Key Topics in the Emerging Church (2 of 3)
Dr. Mark L. Bailey: Welcome to DTS Dialogue - Issues of God in Culture. I'm your host, Mark Bailey; I have the privilege of serving as president of Dallas Theological Seminary.
Today we want to interact on "key topics in the emerging church." We've already dialogued on a general topic of the emerging church in an earlier podcast. We want to take the opportunity today to dig in a little bit deeper.
That raises the next question, which is this pendulum swing between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Mark, it seems in the emerging church that that pendulum is coming away from orthodoxy and to a bigger emphasis on orthopraxy. But can you have one without the other?
There is no question that there have been those who have had orthodoxy without the orthopraxy, the question is can you have orthopraxy without orthodoxy, can you speak to that?
Dr. Mark Heinemann: Well, certainly some people would say, "Yes, you can have them separated." But the question is, does God separate them? And we could probably all of us think of different examples where Christ or the Apostle Paul or the Lord somehow makes it very clear, you know, all these things need to be integrated together. So Paul says, for example, "I admit my Jewish brethren have zeal, but it's without knowledge." John had a great concern, he says "You say you have faith, but where are your acts of faith?"
Jesus had a problem with Pharisees. They had the right acts, but they didn't have the faith. And so God... I think you're absolutely right; God, I think, is the one we need to look at, and Christ. What is their concern? And their concern always seems to be for the whole person, an integrated right belief, right action, right attitude, loving God with all of our hearts, soul, mind, and strength.
The Shema in Deuteronomy 6 emphasizing that. And so I understand that the emphasis on orthopraxy is another kind of a protest against a lot of the hypocrisy, a lot of the consumerism, a lot of the nominal Christianity, a lot of the compartmentalization of our lives, so that we can have our cake and eat it too.
But I think ultimately, big picture wise, we want all these things together, we want right belief, right action, we want right motives and attitudes as well.
Mark Bailey: In a new book that's edited by Robert Webber, called Listening to the Beliefs of the Emerging Churches, which I appreciated the title -- not the "emerging Church" but the "emerging Churches" -- with five different authors, Mark Driscoll, John Burke, Dan Kimball, Doug Paget, and Karen Ward.
In his summary Robert Webber argues that the emerging churches are trying to find a balance in reaction to traditional evangelicalism, that has theology but was weak in a applied ministry, and pragmatic evangelism that was pragmatic but weak in theology.
And that they are trying to strike a balance, because both of those are incomplete. And he sees a historic movement of the right doctrine, but didn't result in the ministry of compassions that ought to have happened.
And then there has been more of a consumer approach in an attempt to reach the seeking person or the one that's not seeking, how do we get them in the church. There has been incredible pragmatism with poor theology. And so I appreciated, at least, his perspective of trying to find a medium between those two.
The movie "Amazing Grace" is in the theaters right now, and in a biography written by John Piper, published by Crossway, William Wilberforce, who was fighting as a member of the British parliament in the 18th and 19th centuries to end slave trade and stamp out some of the social evils of his contemporary England.
And Wilberforce is quoted by Piper as saying, "The fatal habit of considering Christian moral as distinct from Christian doctrines insensibly gains strength. Thus the peculiar doctrines of Christianity went more and more out of sight. And as might naturally have been expected the moral system itself also began to wither and decay, being robbed of that which it have supplied it with life and nutriment."
And so orthopraxy without orthodoxy, and orthodoxy without orthopraxy, are the errors of the extreme, and I found that helpful.
Andy, orthopraxy stems from good spiritual formation. You and the Center of Christian Leadership obviously are greatly concerned about spiritual formation, but in what ways does spiritual formation look different in the emerging church, then maybe in the extremes that we've talked about?
Dr. Andrew Seidel: Well I think as a reactionary movement. The emerging church has looked at the existing church and said that basically our spiritual formation is discipleship and it's very programmatic, and they've said that you follow through a series of steps or something like that, and then you are a disciple.
And what they would say is that it's much more relational than that. That the question is really, what us God doing in the life of the person, and how do you connect with that, and how do you really understand what God is doing, and help people understand how God is using the experiences of their life to mold and develop them.
Scripture plays a significant role in that. There's no question about that, but it's also more interactive than the programmatic form.
And so what they are doing is asking the kind of questions...In fact, one of the things that was suggested by Reggie McNeil in one of his books, is that when you have a new members class, you don't bring them in and give them a packet of information about the church. You bring them and start doing life coaching with them and find out, where are you, and what does God do in your life, and would you like to see happen in the months and years ahead while you're part of this body. And so it's a very much more relational aspect.
It also goes to the spiritual disciplines, not that those were not a part of the existing church, but I think there is a greater emphasis on them, and the involvement of people in experiential elements of worship -- all of this oriented toward connecting more personally with God, not just with information, is what they would say. And I think one of the things that this does, particularly as it relates with the worship service, is it kind of restores some of the sense of majesty and glory of God into the relationship that we have with Him.
And it's a departure -- I remember in earlier years among our churches, evangelical churches, my church was one of them, and that is when we built a new building there was very little in the way of religious symbology in the building. There was a cross kind of up in the window in front, but that was it. We had some people come in and say, "Gosh, this is really a sterile environment." We'd have other people come in and say, "Oh isn't it wonderful that you're not spending money on your buildings."
I don't know which one was the right one, but what's being recovered here is they bring more of the symbology and things into the relationship with God, is a real sense of the majesty of God and connection with the supernatural that I think is very helpful as it is part of a growing and developing relationship where the Scripture is a critical part of it. And so it kind of fills out the process, I think.
Mark Bailey: That's great. I think that, well, when I was in seminary I went to seminary deficient in liberal arts because I had a medical background. So I had to take a course in western civilization at the junior college there, in Gresham, Oregon, there at Mount Hood Community College while I was going to the school.
And the teacher taught western civilization with a thread of church architecture. I never found out what his spiritual orientation was, but as he walked through western civilization, he showed the art and architecture of the church -- where it went to the great spires which reflected the majesty, and then thinking in those years, even initially the fellowship churches started looking more like houses because of the emphasis on fellowship and body life, as you say, rather than the stained glass. And there's been some balancing and rebalancing of that with bigger crosses and higher ceilings and different colored lights and things over the last number of years I've noticed, even among more evangelical churches.
But I thought it fascinating that the perception of God or the emphasis of the church was reflected in the architecture, not just the style of the services. Which relates to what you were just saying in terms of there's a desire to reconnect with the divine, with the spiritual. And the question becomes, how do we keep that from becoming just ritualistic? And I think that becomes the balance factor again, because we can return to the ritual without the relationship, and we can try to have the relationship and not have any expression of it even in ritual. And, again, the issue is balance of extremes.
Glenn: There's a place or two, Mark, where I think it's helpful to talk theologically and methodologically, that this rediscovery of historical practices of the church is a really good thing, it's a very positive thing among emerging churches and emerging conversations.
But sometimes I'd be concerned that there's the same kind of an approach that one sees in cultural analysis, and even in biblical and theological analysis, which I describe as kind of a "pick and choose", eclectic approach without really considering the implications and the contextualization of those practices in that cultural context. That sometimes the cultural practice is then removed out of that cultural context, put in this cultural context, as if somehow lighting candles, for example, would be...
Lighting candles means different things in different cultural contexts and in different places and I think what is desperately needed in this conversation is a systematic theological evaluation of how to do theology of culture, how to do historical theology and, obviously, biblical and exegetical theology, too. And there's a place where this conversation, and all theological conversations, need actually to be a conversation, a dialogue, among people with a variety of perspectives and expertise in the disciplines, so that we can actually learn and grow together towards that end.
And the tragedy is that what often happens in controversial matters is that there's an increasing polarity and a re-entrenchment rather than coming to the table and engaging in a conversation. I think those conversations, those dialogues, are good things, they're valuable, and ought to be a friend. And we don't necessarily walk away seeing everything exactly the same, but we agree on the essential things, and then practice in a variety of contexts what that looks like.
Mark Bailey: This is a more general question for all of you. When a movement is beginning, it often begins at the expense of previous movements or previous experiences, and in reaction to negative experiences. Some of these who write have come to the church out of backgrounds that would have been rejected by the church, and they have legitimate concerns that they didn't have a place, they weren't received, they could have been helped earlier, etc.
How do we keep from feeling attacked by this movement, and how do we engage in conversation with this movement without some of the more heat that light in the polemics and some of the apologetics of it? Obviously there are those in the movement that we would absolutely disagree with. We would think that their theology was weak, if not poor. There are some within the movement whose theology we probably share, but they've chosen to do a different style of ministry.
How do we stay in the conversation, maybe even not as those who would use the term "emerging" and profit from that conversation, and also bring some profit to the conversation, with grace and humility, Mark, like you mentioned? What are some ideas that those who listen to this could pick up on?
Mark Heinemann: Well, one of the things that hits me, and you mentioned this book Listening to the Voice of the Emerging Churches with these five representatives kind of along a spectrum. They all almost to a person made reference to the fact that what they really would have preferred was to talk to each other in person.
And so we've got this little problem that we've got a whole lot more information than we've got opportunity to actually interact with people as people. And so they become icons or images of something we imagine they are, which oftentimes they aren't. Maybe the answer is on the internet, where you can at least have the responding back and forth.
But something that I've struggled with, even in preparation for this conversation is wishing that I had more contact with someone in an emerging church in our area. There don't seem to be very many -- I tried to go to one over in Arlington and they had kind of fallen on hard times.
So communication's got to be a part of it. How to pull that off, that's tougher. We can't just load the faculty onto airplanes and fly them around to different emerging churches, that's a tough one.
Mark Bailey: We had some of our faculty attend some of those gatherings to hear it firsthand, and I think that it's helpful to bring those kinds of conversations back to us. Glenn?
Glenn: One of the reactions I read to the first conversation we had from someone within the emerging conversation was that he appreciated what we did, but he observed that basically what we had done was talk about what we had read, and I think, Mark, that you're right in pointing out that. I would also like to say, though, that he gave us a pass by saying that he would expect academics to deal with what has been published. But what has happened in the couple of years since then is that there has been just a proliferation of things that have been written. And I think there are two things I would want to say.
One is that it's a whole lot more helpful if you want to understand, if I want to understand what somebody believes, to read what that person wrote rather than read somebody's summary of a synthesis of and critique of. And it's been my experience in the Internet and email that a great asset here is that people are usually pretty responsive to a request to answer questions and to dialogue and get together. I think that's one of the things to do.
And then the second thing, and here I'd like to speak to people like us, those who are more mature and spiritual [laughs], no jokes there. [laughs] I do think that it's incumbent on those who see themselves, and appropriately so, as leaders, to learn how to listen, even to voices that make us uncomfortable and that pain us a bit.
I had a conversation recently with a student and he was observing how an artist to which he was listening...he said, "This guy's really angry. What makes him so angry?" I think in a way to understand what makes him so angry is to listen to what he says and to attempt to understand him. To quickly say that what he says is so offensive to me, I don't want to hear it, it cuts off the ability to understand, and if dialogue is to occur, that's why we have to listen to one another, and make sure we understand one another.
I want people who walk away from talking to me to understand what I say, not what they think that I said. And I want to do the same thing to others. If I summarize or reflect somebody's position, I want that person to say, "Yeah, that's what I believe."; whether or not we agree is a different issue.
And I think in the emerging conversation, I would like to be able to say that this is lessening and decreasing, but I don't think that's the case. What I think we see here is a defensive posture across the board on both sides, throughout the continuum, and a difficulty in engaging one another without immediately becoming judgmental.
Some of what I read and hear needs to be judged. Some of the infatuation with atheism and with heresy -- when someone writes a book called A Heretics Guide to Eternity for example and affirms that heresy is a good thing, we've got to say, "No." Heresy means something, orthodoxy means something. I do know that orthodoxy develops through conversation with heresy and heretics, but that doesn't mean that heresy is a good thing.
If we ought to have a theistic and an atheistic theology, as somebody's recently argued, then we basically have nothing. If it's good and bad, true and false, then it's neither. So there is a time to be critical, there is a time to say "yes" and "no." But that has to occur in the context of understanding, and sometimes, many times, it's hard to listen and to sort through things which make me uncomfortable and nervous.
Andy: I think coming off of that I would say that the basic way I'd describe it is a solid humility. The humility to talk and to listen and to engage, but there's a solidness about it, not a mushiness about it. In that regard, Mark, I appreciate you because Center for Christian Leadership had Brian McLaren here to speak to the people, and we've had Dan Kimball here to speak, and I think that is a very, very positive thing.
And I learned that while I was in seminary reading Charles Ryrie's book Dispensationalism Today and then another author came out with the book Amillennialism Today. And when I read it his description of dispensationalists, I would read it and I would think, "I don't believe that. They're not teaching me that at Dallas Seminary. Where did that come from?"
And it was like it wasn't reacting to what was happening here among dispensationalists, but it was kind of a caricature.
And I think to have the solidness to say, "Let's talk to the people who are really in this and have a dialogue with them, not just articles and books about them from others", and I think that's a very positive way of moving on. So I appreciate what you've done here at the seminary that's enabled us to do that.
Dr. Mark Bailey: To have a conversation with someone doesn't mean we endorse everything.
Dr. Mark Bailey: And for them to talk to us doesn't mean they endorse us.
Announcer: For more information about Dallas Theological Seminary, please visit us on the web at http://www.dts.edu/.