Key Topics in the Emerging Church (1 of 3)
Dr. Mark 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 have already dialogued on the general topic of the emerging church in an earlier podcast. We want to take the opportunity today to dig in a little bit deeper.
Today in our studio, we have Dr. Glenn Kreider, Professor of Theological Studies, Dr. Mark Heinemann, Associate Professor of Christian Education and Dr. Andy Seidel, Executive Director for the Center of Christian Leadership.
Gentlemen, welcome to the studio. Thank you for joining me today. I want to begin with a question. Glenn, let me start with you. As a way of refresher for those who may or may not have listened to our previous podcast, how have those identifying themselves as a part of the emerging conversation characterized themselves?
Dr. Glenn Kreider: The language of the emerging church is intended to describe what the church looks like as it emerges out and as it's contextualized in contemporary cultures to recognize that the church in a postmodern world is different in its practices at least than the church in the modern world.
A recent essay, which I think is probably best definitional essay I have read recently, is by Scott McKnight called "Five Streams of the Emerging Church" in the February 2000 issue of Christianity Today. McKnight identifies five major streams. He gives them all "Ps" - so we have prophetic, postmodern, praxis-oriented, post-evangelical and political.
By prophetic, he says they are at least provocative. These are people that believe that the church needs to change and that the church ought to reflect the culture in which it is found and that the church, as it has been done, is not as effective in the postmodern world.
Which leads to the second "P," postmodern, which he, I think rightly, defines as skepticism toward the meta-narrative. There is an epistemological hesitancy. There is a hesitancy to affirm certainty and particularly certainty of our knowledge.
The third is that it is praxis-oriented, particularly in terms of worship, very experiential and sensory worship experience. Orthopraxy, right living, not simply right belief or a reaction against what is perceived to be with an emphasis on right belief and denial of emphasis on Orthopraxy. It is missional, which McKnight identifies as participation in God's redemptive activity in the world; that missions according to emergent folks, is not something the church does. But the church is missional because God is missional, whether it is his glory, his revelation or however missional is defined. It is God's work in the world, which is the church's function.
It is post-evangelical, which is perhaps the most controversial of the "P" streams he identifies. It is a reaction against evangelicalism. In the same way he says that neo-evangelical was post-fundamentalist. I think it is the case that the emerging and emergent church is reactionary. He might perhaps have overstated the use of post-evangelical language there.
And fifth, the emerging church folks he says identify themselves as political, by which he means not simply involvement in political issues but also in social issues. I think there is a place where he is stretching the alliteration to find a fifth "P." But the point, I think is well taken and well made that the emerging folks are very intentional about involvement in social issues.
He would say and I would want to be very careful to say that in these five streams we don't have a sine qua non approach to the definition of a movement in conversation. But these are the kinds of characteristics, which seem to be found among those who would identify themselves as emerging or emergent, which if I may, I think is an important definitional matter that ought to be addressed to. It does seem to be helpful to distinguish between churches that are people that are organizations that would identify themselves as emerging and does which would identify themselves as emergent.
The emergent language seems to be connected to the Emergent Village, folks like Brian McLaren and Tony Jones who is the director of Emergent Village now. Emerging is a more loose conversational and less organizational term to designate churches that are emergent-like. There was a time when the two terms were used pretty well interchangeably. But Mark Driscoll has written several articles and in his most recent book he talks about how important it is to distinguish, partly for his own purposes, that he is perfectly comfortable identifying himself as emerging but wants to distance himself from the emergent conversation, which he was part of in the beginning.
I think he is right about helping to separate those two streams.
Mark Bailey: Andy or Mark, do you have any additions with which you want to chime in there?
Dr. Mark Heinemann: I guess it is just important to see that there is a lot of variety out there.
Mark Bailey: Some would define as concept differently depending on their own particular nuance of ministry as well in terms of, like you said, emerging. And the attempt to deal with the emerging generation may be a different definition than the emergent or even somebody else's definition of emerging. And so I think it is important for all of us not to overly label someone using that terminology as reflecting one of those theologies that might be represented within either of those two streams.
Glenn: I think it is helpful to note that Scott McKnight is sympathetic towards emerging folks and had some very positive things to say and that the people for whom he speaks, the movement that he is representing has been pretty positive in saying that, yeah, this really does describe who and what we are.
And again, not to say that non-emerging churches are not praxis-oriented, are not experiential, and are not involved in social activity because to the degree to which they are Christian, they should be and are. But these are things that are particularly of value and emphasized and are intentional on the part of the emerging church folks.
Mark Bailey: Great. Andy, what is to be appreciated by those who would identify themselves or about those who would identify themselves as a part of the emerging or the emergent movement?
Dr. Andy Seidel: Actually, I think there is a lot to be appreciated. They are like any movement that comes out of an existing group because they have recognized some areas that need to be dealt with. So one of the things I think that is very positive about them is that they really make an effort to seek to understand the culture in which we are involved now with the purpose of how do you reach that culture? How do you speak in ways that the people in that culture will understand? So I think that is probably the most positive thing out of it.
The other thing that I think is terrific is that through all of the emergent discussion, really pretty much from the beginning, there has been an emphasis on the missional aspects of Christianity, the awareness that Christ has put us here for a purpose, left the church here for a purpose. He didn't say to the disciples, "Go into all the world and do church". He said, "Go into all the world and make disciples". So they are asking the question, "How do we do that and what do we need to understand about people in order to do that?"
I think in that understanding, they are really touching on something that I think all of us have to deal with significantly. That is that the whole nature of change has itself changed. What they term discontinuous change, that it's happening so fast that is not really just a matter of adapting a little bit here and there. We have to look at our paradigms and ask if we have the right paradigms to meet this challenge of the kind of change that is coming upon us.
People have been talking about that for a long time. "Change is avalanching upon us" is one of the terms that an earlier writer used in that and that we are grotesquely unprepared to deal with it. They are trying to really look at that issue and say, "How do we deal with this significant change that is happening and is going to continue to happen?" They say things like, "The realization today is that every generation is a whole new culture and we have to learn to be able to shift much more rapidly than we had to in the past."
So I think in those ways in particular, they will really help us in our biblical commands to be missional and to reach this world.
Mark Bailey: I have read in some books about the emerging church that 2003/2004 was a pivotal time frame for following 9/11, following the global fight on terror. So that may speak to how rapidly this movement is seeking to adjust as well. I know that they are expecting even more radical change.
Mark Bailey: And wanting to stay poised for that.
Andy: Yes. From a secular sense there is a lot of discussion out about globalism and how everything has changed. Everything is interdependent now. What happens in one part of the world is going to drastically impact other parts of the world and particularly us because we are dependent in a lot of ways on the production and the economic situation in many, many other countries. We just had the little blip in the stock market because the stocks of China - I don't understand all that - had a sell off there and it hit us big the next day. I think that's going to make a much more unstable situation.
Mark Bailey: Mark, if I could address a question to you. What is the passionate reaction? What's the driving passion or a couple of the driving passions that have created this emerging movement?
Mark Heinemann: Well, the list could be long. I think people both within the movement and without the movement would say, "yes, there is a lot of reaction here against things." Some of those things have a long history like hypocrisy. It seems like in the last decade there has just been a constant flow out of various confessions of leaders who have fallen, leaders who have betrayed their people. They have taken money. They have sexually abused. They have done this and that.
So there are things like that. But there are other more specific things to our particular time and place and history. Dan Kimball has just recently come out with a book called, They Like Jesus but They Don't Like the Church. I think he brings out five there that would work as well as any to really answer your question. Just briefly, they are these.
He says what emerging generations think about the church, first of all is that it is an organized religion with a political agenda. So here you have got the flavor of well-known Christian leaders supposedly saying things like, "We have to make America a Christian nation. We have to return to our Christian heritage" and they might even get into political parties. Whereas Kimball is saying that what we don't want is an organized religion with a political agenda. We want an organized community with a heart to serve others. So it is not a jingoistic kind of triumphalistic religion that we've got but it's a religion that comes alongside it is willing to serve anyone.
Our political agenda is the same agenda Christ had when he stood up in the synagogue and quoted Isaiah 61. He came to bind up the people with wounds and to help the weak and we obviously know a number of other things as well. But it is very interesting that he happened to choose that particular place to quote and coming out as the Messiah for the first time.
Another thing the Kimball says is that the church is judgmental in the negative. You don't have to watch much TV or read the papers to see that the media just love to beat that drum. He says that to a certain extent we have earned a reputation and we need to get back to seeing ourselves as positive agents of change, loving others as Christ would love.
So this organized religion with the agenda, the judgmental and negative aspects and then here are a few more. One is the church is dominated by males and oppresses females. This is not just something peculiar to the emergent church or to the emerging churches but it really finds a home there. Certain brands of Christian feminism find a home there in the movement and feel that that is a place where they have a platform. Kimball says the answer to that is that the Christian church, when at its best, holds women in the highest respect and includes them in the leadership in appropriate ways.
Another one is that the church is homophobic. Kimball says that this is just something that is not going to go away and that we have to learn to be a loving and welcoming community and not treat homosexuals as untouchables and people with whom we cannot converse, people that we cannot love, people that we cannot serve.
And then there are two more. One, and this is a biggie - "The church arrogantly claims all other religions are wrong". This is a huge element. I think of protest in this group. We could spend our whole conversation on that, but what Kimball pleads for is a respect other peoples beliefs and faith and a willingness to listen to their story and not see every encounter as something where we have to give our story, we have to convince, we have to control, that sort of thing. But it's a matter of respect, as I think he sees Jesus doing.
And the last thing is a huge one and particularly important to us here at Dallas Seminary and that is the notion that people would say, "Well, the church is full of fundamentalists who take the whole Bible literally", and that obviously is absurd. Kimball says the answer to that is that we need to hold our beliefs with humility. He thinks that there is an arrogance many times. We are kind of saying that we have it wrapped. We know all there is to know about that subject. We know we are right. And it's hard to be humble when you're right.
He says no. You have got to have humility and strive to be thoughtful theologians in all these discussions that we found ourselves in two, three or four decades ago were not the daily bread. But today in the workplace, in the neighborhood, all of these positions are there and we have to learn how to be Christ like in these encounters. I think he gives us a representative list of things that people are reacting against.
Glenn: I think what is important about that too, Mark is that what we have here is not Kimball's evaluation of what is going on in the world but this book reflects his conversations and interactions and what people were telling him. His intent then is to in each church is have a church which addresses those concerns and which is responsive to those concerns; that is distinctly Christian but does put up those kind of barriers and hindrances to people of faith.
What will be interesting is the follow-up to that book which is called I Like Jesus but Not the Church we're Kimball will actually speak himself about his own criticism of the church and the establishment. This is a real tension in this conversation and in any conversation. I think we do need to hear the way that those outside of the church perceive us, and to have a non-defensive and non-argumentative kind of response. If somebody says that you are unloving and I respond by saying, "No, I'm not!" that's really not very helpful. We need the kind of thick skin and the humility as you brought out and to say that apparently I am not being as effective as I wanted to be in communicating my Savior, so how can I do that a little bit better. I really did appreciate that book too and the way he walks that line.
Mark Heinemann: Yeah, in each of the chapters with fairly lengthy quotes from actual people, what they thought before they came to Christ and in some cases what they thought afterwards, there is a real feeling of that this is what is out on the street.
Glenn: And unless there is a misunderstanding there, Kimball does at times take a pretty strong stance on truth issues like the homosexuality question for example. And it's not a case of saying, "Well we handle the charge that we are homophobic by refusing to speak to that issue." He says some really strong, firm, biblically based, orthodox, Christian things about those kinds of issues too and expresses - again a thing I really appreciated it - the kind of turmoil that brings for him to have to say to people, "I'm sorry but this is the truth and we are committed to historic Christian orthodoxy as expressed in the creeds and the Christian tradition."
Mark Heinemann: Yeah, yeah. The incident out of his book where he is in the coffee shop or what ever it is weeping with this woman because he has to tell her that this is what the Bible says. That was pretty moving. There was a real sense of Christ-likeness I thought in that loving approach that he took.
Mark Bailey: Dan would be an example of someone with a high view of Scripture who is seeking to make a mark in a missional environment within church ministry there in Santa Cruz. So I think that what he says, coming from a similar theological background as those of us who sit around this table, rings out to us to think. I think those are some great things Mark that you have raised.
Glenn, we have hinted at it, but let me, with a more formal question. Explain the move or some of the movement away from more formal statements of doctrine or doctrinal statements to more narrative presentations of truth. What is meant by that kind of a move?
Glenn: There has been a recognition, which I find incredibly helpful that the Bible is not only a set of stories, but it is a set of stories that tell a story, the story of God's work of redemption in the world, His work of creation, the fall and then recreation. And that the stories in Scripture are tellings of that story. So much, and I don't want to make up statistics to support this - I don't know how much of the Bible is narrative and how much is not, but I think it is the case - that much of the Bible is.
There is a charge, and I think it has some validity that theology has been done and that ministry has been done and that systematic theology particularly has been done according to categories that are then imposed upon the story and the stories are turned into something other than the stories to make them theological. Many in the postmodern world and in the emerging conversation are interested in doing theology from a story perspective.
One of the things that McKnight says, which makes me really nervous, is that he characterizes the post-evangelical stream as a post-systematic theology perspective. I confess that I really don't know what that means. I think I know what it means to talk about systematic theology being done differently than in a scholastic kind of manner and way. But in order to do theology as story without those kinds of theological conclusions and deductions, it might be if not impossible, incredibly difficult. I find myself in teaching systematic theology to be teaching from a biblical-theological perspective how God reveals himself over time, progressively and biblical story and continuing today as well.
But, for example, we can talk about the Fall and the impact of the caretaker's rebellion against the Creator. It introduces death into the created order and into their lives. Animals die and the entire created order is cursed. But somewhere we need to stop and step back and ask the questions, "What does that story, what does what happened in that historical event have to do with me and with us? How do we handle the questions, which have traditionally been called total depravity and original sin?"
Those kinds of categories, it seems to me, are necessary to address. On one hand we need to appreciate the narrative approach and the use of stories. But it's not either systematic theology according to this way or systematic theology according to this way, but much more of a both/and. I think what often happens in reactionary movements is that the pendulum swings too far over here. And having said some really nice, positive things about Kimball's book, and there is so much in there to affirm, I think at the very core there is a fundamental flaw in assuming the possibility of separating Jesus from the church. So we ought to hear people's criticism of the church and their love and respect for Jesus. At the same time, you cannot have Jesus apart from the church. "You cannot care for me with no regard for her" Derek Webb puts it in the song called "The Church". I think that is so important, that we, in our dealing with things in terms of black and white or on the borders of either/or and reactionism that we sometimes come back and say that we have to pull these things together and hold these things together. This is why I am really interested to see what happens in the follow-up volume that Kimball is writing now.
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