Saturday, June 02, 2007

Thoughts on the Emerging/Emergent Church

This post over at the World Magazine Blog got me thinking (and researching and writing). The premise of the post was that the Christianity Today magazine has moved from an evangelical perspective to a Emerging Church perspective. Personally I've always considered Christianity Today to be pretty liberal to the point that I would not really have called it an evangelical magazine. To see it more further in that direction would not be a surprise. But this is not the real subject of my post here.

I would like to give my take on what I've found out about the Emerging Church movement. (And yes I will call it a "movement" because that is what it is, contrary to their claims.) For this I'll use the outline of the basic characteristics from the Emerging Church entry in Wikipedia. I researched a variety of sources, but this one is as good a list as I found elsewhere. I'll not define their terms in depth, go read the article for that, but I will give my take on each aspect.
  • Postmodern worldview: The existence of the Postmodern worldview is a reality, however it is not a valid basis for defining Christian belief. Neither is Modernism or any other previous worldviews. Christianity is it's own worldview. I can see Evangelicalism as an expression of how to relate the Christian worldview to a modern world, but contrary to claims from the Emerging Church, Evangelicalism is not "based on" a Modern worldview.
  • Narrative theology: Storytelling can be a good technique for conveying the gospel message, but it is not how the gospel is defined. The gospel is defined in God's Word.
  • Generous orthodoxy: This smack of relativism and the rejection of the truth of God's Word as the definition of the gospel message. There are absolutes in the Christian faith which means it is possible to be outside them and therefore not Christian. I fear that the Emerging Church is throwing out the baby in the bath water in their rush to be relevant.
  • Postmodern Hermeneutics: Look up the term. In short it is the rejection of knowable, absolute truth. Dangerous, see above.
  • Authenticity: There is some good in this area, in learning how to apply Christ in all areas of one's life, but again it smacks of emotionalism and legalism. "I feel saved, I act saved, therefore I am saved".
  • Conversation/dialog: Again, a good technique for relating to people and sharing the gospel: It does not replace the gospel.
  • Missional living: The way one lives should reflect one's beliefs, not be the determinant of them.
  • "Fluid" ecclesiology or "deep" ecclesiology: See above, Postmoderm Hermeneutics.
  • Creative spirituality: See above, Generous Orthodoxy.
  • "Non-Legalistic" conduct: Sounds good, but is actually contradictory in practice with the definition of Authenticity above.
  • Use of new technologies: Using new technologies to share the gospel and relate with people is fine, as long as the technology does not become the object of worship.
  • Postmodern terminology: Using the terminology is fine, as long as Christian terms and more importantly Christian beliefs are not redefined as well.
  • Justice: Social justice is a good thing, but again it is not the primary purpose of the gospel. The "social gospel" path practiced by many mainline denominations has been shown to ultimately be contradictory to Christ.
The overwhelming sense I got from researching the Emerging Church movement was one of fuzziness and anti-definition. It is not clear exactly what many in the movement do believe, although there is much that they apparently do not.

The bottom line is that I think there are things to be learned from the Emerging Church movement about how to relate and share the gospel message to people with a postmodern worldview. It could become the next Evangelicalism, but the gospel message cannot be redefined in order to relate it to people and still be called "Christian." Evangelicalism did not redefine the gospel message and neither should the Emerging Church.

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