, what does this have to do with the Emergent or Emerging Church, and I can certainly understand why you would ask that. Let me take you back about two weeks ago when I happened to catch a news report, and I can't even say what station was giving this report but I suspect it might have been PBS, about the Emergent Church. It was, of course, a video expose, so the cameras were rolling at a variety of Emergent Churches which were being spotlighted, but there was little meat to the reporting. What I saw were churches with couches in them and video games, people experiencing worship but also milling around talking to one another. In one church a girl was accompanied by her dog, which appeared to be a golden lab.

So, how does Rally Hill relate? Not at all, and that is why I bring it up, it provides a contrast between the past and what some would like to see become the post-modern future of the church. Two weeks ago, when I saw parts of that program on the Emergent Church I was intrigued, and I thought, "how wonderful, what a nice way to reach out to un-churched people who are not attracted by the 'old-fashioned' pattern of most Christian Churches." My curiosity was aroused and so, after replying to Brandon's post at a badchristian blog, see my entry "Two (?) Wrongs Don't Make a Right," I began doing a little research on the internet to see what I could find out about Emergent Churches.

I'll have to say the research I did turned up commentary by people who both support and do not support the goals of the Emergent Church. When I began to research it I was excited about the prospect and at one point even considered that I might be interested in going to an Emergent Church, and one thing that should be kept in mind in this discussion is that each church in the Emergent "conversation" is different from the others. There do, however, seem to be a few common goals.

According to all of the research I did, the consensus is that Brian McLaren, a 50 year old author of the 2001 book "A New Kind of Christian" and other books on Christianity is the spiritual leader for the emerging church. From an article at Christianity Today Magazine:

"...recently McLaren has started to sketch the outlines of his vision of a postmodern church. He sketches a big circle labeled "self," a smaller circle next to it labeled "church," and a tiny circle off to the side labeled "world."

"This has been evangelicalism's model," he says. "Fundamentally it's about getting yourself 'saved'—in old-style evangelicalism—or improving your life in the new style. Either way, the Christian life is really about you and your needs. Once your needs are met, then we think about how you can serve the church. And then, if there's anything left over, we ask how the church might serve the world."

He starts drawing again. "But what if it went the other way? This big circle is the world—the world God loved so much that he sent his Son. Inside that circle is another one, the church, God's people chosen to demonstrate his love to the world. And inside that is a small circle, which is your self. It's not about the church meeting your needs, it's about you joining the mission of God's people to meet the world's needs....""

"...I don't think we've got the gospel right yet. What does it mean to be 'saved'? When I read the Bible, I don't see it meaning, 'I'm going to heaven after I die.' Before modern evangelicalism nobody accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, or walked down an aisle, or said the sinner's prayer."

It's not that McLaren is interested in joining the liberal side of modern Protestantism. "I don't think the liberals have it right. But I don't think we have it right either. None of us has arrived at orthodoxy.""

Wikipedia describes it this way:

"The emerging church or emergent church is a diverse movement within Protestant Christianity that arose in the late 20th century as a reaction to the influence of modernism in Western Christianity. The movement is usually called a "conversation" by its proponents to emphasize its diffuse nature with contributions from many people and no explicitly defined leadership or direction. The emerging church seeks to deconstruct and reconstruct Christianity as its mainly Western members live in a postmodern culture. While practices and even core doctrine vary, most emergents can be recognized by the following values:

Missional living - Christians go out into the world to serve God rather than isolate themselves within communities of like-minded individuals.

Narrative theology - Teaching focuses on narrative presentations of faith and the Bible rather than systematic theology or biblical reductionism.

Christ-likeness - While not neglecting the study of scripture or the love of the church, Christians focus their lives on the worship and emulation of the person of
Jesus Christ.

Authenticity - People in the postmodern culture seek real and authentic experiences in preference over scripted or superficial experiences. Emerging churches strive to be relevant to today's culture and daily life, whether it be through worship or service opportunities. The core Christian message is unchanged but emerging churches attempt, as the church has throughout the centuries, to find ways to reach God's people where they are to hear God's message of unconditional love."

Now, I'll have to tell you that this all sounded really nice to me until I dug a little deeper and considered other thought on the matter. Here are some snippets from the second part of a two part series on the Emergent Church broadcast by PBS which began to alert me to some dangers, whether this ideology is intentionally groomed in an effort to undermine the Evangelical and more traditional Church or not, I'll have to leave up to the reader. I'll be providing some links a little later to some people with the viewpoint that this is a vast~ fill in the blank~ conspiracy to undermine true Christianity but I don't go that far. Anyway, here are the snippets from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly . COVER STORY . The Emerging Church, Part Two . July 15, 2005 PBS:

"...LAWTON (Religion and Ethics Correspondent): The emerging church movement seeks to apply that message in a contemporary, postmodern culture and is developing new ideas about worship, theology, and mission. McLaren's provocative writings have become a manifesto of sorts for many in the emergent conversation. But he's also generating intense controversy, especially among conservative evangelicals....

"Prof. CARSON (Professor, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School): At the end of the day, it becomes a kind of very isolated, new form of individualism, in which I pick up what I want from these things, rather than in fact belonging, honestly, to any of them. Instead of being all of these things, he really isn't any of them.

LAWTON: But McLaren insists a more open view enriches faith and better equips Christians for ministry. He's become a strong voice urging more attention to issues from poverty to the environment to social justice. He's been active in the effort to raise more attention to the atrocities in Sudan's Darfur province.

Pastor MCLAREN: The way we treat our neighbors; the way we treat people of other races, religions, social classes, educational backgrounds, political parties; the way we treat other people and interact with the environment, and all the rest is part of our spirituality.

LAWTON (To Pastor McLaren): You're pretty critical of many Christians' focus, emphasis on personal salvation after death. Why is that?

Pastor MCLAREN: Well, first of all, I'm not at all against the idea of a personal relationship with God. I think that's where it all begins. And I think this is part of the beauty of the message of Jesus. Every individual is invited into a personal relationship with God. But personal is not private. The church has been preoccupied with the question, "What happens to your soul after you die?" As if the reason for Jesus coming can be summed up in, "Jesus is trying to help get more souls into heaven, as opposed to hell, after they die." I just think a fair reading of the Gospels blows that out of the water. I don't think that the entire message and life of Jesus can be boiled down to that bottom line...."

"...LAWTON: McLaren's latest book, THE LAST WORD AND THE WORD AFTER THAT, urges Christians to reassess conventional views of hell.

Pastor MCLAREN: One of the deepest problems is that -- and nobody ever would intend this -- but that for some people, the traditional view of hell makes God look like a torturer. My purpose is to get conversation going about the old view and problems with it so that we can together move forward in reconsidering, and maybe there is a better understanding of what Jesus meant and what the scriptures mean when they've talked about issues like judgment, justice, hell.

LAWTON: McLaren never says exactly what that better understanding might be, just as he declines to take specific stands on other controversial issues for the church, such as homosexuality.

(To Pastor McLaren): You don't seem to enjoy giving straightforward answers.

Pastor MCLAREN: Well, you know, a couple people tell me they think I'm being evasive. They think I'm a coward, I'm afraid to say what I really think. But here's the interesting thing. I don't think I'd be saying what I'm saying if I was a coward. I'm saying that because I'm trying to be faithful to God, I'm trying to be faithful to the teaching and example of Jesus. So it's my fidelity to my understanding of the Christian message that makes me say sometimes, "We're asking the wrong question."

LAWTON: McLaren believes Christians must always question their own interpretations of Scripture. The Bible, he says, is not a "look-it-up encyclopedia of moral truths...."

Prof. CARSON: The historic good news of the gospel, right across the centuries, has always been concerned not only with excellent relationships and who God is and turning from that which is evil. But it has also been concerned to confess certain things as true."

At this point, when "the rubber hits the road," it does seem that McLaren is evasive, it does appear that in an effort not to alienate some post-modern Christians that McLaren is not willing to take a stand on any given issue, prefering to stay in the murky waters of philosophical, loosely applied interpretation. Interpretation which casts more attention on certain passages of the Bible while ignoring others. This is a part of an ongoing debate between "progressive" and "conservative" Christians, as well. In the true Reformist Christian belief of Martin Luther, however, we are called to believe that God has elected some to be called, and that Jesus did, indeed, come to save the lost who couldn't save themselves, and that God has, indeed, provided a way for all His people to find that salvation. The mystery in all that, is that we cannot know the mind of God, we cannot know His chosen ones, all we can do is follow His instructions in the Bible to tell that Gospel message to all people. By not being a straight shooter with these Biblical truths, by ignoring descriptions of what is right and what is wrong, there is a definite danger of leading people astray, of becoming a false teacher who has forgotten the "main thing." In Evangelical churches there is a saying "let's keep the main thing, the main thing," so what is the main thing? The Gospel of Christ, and that Gospel, that "Good News" is that Christ came to seek and save the lost through His death, burial and resurrection. When the emphasis is taken off of that, all the "feel good," tolerant platitudes and affirmations in the world will not make much difference, the Bible makes it very clear that man is not "saved" by works but by the grace of God. All people, whether Christian or not, are capable of doing good things for mankind, for the world, but it is this Christian's belief, based on God's Holy Word, that unless you have been sought and chosen by God to accept His gift of salvation all the good that one can do for the world will be for naught when it comes to salvation, there is but one way to God and that is through Christ. I praise God for the non-Christians who do good and we should pray for their souls, but I must tell you that in my research I have come to the conclusion that often, what sounds good on the surface is not so good, that is the sentiment I am left with after researching the Emergent Church, on the surface it sounds good, but it isn't so good.

One of the first articles I read about the Emergent Church came from Baptist Press, - (BP), contained in that article was the most authoritative report on the Emergent "conversation." It was AnEcclesiologicalAssessment.Hammett.pdf, written by John S. Hammett, Professor of Theology, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, which had the greatest influence on my opinion of the Emergent Church. I would recommend everyone to read it for an exhaustive study of the Emergent Church "conversation."

Ahh, those wacky conspiracy theorist links? ;)

You'll find all the wacky conspiracy links on this topic you want here: The Emerging Church and Contemplative Spirituality. I only include it to show the broad spectrum of thought on the subject.

I will, however, mention that this quote from McLaren, who claims not to be a Progressive and yet promotes the political agenda of the "Progressive" Christian while remaining largely silent on the political agenda of the "Conservative" Christian:

"I don't think the liberals have it right. But I don't think we have it right either. None of us has arrived at orthodoxy.""

is almost a word for word recitation of the "Progressive" Christian's darling, Jim Wallis.

In Hammett's pdf document he questions the need to reach out with a new gospel, a different gospel in the first place, it appears many post-modern Christians are quite satisfied with the church of their parents and grandparents. Some statistics from the pdf:

"A third line of evidence questioning the central premise of the emerging church
movement is the continuing influence of parents on the spiritual lives of their children. A
recent Newsweek poll found that 68% of the respondents said that their religion was “The
same” or “Mostly the same” as that which they practiced growing up, while only 20%
said their practices were “Mostly different” or “Completely different.”26 Moreover, when
asked, “How traditional are your religious practices?”, 71% answered “Very traditional”
or “Somewhat traditional,” while 19% responded “Not traditional,” and only 6% said,
“On the cutting edge.”27 The survey did not separate the responses of the younger
generation from the general population, but Christian Smith’s research on teenagers has
found that “the vast majority of American adolescents are not spiritual seekers or questers
of the type often described by journalists and some scholars, but are instead mostly
oriented toward and engaged in conventional religious traditions and communities.”28 He
underscores this point in a later description of “the vast majority of American teenagers”
as “exceedingly conventional in their religious identity and practices.”29 He concludes
that his research gives no basis for the idea that teenagers need “some radically new
‘postmodern’ type of program or ministry.”30" (These were not live links, but rather footnotes).

Remember Rally Hill? Do we want to experience a "new" worship experience? Sometimes the old is the new. I'm more comfortable with the old new than the new new, if that makes any sense. Some researchers feel that we can learn from the Emergent Church, I think there is truth in that, we must, however, always be careful and avoid taking some scripture out of context and excluding other scripture. I disagree with McClaren on his effort to take the focus off of sharing the Gospel message, Jesus certainly did come to live among us to get people saved from their sins and keep them from going to hell, or being separated from God. I find his quote...:

"The church has been preoccupied with the question, "What happens to your soul after you die?" As if the reason for Jesus coming can be summed up in, "Jesus is trying to help get more souls into heaven, as opposed to hell, after they die." I just think a fair reading of the Gospels blows that out of the water."

...particularly troubling. But don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with holding church services in a warehouse, in a video arcade, sitting on couches or allowing dogs to be present at those services. After all, Jesus taught people where they were too, "there is nothing new under the sun," and I have no problem with teaching in innovative new settings, but the theology, the message of Christ must retain the truth, must continue to be "the main thing."


Angel said...

I have read quite about the Emergent Church and feel that it is all about the shoe fitting. For some, it is the Catholic church. They feel right there. They feel they need the pomp, tradition, and ritual. For others, a nice little charismatic church full of the Holy Spirit of God is the right place to be. And, for others it might be the local Babtist church on Sunday mornings. I think it is about what feels comfortable. And, if having church on a warehouse floor with the dogs, cats, and rats makes a person feel like they are home, I am all for it.

While I think McClaren can sometimes be non-specific in his answers ... I do believe it is because he doesn't want to focus on what other Christians for various groups are focussing on. For Christians, like myself, I get tired of all the conservative/progressive drivel. For some of us, it goes way beyond that and I think that is what McClaren is trying to say. Though, I could be wrong ... as I am not emergent nor have I read his books. I am just going by some of the articles I have read and various interviews.

Jacke M. said...

I think it's great to have a comfortable environment in which to worship. I just think that we need to be VERY cautious when playing around with Christian theology and what Christians should be focused on. You know, the great commission? I think it is clear that Jesus came for the sole purpose of saving our souls...I totally disagree with McClaren on that point. There is hoards of scripture I could put forth to prove that point, the entire Old Testiment is pointing toward the coming of Jesus, and why? Because he would be the SAVIOR of the world. I would have a really difficult time with his downplaying the message of the gospel in favor of other agendas. It just seems to be the wrong priority to me, that's all.

Also, if you read the indepth study on the subject written by John S. Hammett, there seems to be some people who think this "post modern" thing is on the way out, if that's the case, why reach out to a dying need in the first place? That was a really interesting research paper, if you didn't read it, I'd still recommend it.

Thanks for your comments! :)