question of the week

Alright, I’ve been on the prowl, and this question popped into my mind from this last week…

What do you think about the “emerging church?”

This is an important question to be asking, especially since our church here in Chandler has adopted elements of the “movement” into its ministry strategy. The difficulty in answering this question is that “emerging” carries all kinds of baggage, some rightly ascribed, and some wrongly. Almost a year ago, Scot McKnight posted an article on ChristianityToday.com that gives a helpful framework for what “emerging” means and how to talk about the movement. Scot writes as one who defines himself as belonging to this movement, so his perspective is particularly insightful (as well as, it is fairly systematic…Scot is a professor of religious studies at North Park Theological Seminary who authored the text I studied in a course on New Testament Interpretation).

What McKnight rightly highlights in his article is the diversity in the movement. There are numerous characteristics that identify the movement…(These are listed even more exhaustively in this article on Wikipedia) which makes it difficult to answer the question “what do you think of the emerging church?”. It’s so important to identify what is on the table before you start surgery.

Having said that, I do think the “emerging” movement’s approach offers some helpful reforms to Evangelical Christianity.

The first is the reminder of the Incarnation of the Son of God. Fundamentalism represented a movement within Evangelical Christianity that withdrew from culture, and saw it’s place as outside of culture. Or, as establishing a new, “Christian” culture alongside of culture. The emerging movement rightly critiques this kind of culture-less Christianity by reminding us that the Son of God came and became human…but not just human, he assumed and addressed the culturally specific values, assumptions, and perspectives of 1st century Near Eastern Jewish life. As Christians, we should adopt the same kind of incarnational approach to life, “so that some might be saved.” We should live “missional,” not “isolational,” lives.

The second that stands out in my mind is its critique of the disunity in beliefs that it identifies among Protestants. The “soft” post-modernist approach helps right some of the crazy ideas given to us to modernism, like the idea that reason alone should guide our interpretation of Scripture. The idea that we can achieve an objective reading of Scripture, free of all my own presuppositions is nonsense.

The answer to how we should read Scripture is one aspect of the emerging church’s approach where I take issue. It is so important as we forge ahead, theologizing anew, that we continue to draw from the wisdom the Church in the 20 centuries that came before ours. Just as it is silly to think that all I need to interpret the Bible is the Holy Spirit in me (fundamentalist’s error), it is equally silly to think that by engaging in “conversations” with other Christians and non-Christians today, we have all we need to interpret Scripture and arrive at “Truth.” I think this is the one of the critiques of “post-modernism.” I think the answer is a kind of pre-modern approach that recognizes the importance and authority of tradition. We should avail ourselves of the Spirit-gifted teachings of those who have come before us in the Christian faith. Beliefs and practice rooted in the ancient beliefs of the Church are thoroughly appealing within Western culture today.

posted by: caleb

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