I’ve been involved in discussions, research, thinking about the Emergent Church. I even wrote a paper that was partially on it. I’m not Emergent but I am sympathetic to what many of them want to do. They are trying to engage post-modern people. The typical Evangelical church is not particularly good at this. The cultural differences are just too much for post-moderns. Anyway, here’s how I summarized it in my paper:

Attempting to summarize the Emergent Church can be compared to thumbtacking Jell-O to the wall. As the name implies, it is a movement that is still in process, it is still emerging. Furthermore, one of the movement’s key characteristics causes it to be difficult to define: the Emergent Church is missional. It is my opinion that to understand the Emergent Church, one must understand what it means to be missional. The way ‘missional’ is used in the Emergent Church, the term means doing cross-cultural missions within the Western culture. Tim Keller (PDF) explains ‘missional’ this way:

The British missionary Lesslie Newbigin went to India around 1950. There he was involved with a church living ‘in mission’ in a very non-Christian culture. When he returned to England some 30 years later, he discovered that now the Western church too existed in a non-Christian society, but it had not adapted to its new situation… Some churches certainly did ‘evangelism’ as one ministry among many. But the church in the West had not become completely ‘missional’? adapting and reformulating absolutely everything it did in worship, discipleship, community, and service–so as to be engaged with the non-Christian society around it. It had not developed a ‘missiology of western culture’ the way it had done so for other non-believing cultures.

Generally speaking, the Emergent Church sees itself as the witness to the emerging, post-modern culture in the West. As we get over the (false) scientific surety of modernism, things are changing. The Emergent Church, then, is an attempt to be the Church of that emerging culture. To say that it is a ministry to “post-moderns” would be a gross oversimplification. The difference in approach would be comparable to a church establishing a Chinese ministry by adding a Chinese language service on Sunday morning and what Hudson Taylor did in China. While the church may have a Chinese ministry, Hudson Taylor’s work was to be the Chinese church.

As the Emergent Church reads Western culture, they try to speak with, not to or at, post-modernism. Therefore, the movement embraces eclecticism, intentionally stretching its arms around a wide variety of different thoughts and moods in Christianity. Some Emergent churches include ancient liturgies such as the Stations of the Cross but re-imagine them via modern art and poetry. The goal is to portray truth and beauty in other ways than just propositional

I’ll be doing more observing and commenting on the Emergent Church in my blog. Again, I’m not completely in to it but I do admire some of what it is trying to do.

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  • Tim,
    The first time I ever heard the term “Emergent Church” was three months ago–from Lisa. Here’s what I don’t get: Why do we think that it’s an easy thing to jump into theological “bed” with East-Coast lesbian Episcopalians and right wing hawks without being impregnated by them? The Emergent Church seems to talk big–as though fulfilling Christ’s prayer is easy stuff: “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one…” (John 17:15)

    God has me home right now raising up four soldiers for His kingdom. We spend a LOT of time reading and memorizing scripture, learning hymns, and dissecting the world’s arguments. Obviously I don’t get out much. Yet sometimes I’m incredibly grateful for this opportunity to have my “head in the sand” because when I hear rationalization and worldly philosophies disguised as Christian charity, it is incredibly jarring in a way that it was not when I was in college and the workplace.

    I’m not arguing that we should disengage from the world–only arguing that we ought to be prepared soldiers with our eyes wide open, equipped with the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God (and ready to slice right through) before we engage. And that when we engage, we know the Enemy as the Enemy–and not pretend that we can all be friends in some cosmic “conversation.” The Emergent Church lingo I encountered only just today. It sounds incredibly inclusive and I can only see them bristling at David’s words in Psalm 139: “I hate them O Lord with a perfect hatred. I count them my enemies” Psalm 139.

    When soldiers are trained for battle, they first learn the weapons and techniques of the Enemy. But the Emergent Church doesn’t appear to be studying to destroy falsehood. They’re studying to see what “truth” they can include. Though as Christian soldiers our ultimate goal is to save souls, it seems that we must do so by trusting first in the Lord–not in ministry techniques, gimmicks, or inclusive programs and conversations. How can we present the rock-solid defense “against which the gates of Hades will not prevail,” (Matthew 16:18) if we’re out there waving the white flag?

    Correct me if I’m wrong in my first “take”: The Emergent Church has Compromise written all over it–but it hides under the guise of Cultural Relevance.

    I hope you don’t feel that I’m accusing you of such fallacies and compromises. I’m simply horrified at the terms I’m hearing batted around by this EC movement. My ears and eyes are more sensitive to the horrors of the postmodern world. It’s hard for me to embrace it as I’m being told I should.

  • Hi Cara!! Good to hear from you again. Hope you come back to this post.

    The issue is complex. There are portions of the Emergent Church movement who have compromised considerably. Brain McLaren seeks to be so relevant to the PoMo culture that he has sacrificed the very messages that he needs to bring to them. It is capitulation in my opinion.

    Someone has tried to define two trends in the EC, one is Emerging and the other is Emergent. I don’t think the terms are helpful but the distinction is. If you look at Mark Driscoll and what he is doing, you might call it Emergent. He is ministering to PoMos in Seattle. Rocky ground. When I first listened to a podcast of his sermons I was half expecting a bunch of caving in and wishy-washy talk. Instead I heard him tell people that they were out partying last night, doing drugs and sleeping around and that they were going to go to hell if they didn’t come to Jesus and get right with him.

    On the other end of the spectrum is McLaren who won’t deny hell and substitutionary atonement, but he speaks poorly of the ideas and refuses to affirm them. Cute, but then the congregation goes on believing what they want and the word never confronts them. Tragic. You’ve now gained an audience with PoMos and at the same time squandered the chance to pronounce the truth to them.

    So it is a mixed bag, to be sure. I think the “good” ones are beginning to call themselves missional churches and not Emergent. I’ve heard both Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll dismiss the term “Emergent” so there may be a separation coming.

    Why be missional or Emergent at all (and I mean that only in the best sense of those terms)? Well, compare it to doing missions in a foreign country. If we come in speaking only English and observing only our customs we place a HUGE and completely unnecessary barrier to the gospel for those people. If they can’t get over the fact that we’re being so disrespectful to their homes by wearing shoes beyond the front door and showing such discourtesy by turning down their tea and never offering out own, we are only impeding the progress of the Kingdom for stupid reasons. We have to be culturally sensitive to those we bring the gospel to. Not compromising the gospel but incarnating it into their context, confronting the sins and idols of the culture and preaching Christ to them.

    There is a rift in America, the West really, between the culture of our churches and the Post Modern culture of our home countries. We’re speaking different languages, expecting different things. We can’t come and preach the Four Spiritual Laws (even a theologically corrected version) because they don’t have a concept of truth, God and sin to begin with. The old techniques won’t convey the gospel to them. We need to start in a different place and put the accent on a different syllable of the gospel, not changing its content but simply stressing a different aspect of it. Whereas the culture a generation ago had an awareness of sin and therefore stressing sin and forgiveness reached them, today’s culture doesn’t have those same awareness. They need to be aware of them, but the part of the gospel that might resonate with them better is the aspect of community. To get to the Christian community you need to be a Christian which means facing and dealing with sin. So don’t leave anything out, but stress a different part.

    Having said that, I don’t think that every non-Christian is our enemy and I don’t think you’re saying that either. Culture is not our enemy. God created culture and language, not as part of the curse but as a perservative in the world (Gen 11:7-9). There are non-Christians who are our enemies and there are parts of cultures which our enemy, Satan, uses to great effect. But we have to make sure we draw the right battle lines. And besides, Jesus said to love our enemies, to cloth them, to feed them and thereby heap burning coals upon them.

    Keep reading and studying this stuff but don’t just look at the critics. Check out Mark Driscoll and Tim Keller. John Piper’s Desiring God 2006 conference is going to be on post-modernism and those two are speaking as well as others. I think Brian McLaren is seriously compromised and I have named Tony Campolo (a voice in Emergent circles) a heretic. There are good and bad in the large group called ‘Emergent’.

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