As some of you may know, I have been been reading a lot for school and my own personal learning, and some of the stuff I have been reading has a lot of emergent/emerging church language in it. This may be in part due to my exposure to people that either support, or are in the movement… as a result… I have been exploring a lot of the arguments on both sides… not because I completely agree with what is being said (I do not), but because I feel as though Christians today can learn a lot about the need for mission and incarnational living from the movement. Often in reading, I have found a lot of great sociological analysis and even great points about the lack of mission and love towards others, which seems to have become prevalent in the upbringing of many Christians. It is in this element that many younger generation Christians are starting to feel a disconnect with the conservative/inward focused/program driven/older Christian views… but I urge a careful consideration of what is happening.
Recently I have read many books that have really hit home on some of these points… such as Alan Hirsh’s “Forgotten Ways”, Reggie McNeal’s “The Present Future: 6 Tough Questions for the Church”, “Justice in the Burbs: Being the Hands of Jesus where you live”, and Brian McLaren’s “A New Kind of Christian”… but it was in reading these books that I have often struggled because I feel as though it was pushing in many ways good aspects of loving others and social justice/outreach… but sometimes it was in their very arguments that I find/found that they were lumping large portions of thought and Christian thinking into certain explanations… such as Modernism vs. Post-Modernism thinking… the argument of absolute statements… and as we find many of our own old-school situations at church being quite inward focussed and failing at missional living, I am greatly concerned that in the desire to bring Jesus to the “fringes” … that the emerging church movement is more reactionary like a pendulum swinging from one extreme of inwardness to one of outwardness. In our very desire to love the “fringe” and socially outcast, are we compromising our doctrine and unwillingness to stand by our faith and the absolute truths?
This leads to the thought and issue that actually has been around for awhile… which is Christians engaging/living with culture… Christ & culture (Niebuhr’s Christ & Culture, and Carson’s newer take on it as well)…and worldviews (Chuck Colson’s How Now Shall We Live) and thinking… and how Christians find a balance of sharing about Jesus and the Gospel with also their need for engaging into culture. In my experiences, I have found that often people react from one extreme to another. And this is dangerous. I feel as though I am still processing much information, but I believe that either extreme is dangerous and that there is truth in what I am seeing, but also a need to stay with the absolute truths of the Gospel.
It is in these thoughts that I have been lead to two books that I am currently reading: D.A. Carson’s “Being Conversant with the Emergent Church” and “Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be)” by Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck. I have to confess that Carson’s book is somewhat dry, and has some harsher language, but overall, these books seem to point out a lot of things that I found caught my heart and brought agreement to the concerns I had about what I was reading previously. They address a lot of the arguments being made, and this has brought me great joy. You see, it is in this reading that I found a lack of God/Jesus Christ/Spirit being referenced… with all these processes and these analyses, to me, there seemed to be a lack of space for God to do amazing and crazy things then… if it is all thought out… and it all works, then where’s the need for God? This is what really bothers me, and I feel as though the arguments are definitely oriented more for urban settings. Though this may not be relevant to you, that is in more conservative and suburban places… I feel as though this is where ministry is starting to move towards… (but that can be for another blog post)…
I challenge everyone that is in thoughts of these matters to consider reading books on both sides and prayerfully considering what is going on. The emerging ministry/emergent church stuff is quite “liberal”, and yet it has some truth in it…though we should love others and that should be our hearts to go out and do mission… not doing church… but being church… it has to be for a core purpose… it has to be for Jesus Christ… and there needs to be the Good News/Gospel being shared… otherwise… it is no different from any body else just going and loving others as well. What is different is that the Good News is powered by the Spirit and can do amazing things and save people.
So here’s a quote … somewhat shortened quote from “Why We’re Not Emergent (by two guys who should be)” by Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck, pages 127-128:
“When people find out I’m writing on the emerging church, they often ask me, ‘Where is this going to end up?’ I’m neither the prophet nor the son of a prophet, so I can’t say. I doubt it will drop off the radar screen, though I could be mistaken. I hope the movement corrects itself, because there are voices within the conversation that are theologically orthodox and ruly want to reform the evangelical church from some of its reductionistic, seeker-driven, arrogant, tradition-shunning errors. My fear, however, is that the movement will pick up steam and chug along in an increasingly biblically ill-informed, doctrine-less direction. There are a lots of good intentions and plenty of whimsically stated paradoxes, but is there a message with doctrinal content that forms the center of the movement?…
Young people will give their lives for an exclamation point, but they will not give their lives for a question mark, not for very long anyway. Once the protest runs out and the emerging church has its own blogdom, and conferences, and church networks, and book deals, there will be no exclamation point, and all that’s left will be ethical intentions and passionate apeals for kingdom living. This will not sustain a movement – the protest will for a while, but once that’s gone there will be no great vision of God, no urgent proclamation of salvation, no eternal judgment or reward at stake, just a call to live rightly and love one another. That message will sell on Oprah, Larry King, and at the Oscars, but it won’t sustain and propel a gospel-driven church, because it isn’t the gospel. Art, community, creativity, the environment, and a living wage are all nice things to be ‘for,’ just like family values, partriotism, school vouchers, faith-based initiatives, and a strong military, but isn’t the church of Jesus Christ supposed to be mainly about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the death and resurrection of Jesus, His atonement for our sins, the promise of eternal life, and the threat of coming judgment? In the rush to welcome people in we mustn’t forget what ‘in’ means.”