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.
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.
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.