Post-Modernistic

To begin with, it would be helpful to place Emergents into their proper place in the timeline of history; the emerging church is a response by young Christians to modernism. Some sociologists have commented that we, in the late 20th century, have undergone a radical cultural shift; we call this new era Postmodernism. Young Christians who have developed during this era found that many churches were too culturally bound to modernistic values, and that those churches failed to deal with the moral, ethical and spiritual challenges of post-modernism. Therefore young post-modern Christians found little meaning in church and began to leave the church in rapid numbers. Although many denominations were concerned about this trend; they failed to truly initiate authentic change. The result was impacting to a remnant of Christians who stayed in church, thankfully; they understood the dilemma and began to develop churches which honored the traditions of their denominational history but framed it in a way that was palatable to post-moderns. As noted by one commentator on the subject. they changed their practices to relate to the new cultural situation. Emerging Christians began to challenge the modern church on issues such as: systematic theology, institutional structures,  propositional teaching methods, a perceived preoccupation with buildings, a very loose understanding of mission, the gospel and ministry.

This has not come without effect; this pursuit has produced the sort of loose dogma that many readers of this blog are either rejecting or trying to understand. However, it must be noted that in every movement there have been those who pushed the boundaries of dogma, but that does not mean that these individuals within any movement who exist on the fringe represent the whole of the movement; they are simply part of the overarching cultural ideology. In fact, the majority of these young post-modern Christians are very balanced and have re-instituted a commitment toward traditional doctrinal values such as justification and sanctification. One key figure in this trend is Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle WA, who began a movement he calls The Resurgence. This movement freely embraces a relaxed Calvinism, evangelical dogma and a balanced pentecostal experience.

Many within the Emerging movement are extremely committed to gospel living. They passionately embrace a missiology that is domestic and global. Both which compel them toward and incredibly committed authentic community. They are Bible centric, gospel believing and community centric; rest assured, we are in good hands.

Emergent: Post-Christendom mission and evangelism

A recent google article emphasized the Post-Christiandom Mission and Evangelism posture of the Emergent Church. I thought I would steal that topic for my third posting.

In a recent presentation given at our School campus, Dr. Dan Lockwood of Multnomah University listed several challenges to Christian Education in America; these included: Relativism, Scientism and loss of influence. Each of these are poignant but one specifically adresses this particular Emergent Value. Late in the 1980s something dreadful happened, the world changed and Christianity quickly lost its influence and the Church was baptized into an ethos of hostility.

The moral collapse of several major Christian leaders along with the dwindling potency of the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition and Promise Keepers contributed to this phenomena. The words of comedian Rodney Dangerfield seem apropos; “we just can’t get no respect.”

This has made classical mission and evangelism models obsolete. Stuart Murray in his book “Post Christendom: Church and Mission in a Strangle Land” ((Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2004) P. 83-88.) presents the heart of the problem; our Christian nation was maintained by ensuring a close relationship of power between the Church and the government.

Think of how this has changed; although there is great controversy regarding its factuality, our current President, Barrak Obama, is not a conventional Christian and at the time of this writing, the greatest Christian political hero, Glen Beck, is a mormon. The world has changed.

Murray goes on to state that there are several destructive issues related to the previous relationship between the Church and government including mis-justice; marginalization of women and the poor, warfare, and an inappropriate adulation of the rich and powerful.

The emerging church seeks a post-Christendom approach to being church and mission. They choose to utilize humility and respect in presenting their message. They also desire to move the Church from the center of attention to the margins relinquishing their privileged status in our society, for a more collegiate voice, one among many; they also have less of a desire for control. Seeking a realization of what theologians describe as a Incarnational and Redemptive theology, they desire to be reaching from among, rather than rescue from above.

This is also rooted in Christian History. Until the fourth-century (Constantine) Christians didn’t consider involvement in politics. That continued as late as the nineteenth–century with Luther’s ideas on Pietism, where Christians questioned their involvement, specifically their need to be involved in politics. The New Testament is strangely quiet about politic. The only mention advises Christians to obey the laws of the land to pray for its leaders, and as James Smith states in his book,  “The Myth of a Christian Nation” we learn to avoid being judges of non-Christians (I Cor 5:12-13, I Pet 4:17, cf. Mt. 7:1-5).

For the Emergents, they question two profound points; which Kingdom do they invest in, this one or God’s coming Kingdom and what is true power, Political or Spiritual?

We cannot say that their beliefs are without merit nor un–Christian. In summary, I find that this value is closer related to the posture of the early church than they are given credit.

Emergent: Trinitarian Based Values

Recently, I was talking on the phone to a colleague who has been a valuable mentor to me. I told him that I was reading a new book entitled “Renewal of Trinitarian Theology”; after an uncomfortable pause he replied “when did Trinitarian Theology have to be renewed”. From his perspective, the entire history of the Christian Church has been Trinitarian. I use that conversation as a launching pad into this segment on the Emergent Church and it also provides reinforcement to the premise that Emergent Theology is predominantly Christian.

The church has always supported Trinitarian theology. Modern attempts at explaining the Trinity and the radical increase of individualism in America have caused the need to clarify Trinitarianism. You’ve heard it; “God is like water, steam and ice,” or “God is like an egg; the shell, the white and the yoke.” These represent our standard standby analogies each (the egg and water), lead to a form of modalism, which is a heretical belief that denies the distinctiveness of the three divine persons in the Trinity. There is nothing in this universe that compares with the triune God; God is like God, He exists in Trinity. The Emergent movement strongly emphasizes the Trinity and strives to integrate and to create Trinitarian based, or for that matter, Perichoretic based models for worship, mission, growth, ontology and ecclesiology.

In a recent book, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Communities in Postmodern Cultures, Eddie Gibbs and Ray Bolger ((London: SPCK, 2006), p.44-45) attempted to identify some core values of the emerging church by interviewing leaders within the movement. These values include strong desires for an authentic Christlikeness. They also fiercely engage secular culture as transformative agents; they contextualize the gospel as engagement. This also includes an emphasis on community; communal life and voracious hospitality. This is reaffirmed by Ian Mobsby in his books, The Becoming of G-d ((Oxford: YTC Press, 2008),P. 65-82) and Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church, (London:Moot Community Publishing, 2007) suggests Trinitarian Ecclesiology is the basis of these shared international values. Ian Mobsby also suggests that the Emerging Church is oriented around a Contextual Theology that draws upon this Trinitarian idealism including: Mystical Communion and Sacramental models of Church and the Synthetic and Transcendent models of Contextual Theology (Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church, (London: Moot Community Publishing, 2007),54-60, 28-29).
A recent article quoting Ian Mobsby, stated the Emerging Church has reacted to the missional needs of postmodern culture and re-acquired a Trinitarian basis to its understanding of Church as Worship, Mission and Community.
Agree or disagree with their conclusions, this much is clear, we could all use a fresh re-examination of what it means to be Trinitarian. At least we could begin to analyze our current Christian paradigms in order to gain assurance that our practice is in harmony with these beliefs. We could begin by asking ourselves, how are terms like: interdependance, community–centric, common–union finding realization in our current ministries?I will write later about the influence of Trinitarianism on this movement.

Emergent

A few weeks ago, an associate called me and asked my opinion regarding the emergent movement. He saw a post of mine on a theological discussion board and desired clarity on the foundational beliefs.

To begin, a story: A man once encountered me on the street. He then asked me my name; I told him my name was John. He thought about my response for a moment and then replied, “no, that’s not right.”

This story contextualizes the dilema of those within the Emergent movement; there are too many assumptions being imposed upon the Emergents and with the strong and growing opposition to the Emergents among Evangelicals, they may not be getting an even break. There are so many un-substantiated innuendos that,regrettably, the opposition may be be wrong. Having a clear, informed understanding the movement is challenging because there are many facets to the Emergent movement and many theological streams; no single voice can speak authoritatively for the whole movement, though several persons have tried. This is further complicated by the radical social changes in America and the angst Churches are experiencing as they attempt to adjust. Amidst the tulmultuous flurry of social and spiritual change Pastors, Scholars and Leaders are trying to ascertain the core values of the Emergent movement and for that matter, they are also trying to validate and understand their own faith practices.

One place to begin can be found in a brief reminder of history; at one time Christians were persecuted because misunderstandings regarding their faith practices. As an example, early Christians were accused of cannibalism, to be precise eating children. There were rumors among the some in the Roman culture that Christians were eating the flesh of the child of God; this is what was people thought we meant by taking communion. Emergents may be suffering similar assumptions. I still remember m y mother warning of making assumptions; it brings calamity to everyone involved.

Another step might be to purposefully dispel rumors and suspicion by asking questions. To draw upon the analogy I used in the aforementioned story of the man asking my name, we must also believe what is being stated by those within the movement, especially when they are responding to a belief or practice of Emergent churches.

Contrary to popular belief, suspicion is not a gift of the Spirit. This is why the church would do well to adhere to biblical advice, “do not receive an accusation against a brother…” (1 Tim 5:19). We are not to receive, to consider or to even entertain rumors unless there is due cause. It is easy to pick up on a expression loosely given in an ill–thought moment and then build a case against something that does not characterize the beliefs of the whole movement.

I hope to lay out a case for what I have come to understand about the movement. In my many years of being around the movement and in my travels to many Emergent churches around the country; I can assure you, as a solid committed evangelical, that we have many good brothers in the Emergent movement.