Conversation with the Emerging Church (part two)

Lately, there has been a lot written about the faith (or lack of faith) among millenials. (Here is a link to one of many articles.) In 2007, along with Dr. Kevin Hester, I wrote a two-part series of articles for ONE magazine dealing wtih the emerging church. With all the news coming out about millenials, I thought it would be good to reprint those articles here. Below is part two of that series. (I will provide links to Dr. Hester’s articles. Here is his part two.)

CONVERSATION WITH THE EMERGING CHURCH (PART TWO)

By Kevin Riggs

Recently, while talking to a group of Christian university students, the subject of absolute truth arose. I passionately explained how essential truth is to Christian faith and morality. They all nodded in agreement. I was pleased, confident that they were eagerly accepting my statements…until I asked a simple question: How would you define absolute truth? [1]

After an awkward silence, they started talking. In summary, their view of absolute truth was “something a person believes deeply.” They defined absolute truth as anything “I believe to be absolutely true,” but also, “anything an other individual believes to be absolutely true.” To ensure I understood, I asked, “You mean what I believe to be absolute may be different from what another person believes to be absolute, yet both beliefs would be absolute?” Their answer was a shocking “Yes.”

How do we proclaim and live the good news of Jesus in a culture that believes absolutes are relative? That is the question wrestled with by the emerging church. [2] The distinction “emerging church” refers to an ongoing dialogue about how (or whether) the Christian Faith needs to be reframed—revised for a postmodern generation. [3] At the core of this conversation is the conviction that as the culture changes, the church must adapt to the changes. According to emergents, failure to adapt blinds Christians to “cultural accretions (growth, addition, augmentation) and hides the gospel behind thought and modes of expression that no longer communicate with the…emerging generation.”[4]

This brief article will summarize [5] the pros and cons of the emerging church from the perspective of a pastor. [6] First the cons…

Three Cons

If a person is not careful, deconstructing and reconstructing Christianity can lead to an eventual rejection of Christianity. This often depends on the motive of the individual.  Questioning faith while honestly searching for the truth is healthy, but questioning faith, without the guidance of the Holy Spirit is dangerous (to say the least).

Second, without a definite creed Christianity is subjective, and subjective faith becomes relative faith, which in turn, becomes empty faith. Rather than deconstructing, reconstructing, and reinventing our faith, I believe we should renovate our methods. We have not been called to destroy, rebuild, or replace what others have done before us but to build on the foundation that has already been laid. [7] Renovating not reinventing!

Third, open minds can lead to old heresy—namely, Gnosticism. [8] Gnosticism teaches that a person can only learn truth through special insight or intuition. The practical outgrowth of Gnosticism is vulnerability to teachings that stray from orthodoxy.

Questioning everything without being grounded in the main things will lead a person astray. Paul warned of this. “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” [9]

Three Pros

The emerging church is open to questions, to discussion. [10] In the past, most believers were taught simply to accept things by faith. Along the journey of faith, however, those same believers encounter mountains and valleys, struggles and doubts. And God can handle those doubts! Questions, when asked properly, do not damage our faith but strengthen it.

The emerging church also understands that following Jesus is a journey, not just a destination. It’s a journey Adam, Enoch, Noah, Moses, Peter, and Paul walked, as did Augustine and Aquinas, Benjamin Randall and Mom and Pop Willey—and now you and I. The story of God and His covenant people is still unfolding. In this sense, Christianity is fluid, an ever changing, fresh, and living stream—not fixed, stagnant like a pond with no outlet.

The greatest strength of the emerging church is the emphasis on the present reality of the kingdom of God. Jesus taught that the kingdom of God was both now and not yet. Too often, in the church bemoans how terrible things are here and how much better things will be there. The emerging church challenges the followers of Christ to bring the kingdom of God into the present world while waiting for the “blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” [11] The good news of Jesus is redemption for the whole world, here and now. [12]

Conclusion

One thing is certain, today’s church is ministering to a postmodern world, and dangers confront the church from two sides.

On one side is the jagged bluff of blind acceptance. Just because something is “new” doesn’t mean it is automatically better than the “old.” Discernment keeps those bluffs from becoming a rock slides.

On the other side lies a deep canyon of blind rejection. Holding to old, man made traditions is no better than jumping on the band wagon of new teachings. Old doesn’t necessarily mean better than “new.” Discernment keeps the canyon of tradition from swallowing us in anonymity.

Walking the narrow path between the bluff and the canyon requires me to keep my eyes on the left and the right. Safely negotiating in these perilous times requires open minds and eyes wide open for the paths God has for us.

_______________________________________________________

FOOTNOTES

1 The most simple definition of absolute truth is found in Josh McDowell’s book, Right From Wrong. McDowell writes that absolute truth is “that which is true for all people, for all times, for all places” (p. 17). Thus, absolute truth is objective (defined outside ourselves); universal (doesn’t change from person to person, place to place); and constant (doesn’t change from day to day).

2 What I stated in Part One needs to be restated here: “The emerging church does accept absolute truth. They just believe reaching truth is not as easy (and as clear cut) as the modern mind had previously assumed. Through dialogue (as opposed to creeds and formulas) the emerging church is deconstructing and reconstructing Christianity in a culture that is post-Christian.” Through dialogue, truth is understood to be unfolding.

3 Emergent is not a program or a methodology or a new way of trying to do an old thing. Emergent is a paradigm shift in the way of thinking.

4 D.A. Carson. “The Emerging Church.” Modern Reformation Magazine. July / August, 2005; Issue, Vol. 14.4. Parenthesis added for clarification.

5 The opinions expressed in this article are my own, and may or may not be the opinions of the editor of ONE Magazine.

6 If you are interested in learning how the emerging church describes itself, here is a list of resources to get you started: An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches (Ray S. Anderson). Anything written by Brian McLaren. Making Sense of Church (Spencer Burke). The Post Evangelical (Dave Tomlinson). Velvet Elvis (Rob Bell). The Church in Emerging Culture (Leonard Sweet). A is for Abductive: The Language of the Emerging Church (Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren, and Jerry Haselmayer). The Emerging Church (Dan Kimball). For a serious critique of the emerging church, I suggest Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church (D.A. Carson). Two websites you need to look at are www.emergentvillage.com; and www.vintagefaith.com.

7 See 1 Corinthians 3:11 and Ephesians 2:19-22.

8 I will admit that “Gnosticism” is probably not the best word to use here; but it is the best I can come up with right now. What I am trying to express is that, within Gnosticism, it seems that “traditional” teachings are automatically rejected for “new” teachings. That is the likeness that I see within the emerging church.

9 2 Timothy 4:3.

10 I know this sounds like a contradiction from what I listed as the third con. But, I am part of the postmodern generation so I can handle paradoxes. Actually, what this points out is that one of the emerging church’s weakness is also one of her strengths.

11 Titus 2:13.

12 This whole paragraph is what the emerging church means when they say we are to be “missional.”

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