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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Tag: Emerging



this idea of domesticating Jesus has so much merit. Sometimes I wonder if we have not violated the commandment "You shall have no other gods before me" when we have fashioned for ourselves a new jesus to worship (yes, the lower case is on purpose) who is not the Jesus of the Bible. This is partly the point of the rant by Green Day on American Idiot in songs like Jesus of Suburbia.

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Emergent Converts & MegaChurches


(written back in August... but forgot to post) 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 who is emerging 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.

The other thing I find so intriguing is the issue of "who" these churches reach.  My take is that not only mega-churches, but most contemporary evangelical churches are fairly good at reaching those who are part of Christendom... meaning they've been raised with Jesus and the church, and they have been educated in Christianity.  They may be "de-churched" because they were one-time churched, but maybe they never took the step to enter the Kingdom and submit to the Lordship of Jesus.  Those people do need to be reached.  But what I think is being argued in some of what Fitch is saying is that those who are part of the emerging postmodern, post-Christendom culture have very little or no knowledge of Christian theology or of Jesus other than what they learned on the Simpsons, King of the Hill, or in political campaigns.  These folks are a slower burn because they have so much knowledge to gain before they have a clue what they are saying "yes" to.  I've heard Alan Hirsch talking about this at a church planting portion of the RCA's OneThing conference in San Antonio when he said that the "forms" of church we are using today are reaching a certain group of people, but that the culture shifts of post-christendom require new forms of church plants to reach new people who will likely never be reached by our current forms.

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Response to Henry


Henry asks some great, probing questions.  [see his comment under "How Deconstruction Saved My Faith 2] And just as an aside... Henry... I really appreciate how you've written these questions and challenges to myself and to the emerging postmoderns in the church.  You show your concern, raise real issues, and do so in a way that is not condemning, hostile, or out of fear.  How I wish more people would approach conversation in such a careful and honorable manner. I've struggled with your questions, too.  I address a few of the issues you're asking about in a limited manner in the follwoing posts:

The question really is, what can we know for sure?  What is true?  What doesn't change?  And how do we know what is truly true?  What is orthodox, and aren't there certain, base objective truths?  I hear in some of your questions some of the key concerns that some are raising around the Emergent church like the virgin birth, the atonement wars, the wideness or narrowness of salvation, etc. 

The first thing that I would say is something I've said briefly before:  truth is personal.  Not relative, and not "this is my truth" personal, but instead, truth is personal because Jesus is the truth, and he is a person.  Knowing Jesus is knowing the truth.  Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me."  I believe that.  Do I know it for sure?  I know Jesus, and I trust what he says.  I trust that the Scriptures are God's word and that it's true and that it tells me about Jesus and that I can encounter him through the Scriptures.  That means I also trust the virgin birth.  I trust that my sins are atoned for and covered by the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Can I say those things are objectively true?  You see, here is where I get stuck.  I believe - have faith - that it's true.  I put my trust in it.  I believe it is "objectively" true, I suppose, but more and more I don't really care much about objectivity.  I don't really care much about proof.  I don't mean to be glib, but what I mean is that what I think is objective, someone else will likely see differently.  Is there an unmoveable reality out there that is truly true?  Yes.  Do we have access to that truth in a way that is "descriptively" true for everyone?  If we did, we wouldn't be having this discussion because it would be clear.  But I don't think that means I can't say someone is wrong.  You see, because we cannot ascertain what is true on our own because of our cultural embededness, our biases, and even more - our sinfulness, we rely on the personal nature of God as he speaks to us in individuals within communities of faith.  The community of faith - throughout the ages, and in our current context - is really important as we discern what God has said and is saying.  

I really like what Franke and Grenz say on this matter in which the Holy Spirit speaks in the context of our culture through the trajectory of Christian history and creates our current reality as he interacts with us in a living way.  (that's a bad simplification... but it gives a broad brush).  That is alive and relational and faith-based and dependent upon the God of history who continues to live and speak today.  He doesn't speak in contradition to himself, but He does help us to interact with a changing world.  There is, then, a historical theological continuity combined with a contemporary constructive creativity consistent with his character and unfolding plan.  We discern this in conversation with God through faith, engaging his Word within the living community which is the body of Christ.  It is this living body, grounded in the Word and birthed out of Christian and Jewish history that gives us the boundaries and rules of engagement.  And here is where the deconstruction (or reforming) comes in.  The body, because it is always embeded culturally, doesn't always get the picture of what God is saying right, and so our theology develops as our relationship with God develops as we continue to deepen in our understanding of his revealed Word as we live into new historical, cultural situations.

Does that make truth relative and not objective?  I don't think so.  Relative to God's working with a fallen community, maybe.  Certainly our ascertaining the truth is always positioned, encultured, and understood within the eyes of our times, families, language, etc.  I just don't think the categories of "objective" and "relative" are all that helpful anymore.  I'm more concerned with how we hear God, how we read the Bible with an understanding of our cultural, linguistic baggage, and really hear God's living word through the Scripture, how we find more faithful understandings of his revelation, and how we can trust him more and hear his voice more clearly. 

You ask what my gold standard is:  God's self-revelation primarily through the Scriptures (sola scriptura) and secondarily through his body, the church, as we hear, speak, and live the Word together.  I know that's not as easy to nail down, but faith and trust rarely are. 

I think things like the virgin birth, the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Trinity, the missio dei, and many more things have been clearly spoken, heard, and lived out by the church throughout the ages.  But I also share the concern of many emerging leaders that we have attached many cultural, philosophical, and historical items to these that are inappropriate and have functionally become a part of the core for many Christians - especially evangelicals and fundamentalists.

What I think a lot of the detractors of the emerging church miss is that much of the movement (not all of it... there is much wrong with the emerging church movement) is a back to the bible movement.  The problem comes when going back to the bible challenges our current biases, our current comfortable ways of life, our preferable politics, our desirable economics, or our (forgive me here) mostly upper classs suburban cultural mores. 

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The Future of Evangelicalism 10


Recently I've been reading a fabulous book by Tom Sine called "The New Conspirators."  Tom wrote the books Mustard Seed Conspiracy and Mustard Seed vs. McWorld, both of which have been very influential in my own life and thinking along the way.  Tom is from a much different generation than I am, but I love how he resonates along with people like Scot McKnight and Robert Webber with the so-called "Younger Evangelicals" (Webber's term).  Thinking about what McKnight in the last post I put up, listen to Tom Sine in his new book and notice the similarities: passion is for discovering what God is doing in these turbulent times, and how I can be much more a part of it. [p. 18]

...much of the focus, language, and programs of traditional institutional churches no longer connect with post-denominational, post-Christendom, post-Christian and postmodern culture. [p. 19]

Though God works in all generations, as my wife Christine and I wander the world, we see the Spirit of God working largely through the vision, creativity, and initiative of a new generation - through emerging, mission, multicultural and monastic streams - as well as in traditional churches that are hungry for a more authentic, vital, mission-centered faith.  This book is written to invite you not only to support what God is doing through these renewing streams but also to join this conspiracy of compassion... Those involved in these streams almost always tend to be more outwardly focused, seeking to engage urgent needs in their communities and the larger world. [p. 20]

Sine mentions people I've also learned a great deal from like Alan Roxburgh, Alan Hirsch, Brian McLaren, Shane Claiborne, Scot McKnight, Eddie Gibbs, Ryan Bolger, John Stackhouse, Leslie Newbigin, Steve Taylor, Walter Brueggeman, NT Wright, Marislov Volf, and many many more.  He speaks about issues of consumerism, kingdom, environmental stewardship, war & peace, and visions of a new reality.  (an whoa... one of the best biblical descriptions of heaven I've read that drew me to tears while sitting in a coffee shop when I read it... cf. pp. 104-108)

I also love the 4 emerging trends he mentions:  emerging church, missional movement, new monasticism and hip-hop.  I loved this because 3 of the 4 have resonated deeply with me (I've just had little exposure and connection to the hip hop church culture, but I bet I'd love it, too).  Anyway, his book is worth reading and discussing and it's great to have a guy with his breadth giving some credence to this new generation of thinkers envisioning a new reality in our new emerging culture that is both consistent with and yet somewhat different than the previous incarnation of church in an earlier historical culture.

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The Future of Evangelicalism 9


In terms of my last post, I'm not the only one who is excited.  Ok, this post is old, but Scot McKnight's post "Emergent Voices," March 2, 2006 says some similar things in his own McKnightish way:

Emerging theological voices are running with some of the fast horses in theology and it is lots of fun to watch and listen. Keep your eyes open because shifts are occurring and in ten years theology won’t be what it is today — and it’s a good thing.

Many of the leaders and thinkers of the emerging movement were nurtured theologically on books like those of Donald Bloesch, Millard Erickson, Wayne Grudem, or even older lights like Berkhof. Emerging leaders know this stuff — and often have moved beyond it or have rejected it...

...Take, for instance, LeRon Shults. An emerging thinker, a young theologian, and one who has drunk deeply from seminal thinkers. What I find central to the major discussions of theology in the emerging movement is its turn to seminal thinkers and broad, sweeping trends. Shults deals in his book, Reforming Theolgocial Anthropology, with the turn to relationality and sketches the discussion through Aristotle, Kant, Hegel and Levinas. We have Barth and Pannenberg, and we have Leontius of Byzantium. And we have the impact of this turn toward a relational understanding on how we understand human nature, how we understand sin, and how we understand the imago Dei.

Others could be mentioned — John Franke, Stanley Grenz, Miroslav Volf, Kevin Vanhoozer...

...The major impact, as I’m seeing it, will be that bigger questions will be asked, newer approaches will be seen, and over time some dog-eared discussions will find their appropriate corner with questions no longer asked. Theology has always been the attempt to bring biblical theology into a new day, and that is exactly what we find in (to use Westerns) in Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Edwards, Barth, and the like. To stick to the categories and discussions of the 16th Century may be a learning experience, but theology always asks for new expressions in new times. I find the theology of the emerging movement trying to do just that.

McKnight lists a lot of the people that I've been reading over the last 8-10 years, people like Grenz, Franke, Volf, Van Hoozer, Shults, and Pannenberg not to mention the many other unmentioned ones - some theologians and some more practitioners too many to name. 

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Future Communication of the Gospel 7


One of the things that I've noticed lately is that when some of the younger, emerging church leaders use different language than is "standard" in the evangelical community, there tends to be a backlash.  Even if you're orthodox (again, I'd like a better definition for this when it's tossed around - orthodox according to what standards?), but you try to reframe your understanding of the Scriptures or key theology in a more contemporary... or even just a different language, there tends to be a conservative backlash.  In a sense, there is a kind of required language that needs to be used in the evanglical community, and if you don't use that particular language, you're either suspect, heretical, or making dangerous revisions to theology.  Interestingly, much of that language that has become both sacred and become part of the litmus test to whether you are orthodox or not comes not from scripture itself, but was later added as a clarification of Scripture.  That's always helpful as a clarification, but when it becomes exalted to the level of Scripture, it can become dangerous.  The question is, what extra-biblical language and/ or categories (philosophical or theological) are essential/ necessary for orthodoxy, which ones are helpful but not necessary to be orthodox, and which ones are just personal intepretive preferences?    There is a lot of talk about contextualizing the gospel in whatever missional context you find yourself in, but then when you attempt to do that and forego a language of a previous or other culture for something more contextual, then you get labelled heretical. 

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