When last we left our saga of the American church, we saw the appearance of the GenX movement, which morphed (did you know "morph" is a Biblical word? - morpheo = "transform") into the "pomo" church movement.
Moe: Welcome to “m,” hah? Heh, heh. So, what do you think of the new joint?
Lenny: Wow, this place looks like it’s from the not-too-distant future.
Moe: Yeah. You like it, Homer?
Homer: [looking at live rabbits wiggling in harnesses suspended from the ceiling] Um, the rabbits are cute.
Lenny: Eh, that one ain’t moving. [points to a still rabbit]
Moe: [snaps, summoning an aide] Uh, change number 7.
Carl: I don’t get all this eyeball stuff. Uh, what are they supposed to represent? Uh, eyeballs?
Moe: It’s po-mo! [blank stares from all] Post-modern! [more staring] Yeah, all right — weird for the sake of weird.
That's probably not the most nuanced way to try & sum up a lot of what went down right around Y2K in the postmodern church movement - but it's not a bad place to start. Remember, this is all from my Southern Baptist/church planter/evangelical raised in SoCal/43 year old perspective...
What I saw happen in some corners of the movement reminded me a lot of the church I attended for a couple of years when I was in college. It had been THE church in Waco in the late '60's/early '70's - next to the Baylor campus, Biblically solid, very socially active. Over time, it had become less effective as it began to lean more towards the Social Gospel end of the spectrum... and by the time I got there in the mid-80's was a shadow of it's former self. It was a great place to ask questions about spirituality & truth & applying the Gospel to life - the classes I attended were excellent places for discussion & thought. We had a lot of freedom to examine what we believed & why we believed - which was really important in my spiritual pilgrimage, as I was questioning whether the traditions I'd grown up in were a proper vessel for capital "T" Truth.
The problem was when I began to find my way out the other side of my doubts - when I began to feel like, thanks to C.S. Lewis & other great Christian thinkers/writers, that there were Biblical answers to many of my questions - my answers weren't nearly as welcome as my questions had been. Over time, the church had enshrined the process of questioning... and lost the purpose behind the questions: to find Truth in the person of Jesus Christ.
Which brings us back to what I see/saw (yes, it's a bad pun - so what?!) in some parts of the postmodern church movement - which morphed into what we call "the emerging church" today. It's a tendency towards a theology that is difficult to pin down - that refuses to take specific stands on cultural & spiritual issues in the name of "continuing the conversation" and/or "acknowledging the postmodern problem of being able to claim an exclusive version of the truth." Getting some of these folks (Brian McLaren, for example) to take a position is like trying to nail Jello to the wall. Other guys who've been accused of this include Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones & Rob Bell.
While the term "emerging church" dates back quite a ways, the common & current usage of the term really begins with the publication of one of my favorite books on the whole subject, Dan Kimball's The Emerging Church. Dan is the pastor of Vintage Faith (which I mentioned in the earlier post) and one of the most successful of the leaders of the movement at blending radical cultural relevance & unapologetic Biblical theology. (Another great book by Dan: They Like Jesus But Not the Church.) Dan also serves another function in the emerging church movement - he (along with Andrew Jones) serves as "middle ground" as he maintains friendships with a number of the more far-out practitioners yet also stays connected with the more conservative leaders as well.
This is probably as good a time as any to mention Emergent Village... which is what eventually came out of those Leadership Network meetings in the late '90's. I'll let them explain themselves in their own words, which may help you understand why I choose not to use the word "emergent" to describe what we're doing at NewLife.
...we would like to clarify, contrary to statements and inferences made by some, that yes, we truly believe there is such a thing as truth and truth matters – if we did not believe this, we would have no good reason to write or speak; no, we are not moral or epistemological relativists any more than anyone or any community is who takes hermeneutical positions – we believe that radical relativism is absurd and dangerous, as is arrogant absolutism; yes, we affirm the historic Trinitarian Christian faith and the ancient creeds, and seek to learn from all of church history – and we honor the church’s great teachers and leaders from East and West, North and South; yes, we believe that Jesus is the crucified and risen Savior of the cosmos and no one comes to the Father except through Jesus; no, we do not pit reason against experience but seek to use all our God-given faculties to love and serve God and our neighbors; no, we do not endorse false dichotomies – and we regret any false dichotomies unintentionally made by or about us (even in this paragraph!); and yes, we affirm that we love, have confidence in, seek to obey, and strive accurately to teach the sacred Scriptures, because our greatest desire is to be followers and servants of the Word of God, Jesus Christ. We regret that we have either been unclear or misinterpreted in these and other areas.
But we also acknowledge that we each find great joy and promise in dialogue and conversation, even about the items noted in the previous paragraph. Throughout the history of the church, followers of Jesus have come to know what they believe and how they believe it by being open to the honest critique and varied perspectives of others. We are radically open to the possibility that our hermeneutic stance will be greatly enriched in conversation with others. In other words, we value dialogue very highly, and we are convinced that open and generous dialogue – rather than chilling criticism and censorship – offers the greatest hope for the future of the church in the world.
It's the both/and thing - the "let's talk about it some more" rather than reach a conclusion - that drives me nutso.
Some other folks get lumped into the "emerging church movement" who, for the most part, aren't interested in being there:
- Ed Stetzer is a researcher, author & pastor who is probably the best person working on the idea of the missional church - his books are good but he's an even better conference speaker & blogger.
- Mark Driscoll, the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle & an author as well - Mark's two books, Radical Reformission & Confessions of a Reformission Rev point towards a different (read: culturally relevant, theologically Reformed/Charismatic) way of reaching postmoderns. His view: "In the mid-1990s I was part of what is now known as the Emerging Church and spent some time traveling the country to speak on the emerging church in the emerging culture on a team put together by Leadership Network called the Young Leader Network. But, I eventually had to distance myself from the Emergent stream of the network because friends like Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt began pushing a theological agenda that greatly troubled me. Examples include referring to God as a chick, questioning God's sovereignty over and knowledge of the future, denial of the substitutionary atonement at the cross, a low view of Scripture, and denial of hell which is one hell of a mistake."
- Erwin McManus, pastor of Mosaic in Los Angeles & one of my heroes in ministry... he said at The Origins Experience last year that even a L.A. Times reporter could figure out they weren't "emerging" - she said they weren't angry enough.
To close out this post, one last (but not least) link: Scot McKnight (theologian & author of The Jesus Creed) wrote a really great article for Christianity Today entitled Five Streams of the Emerging Church which is pretty much required reading if you're interested in this subject. He graciously critiques & praises the movement.