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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Tag: Emergent Church

Conversation on the Church 2


Many of my friends, though, fall into one of four camps: 1. Theologically and culturally conservative 2. Theologically conservative but culturally liberal 3. Theologically liberal but culturally conservative 4. Theologically and culturally liberal

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Emergent Converts


I've found the conversation around mega-churches and emergent churches lately quit fascinating. (cf. Fitch's first post, and his redux post] I've heard many people for awhile saying, "the fruit just isn't there with the Emergent Churches."  By fruit, this usually means converts.  So, when David Fitch went after Mark Driscoll and talked about this issue, I found it quit interesting.  Being someone emergent at heart and history (and in some ways theologically, but not others) but also being currently a pastor at a mega-church (where I sometimes fit in, and other times feel like an odd-ball) these conversations are quite intriguing.  I'm particularly interested in numbers 4 and 5 of the 5 points Fitch makes, which I've listed below - this from the Out of UR Blog:  

4. Having said all this, I think that the missional communities that do persist probably have a higher conversion rate than the Driscollesque mega churches. Missional churches are much smaller, so 6 conversions from a group of 25 over ten years would match (or exceed) the percentage growth of a typical mega church. I think it would be interesting to measure how many dollars per conversion are spent in missional churches versus mega churches. It makes me smile knowing missional churches are probably more cost effective when it comes to conversions because we resist spending money on buildings, programs, and “the show.”

5. We must recognize that "missionary conversions" take longer than megachurch conversions. The conversion of a post-Christendom "pagan," who has had little to no exposure to the language and story of Christ in Scripture, may require five years of relational immersion before a decision would even make sense. If you do not have this immersion/context, any decision that is made is prone to be little more than a consumerist decision—it is made based on the perceived immediate benefit. It lasts as long as this perceived benefit remains important. It does not lead to discipleship.

So a true missionary conversion, which I believe missional churches are after, takes a much longer period of time than the kind of conversions most often generated through a megachurch. The megachurch is largely appealing to people who grew up in old forms of church and know the Story but quit going to church many years ago. These "unchurched people" require the old messages to be made more relevant. They need to be "revived" or called back into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. There's nothing wrong with that, but we should recognize there are fewer and fewer of these kinds of people left.

These are some arguments that I myself have made in the past.  Knowing, realistically two things: 1) how inefficient mega-churches really are in reaching the lost per dollar spent and 2) how really unconcerned most members of these churches are to reach anyone.  Emerging churches are still too young to measure long term fruit and effectiveness, but it will be interesting to see the longer term effects of churches that spend less money, focus more on community, tend to care more about "holistic transformation", and are committed to individual people over programs.  The percentages of transformed lives to Jesus Lordship and Kingdom per capita and per dollar (though even talking about it that way seems, somehow, wrong) would be very intriguing to see.  So... someone do the study already.


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The Future of Evangelicalism 12: Who's Afraid?


As I'm mentioning some things about evangelicalism again, let me talk about another.  I recently read and finished James KA Smith's book Who's Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church.  If you read my blog, you can see why I'm interested in this book.  Actually, I read it in a very busy week, but got it done.  I really liked it in a lot of ways because Smith was able to put to words many of the things I've talked about in this blog and thought about but haven't been able to articulate in the way that he does.  Smith is kind of an alter ego for me.  He reminds me of what I might have been like had I chosen the philosophy route rather than the ministry route.  Smith is just a tad older than me, did some study at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, did his PHD under John Caputo, and understands a lot about the postmodern philosophy and Christianity.  He's confessionally reformed and teaches philosophy as an Associate Professor at Calvin College.  He's also the editor of The Church and Postmodern Culture series through Baker Academic, the same series that published John Caputos What Would Jesus Deconstruct.  He appears to have some sort of friendship with the likes of John Franke, Kevin VanHoozer, Brian McLaren, and of course, John Caputo.   (Smith's blog can be found here.) Quick overview and minor review:  This book basicly takes a look at the popular Christian (mis)understandings of the philosophy of Jacques Derrida, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and Michel Foucault.  I'm interested because these three have had a significant effect upon my own thinking since my study of them in the early 1990's.  What Smith does mirrors my own journey of trying understand what these thinkers really are saying, and how it might actually be - not destructive - but constructive to our Christian faith, particularly in our culture shift away from modernity.  Many of Smith's conclusions are also my own, and that was very affirming because he's way smarter than I am.  Anyway, Smith basically does three things:  First he debunks the pop-understanding.  Second, he explicates a clear understanding of a core piece of their philosophy that could be helpful to Christian theology, faith, and practice.  Thirdly, he ends each section with prescriptive ideas for what a postmodern church would really look like if we took these thinkers seriously and often compares such ideas with the emerging or emergent church as well as the modern and or mega-church.  He elevates his own version which through him and others has been labeled "Radical Orthodoxy."  I loved parts one and two of each section, and found myself disappointed and sometimes disagreeing with the third.  In any case, since he's close by (in age, geography, and thought), I figured I probably need to invite him to lunch.  If it happens, I'll let you know.

Anyway, he obviously gets at what potentially the evangelical postmodern church could and should look like in the future.  Good stuff to think about.  But there was one little phrase that I found particularly interesting in light of some of the "evangelical center" which I've spoken about.  Two things:

  1. He was more critical of Stanley Grenz than I had anticipated.
  2. He raises the issue of what he calls the "correlationalist apologetic," which is the attempt to make Christianity no only intelligible, but also rational to the wider culture.  He criticizes this as a particularly modernistic approach.  (I once started a book on this idea, but haven't finished it.)  I agree with his perceptions here, but this is what he says in the footnote:  "The same correlational method lies... behind the Wesleyan quadrilateral... which has been widely recovered as of late." [p. 124]

I thought that I had mentioned the Wesleyan Quadrilateral in my previous post on the future of evangelicalism when I talked about Beggington's 4 points of basic evangelicalism, Stackhouse's 5 characteristics, and Kenneth Collins' 4 enduring emphases.  The Wesleyan Quadrilateral isn't as much a "center" of belief, but sources of theology or of knowledge.  They are:

  1. Scripture
  2. Tradition
  3. Reason
  4. Experience

John Franke interacts with these in his book The Character of Theology as well as in collaboration with Grenz in Beyond Foundationalism as they talk about how we come up with or even settle upon a "center" of belief.

In any case, this was a new insight to me... that the WQ would be a an example of an attempt to rationalize and justify evangelical beliefs to a modern world.  What do you think?  Do you think that's necessary?  Is it necessary, for instance, to prove to the world outside of Christianity, for instance, the historical reliability of the Scripture, or justification for the decisions of a group of men who decided the canon was closed?  Do we need to justify those to an outside world, or is that falling into correlationism and becoming merely defensive to modernity in a way that isn't necessary?  It's got me thinking...


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The Future of Evangelicalism 6


So, I've been writing a lot about being an evangelical, the core of evangelicalism, and in previous posts, what it really means to be a Christian living in the Kingdom of the resurrected King Jesus.  I'm focusing on evangelicals, because that's what I consider myself.  I'm have also occassionally wrtitten about and am going to write more at some point about the emerging and Emergent Church (which is widening quite a bit beyond evangelicalism these days).  The question is, what do I think about Christianity in general?  Are only evangelicals Christians?  By no means.  There are a lot of Christians, and we all have some pretty serious agreements and differences.  I prefer to talk about the differences within evangelicalism right now for a lot of reasons, but I want to affirm that we have brothers and sisters who love Jeus Christ, but who come from different streams and have a lot of different beliefs.  Sure, I think they're often wrong on a lot of things, we disagree on biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, and we often have differing ideas about where authority is based.  However, do I think many if not most of them are Christians and will be with us in eternity?  Yup.  Do I think that praying to Mary means someone will go hell?  No way.  Do I think that being saved by grace through faith is key?  Yup.  Still believe that.  In fact, awhile back I was listening to a podcast interview of NT Wright when he shared interesting similar sentiments with which I have a lot of affinity.  His comments here reminded me of my study of the changes that happened with Vatican II as well as a document called "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" and an evangelical assessment by Timothy George that have been important in my growth over the years and helpful in my relationships with Catholic friends to find common ground.  Here's what NT Wright said (you can find the transcript of the interview here):

Trevin Wax: You mentioned earlier Hans Kung. How would you distinguish your views on justification from that of official Roman Catholic teaching? N.T. Wright: Well, it’s a nice question as to what official Roman Catholic teaching really means these days. I remember once, after there’d been an official agreement on the doctrine of salvation between Anglicans and Roman Catholics, I went to do a public debate with Ted Yarnold who’s one of the great Catholic theologians at Oxford, sadly dead now. We went off to a big ecumenical gathering in Reading, between Oxford and London, and we chatted in the car about who would speak first. I said, “Well, you’re the senior here. You better go first and lead off.” So he did. He began by saying, “Let’s just remind ourselves what the doctrine of justification is. It is that there’s nothing whatever we can do to earn God’s favor. It must come entirely from God’s grace. And the only thing that we can possibly do is nothing of ourselves, merely believe in the astonishing goodness and grace of God.” And I stood up and said, “We might as well go home because obviously we’re on the same page here. If your chaps had been saying this 400 years ago, we mightn’t have got into all this problem.”

There's a lot too that.  Back in 1999 I wrote an article called Broadening the Scope that I never sent to anyone to be published (a bad habit of mine, many articles never sent out) as I was beginning to really get to know some Catholics (yes, true, I didn't know many before that.)  Since that time, I've made a lot of friends with Catholics - some of my most favorite were connected to the Word of God community from Ann Arbor, some of whom are evangelicals and to whom much of this would apply in some ways (although there is a tension still in the issue of authority of the church in relationship to the biblicism as a core belief).  Anyway, I reread this article of mine recently and thought I'd post it for some perspective on where I've been.  You can link to it here if you're interested.

So, back to the future of evangelicalism.  I'm talking, then, about "evangelicals" not everyone who is a Christian.  In a sense, I'm still trying to figure out who "we" are by looking to the past and not really looking to the future at all.  However, having a starting point might actually help move us forward, so in that sense, it does have to do with the future of evangelicalism.

Anyway, as I've struggled to figure out whether I'm "in" or "out" (because some people say people like me are "out" of evangelicalism), I've learned something that's been quite helpful to me.  Some evangelicals prefer what is referred to as a “bounded set” of beliefs by which to draw boundaries in order to determine “who’s in” and “who’s out.”  This approach takes a set of beliefs or statements or propositions or doctrine, and draws a circle around them, creating a bounded set of accepted beliefs.   If you're in the circle, you're orthodox, if you're out, you're unorthodox.  Others talke about what is called a “centered set” which refers instead to the important core center and focuses on whether our theology and practice are moving towards (orthodox) or away (unorthodox) from the center.  This style seeks not to see who’s in and who’s out, but to be committed to moving towards the center and core beliefs without worrying as much about the theological edges. 

Guess which one I prefer?  In my estimation, the second type promotes a ministry and style that seeks to be “winsome” rather than “boundaried” and in which someone can “belong” before they “become,” whereas a bounded set of beliefs tends to only allow those who are “in” to truly belong.  A more generous evangelical practice seems to be our history as a faith community.

I recently spoke with another pastor friend of mine, and we did some drawing on a white board.  His drawing was helpful to me, and since then I've expanded upon it.  I'm going to try to put it in visual form and put it up soon.

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There are important clarifications to make when talking about emerg-anything because so much stuff is flying out there because no one knows who is talking about what.  In Lining Up I lamented that there are some who like to categorize everyone in order to decided whose heretical and whose orthodox.  Though I still don't think that's a great idea, it is helpful to have some definitions and categories in order to have a helpful conversation so that we're not talking past each other or attacking people for things that simply aren't true.  So, here are a couple of helpful things: Emerging Church is not the same thing as Emergent Church which is not the same as Emergence Theory.

The Emerging Church is something that general means the character of the church that is emerging in the new postmodern era/ culture as our culture and history makes a move from modernism through postmodernity to whatever will be next.  The idea here is that as the culture and humanities ways of viewing and experiencing the world change, so the church will also go through some changes.  (For instance, the church made changes through the Roman Period, through Medieval Times, through the Renaissance, through scientific modernism, etc.)  We are now in the stages of that emerging and we won't know until we are on the other side what that will mean or look like.

The Emergent Church refers to a particular strain of dialogue and a group of leaders that was originally birthed out of some connections of the Leadership Network in the mid to late 1990's (most known are Tony Jones, Brian McLaren, Chris Seay, Doug Paggitt, Spencer Burke, Dan Kimball, and Andrew Jones).  You can often hear Mark Driscoll making it clear that he is no longer a part of this groupl, even though he was there in the beginning (more on Mark to come in later posts).

Emergence theory is a particular strain of theories that has a wide span and has been appropriated to the way the brain works, how ant colonies functions, how cities are designed, how people move in crowds, how software is designed, and much more.  Emergence theory is a kind of complex systems theory that, in the most crass way I can put it, posits that order emerges complexly from what looks like chaos - that complex systems are self-ordering in a kind of evolutionary manner from the "bottom up" rather than by design from the "top down."

Now, this isn't to say that the Emergent Church folks aren't applying Emergence Theory to understand the Emerging Church.  (That would actually be a true statement for some.  For instance, though I'm sure where Kester Brewin, author of "Signs of Emergence" fits, he is definitely applying Emergence Theory to how the church should function in the future.  I'll write about his book soon... one chapter to go, but for the record, I disagree with a lot of it.

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Entering the Fray


Ok, so I haven't talked a lot about the emerging church, or the Emergent Church a whole lot over the years.  It finally feels like time for me to engage at a higher level.  I've been moving around in the emerging church world and postmodernity for a long time - thinking, reading, praying, writing - but haven't really stepped out and engaged with others on a very high level.  For whatever reason, it feels like time to do that.  Maybe I feel a little more comfortable in my own skin and now that I'm 35, feeling like some of things I'm thinking bear sharing, conversing about, or engaging with.  So, just for autobiographical reasons, let me share a couple of things about my history:

  • I grew up in a strong evangelical Christian sub-culture and knew a lot about Jesus, but didn't know him.
  • Starting in 1990 I began my journey into philosophy which lead to a pretty deep entry into postmodern philosophy. Much of my intellectual formation from 1990-1994 came through interactions with the following people: Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Pascal, Lyotard, Vattimo, Habbermas, Heideger, Derrida, Fish, Rawls, Marx, Engels, Foucault, Rorty, among others.  Deconstruction was a huge part of my personal journey, and was also helpful in understanding Scripture and Jesus more clearly.  It was in the middle of this journey through postmodern philosophy that I actually met Jesus.   

Now, that might sound strange to some of you because so many Christians tend to lament the rise of postmodernity and see it as a dangerous threat to Christianity.  Well, it can be, and whether that's a good thing or not depends on how it's a threat.  Deconstructing the things that have been added to what God intended can be a very good thing.  Deconstructing what is biblical and true about God and about humanity can be a terrible thing.  (more on this in later posts).  Anyway, I think since that time, I have understood the Bible, my relationship to God through Jesus Christ by his Holy Spirit, my understanding of the narrative of history, my understanding of what God has done, is doing, and will do, my understanding of the place of individual Christians and the church in culture, my understanding of the development of theology, my frustrations with systematic theology (particular the merging of secular philosophy with biblical theology to create something extra-biblical), my understanding of issues of justice, restoration, the marginalized, incarnation, and much more.

From 1994 to 2005 I was involved in college ministry, starting several new ministries to college students and then pastoring a church that could probably be described in some ways as borderline emergent.  I always described it as reaching out to the de-churched and trying to be a church that took God and the Scriptures seriously while, as our slogan said, "Ask questions worth answering; seek answers worth believing."  We loved dialogue, struggle, and the communal aspects of the faith journey.  We had people who were part of the community from far left, far right, and somewhere in the middle socially and  theologically  Recently I've been serving in a leadership position in a larger, more conservative small mega-church that is fairly mainline as far as larger community churches go. 

I've always felt intimately tied to evangelicalism, and yet have always felt like an outsider as well.  I was raised in a church plant in the reformed tradition with a former missionar as a pastor.  I've never really been purely a reformed calvinist, either, although I have many calvinist tendencies and beliefs and did attend Calvin Seminary for goodness' sake.

Anyway, all that to say that I'll be trying in upcoming posts to engage some of the issues at a higher level, like the strains in the emerging church (Emergent Church, Emergence Theory, emerging church and the differences), the positive sides of deconstructionism informed by Christian faith, how Kierkegaard and Christian existentialism fits into my own journey, and more.  I'd like to actually talk a bit about what McLaren talks about in his book Everything Must Change, which I promised awhile back, but haven't gotten to, along with multiple other books I've read lately.  Then, if all goes well, I can get into a couple of people who are "on the scene" and some of the issues at hand.

Anyway, we'll see if I have time.

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