Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Am I Emerging?

I read a lot about the emerging chuch and I usually find myself asking the same questions they are asking. But am I emerging? It depends on the definition. James McDonald explains why he is not emerging. I'm going to take his main points and work from them. If you want his details, and you probably will, follow the link above.

Because observing the bad is not a credential for guiding us to the good

I think I moved by this a while back. I've been talking about what we need to do rather than what I don't like for a while. Actually, it slips my mind that we are different in a lot of ways. It isn't where I dwell. I'll give some ideas of where we are going as I respond to some more statements.

Because God is looking for obedience to revealed truth, not just sincerity

He is saying the leaders of the emerging church are really, really nice, but it isn't a replacement for truth. I really don't think I'm all that nice. In fact, I don't think I would label as many as he labeled all that nice. He calls sincerity a true love of Jesus. I have that, but I think is just kind of an odd critique. Sincerity isn't the opposite of obedience.

He gives some examples.

Cavalier questioning of the explicit statements of Scripture regarding the necessity of the new birth, the priority of biblical proclamation or the binding authority and sufficiency of Scripture cannot build a stronger, more Christ- honoring church no matter how sincere the messengers. Critiquing the church is good, disregarding or diminishing the revealed truth of our Founder is not good, no matter how ‘nice’ the people are who do it.

I've not heard anybody question new birth. The priority of Biblical proclamation is still a priority and in all of the churches of the people he named, they typically spend 45 minutes to an hour preaching. Questioning the authority of Scripture isn't done cavilier. It is done with the utmost respect. I'm questioning the Bible for one reason. THe people I talk to about Christ question the Bible and I can't answer their questions. Simply telling them, "Believe it or die," doesn't do much for me. I'm not cavalier because I'm certain that my questions will find answers with exactly the truth, and even then we will be immersed in much mystery.

Because Christ’s is a kingdom of substance, not style

We don't have much style. And I would say the style changes are typically more ancient and original (except for the contemporary music). It makes me wonder who is bothered more by the style changes.

Because the answer is Jesus, not cultural analysis

I'll get to the Jesus part in a minute. There is for a fact a trend among later generations to not go to church. It isn't one of those trends where they will go when they have children. That used to be true. But culture has changed, and you wouldn't go into some African jungle and say we don't care about cultural analysis. The modern church has been doing cultural analysis for years, they just don't get Gen X so now it doesn't seem as useful.

Because Jesus is the purpose for the party, not the surprise hiding in the closet of respectability

He says emergers don't talk about Jesus as much as they talk about God. Maybe, but for me, everything is Jesus and leaving your life behind and following him. I think part of the problem for the traditional church is they believe the same thing but the path of leaving everything behind doesn't seem very clear. (That probably isn't self-explanatory, but I don't have to go into it.) Needless to say, Jesus is the party. Truth is not the party. Righteousness is not the party. Jesus is the party. Truth and Righteousness are party favors.

He finishes with this:

What I am doing is hoping, praying and spending myself, along with many others, for “revival in the church in America in our lifetime.” The problems in the western church are extreme: legalism or license, dead orthodoxy or compromised consumerism, professional entertainers with pop psychology or angry disregard for the sinful world Jesus weeps for. The western church in our lifetime has become an awful mess, but Jesus is not giving up on her and neither should we. Now hear this: the answer we desperately need is a fresh move of God.

Why is the emerging church not part of the western church? Of course it is. Why is McDonald separating it out? I'm not separating him out. We have worked with several traditional churches. We are part of a traditional denomination. I'm in leadership with that denomination. Maybe I'm not emerging. But I suspect I am. I just don't agree with this definition.

What would be a good definition? McLaren talks about the emergence of the Kingdom of God. Let me take an off the cuff shot here at some ideas. (This isn't my permanent definition. This is off the top of my head.)

1. It is completely about Jesus. He lives, He leads, He loves the unlovable. And if we want to be in his presence, we can't just kneel in church, we have to go where he is working, which is with the down and out.

2. You have to be careful with the Bible. The Bible is a story of the journey of God's people. They weren't holy, holy people. My life is much less sinful than most of theirs. That isn't the point. The point is the journey, not the static truth. That isn't to say that there isn't right and wrong. It is to say that I'm more worried about which direction you are headed than I am about a person having a certain level of truth. I have not arrived and the Bible tells me about others who have not arrived and how they journeyed on (or many times, how they did not journey on. How real is that?) Mark Twain said, "It isn't the parts of the Bible that I don't understand that bother me. It is the one's I do understand." The truth part isn't the problem. It is the living out that is a problem and it can't be done (in my opinion) with tips and tricks.

3. We need to focus more on the "real needs" rather than the felt needs. You have to be involved in ministry, real ministry that accomplish real things in people's lives. There is nothing wrong with a puppet ministry, but it isn't equal to feeding hungry people or giving them a safe place to live. Matthew 25 (getting to go to heaven because you helped someone in need) is equal in my mind with John 3:16. I hold them together.

4. I have hope for the world. I am not convinced that the world will get worse and worse and then Jesus will come back at the point we can't take it any longer. I believe the Gospel transforms people but also institutions and cultures.

5. How we do church should be an authentic expression of who we are. The early church changed a lot depending on (dare I say) culture. The great hymns were once (dare I say) contemporary music. Still we should hold on the value of communion and baptism and maybe even restore them to the significance for the mass church that they once held.

That's enough. What is not emerging about this?


Gil said...

OK, you posted on Tuesday and now it's Thursday. No one else seems to want to touch this, so I guess I'll have to be the one who says it...I don't think you're that nice either...but you are sincere!

I don't think MacDonald was saying sincerity is the opposite of obedience. I think he was saying that sincerity shouldn't be considered a substitute for obedience.

Brian said...

No sincerity shouldn't be a substitute for obedience, but neither should obesity. Is he trying to "nicely" say emergent followers aren't obedient? Maybe he is the one who is too nice.

My suspicion is that hasn't been read thoroughly because it is too long.