Sunday, September 14, 2008

(four branches of) the "emerging church"

For those unfamiliar with the term, "emerging" refers to a relatively new approach to evangelical thought and approach to worship, evangelism and community.

The movement parallels "post-modernism" (PoMo)-- which brings both opportunity and temptation for the evangelical church: useful correctives to "modernism" and a fresh look at things we take for granted, but a potential emphasis on style over substance and relativism over absolutes.

Post-modernism cannot be rejected out-of-hand by evangelicals. It brings too much to the table. For example, its focus on narrative and context is consistent with a Biblical understanding. And its emphasis on the power of questions-- in evangelism and discipleship-- is a return to a technique used often by Jesus and many of the Prophets (particularly those who were post-exilic).

In the most recent issue of the Christian Research Journal, Mark Driscoll offers a description of tendencies within-- and common critiques of-- the four categories he finds within this movement.

Emerging evangelicals:
-interested in updating worship and teaching styles; trying to be more relevant to post-moderns
-the critique: "doing little more than cool church for hip young Christians"

House church evangelicals:
-dissatisfied with current forms of church, along with the observation that the Church is often little different than the surrounding world/culture
-the critique: "collecting disgruntled Christians who are over-reacting to the megachurch trend"

Emerging reformers:
-charismatic in terms of spiritual gifts; aggressive in church planting; commitment to Reformed theology; see themselves in the Reformed tradition of "reforming" the Church
-the critique: "merely repackaging tired Rerformed fundamentalism"

Emerging liberals:
-interestingly (and perhaps tellingly), Driscoll doesn't list any positive attributes and motives in his opening-- but I'd guess it's the same as the emerging evangelicals
-the critique: from the theological fringe within orthodoxy-- to heresy; "recycling the liberal doctrinal debates of a previous generation"

PoMo and the "emerging church" are complex entities that should be wrestled with earnestly-- not panned. Driscoll's article was helpful in trying to describe (tendencies within) sub-categories in the larger movement.


At September 16, 2008 at 10:40 AM , Blogger juli said...

hi eric, just came across your's always neat to see people getting involved in what most of us call 'the emerging conversation'. i, myself, find people like driscoll to be the LEAST helpful when it comes to the whole 'emerging movement'. reading him is like looking to obama to describe what the republican party stands for and wants to achieve. you might prefer checking out some other fellas: (who actually just posted an article on driscoll sept. 5)

also, gibbs & bolger's book on the emerging church is still considered to be one of the best so far. have you read it?

i'm just a young student and don't claim to know anything about anything yet, but i find these guys to be really helpful!

At September 16, 2008 at 10:52 AM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Juli, thanks for the resources and your comments!

I read McLaren's first two books (on this topic), but that's it in terms of books.

I won't have time until my congressional campaign is over in November, but perhaps after that.

As to Driscoll, are you critiquing him or his categories (at least, as I related them)? If the latter, can you provide some specifics? It'd be interesting to know where you think he falls short-- by omission or commission.

At September 16, 2008 at 12:55 PM , Blogger juli said...

well, i would definitely never try to critique anyone's understanding of reality/experience as i would hope no one would do that in return, BUT driscoll was himself once involved in the conversation and chose to leave and has instead chosen to engage in some pretty ugly battles with those still involved. it's like a bad break-up and keeps getting worse.

as for this particular article, i don't know anyone in the conversation that would actually pick 4 categories for anything-way too black/white and categorical. that's just a way to decide who's in/out and good/bad. his critiques are an extreme oversimplification and make me sad. i'm involved in several of those categories and yet do not believe i fit in his critiques.

i really appreciate your last paragraph after listing the sub-categories. i suppose that's why i chose to leave my comment. most of the time people are on one side of the fence or the other when it comes to anything emerging. you seemed open to conversation vs. debate-something that touches me deep down and gives me hope. thanks for chatting...

At September 16, 2008 at 3:26 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

At least implicitly, you are critiquing Driscoll-- and that's fine as long as it's done in candor and good faith. People are increasingly allergic to "judging" when judging is still called for-- if done properly.

For example, the most popular Bible verse today is probably "do not judge" from Matthew 7:1-5. But that passage is replete with judgment: What is a speck or log? Why remove your log? (In order to help with the identified speck of the other.) Or in the following verse: What is holy? What are pearls? Who are represented by dogs/pigs?

I don't know enough about "the conversation" to know if four categories are appropriate-- or two categories (e.g., Driscoll and his ilk-- bad; those in the conversation-- good).

But more broadly, categories (like models and statistics) have their place-- in appropriately simplifying a complex reality and helping us get our hands further around it.

That said, I didn't do Driscoll justice by failing to mention that his descriptions were meant as tendencies and frequent critiques by outsiders. That's a huge omission-- and I'll go back and edit the post to reflect that. In reading his essay, I thought he added plenty of wiggle room-- while trying to use categories to bring additional clarity.

Finally, thanks for your kind and encouraging words. I appreciate what PoMo and "the conversation" bring to the table-- and hope that I will be faithful in distinguishing between the wheat and chaff that it brings.

Grace and peace, eric


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