The Emerging Church Movement: Part 3 of 3
Announcer:The twenty-first century has ushered in events and issues that cause us to ask: Where is God in today's world? In response, Dallas Theological Seminary presents DTS Dialogue - Issues of God and Culture: The Emerging Church Movement.
A growing number of Christians have joined a movement hopeful of meeting the complexities of ministering to an emergent culture. Thanks for joining us as we unpack the key elements of the Emerging Church movement. Part three.
Mark Bailey:Mark, you're working in the area of Christian education. How can we prepare people to address the emergent culture, whether or not we're involved with the Emerging Church movement? How do we address the emerging culture?
Mark Heinemann:That's a great question. I would say one thing is, there needs to be a place where we take a pretty close look at philosophical categories. Because a lot of these things, a lot of these discussions, are harking back to this writer or that writer, this category or that category, and I don't think our students should be leaving and asking themselves, "Well, what is a realist?", or, "How did Kant's views affect all this stuff?" We have to have at least some working tools to go out there and to say, "What does the church look like in this situation? How can I most effectively proclaim God's truth?"
Another thing is, and you'd expect this from a Christian educator, but some of these objections, some of these problems out there are educational things like Glenn was saying. How we're doing things is many times the problem. In Scott Smith's book he's talking to Tony Jones, and Tony Jones says, "You know, it's not so much the philosophy of such and such, but it's how people are then going out into the pulpit and misusing it, or going into the church and misapplying it."
So some of these things are methodological kinds of things. For example, objections to authoritarian leadership. Well, there are ways even to work in an elder-led church so that you're not leading in an authoritarian way, or a way that you're damaging people or crushing their creativity or not appreciating their gifts. There are ways of teaching. One of the objections that postmoderns seems to have, emergent church people seem to have, is this very top-down teaching style, the idea of just unloading knowledge on people, and they're wanting a more participative thing, more dialoguing, more conversation, to use their word. And those things don't have to be tied to a particular philosophy, unless you're talking about a philosophy of education, where you really believe that God can speak through your brothers and sisters to teach you things.
At the same time, I don't think we should give up on a legitimate leadership. One of the things that I struggle with in reading the book Reimagining Spiritual Formation is, sometimes there seems to be too big a withdrawal from leading people into the truth and how it applies to their lives. Those are some things.
Mark Bailey:Either of you two men want to chime in there? Glenn, you're in the area of theology, and obviously in systematic theology we believe that God has spoken and that there is truth, and there are theological propositions never to be divorced from real life. How do you approach the classroom knowing that you have a culture that has affected our students? How do you seek to build that bridge so that you gain a hearing at the same time you don't lose a footing?
Glenn Kreider:I think one of the great benefits of the whole emergent conversation within Christianity has been a refocusing on theological method, on what theology is and how it's done. And it's easy to find in emerging churches an emphasis on the tradition alongside a rejection of the tradition, so that most express their appreciation for the creeds and for orthodox Christian confession, but then reject a large segment of the Christian tradition. So we're asking questions, and we have to talk about how tradition actually functions in our theology; and in a confessional institution like Dallas Seminary, when our doctrinal statement does provide a grid, a synthesis, a summary of what we believe, how to pass on that faith in the Christian orthodoxy to our students. It has to be done, and it has to be done in a way which appreciates the Scripture as the authoritative source. It's not the tradition or the Scripture, but the tradition is true to the degree which it matches what the Scripture teaches.
They also have focused, I think, our attention on the role of culture and the role of the world in which we live, and to realize that the - and I'm going to sound like I'm overstating the case, I think - but I grew up in a Christian community, and I got the sense that the people who taught me, not at Dallas Seminary, of course, believed that the New Testament was written to mid-twentieth century America. We read the Bible as if it directly applies to us, and to realize that the culture of Moses' day and the culture of David's day and the culture of Paul's day - in fact, in Paul's case, he's in a multicultural experience - and to appreciate that the Scriptures were written in other cultures, and to appreciate that we're speaking truth into cultures today. So finding ways of articulating the truth in a way which connects with the culture is incredibly important.
I believe that God revealed himself in Scripture, that Scripture is the authoritative source; and I also believe, because of Scripture, that God revealed himself in nature and creation. And as a systematic theologian, I'm looking for truth wherever it's found, and always through the lens of Scripture, always the authoritative source as the authoritative source. But if I can find truth expressed in cultural perspectives and cultural views, that's a nice way to make a bridge.
Music is a particularly effective way, I think, to do that. It's effective in two ways. It's effective, as teachers and professors and as people who are preparing people for ministry, to use the language - and basically music is the language of the culture today - to use that to demonstrate their commonality or common ground. But to be able to communicate in that as well, so it's a both/and with an understanding of the culture and an expression in the culture, which I find really effective, and students tend to respond positively.
Mark Bailey:Over a hundred years, basically a hundred years ago, the Social Gospel Movement really began to emerge, if I could say it that way, as an attempt to link Christianity to the needs of the world at a social, political, structural level. For evangelicals, and for even evangelical churches that are a part of the emerging church conversation, what will protect a church from moving from an evangelical commitment to a Social Gospel, and ultimately the loss of conviction and witness within society that has really happened in the old Social Gospel Movement? What protects a person or a church from that loss?
Mark Heinemann:Just to put my two cents in, I think it's maintaining a clear understanding of what the Gospel is: a doctrine of salvation. I think about our educational history in Christianity, and some of the most powerful things that have ever happened in Christian education initially had a heart for the oppressed and the underprivileged. That whole Sunday School Movement with Robert Raikes started out that way, but by the end of that story was written, millions of people had come to Christ because he cared about some kids who were oppressed in London and had one day off and were working unbelievable hours and had no education or anything. And he taught them how to read and how to write. And I don't think we should ever lose that love for sinners, love for a lost world. That's what Christ said we're supposed to be all about in the Great Commission. But we dare not ever, then, move over into another Gospel and somehow say that that takes the place of that person's trust in what Christ did for them on the cross, which has an effect now and, of course, it means heaven for those who trust in it.
Andrew:It seems to me that part of the issue here is maintaining a balance. I remember what Grant Howard said, a little booklet he wrote about his church when they were trying to redo their vision statement. Basically, they came up with truth in the context of relationships. That's very biblical; you think God even, when sending his truth, did it in the context of relationships: sending Christ to live among us and to be one of us. And you see that throughout his ministry as well, ministering to the needs of people as well as giving them the truth. If we can maintain that kind of balance, so that we can do the things that are being reemphasized in terms of the personal aspects of this, ministering to real people and real situations, but not giving up the whole idea of truth in the process; if you can keep those two together, then I think we'll be in good shape.
Glenn:I think it is the case that reactionary movements are always reactionary. The real danger is that, in the reaction, there is a moving away from what should be maintained and held onto. The great tragedy of - and this leads, I think, to a second answer to the question; that we learn the lessons of history, and we appreciate the orthodox tradition, the emphasis on the gospel is exactly right, and on the Trinity. Those are consistent throughout history. I think the appreciation of our historical faith, once for all delivered, to use biblical languages, is one way of answering the question. But a lesson we learn from the Social Gospel Movement is that it resulted in evangelicalism and what historians have called "the great reversal," because the Social Gospel defined the gospel as social activity. Evangelicals tend to move away from doing those kinds of things that, at one time, were at the forefront: rescue missions and hospitals and those kinds of things. Started to move away towards simply a proclamation of the gospel. And it's a both/and, not either/or.
The real danger here, though, it's the caution I would want to provide - this applies both to proponents of the emergent, and ministry in a postmodern world, and critics - is be careful about overreacting, about reactionism. There are some things that my kids help me understand that could change in us and in the church. But we don't want to throw the thing out and start over. We have to avoid putting our heels in, saying we're not going to do this, and avoid polarizing the issue. Because I think reactionary movements are always reactionary.
Mark Bailey:The consistency of the identification of who Jesus is as the son of God, the reality of sin, the necessity of personal salvation, that we don't lose the simplicity of the gospel which is in Christ and the implications; and obviously, that's all rooted in a view of Holy Scripture. And I have seen in my short life of half a century, a little over, that when the Bible is lost, and when sin and salvation through Christ is no longer important, that there becomes a loss of witness, a loss of conviction. That can happen on an individual level; it can happen, obviously, on a corporate or ecclesiological level.
Thank you for the time. Thank you for your answers. What I know about these men is their heart for God and their desire to minister in a contemporary world, and I appreciate so much your contribution. Let's bow for prayer, shall we?
Father, to thank you for the time with these men, talking about a subject that is always changing in one sense, the definitions and the breadth of the conversation in the emergent church, within an ever-changing culture. And I pray that you would give us that ability to not speak too quickly before we hear, but also not give up what we ought never to give up. And I pray that you would allow us your word and by your Spirit, to not only understand the Scripture, but seek to know the times, and to therefore know how to bring your truth that you have revealed to a world that is in such desperate need of knowing your Son and your plan for all of our lives. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
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