Pastor’s and Theologian’s Forum on the Emerging Church

To start with, let me post a great big [SNIP]
Because I’ve cut and pasted some interesting parts of
this paper.
It’s again, from
9Marks.

All of these answers are in response to this question:
What do you hope will ultimately emerge from the emerging church conversation for evangelicals? (photos from left to right)

I hope that the movement or conversation in its present form will increasingly divide between those who deeply and intelligently desire to be faithful to Scripture while learning to communicate the gospel to a younger generation, and those who, whether mischievously or ignorantly, happily domesticate and distort the Scripture because of their analysis of contemporary culture—and that the former will become among the sharpest critics of the latter.
D.A. Carson

Relatedly, the hottest theologies today are reformed and emerging. Reformed folks have a legacy of being great defenders of biblical truth, while also being less skilled at contextualizing the gospel for various cultural groups in America. The result is sometimes an irrelevant orthodoxy. Emerging folks are skilled at contextualizing the gospel but often woefully weak at contending for the timeless truths of sound doctrine. The result is sometimes a relevant heterodoxy.

My hope is that what emerges is a blessing of both teams, so that contenders for the gospel become better at evangelism, and contextualizers of the gospel walk away from some of the heretical doctrines (e.g. denial of the inerrancy of Scripture, penal substitutionary atonement, hell, and male pastors) they are considering by returning to Scripture and the legacy of faithful teachers who have guided the church in previous generations. In short, I hope for an uprising of cool Calvinists who can preach the Bible, teach the truth, fight the heretics, plant churches, evangelize the lost, comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable, and compel men to be manly.
Mark Driscol

Many of the concerns raised by emergent folks have helped the wider church to think through its preoccupation with “Boomer” values. At the same time, I hope that the criticism the movement has received will be taken to heart. The church is not a niche market or a demographic. To paraphrase the Apostle Paul, in Christ there is no Boomer or Buster, Gen Xer or Millennial. When will we get off of the movement roller coaster and patiently endure the community that Christ has established for the fellowship and growth of the saints as well as their mission to the world? Hopefully, all of us will take the church more seriously and find ways of integrating rather than segmenting the generations.
Michael Horton

At its best, the emerging church represents a valid criticism of the cold, dead, legalism that has killed so many churches. At its worst, it represents an extreme accommodation to the culture that leaves the church looking so much like the world that it no longer has a gospel to proclaim or a platform from which to do it. If evangelicals can sort out the essential, unchanging aspects of the faith from the cultural forms, then we will be better prepared for the next cultural shift that comes our way.
Mike McKinley

I want to echo a legitimate concern that emergent church leaders have voiced: a reductionistic understanding of Christianity…Finally, and most tragically, many Christians have come to believe a reductionistic gospel. One only needs to say a prayer and walk an aisle to be “saved.” The emergents are right in reminding us that a confession of faith is not the whole story. Salvation is an event, but it’s also a process (Phil 2:12-13). The gospel is the means and the motivation for every aspect of the Christian life – not just conversion. Instead of seeing the gospel as solely about justification, they remind us that it’s also about sanctification—the transformation of our minds and hearts into what he wants and intends for them to be. Our conversion is (as one emerging leader notes) the starting line of a life-long, life-giving journey.

Unfortunately, in the emerging church, these prophetic reactions sometimes swing the pendulum too far. Sanctification overshadows justification, and the glory of the cross isn’t acknowledged. The story of the scriptures overshadows the fact of the scriptures, and inerrancy and authority are lost. The joys of community overshadow the needs for polity, discipline, and worship, and the purity of the church isn’t guarded.
Daniel Montgomery

The emerging conversation has drawn attention to the need for both humility and orthodoxy. Humility is an identifier of Christianity, as many have been saying. Yet humility does not mean refusing to say something is wrong.

Unfortunately, humility has become equated with uncertainty, and it has been labeled prideful to ever draw lines or arrive at sure answers.
Brent Thomas

There are a number of things which we evangelicals as a movement have, on the whole, done rather badly. One of them is history, and a cursory glance at the key texts and figures in the emergent movement would indicate that it is no exception to this rule. So, to put it in a somewhat facetious way, I hope that evangelicals will see the poor historical analysis offered by various emergent leaders and be provoked in reaction to think in more depth about history, how our past is to be understood, how it can help to inform the present, and how it allows us to develop a critical perspective on the world in which we live.

Further, we evangelicals have not really spent enough time thinking about the church—what she is, what she should look like, and how she connects to individuals. The emergents offer, as far as I can see, some valid, if scarcely original, criticisms of evangelicalism in this area.
Carl Trueman

On the other hand, the generously orthodox aren’t so much interested in talking about revelation or inspiration. If you force them to, they’ll often—like their post-liberal fathers—wave the conversation away with something that sounds vaguely Barthian about God speaking, and the words of Scripture witnessing to what he has said.

If the first challenge to orthodoxy remains in the broad areas of revelation and inspiration, as it has been for some time, the second challenge moves us more narrowly into the area of Scripture’s clarity, or what theologians sometimes call its perspicuity. Is Scripture sufficiently clear for us admittedly fallen, finite, and embedded humans to understand what it means. The doctrine of the clarity of Scripture, which has been explicitly affirmed at least since Martin Luther, says that Scripture is sufficiently clear for instruction in the way of salvation and a life that is pleasing to God (2 Tim. 3:16), and that presumes the church in different times and places will agree on what the way of salvation is and what the life pleasing to God is.
Jonathan Leeman

3 thoughts on “Pastor’s and Theologian’s Forum on the Emerging Church

  1. I’ll preface with this: I’ll add to your question about what will emerge “within fundamentalism.” For one, I hope that fundamentalists are paying attention. I don’t think they are. The emerging church is evidence that something is happening within the larger framework of society. I was at a football game yesterday and there were people holding up huge banners just outside the stadium that told the crowd they were going to hell. It was interesting to see how people responded to them. Historically speaking, I don’t think one would have to go that far back to find a time when a tactic like that wouldn’t have been near as offensive. What I mean to say is something is happening within the psyche of American (global?) thought that needs to be on the radar of fundamentalists. Also, I hope that the movement causes us to examine our epistemological basis and solidify it. We should be very clear on how we feel about the perspicuity and authority of scripture. The very fact that emergent ideas are so appealing to so many fundamentalist young people is evidence that we can’t explicate our position on these ideas. On a side note, a stronger understanding on the exegetical basis for our ethics would work considerably to unify the church in matters of practice. Furthermore, it would remove the impediments unreasoned conservatism places in the path of evangelism and discipleship (unwitting legalistic tendencies). How about you? Others?

  2. Matt, I totally agree with your comments. I don’t know that I could state it better! As you know, I studied the emerging church for over six months. Here is a portion my paper on the subject. Hope this helps.The questions that the emerging church raises are not new. It is the age-old conversation about the relationship of church and culture. What are the nonnegotiables of Scripture and what is merely cultural? How do we evaluate culture against the backdrop of Scripture? Is culture the incarnation of religion? Is it neutral or bent toward evil? Authentic Christianity is truly distinct from this world, but what does that mean for a world is changing so fast? Has the modern, conservative church entangled itself in a Western, Modern mold, suffocating the work of the ministry? The consistent warning by both emerging followers and critics has been William Inge’s proverb, “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.” Recognizing that truth, it seems that most conservative churches instead are wedded to this Age’s older sister, Tradition. In other words, the worst possible, yet most common answer to cultural questions offered seems to be, “Stay fifty years behind society for safety.” The emerging church (nor many of Gen-X) is not willing to accept the standard answers to cultural questions. (If nothing else, I hope that the emerging church spurs on more thoughtful writing on culture and aesthetics). The emerging church is neither insincere nor unintelligent in asking these questions. What then can we learn from the emerging church? The emerging church has rightly observed that society is much different now than fifty years ago. Post-Christian America is the new mission field. Rather than playing Chicken Little, they are optimistically engaging their culture. Even though their prescription for society is wrong, their analysis of contemporary culture has much to teach. Beyond society, “emerging” insight into the modern church’s own cultural baggage is a legitimate warning. Their desire to break the typical modern cookie cutter shape for church is not implicitly wrong. One aspect of modernism that Christianity has not conquered is individualism. It seems as though postmodernism, as they see it, will catalyze communal Christianity again. The emerging church may also answer the question of what may happen when people become disenchanted with the seeker-sensitive movement. Thus, those churches desiring to be “seeker-sensitive” in order to be up-to-date are already significantly behind the times. and so on…

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