Saturday, June 09, 2007

Thoughts on the emerging church

Not long ago, I had a conversation with someone who said they had problems with the idea of the emergent church. They did not really say why they felt this way, but stated they just had a problem with the idea.

Honestly, I wasn't sure what he meant by "emergent church", so I didn't pursue it. I have been curious, though, regarding how exactly this emergent church is defined. So, I did what any sensible person would do, and I Googled it.

Here is how Wikipedia defines the emergent (or emerging) church:

The emerging church is a controversial[1] 21st-century Protestant Christian movement whose participants seek to engage postmodern people, especially the unchurched and post-churched. To accomplish this, "emerging Christians" or "emergents" seek to deconstruct and reconstruct Christian beliefs, standards, and methods to fit in the postmodern mold. Proponents of this movement call it a "conversation" to emphasize its developing and decentralized nature. The predominantly young participants in this movement prefer narrative presentations drawn from their own experiences and biblical narratives over propositional, Bible exposition. Emergent methodology includes frequent use of new technologies such as multimedia and the Internet. Their acceptance of diversity and reliance on open dialogue rather than the dogmatic proclamation found in historic Christianity leads emergents to diverse beliefs and morality.

In reading this definition, I decided that, without realizing it, I was part of the emerging church. I had long ago stopped believing that the church as we've known it up to this point serves any relevant purpose in reaching the unchurched and post-churched in the world we live in. The old formulas do not seem to be very fruitful. In fact, the overall message of the church as I've known it seems to be, "Jesus came to earth to die so He could forgive your sins, and someday you can go to heaven and be with Him for all eternity. In the meantime, keep in mind that you are still a pretty lousy person, but if you do all the things that you need to do since you're a Christian now, you might be able to experience the grace of God in your life once in awhile, and make it into heaven by the skin of your teeth. Doesn't that sound wonderful?"

Certainly, there are variations of this message that offer more appeal, but the crux of the message has been the same. If I'm not mistaken, people over the years have become increasingly more hostile to this message, and it is not because the world is waning and we are in the end times, and this is to be expected. It is because the church as we've known it has stopped being relevant in the world we live in. The church has become the essence of an old, dried up windbag, or a political platform by which those who do not agree with us are assumed to be going to hell if they do not come to the light and align themselves with right wing (or extreme right wing) political views. After all, how can one be a true Christian if they can see the beauty in the soul of a homosexual, and celebrate that beauty??

I have for quite some time considered myself more liberal than conservative in my thinking. Oh yes, once upon a time, I was very conservative. I thought God lived in a very small box, and if we could not fit our thinking, our lifestyles, our very selves into that box, then there was no help for us and we might as well strike a deal with the devil so we might at least get one of the nicer rooms in hell. Over time, though, as I have grown in my faith and experienced God's unmistakable hand moving in my life, I have realized that not only does God not live in a very small box, but He does not live in a box at all. We cannot begin to comprehend the mysteries of the God we serve, and we cannot begin to limit the vast reaches of His love for humanity.

I often think back to my more conservative days, and how many people I may have momentarily soured to Christ and the church because I could not see God beyond the limitations I had put on Him. I think the emerging church is relevant. I think it is an indicator that people are starting to "get it". In living a life of faith, we are dealing with a mystery far beyond our comprhension, and who are we to limit it, or say who may or may not partake of it? People the world over have been severely wounded by the church that asks them to tow the conservative line, to fit into the mold of what a good Christian ought to be, and for being labeled without mercy when they express their humanness.

God does not ask us to deny our humanness to serve Him. He merely asks us to make our humanness available for His use, so He may express His glory through our humanness as He would like to. We are all wonderfully weird, quirky, flawed people, who don't always get things right. And the God I serve says that, despite all of that, I am still holy, blameless, irreproachable, and I have Christ in me, the hope of glory. Right now, just as I am. Flawed, human Stephanie.

I think this is a message that the world we live in is dying to hear.

Emerging Church readings:

"Velvet Elvis" by Rob Bell...phenomenal book, busts the God box wide open

"Blue Like Jazz" by Donald Miller...a book that stretched my beliefs in all the right ways

" The Rest of the Gospel" by Dan Stone and David Gregory...What does it mean to have Christ living in you, through you, and as you?

That's my two cents :)

I believe that it's perfectly legitimate to make use of various ministries with their different approaches and media. "Cool" youth ministries, podcasts, video productions, unconventional speaking styles -- all these are fine if they are able to effectively reach an audience.

My concern is whether the true gospel is preserved, and whether those who respond to these various ministries, or apostolates, are led to understand and embrace the truth of orthodox Christianity.

If you take time to study the depths of historic Christianity, you'll see it's not all about condemnation and making it into heaven "by the skin of your teeth." Neither is it an unbalanced form of "just accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior -- now let's go hold hands and sing Simon & Garfunkel tunes at the church hall."

Real Christianity doesn't shy away from hard, sobering truth, and it doesn't fail to appreciate the ups and downs of our human experience.

It's true. It's practical. And however people can be brought to real Christianity at no cost to its integrity, it should be done.
I grew up in the Assemblies of God. Which would explain why I've always thought I'd be lucky to make it into heaven by the skin of my teeth. After all, I think I do have one or two secular music CDs still laying around, and those are a one way ticket to hell, if I remember correctly...

Oh, there's so much to say about this subject...
I agree with Darren that historical Christianity is not "all about" condemnation, but condemnation has certainly been a recurring theme, just as shifts in theological view recurringly surface to challenge our safe and "solid" norms. It's true, the simple gospel of Jesus is our rock, but we constantly to build out beyond the rock as we settle in to our dogma du jour. Emergent Christianity is just shaking up the unstable ground. Emergent Christianity will not save the post-modernist, just as Fundamental Christianity did not save the modernist. Only Jesus saves. The Emergent movement is only a tool and already becoming a cliche that will soon fade in the brightness of the next spotlight on our faith.
I'll see your two cents and raise you a nickel, Stephanie!
How right you are, Pat! I think that, as with all trends in culture, this "emergent church" movement will have its moment to shine, and then something else will come along. Just as the fire and brimstone preachers of old had their time to shine, and drew a crowd, and perhaps lead people of their day to Christ, so to will this new movement point some to Christ. The emergent church is not the be all and end all of Christianity in the postmodern world. The human expression of the spirit of Christ will continue to moprh, evolve, and take on new meaning as time marches relentlessly forward. You are right, Pat. Only Jesus offers salvation. The emergent church, as with all other movements in the church before it, is only one vehicle through which we convey the good news.
P.S. Isn't the church's resiliance amazing? We were discussing that last week in Bible study...With all the church has been through since its very beginning, it is still standing strong. Just as the message of the gospel has managed to stay strong despite the Crusades, the Inquistion, Salem witch trials, and Benny, too, will the good news be heard in this modern age of "all things are permissible", or whatever the sentiment is at the moment. Whatever we may think of whatever movement is sweeping through the church (I about puked with "The Purpose Driven" commercialism...), God somehow always makes sure that the timeless Truth is heard.

That is really pretty amazing.
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