Thursday, October 9, 2008

Are aspects of the Emerging Church compatable with Christian faith?

I changed the heading of this post following some detailed and interesting comments below, to better describe the topic of the comments received. Please read comments below.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking the time to engage this important issue which is so divisive in the church today.

I appreciate anyone who takes the time to address these issues with sincerity.

However, I do feel that your blog is very misleading and in some ways counter productive. Let me explain why:

In this debate it is crucial that one distinguishes between the "emerging church movement" and the "emergent church".

There are many conservative, evangelicals, like myself, who would see ourselves as part of the emerging church. Why, becuase central to this movement is a effort to return to the Biblical mandate of the church: From seeing the church simply as an institution, meeting or gathering for the sake of itself to a position where there church is seen as a gathering of those who are on a mission to the world.

Becoming more missional in our thinking and our living and our churching and everything is a part of the ideology of the emerging movement which I endorse and promote! And to throw the baby out with the bath water, well, you get the picture.

Then there is the "emergent church" of whom Brian McLaren is one of the foremost advocates. Now the emergent church holds to many of the same ideals as the emerging church but is liberal in its understanding of scripture whilst most who associate with the emerging church are conservative.

A good book to read is Mark Driscoll's "Confessions of a reformission Rev."
In it he (who has been in the think of all things emerging for years now) outlines very clearly the differences between the two movements.

So please don't make the mistake of addressing this issue by lumping the emerging and emergent people in the same camp, that is a harsh and flawed simplification of the situation.


ChristianView said...

Dear Martyn

* I respect the fact that there are many conservative evangelicals who, like yourself, have become involved in the Emerging Church movement because of certain positive things it promotes - I would still argue that this is not a safe place for conservative evangelical and it would be better to promote the positive things via some other movement or institution. The emphasis on 'missional living', for example is not something that I criticise - on the contrary, I believe it is just a new word for something that almost all communities of Christianity have aspired to through the ages. Similarly, the modernist-liberal movement of the 1930s majored on social good works which were commendable and liberation theology fought hard against apartheid. All noble ideals and works, but I would suggest they could be better persued by supporting conservative Christian organisations pursuing the same goals.

* I note a drift of many who get involved with the emerging church movement to progressively start to question more and more points of orthodox faith and practice and their willingness to tolerate others who promote heresy and sin.

* Mark Driscoll is exceptional in that he has distanced himself from some other emerging church leaders "In the mid-1990s I was part of what is now known as the Emerging Church and spent some time traveling the country to speak on the emerging church in the emerging culture on a team put together by Leadership Network called the Young Leader Network. But, I eventually had to distance myself from the Emergent stream of the network because friends like Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt began pushing a theological agenda that greatly troubled me. Examples include referring to God as a chick, questioning God's sovereignty over and knowledge of the future, denial of the substitutionary atonement at the cross, a low view of Scripture, and denial of hell which is one hell of a mistake." I think such distancing from theological liberals is commendable and I would encourage others who identify themselves with the Emerging Church movement to do the same.

* There are many writers in the Emerging Church movement and I unfortunately don't have time to investigate all of them. There is a continuum of theological positions, from some who are still within evangelicalism to others such as Graeme Codrington who have left it (see link in previous post which he left to his article promoting acceptance of 'monogamous homosexuality').

* Even for those still formally within evangelicalism, the basic assumption of the emerging church of attempting to accomodate postmodernism, I believe leads towards error, weakness and compromise on absolutes.

* In terms of the definitions of the words 'emerging' and 'emergent', those within the movement differ in the meanings they give to the words. As I understand it, 'emerging' refers to the movement as a whole. 'Emergent' tends strictly to refer to those affiliated with the 'Emergent village' network. Most seem to use it interchangably with 'emerging', while others use it to refer to the more liberal wing of the movement. Maybe the passage of time will settle down the meaning of the terminology.

Philip Rosenthal

Anonymous said...

If you agree that Mark Driscoll is "exceptional" then lets be exceptional with him! Mark has not distanced himself from the emerging movement, he still sees himself as part of it, he has however distanced himself from the emergent church.

Many emerging pastors are not trying to accommodate postmodernism, they are trying to minister to people with a postmodern mindset. One key way of doing that is by returning to a biblical theology as our basis for bible teaching. By doing this we are able to teach biblical truths from the narrative becuase God has chosen to reveal himself through narrative and not so much through systematic statements. this approach lends itself to a postmodern mind. And by doing this one does not water down the Biblical truth instead the beauty of that truth is so much more vivid when seen in the context of story. Again its all about being missional: bringing the gospel to people who have not heard (and there are millions of them in our own country alone). Many people might have heard about the church or about Jesus but they have not yet heard the good news of forgiveness of sins for all who believe and repent.

We need to be mature in our discussions around this issue, emotionalism does not help us. We need to take what is good and discard what is not. But simply rejecting the entire movement is easy, but very divisive.

In terms of the terms: I think it is fair to say that every conservative evangelical should distance themselves from the Emergent side, but there is still great value in the emerging move. Let's just be more specific when we use these terms.

ChristianView said...

Dear Martyn

Postmodernism is essentially a new culture based on that philosophy. Every culture, such as also traditional African culture has some elements which are compatable with the scriptures and some that are not. I have no objection to the idea of 'being missional' - nor to the use of narrative stories as an approach to Bible teaching - in fact the Bible itself mostly uses that approach rather than the systematic teaching approach. These are aspects of postmodernism which I believe are perfectly compatable with biblical Christianity.

If everyone else shared your terminological distinction between 'emerging' and 'emergent', I would use it too - but I don't find the distinction all that clear in the literature.

I think a major distinction is between those who:
i. Are trying to reach postmoderns with the gospel and keeping their accomodation within biblical boundaries.
ii. Are reinterpreting the Bible through a postmodern lens (e.g. McLaren, Codrington, Chalke, Bell etc).

I have drawn the above distinctions elsewhere on this blog but repeat them here.

Nevertheless, if you as a pastor are being faithful to the Bible, I would argue the need to also teach your flock where postmodernism does diverge from the scriptures - because that is where thousands of Christian youth are going off track and following the world. E.g. the Biblical concepts of absolutes in morality, objective truth, non-negotiable doctrines, the clarity of scripture, the sovereignty of God over everything including the state and non-Christians; sin, our right to be intolerant of sin; the wrath of God - Themes the Emergent church seems to avoid.


Having followed the "conversation" for 4 years there is still considerable confusion as to what "Emergent" and "Emerging" really are and how they differ. Read the various camps and groups and individual bloggers and you will find hardship in separating the terms. Most emergent/emerging types are not going to draw the distinctive as readily as Martyn has tried.

Though it does seem that some are now doing so it is a feint one in many aspects. The idea that we should be happy just because "Emergence is happening" is a dangerous one and seems somewhat Darwinian to me.

I agree with Philip that Missional is not a magic word or panancea. Neither is it the domain of "Emergent" or "emerging". The church has been missional for 2000 years.

It does seem now that people are trying hard to draw distinctions between each other in all of this. One of the latest is:

Read the COMMENTS underneath the article to get a sense of the angst that is out there regarding this.

I shudder to think that any pastor/church of any significant size, and coming from an Evangelical/Pentecostal/Baptist tradition would start labelling themselves as emerging/emergent so early in the "conversation" without drawing attention to the much confusion and debate that exists out there just what emerging/emergent REALLY is in contrast to orthodox reformed Faith.