Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Emergents – Part Two

Since posting part one of this series, I have decided to somewhat alter my original plan for these posts. Other writers, bloggers, apologists, professors, researchers and theologians have done quite a thorough job of discussing the writings and theology put forward by various Emergent Church (EC) proponents including Brian McLaren, Steve Chalke, Rob Bell and others. I really do not need to revisit their work. In addition, the EC authors have done a great job documenting themselves in their own books. In fact, I am currently in the process of reading a new book by David Fitch called “The Great Giveaway,” in which he calls for “reclaiming the mission of the church.” I am also reading “emerging church.intro” by Michael Moynagh, an EC advocate and writer from the UK. I will have more detailed reviews of these books later. For now though, I want to discuss the areas where I feel the EC extremes are losing it, based on the eight points I wrote of earlier in part one. First, a couple of comments to set the stage.

When reading EC material, one is left with the impression that the church at large has been blowing it terribly for a very long time, especially in what they like to call our modern era. The idea put forward is that we are losing a whole generation that is largely incapable of understanding or responding to the Gospel message the way it has been presented for centuries. If we want to claim this generation for Christ, we will need to alter our methods (and some say message) to reach them. Reading Moynagh, he states at the outset:

“Emerging church does not parachute a set model of church onto people: it is church from below. It starts not from a preconceived notion of church, but with the desire to express church in the culture of the group involved. It is church shaped by the context, not by “This is how we have always done it.”
“Some new expressions of church cater for Christians who are disillusioned with church. But a growing number are geared toward people with no church background. They start not with an invitation, “You come to us on our terms”, but offer instead, “We’ll come to you. If you want, we’ll help you to be church a time that suits you, in a place that is convenient to you and in your style, not ours.”
[Moynagh’s book] concentrates on this second category. It argues that emerging church could give Western Christianity a fresh and vital mission thrust. Its theme is how church can release this potential. But we must remember the bigger picture. Not all fresh expressions of churches are so mission-focused. Emerging church is a broad term, with many bedfellows. Key words perhaps are: contextual, customized, diverse, flexible and experimental.”

Okay. That sets the stage nicely. The first chapter of Moynagh’s book is a laundry list of woes for the church of today i.e. how the church is ineffective, etc. It’s a common theme for the EC. Now, did you notice what I noticed in reading Moynagh’s list of key words describing the EC? One rather important word was missing from the list — the word “biblical.” In fact, you go through the entire first chapter without one verse of Scripture. Moynagh does bring Scripture into the arena later in the book. We’ll see how he applies it as time goes on. For now, what we know is that in the eyes of the EC, the church of today has a big problem. But is their suggested cure medicine or poison? And is the church (assembly) actually supposed to be doing what they say it should be doing?

The first problem I noted is one of epistemology, or the study of the nature of knowledge. How do we know what we know? This also touches on the doctrine of revelation — what is God’s revealed truth to mankind? Pontius Pilate’s question to the Lord in John 18:38 is illustrative of the idea. “What is truth?” (Isn’t it ironic that Pilate’s question was unwittingly addressed to the Author of truth Himself?) The church — on the authority of none other than Christ Himself, God Incarnate — claims it has the truth. The only way to the Father is through Jesus Christ. “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). However, when the church compromises on this question or surrenders the certainty of absolute, objective truth, it compromises the very Great Commission of Christ itself — the church’s foundational marching orders. If the church cannot be certain that its message is true, then we have no business criticizing the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, or anyone else who has a truth claim. The hallmark of postmodernism is denial of this type of truth. They say, “we can’t know for certain.” Scripture says otherwise in numerous places, including 1 John 5:13 . . . “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” It doesn’t say “think” we have eternal life, or “guess” that we have eternal life. It says, “know.”

It is one thing for the church to find itself in a “postmodern” culture where the notion of absolute, objective truth is scorned, and to look for ways to witness the truth of Christ to that culture. It is quite another thing for the church to adapt TO that culture in a misguided effort to reach it. The words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9 about “becoming all things to all men” does not for a moment mean that we are to fall into sin or unbelief to save people out of sin or unbelief. The Lord calls us to confront the world, not adapt to it. That is the clear testimony seen in the whole of Scripture. In the Lord Jesus Christ, we come to know THE truth. And that truth alone will make us free. (John 8:32).


Rob said...

I would say that your comments are very balanced. Personally, I seriously doubt that in 20 years the EC will continue to exist. But the questions they are asking are so important. Especially in regards to church growth, church as a performance, going to church vs being the church etc. Over the last 6 mos I've noticed even conservative church leaders begin to acknowledge these issues. They're probably 3 years too late, but better late then never.


SolaMeanie said...

Hi, Rob..

I never wish to be unbalanced in my comments on anything, depending on what balance means. If it means fair, yes..but if it means not coming down on one side or the other, no. When we are dealing with matters of eternal truth and God's Word, we can't sit on the fence. We must declare ourselves. If the other's point of view is wrong, I don't want to be "balanced" about it. I want to be right.

Anyway, thank you for the comment. I hope future comments that I make will be a blessing as far as they uphold God's glory and truth.