Skip to main content

Getting a handle on emerging church God-talk

I find some of the most interesting God-talk within the church occurring in the exchange of ideas regarding “emerging church.” As a relative “newbie” to this conversation, it’s taking some effort to wrap my mind around the wide span of perspectives within the dialogue.

Apparently, many others have tried to do the same. Recently, Baptist Press posted an article by Ed Stetzer, the research team director and missiologist for NAMB (the Southern Baptist missions agency) who breaks the movement down into three categories (quite a feat). He seems to evaluate them according to how much they hold to conservative evangelical theological perspectives (I may be wrong, you be the judge). I’m not sure I agree with the categories or his judgments of each, but I’ve found it helpful in adding some structure in my thoughts.

The first category is “relevants,” a term he coins to describe the:
. . . young (and not so young) leaders who some classify as “emerging” that really are just trying to make their worship, music and outreach more contextual to emerging culture. Ironically, while some may consider them liberal, they are often deeply committed to biblical preaching, male pastoral leadership and other values common in conservative evangelical churches.

They are simply trying to explain the message of Christ in a way their generation can understand.
His next category is “reconstructionists:”
The reconstructionists think that the current form of church is frequently irrelevant and the structure is unhelpful. Yet, they typically hold to a more orthodox view of the Gospel and Scripture. Therefore, we see an increase in models of church that reject certain organizational models, embracing what are often called “incarnational” or “house” models. They are responding to the fact that after decades of trying fresh ideas in innovative churches, North America is less churched, and those that are churched are less committed.
His evaluation of this group?
[I]f emerging leaders want to think in new ways about the forms (the construct) of church, that’s fine – but any form needs to be reset as a biblical form, not just a rejection of the old form. Don’t want a building, a budget and a program? OK. Don’t want the Bible, scriptural leadership, covenant community? Not OK. . . . Also, we must not forget, if reconstructionists simply rearrange dissatisfied Christians and do not impact lostness, it is hardly a better situation than the current one.
And finally, “revisionists,” where most of his concern about the movement is evident:

[They are] questioning (and in some cases 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. This is not new – some mainline theologians quietly abandoned these doctrines a generation ago. The revisionist emerging church leaders should be treated, appreciated and read as we read mainline theologians – they often have good descriptions, but their prescriptions fail to take into account the full teaching of the Word of God.

Does that mean we cannot learn from them? Certainly not. . . . [They are] good thinkers, but deeply wrong on issues I hold as important. I read many emerging church writers the same way. They ask good questions, but I am driven to Scripture for the answers.

Regarding this last “category”, I have to point you to Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight’s Website. He’s constantly filtering through issues like these. (How he can post as much as he does and still teach and write is amazing). I’ve found his evaluations and dialogue with readers quite helpful.

Also, last month Next Wave Ezine posted a short article by McKnight which I’ve also found helpful: Seven Habits of Successful Emerging Discussions. I encourage you to read it all the way through, but one suggestion I found helpful was to use “the definitions that have been offered and spoken of so many times that they are patently the obvious place to start.” He then provides three helpful links: Emergent-US’s “Order” statement, Wikipedia’s definition and Gibbs and Bolger’s book, Emerging Churches.

In the same issue, Andres Jones (project director for the Boaz Project, which is developing a support structure for church in the emerging culture, and blogger) also lists some good links:What is Emergent?, Emergant, Emergent Vocabulary.

That's all for now: enjoy.

(Image: OldSarge at flickr)