This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Defining the Emerging Church The Emerging Church is extremely fluid. Most adherents prefer to use the terms “conversation and friendships,” rather than movement. They “have said that there is no single theologian or spokesperson for the emergent conversation.” They also acknowledge that there is “neither . . . unanimity – nor even necessarily consensus – of opinion” among them. Aaron Flores writes, “There is currently no clear, distinct definition or descriptive label for the emerging church” (“An Exploration of the Emerging Church in the United States: The Missiological Intent and Potential Implications of the Future,” M.A. thesis, Vanguard University, 2005, 7). Yet, Gerald K. Webber describes the emerging church as “essentially a Generation-X happening, a reaction to the seeker-driven approach of the Baby Boomers and many who preceded them” (“The Emerging Church: Emerging from What to Where?” Baptist Bulletin Online, October 2005, p. 1). Generally, the Emerging Church appears to be Evangelicalism’s effort to move away from the thinking and methods of Modernism in order to reach those who have embraced a Postmodern world view. It is difficult to call the Emerging Church a movement because it is in a state of flux. While there are similarities between groups and leaders, their differences can vary greatly. In essence, it presents a struggle in “how to effectively do church” during a Postmodern age. While wide variety exists among emergents, their major theme appears to be a reaction to previous generations. Webber writes, “At heart the emerging church is a protest movement, deeply disillusioned with the previous three or four generations. They have a great respect for ancient forms and traditions but feel that their ‘modern’ forbears [sic] have failed them. Emergents are turned off by the traditional worship patterns of the Builder generation and by their absolutism. They reject what they describe as ‘rational’ preaching, dogmatic teaching and confrontational evangelism. They are even more appalled at the commercialism of Baby Boomers and are determined to replace ‘programs’ with ‘relationships,’ ‘excellence’ with ‘realism.’ They refer to this as the ‘rebooting of . . . church’” (p. 2). In his helpful critique of emergents, John Greening accurately describes its emphasis: “An emerging church . . . recognizes the transition in worldviews taking place in our culture.” “The transition demands that the church rethink its approach. Without recognizing the changes in worldviews, the church will increasingly close itself off to ministry influence” (“A New Trend Emerging in the Church,” Baptist Bulletin Online, October, 2005). Emergents appear to focus upon Postmodernism’s reaction to Modernism. Rick Shrader writes, “The primary tenet of the Emerging Church has been that we must a) recognize
that our culture has become postmodern and b) we must immerse our churches much more into this postmodernism if we are to reach this generation with the gospel” (“The Emerging Church, Part 2,” in Aletheia, October 2005). D.A. Carson, in his work entitled Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, also sees this movement as a protest movement against modernism. He writes, “The reforms that the movement encourages mirror the protests of the lives of many of its leaders” (p. 14). Carson believes “the fundamental issue in the move from modernism to postmodernism is epistemology—i.e., how we know things, or think we know things.” Carson summarizes the thinking of emergents when he writes, “Modernism is often pictured as pursuing truth, absolutism, linear thinking, rationalism, certainty, the cerebral as opposed to the affective—which in turn breeds arrogance, inflexibility, a lust to be right, the desire to control. Postmodernism, by contrast recognizes how much of what we ‘know’ is shaped by the culture in which we live, is controlled by emotions and aesthetics and heritage.” “Modernism tries to find unquestioned foundations on which to build the edifice of knowledge and then proceeds with methodological rigor; postmodernism denies that such foundations exists . . . and insists that we come to ‘know’ things in many ways.” “Modernism is hard-edged and, in the domain of religion, focuses on truth versus error, right belief, confessionalism; postmodernism is gentle and, in the domain of religion, focuses on relationships, love, shared tradition, integrity in discussion” (p. 27).
Understanding the Emerging Church Jimmy Long, a proponent of the emergent church writes, “We can choose the unchanging-tradition road and face cultural extinction. We can take the developmentalphase road and wake up one day to see that the culture has passed us by. We can take the generation-transition road and see that we might make a difference in people around us but have no chance of changing the culture. If we take the fortress-mentality road, we might save ourselves but will have lost any chance to save people in the world. If we take the prophetic-voice road, we might end up only critiquing the church or the world but not making any change in either church or culture. Or we can take the missional road and provide hope for people in the emerging culture” (Emerging Hope, p. 35). Like Long, many emergents are motivated by sincere desires to reach the emergent generation with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Dan Kimball, one its chief proponents, writes, “I believe with all my heart that this discussion about the fast-changing culture and the emerging church must take place. While many of us have been preparing sermons and keeping busy with the internal affairs of our churches, something alarming has been happening on the outside. What once was a Christian nation with a Judeo-Christian worldview is quickly becoming a post-Christian, unchurched, unreached nation. Tom Clegg and Warren Bird in their book Lost in America claim that the unchurched population of the United States is now the largest mission field in the English-speaking world, and the fifth largest globally. New generations are arising all around us without any Christian influence. So we must rethink virtually everything we are doing in our ministries” (The Emerging Church, pp. 13-14).
Jimmy Long provides a stimulating philosophical discussion of change in our culture. He believes “the church is at a critical juncture in regard to two major societal changes. The first societal change is the generation transition from the Baby Boom generation to Generation X and the Millennial generation.” “The second change is a cultural shift that is occurring in Western society as the prevailing culture moves from the Enlightenment/modern era to the emerging/postmodern era” (p. 21). Long writes, “In the Western world there have been four major cultural paradigm shifts (transitions) since the death of Christ. The last two transitions have not only impacted the Western world but also have influenced cultures in the Two-Thirds World. Due to increasing globalization, this emerging culture will have even more of an impact throughout the world.” “While we call these phenomena ‘paradigm shifts,’ we should probably call them ‘paradigm changes’ because instead of occurring rapidly (like the shifting of car gears), they take place over the course of years (like changes in climate). These paradigm changes have their own distinctives. The Hellenistic/Roman period was characterized by evangelistic zeal on the part of Christians. During the years of medieval paradigm, the church was in survival mode and was drawing people into the Christian community. Then the Enlightenment/modern paradigm shifted from faith in God to faith in human reasoning. In the current transition to the postmodern world, the emphasis is changing self and reason to community and feeling” (pp. 63-64). Jimmy Long contrasts four parallel traits of the Enlightenment with Postmodernism’s thinking. He also provides a helpful chart (p. 73). Enlightenment Objective truth Individual Scientific discovery Metanarrative (Societal progress) Postmodernism Subject truth (Preferences) Community Virtual reality Micronarrative (Societal cynicism)
He writes, “Instead of human reason that leads to truth, postmodernism posits multiple truths that lead only to preferences. The search to find the central theme of life or to distinguish the grand narrative has given way to multiple alternatives and competing viewpoints. Richard Rorty, a prominent postmodern thinker, defines objectivity as an agreement among everyone who is in the room at the present time. Truth is not so much found as created. What is true is what one believes to be true. The saying ‘To each his own’ could be the motto of postmodern culture.” “Deconstruction is the uncentering of modern life that leaves us with multiple possibilities and the equal validity of all interpretations. MTV is an excellent example of deconstruction. The images in any given video are constantly changing and redefining reality.” “There is no grand theme to life. We are left with fleeting images, and it is up to us to define reality as we choose” (pp. 74-75). Long is a proponent of the emerging church whose insights are quite helpful in understanding the postmodern generation.
Classifying the Emerging Church Because the proponents of the emergent emphasis have such broad views, it is difficult to understand the movement. Ed Stetzer classifies emergents into three categories. First, he terms the most theologically conservative emergents as “Relevants.” According to Stetzer, these individuals “are just trying to make their worship, music and outreach more contextual to emerging culture.” “They are simply trying to explain the message of Christ in a way their generation can understand.” Stetzer gives the second group the name “Reconstructionists.” They “think that the current form of church is frequently irrelevant and the structure is unhelpful.” They “reject certain organizational models, embracing what are often called ‘incarnational’ or ‘house’ models.” They “want to think in new ways about the forms (the construct) of church.” Stetzer gives the third group the name “Revisionists.” They “are questioning (and in some case denying) issues like the nature of the substitutionary atonement, the reality of hell, the complementarian nature of gender, and the nature of the Gospel itself.”
Leaders of the Emerging Church Rather than taking the time to describe some of the key leaders, allow me to simply list their names along with titles of their writings and web sites to search if you have greater interest. The emerging church movement is worldwide. In fact, Dan Kimball, in his work entitled Emerging Worship, sees strong parallels between the contemporary culture in England and the postmoderns of the United States. He writes, “So, in terms of church methodology and the Christian subculture, there’s a vast difference between American and British churches. And while the churches in England may seldom have embraced seeker and contemporary methodology, those who never experienced church there are similar to those [who] haven’t experienced church here yet” (p. 210). Key writers include at least the following. Some of these works have multiple authors. Dan Kimball – The Emerging Church; Emerging Worship: Creating Worship Gatherings for New Generations Brian D. McLaren – A Generous Orthodoxy; The Secret Message of Jesus; The Last Word and the Word After That; A New Kind of Christian, The Story We Find Ourselves In; Adventure in Missing Point; More Ready Than You Realize; Church on the Other Side Tony Jones – The Sacred Way; Postmodern Youth Ministry; Read, Think, Pray, Live (Think); Soul Shaper; Pray (Think) Doug Pagitt – Preaching Re-Imagined; Church Re-Imagined; Body Prayer; Reimagining Spiritual Formation
Spencer Burke – Making Sense of Church: Eavesdropping on Emerging Conversations about God, Community, and Culture Chris Seay – Faith of My Fathers; The Dust of Their Feet; Stories of Emergence; The Gospel Reloaded; To Become One; The Tao of Enron; The Gospel According to Tony Soprano; The Voice Revealed; The Gospel According to Tony Soprano Display; The Last Eye Witness Leonard Sweet – Post-Modern Pilgrims; First Century Passion for the 21st Century World; Church in the Emerging Culture; Postmodern Pilgrims; SoulTsunami; AquaChurch
Worship of the Emerging Church Leonard Sweet, in his work entitled Post-Modern Pilgrims: First Century Passion for the 21st Century World, outlines the objectives of worship in the Emerging Community (p. xvii). The acrostic EPIC delineates that worship should be experiential, participatory, image-driven, and connected. This workshop seeks to explain what is meant by the acrostic EPIC and illustrate each segment by examples which occur in emergent “gatherings.” The nature of emergent worship is fluid. It is ever developing and transitioning. There is no set format for emergent “gatherings.” Dan Kimball, in his work entitled Emerging Worship, provides helpful information to understand the thinking and practice of emergent gatherings. He writes, “There is no model of an emerging worship gathering because each one is unique to its local church context, community, people, and specific leaders of the church” (p. 73). Experiential – Emergents emphasize experience. Sweet writes, “Postmoderns don’t want their information straight. They want it laced with experience.” “The more extreme the better” (p. 33). Sweet also writes, “Total Experience is the new watchword in postmodern worship. New World preachers don’t ‘write sermons.’ They create total experiences” (p. 43). The Postmodern world believes “experience is the new currency of our culture. In the past we gained knowledge of a subject or issue and then later validated that knowledge. Today, people have an experience that is later validated by knowledge.” “This shift has implications in the way we learn, communicate and interact. For churches it impacts the design of worship, liturgy, and the shape of and content of educational ministries, the process of spiritual formation, the design of sacred space, and programming” (Online Leadership Network, Explorer no. 57, March 11, 2002). Emergents see Modern church services as boring and lacking experience. They view them as lacking the means to engage people in worship. They lack the multi-sensory aspects of worship that allow the teachings of the Scriptures to
impact people’s lives. Postmoderns react to a striving for “excellence” in the Modern church. Dan Kimball writes, “‘Excellence’ is not a core value in the emerging church. If it lacks authenticity or is too perfect and polished, ‘excellence’ can actually go against the grain of emerging church values” (p. 69). For emergents, a gathering might include the hauling in of large amounts of sand and large heaters to create a desert environment that provides an experience to underscore the difficulty of Israel’s wilderness sojourn. Participants will remove their shoes to feel the sand between their toes. Passages indicating the weariness of nomadic life would be read. Passages revealing the grumblings of the people of Israel might be read. People do not simply want to hear what God says, they want to experience it. They believe experiencing Scriptures, rather than just proclaiming it, creates authentic Christianity. They usually react to a propositional presentation of truth. They want experience. Participatory – By participatory, Postmoderns mean that two-way communication occurs. Emergents view Modern church services as one-way. Congregations tend to have little involvement. Most, if not all of the involvement, outside of congregational singing or the offering, involves the pastor, the music leader, and the band. Attendants are passive in their worship of God. Emergents desire to be active. Leonard Sweet calls the Postmodern world the “Karaoke Culture.” He believes they do not simply desire to listen to music, they want to participate in the music. Dan Kimball writes, “Many emerging worship gatherings seek to be nonlinear. They don’t want to be so pre-planned that the Spirit isn’t allowed to work in people or change things. Emerging generations have grown uncomfortable with the boxed-in feel of many contemporary worship services. Instead of a linear design of five songs, a sermon, closing song and dismissal—emerging worship moves in an organic flow.” “Organic means a weaving of many things throughout a meeting that people can participate in.” He further writes, “Being organic is not being unorganized and chaotic.” “It means thinking through creative ways for more interaction, more involvement than just a sermon and some songs” (pp. 76-77). Room layouts are usually arranged to avoid a theater feel. Designated places called “prayer stations” are established in which participants may move to throughout their “gathering.” Kimball writes, “In most emerging worship gatherings, people aren’t forced to remain stationary in their seat for the whole meeting.” “During . . . reflective worship, people are allowed to leave their seats and go to prayer stations around the room. Prayer stations are spaces created in the room for people to use to help guide them in prayer and many times have interactive elements as part of them. They usually have Scriptures written out to guide people in prayer about various things that may tie into what was taught in the sermon. During these times of contemplative musical worship, people feel the freedom to leave their seats and go kneel down or lie on their faces to pray and
communicate to God. They have freedom to leave their seats and go to community journals at prayer stations set up for people to write out prayers and thoughts. There might be places where they can paint and or artistically express worship using other materials.” “Having the freedom to move about at appropriate times during the worship gathering is a very freeing and beautiful thing in emerging worship. People are free to pray on their own, pray with others, or go to a prayer, art, or journaling stations while musical worship plays” (pp. 89-90). Image-Driven – Sweet writes, “Postmodern culture is image-driven. The modern world was word-based. Its theologians tried to create an intellectual faith, placing reason and order at the heart of religion.” “The lesson for the church is simple: images generate emotions, and people will respond to their feelings” (p. 86). Rather than emphasizing “propositions,” emergents emphasize metaphors, similes, and parables. Kimball writes, “Emerging generations are very visual. They crave a sense of mystery and wonder of God as they worship. They desire a spiritual environment for worship. That is why in most emerging church gatherings you will see crosses set up on tables or hung or propped up in various other places in the room. In many contemporary and modern churches a large simplistic cross may be displayed behind the pulpit. But emerging churches use crosses that usually look ancient. Some use Celtic crosses, and some use crosses normally seen in Orthodox churches” (p. 78). This image-driven emphasis will appear through art. Such artwork might include murals, artistic prayer stations, Bible verses written in creative ways, a variety of lighting and draperies, paintings, etc. Gatherings often begin with various ancient visual images projected on screens. These expressions seek to assist in creating a sense of religious mysticism that moves one emotionally to what some term raw or authentic Christianity. Emergent gatherings view preaching differently. They move away from a propositional approach. Leith Anderson, in his work entitled A Church for the Twenty-First Century, writes “The old paradigm taught that if you had the right teaching, you will experience God. The new paradigm says that if you experience God, you will have the right teaching” (p. 46). Emergents, as a whole, believe that most Modern churches focus too much upon the pastor or the music leader. They believe more emphasis should be placed upon the Scriptures and Christ. Connected – Sweet writes, “The web is less an information source than a social medium.” Amazon.com and eBay “are becoming the new town squares for the global village” (p. 109). This strong desire for connectivity appears to come from the disjointedness of postmodern society. Because of the breakdown of the traditional family, people need a place to belong and connect with others. Jimmy Long, a proponent of the Emerging Church, writes in his work entitled
Emerging Hope, “Essentially, aloneness is a state of the soul. We can be surrounded by people but still be alone. Aloneness can only be healed by being part of a community—ultimately the community of God. Without consciously realizing it, many young people today are adapting to their aloneness by seeking community.” “For them, community replaces the vacuum left by their family’s abandonment of them” (p. 51). “The preaching usually does not occur from an elevated stage.” “There is a plurality of people in the church involved in reading Scripture passages, sharing poems, and participating in other ways so the focus is not always on one person.” “Communicating with visuals is very much part of emerging worship gatherings. Even if there is one primary teacher in a local church, the speaking is shared as much as possible. The desire is to avoid developing a dependency upon one person in the worship gathering (or a dependency on a certain personality or style of teaching).” “The preacher is not seen as above or separate from the congregation, but among them” (pp. 90-91). There appears to be an attempt to parallel what occurred in the Jewish synagogue or early church home churches. Kimball writes, “In emerging church worship gatherings, the teaching and preaching spring from the community. Jesus is the centerpiece, not the preacher. This also applies to musical leaders and worship bands. Emerging worship is not a pop concert and the leader of musical worship needs to reflect this in his or her approach to leading. We are moving away from flashy colored lights focusing upon the band. Instead, the musical worship leader and the band are trying to disappear rather than be staring out at everyone.” “The communal reading of creeds, prayers, and Scriptures also enhance the sense of community” (pp. 91-92). Emergent worship gatherings obviously appeal to a Postmodern world. Experience plays a large role in today’s society. People’s emotions often become the guiding rule of the day. Interest in objective truth pales in importance compared to feelings about truth. In fact, what is true to one person is not necessarily true to someone else. Participation is very important. To passively sit back and be entertained is not appealing to Postmoderns. They want to actively participate. Since we live in such an iconic day, images have become a major part of society. Entire companies are known by a symbol. Symbols have meaning. They communicate powerful messages. Lastly, society desires to be connected. We live in a global world in which many people feel disconnected. Lack of family connectivity increases the need for Postmoderns to be connected. While every missionary understands the need for contextualization on the foreign field, Bible-based missionaries also realize the need for the Bible to shape a culture, rather than the culture to shape one’s understanding or presentation of the Bible. Most emergents believe that if Christians are going to reach effectively the Postmodern world they must adapt to what today’s culture desires. Bible-based believers daily face the challenge of being true to Christ’s teachings yet relevant to today’s culture.
Theological Analysis of the Emerging Church Opinions differ widely regarding the emerging church. Those supporting the emphasis believe it is the hope for reaching the postmoderns. Jimmy Long writes, “Though the gospel does not change, the world does, and the strategies that we use to reach the world must change over time. As we move into the twenty-first century, many Christians continue to minister as if they were living in the nineteenth century, convinced that they are ministering as Jesus did” (p. 80). He further writes, “I am convinced that God is preparing the people of this postmodern culture to hear God in new ways” (p. 83). Long believes that “although the culture around us may be decaying, the church, instead of being on the brink of extinction may be on the verge of a great revival” (p. 30). Others call for a more measured response. Stetzer writes, “To be in this conversation, we need to think biblically and critically. We should journey and partner with the ‘relevants,’ seeking to make the Gospel understandable in emerging culture. We can and should enter into dialogue with reconstructionists – learning, discussing and applying together what Scripture teaches about church. But, we can and must speak prophetically to revisionists that, yes, we know the current system is not impacting the culture as it should – but the change we need is more Bible, more maturity, more discernment and more missional engagement, not an abandonment of the teachings of scripture about church, theology and practice. Every group that left these basics has ended up walking away from the faith and then, in a great twist of irony, is soon seen as irrelevant to the world they tried to reach” (p. 2). Many express great concern regarding the emerging emphasis. Webber writes, “Contextualization of a message can be a valuable tool in communicating across cultures; but when the context is allowed to determine the message, no good will come of it” (p. 3). He believes “the answer to the unveiling of people’s hearts is regeneration—not an adaptation of the message to pander to a culture that denies absolutes and embraces contradiction, but the unambiguous preaching of that message in the power of God, resulting in a lifting of the veil and an expression of true faith” (p. 4). John Greening provides two helpful points of analysis. He astutely comments, “A culture-focused church will repeatedly need to redefine itself. The need for the redefinition is obvious: culture is constantly changing. That is why there is a constant turnover in churchministry approaches. According to this new church-growth book, the seeker-sensitive model that has been promoted for the last several years will not work with younger generations. The book states that the previously revered technology for worship services requiring the use of lighting, sound, PowerPoint, and video to capture the attention of the TV/computer generation is no longer desired. The newer generations are looking for a mystical experience—preferring stained glass, a darker atmosphere, candles, and icons. Platforms that had the appearance of an entertainment venue for the MTV generation are now to be designed with crosses and other symbols to promote spiritual reverence.” He ends by asking, “Did God really intend for His church to change with the frequency of styles in the fashion industry? Did He want His church to be the pawn of culture’s fickle tastes?” (p. 1).
Greening’s second point is that “A culture-driven church puts itself at risk. The emerging church emphasizes the recognition of pluralism and multiculturalism in society. In an attempt to relate to this cultural diversity, many are encouraging dialogue with different religious traditions for better understanding among groups. To make unbelievers or new believers more comfortable, they are invited to continue practicing their former religious rituals. I read of a Native American who believed the ritual of the Indian sweat house for tribal men had been a helpful way for him to connect with the Great Spirit, so he continued that practice after his ‘conversion.’” “The recognition of pluralism can even lead to evangelical churches working with non-evangelical churches. Recently I received a brochure from a large church in our area of Chicago that was hosting Purpose-Driven Life and Church Seminars. The seminars were led by a staff member of Saddleback Church, the parent church of the Purpose-Driven movement. To my dismay, the church that was hosting the seminars was a Roman Catholic Church.” He concludes his article by writing “God spent considerable time in His law warning the Children of Israel not to absorb the religious and lifestyle culture of the Canaanite nations that surrounded them. If they absorbed the local culture, disaster was sure to follow. It has always amazed me that the people of Israel could shift from allegiance to the one true God to embrace the religions of their neighbors in the space of only a generation or two. Is it possible we could witness a similar shift in the church in our generation, all in the name of cultural relevance? While we do want to be culturally aware, we must determine to always look to God’s Word as the final authority for church faith and practice, not to the world around us” (pp. 1-2). John S. Hammett, a Professor of Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Society, provides a helpful analysis of the emerging church. After attempting to define the movement, he asks the question “Must All Churches Respond to Postmodernism?” to which he provides four answers. “First, as Ed Stetzer helpfully notes, ‘the shift to postmodernism has not happened everywhere . . . . There are still large pockets in North America where people live out their lives in much the same manner as their parents before them.’ In other words, the influences of postmodern culture and thus the need for churches to adapt to postmodern culture may be limited. There still seems to be a place for traditional churches.” “Second, even in areas that are strongly affected by postmodernism, there are churches that are effectively reaching their communities who are decidedly not part of the emerging church movement.” “A third line of evidence questioning the central premise of the emerging church movement is the continuing influence of parents on the spiritual lives of their children.” Hammett quotes Christian Smith who indicates “’the vast majority of American teenagers’ as ‘exceedingly conventional in their religious identity and practices.’” “A fourth issue that questions the necessity or advisability of responding to postmodern culture is the suspicion on the part of some that the influence of postmodern culture itself is already waning.” Hammett concludes, “To insist that all churches must change their methods and message in the light of postmodern culture to reach the next generation seems simply to be an inaccurate overstatement.” He further states, “For those most deeply and profoundly affected by those changes, emerging churches may provide a helpful ministry, though I do not think there is either empirical evidence or theological reason to believe only emerging churches can reach postmodern young
people. And, ironically, the more emerging churches target the postmodern generation, the more they risk becoming what they oppose, a religious reflection of our consumer culture. The church always faces the twin dangers of cultural captivity and cultural irrelevance. The emerging church charges evangelicalism as a whole with being captive to modern culture and irrelevant to postmodern culture. These charges are not without merit. However, the emerging church itself also runs the risk of being captive to culture, only to postmodern culture” (“An Ecclesiastical Assessment of the Emerging Church Movement,” found at http://ateam.blogware.com/AnEcclesiologicalAssessment.Hammett.pdf). R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, in his critique of Brian D. McLaren’s book entitled A Generous Orthodoxy, writes “This author’s purpose is transparent and consistent. Embracing the worldview of the postmodern age, he embraces relativism at the cost of clarity in matter of truth and intends to redefine Christianity for this new age, largely in terms of an eccentric mixture of elements he would take from virtually every theological position and variant.” “McLaren effectively ransacks the Christian tradition, picking and choosing among theological options without any particular concern for consistency. He rejects the traditional understanding of doctrine as statements of biblical truth and instead presents a variant of postmodernism—effectively arguing that doctrines form a language that is meaningful to Christians, even if not objectively true. He claims to be arguing for a ‘generous third way beyond the conservative and liberal versions of Christianity so dominant in the Western world.’” Mohler concludes, “The Emergent movement represents a significant challenge to biblical Christianity. Unwilling to affirm that the Bible contains propositional truths that form the framework for Christian belief, this movement argues that we can have Christian symbolism and substance without those thorny questions of truthfulness that have so vexed the modern mind. The worldview of postmodernism—complete with an epistemology that denies the possibility of or need for propositional truth—affords the movement an opportunity to hop, skip and jump throughout the Bible and the history of Christian thought in order to take whatever pieces they want from one theology and attach them, like doctrinal post-it notes, to whatever picture they would want to draw.” “The problem with A Generous Orthodoxy, as the author must surely recognize, is that this orthodoxy bears virtually no resemblance to orthodoxy as it has been known and affirmed by the church throughout the centuries. Honest Christians know that disagreements over issues of biblical truth are inevitable. But we owe each other at least the honesty of taking a position, arguing for that position from Scripture, and facing the consequences of our theological convictions.” One of the most thorough critiques comes from D.A. Carson. Carson writes, “From these opening pages—the summaries of the stories of many of the leaders of the emerging movement, and the survey of some of their publications—one point stands out rather dramatically. To grasp it succinctly, it is worth comparing the emerging church movement with the Reformation, which was, after all, another movement that claimed it wanted to reform the church. What drove the Reformation was the conviction, among all its leaders, that the Roman Catholic Church had departed from Scriptures and had introduced theology and practices that were inimical to genuine Christian faith. In other
words, they wanted things to change, not because they perceived that new developments had taken place in the culture so that the church was called to adapt its approach to the new cultural profile, but because they perceived that new theology and practices had developed in the church that contravened Scripture, and therefore that things needed to be reformed by the Word of God. By contrast, although the emerging church movement challenges, on biblical grounds, some of the belief and practices of evangelicalism, by and large it insists it is preserving traditional confessionalism but changing the emphasis because the culture has changed, and so inevitably those who are culturally sensitive see things in a fresh perspective. In other words, at the heart of the emerging reformation lies a perception of a major change in culture.” Carson concludes his chapter by calling for three points of consideration. “First, the emerging church movement must be evaluated as to its reading of contemporary culture. Most of its pleas for reform are tightly tied to its understanding of postmodernism.” “Second, as readers will have already observed from the survey provided by this chapter, the appeals to Scripture in the emerging church literature are generally of two kinds. On the one hand, some emerging leaders claim that changing times demand that fresh questions be asked of Scripture, and then fresh answers will be heard. What was an appropriate use of Scripture under modernism is no longer an appropriate use of Scripture under postmodernism. On this gentler reading of evangelicalism’s history, traditional evangelicals are not accused of being deeply mistaken for their own times, but of being rather out of date now, not least in their handling of the Bible. On the other hand, the emerging church’s critique of modernism, and of the evangelicalism that modernism has produced, is sometimes (not always) so bitter that evangelicalism’s handling of Scripture can be mocked in stinging terms.” “Third, granted that the emerging church movement is driven by its perception of widespread cultural changes, its own proposals for the way ahead must be assessed for their biblical fidelity. In other words, we must not only try to evaluate the accuracy of the emerging church’s cultural analysis, but also the extent to which its proposals spring from, or can at least be squared with, the Scriptures. To put the matter differently: Is there at least some danger that what is being advocated is not so much a new kind of Christian in a new emerging church, but a church that is so submerging itself in the culture that it risks hopeless compromise?” He summarizes his concern by writing “If the four subsequent chapters are more critical, it is partly because my ‘take’ on contemporary culture is a bit removed from theirs, partly because the solutions I think are required are somewhat different from theirs, partly because I worry about (unwitting) drift from Scripture, and partly because this movement feels like an exercise in pendulum swinging, where the law of unintended consequences can do a lot of damage before the pendulum comes to rest” (pp. 41-44). Because of the Emerging Church’s constant evolving development, it is impossible to cover adequately all of its aspects. While it is difficult to fault believers who desire to see the unsaved come to Christ, both our beliefs and our methods must come under the authority of Christ. Culture is constantly changing. It is a challenge for God’s people to be both relevant and biblically-based. Many of the emergents’ insights into the Postmodern culture are helpful. However, their solutions appear to be short-sighted and problematic overall.