The Emerging Church Movement: Part 1 of 3
Announcer:The 21st century has ushered in events and issues that cause us to ask, "Where's God in today's world?" In response, Dallas Theological Seminary presents DTS Dialogue - Issues of God in 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 I.
Dr. Mark Bailey:Welcome to DTS Dialogue - Issues of God in Culture. I have the privilege of being your host. My name is Dr. Mark Bailey., president of Dallas Theological Seminary. Today our discussion topic is the emerging church movement. Today in the studio I have with me Dr. Mark Heinemann, associate professor of Christian Education. Mark, welcome.
Dr. Mark Heinemann: Thank you.
Mark Bailey: Dr. Glenn Kreider, associate professor of Theological Studies.
Dr. Glenn Kreider: Thank you.
Mark Bailey: And Dr. Andrew Seidel, our Executive Director for the Center for Christian Leadership.
Dr. Andrew Seidel: Thank you.
Mark Bailey:Guys, thank you for joining me today and giving of your time for this topic. Let's start right in. Glenn, what is the emerging culture, the emergent culture, in the emerging church movement?
Glenn:This is a conversation which is as many conversations - incredibly difficult because of the difficulty in definition and terms. There are as many definitions of "emergent" as there are people defining it. There are a variety of perspectives and approaches. Let me try to be helpful and try to synthesize some of those ideas.
The emerging' language is intentionally chosen by people who use it. I think that's important to note that the emergent language grew out of an intentional effort by people to define what they were setting out to do. This is unlike dispensationalism and certain other labels which are used by critics on a movement. Here, there is an intention by the authors and by the leaders in the conversation and movement to define the term.
Why "emergent"? Well, an emergent church is a short-hand for what the church looks like in an emergent culture. The emergent language intends to indicate that this is not something that people do with an agenda, trying to construct and to build something, but to answer the question, what does the church look like in the culture today and to recognize that there are significant differences between the culture than most people would recognize, significant differences between the culture as it now exists in the West and the culture several decades ago in the West.
It's often described as modernity, post-modernity transition. The world today looks different, and leaders in the emerging church conversation, or the emerging church movement - and for a time it was important to people to distinguish whether it was a movement or a conversation. In my mind, once an organization is founded and a director is appointed, that's now a movement, and there's an emerging church movement.
There's a recognition that the church, as it exists today, looks differently than the church did previously. What makes this different, I think - from a pretty common generational shift, a pretty common recognition that the faith of the children is a little different than the faith of the fathers - is that this is not simply a distinction between forms and functions, but to recognize that maybe the culture is so different that we need to reconsider the way of doing church.
That's what some of the leaders in the movement are doing. Some of the practitioners in the movement are saying, "Let's step back. Let's understand the culture, and let's think how the church could be incarnated in this culture. What would it look like if the church was starting today?" That, I think, is one of the nice strengths of the movement but a pretty significant criticism. We'll talk about those kinds of things later.
Another issue related to definition that, I think, is important is that there are people who are comfortable with calling themselves emerging church leaders, defining themselves as, "We're part of an emergent church."
Critics of the movement sometimes use the language differently, and proponents use the language differently; that simply the use of emergent' doesn't necessarily say much of anything. What needs to be understood is how that person is using the language of emergent, so that for some people to be part of the emerging church movement means you're part of this loose coalition and organization of churches that practice certain things.
Other people say, "This is what it means to be emergent - that you do certain things." If this church that is identified as emergent has one - let's say, for example, they light candles, or they go back and use a lot of literature, so that a church that does that is necessarily part of the emerging church. Well, not necessarily. In the same way that the use of guitars and drums doesn't mean that a church today is seeker-sensitive or part of the church growth movement that the use of candles and incense and those kinds of things don't necessarily mean anything.
I think we have to be careful in defining that we don't over-generalize. Over-generalization is one concern. The second is that language does mean something, words do mean something. These words are not simply whipped cream that are nailed up against the wall; it's intentionally beyond nailing Jell-o to the wall because it's easier to nail Jell-o than it is whipped cream, I think.
Mark Bailey:As a follow-up to that, Glenn - and the other men can chime in - I hear you saying that just because the word emergent is used, it doesn't lock it into a particular monolithic-style nor even necessarily doctrinal persuasion; that there is a breadth to the movement and therefore you've got to listen for what a particular church, who claims that title, is actually saying.
Glenn:It's a little like what I've heard you say about the church in China. Whatever you say about what's going on in China is true somewhere. Whatever people say about emerging is probably true of somebody.
This is a new movement. It's a grass roots kind of conversation. It's not an organizational structure and it's a pretty free form kind of conversation. So there is a great deal of diversity. Yet at the same time, I do think it's helpful to talk in broad strokes and generalities about what characterize.
Let me just provide one or two. The rest of you guys can jump in and bail me out. One is that I think everybody recognizes that there is much more of a skepticism towards certainty of knowledge, of understanding, in a post-modern world than in a modern world. That the myth of objectivity, the detached, objective observer, which characterized Enlightenment thinking is largely today recognized to be impossible. We are all situated beings; we have perspective and a pre-understanding.
Radical post-modernists obviously take that too far to say that there is no truth. There is no understanding possible. But there is in all forms of post-modernism and the emerging culture a skepticism about certainty, which leads to a skepticism about authority and dogmatism and the need and appreciation for experience. Even a multi-formed experiential Christianity which I think the emergent church is tapping into.
Andy:Even the terminology that they use, that this is a conversation, indicates that this is not about certainty. It's about a process, a dialogue that continues to go on. If you ever get to certainty, it's almost like it's over.
Mark Heinemann:I'm wondering if the metaphor of a conversation also provides some protection for thinking thoughts that aren't in the approved theology, so to speak, and being able to discuss things that might otherwise have been considered out of bounds. I wonder that about some of what I see written.
Mark Bailey: Pontificate without having to sign your name to it.
Mark Heinemann: That would be the negative side.
Andy:The other side would be that there's a certain security or safety in being able just to throw ideas out without saying this is the final truth.
Glenn:I think it's important there to note that although we mustn't overstate the generational difference, post-modernity is not a generation gap. There are old post-moderns and young moderns. But that it does seem to be the case that for the generation that grew up, and most of the leaders in this conversation grew up, in the church, or at least have had experience in para-church or church organizations, that there is a reaction against, and sometimes even a rebellion against, the dogmatic and sometimes legalistic approaches to the Christian life, which they experience.
For right or wrong, and whether it's generally true or not, that does seem to be a pretty consistent factor in the testimonies that we read. There is this reaction against - and I think that's the point. There is a reaction against something that is a problem. But I think the reaction is many times an over-reaction.
Just because I felt like - and this is not a personal story, this is the generic I' -, just because I felt - this is Romans 7:5 - just because I experienced legalism as a child growing up and react and rebel against that, doesn't mean everyone has. Sometimes, again to coin a phrase, we have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. That's what often happens.
Mark Heinemann:I was reading a blog in which some people were conversing with the teaching assistant, his name escapes me right now, of Ed Gibbs and Ryan Bolger at Fuller, who teach a course on the emergent church and that sort of thing, and there were a number of younger people who said these problems you see in the traditional church, I didn't experience those. In fact, our people weren't consumeristic; our people weren't authoritarian and so forth. That seems like a real caution to say there isn't that homogeneity of experience where everybody had a lousy time in a mega-church, or an evangelical church.
I guess that brings me to something that I wonder about. This dualism of post-modernity and modernity - is that really the picture of what's happening in our church? Or is that something happening in parallel which becomes a convenient way of describing people's disenchantment with some of the excesses that they've seen in the church, like people being authoritarian or dogmatic when they didn't have just cause for being so. Those kinds of concerns come out in the emergent church.
Mark Bailey:That relates to my next question and that would be, what are some of the significant events or ways of thinking, those who have expressed it, that have set the stage for the emergent culture? In other words, it seems as I read some of them that, Mark, like what you've just said, that they're reacting to what they've seen, which seems to be that the church has not engaged the culture enough or hasn't listened to the culture to ask the real right questions. We're answering questions that aren't being asked and so they seem irrelevant.
But in my growing up in the church, and going through style changes, and denominational changes, etc., I don't know of any time in my experience where the churches that I attended were not interested in the very same things these guys are interested in.
It almost sets up, you know, a criticism that in my mind can be a bit unfounded or at least unsympathetic, that we really want to answer the questions nobody else has answered. I didn't find their passions were not absent in my growing up years nor in the churches that I attended. So, who were some of the players and what are they thinking that sets the stage for this as you say and they use the term conversation'?
Mark Heinemann:Well, most everyone has heard of Brian McLaren and his books. He's a pastor out in Maryland and has written a trio of books in which he recounts a story of a pastor who is somewhat disenchanted with things that he sees in the church and then a person who would be described as a post-modern Christian who is listening to him and talking him through this kind of crisis that he has.
McLaren has really hit a nerve in his readership. A lot of people have purchased these books. A lot of people have read these books and said, "Oh, that really corresponds to some ways that I am feeling." And again going back to some of the things we've already mentioned consumeristic view or an authoritarian leadership style. There's a whole host of things bigger is better, big bucks Christianity, McDonaldization of Christianity and so forth. So he is the main one who continues to kind of speak as an un-nominated spokesman, I guess, of the movement.
Tony Jones has taken his place so to speak as the first really official leader of the Emergent which is an organization which you were just talking about, Glenn.
There are others Doug Pagitt who is the Pastor of Solomon's Porch out in Minneapolis. Who has written an interesting book called "Reimagining Spiritual Formation". Dan Kimbell out in California, pastor of an Emergent church out there who has also written a book that I think is pretty balanced, is one of the more balanced explanations of what's going on. And there are numbers of others who are mentioned in the same breath, Dallas Willard, Spencer Berk.
Glenn: Andrew Jones.
Mark Heinemann: Andrew Jones, Tony Jones we mentioned.
Andy: Leonard Sweet.
Mark Heinemann:Leonard Sweet would be back in there. There's a whole spectrum depending on who you talk to, seen more or less closer to the center of what's going on in the emergent movement like Lance said it is very diffuse.
Glenn:And all of those names, I think, are comfortable with the label of emergent. There are a couple of other names that show up pretty regularly in the conversation who are not generally defined as being part of emergent. Everybody in the movement connotes the overgeneralization because everybody overstates everything all the time.
Two names that are really prominent in the movement. Their works are being read and consulted are Donald Miller whose Blue Like Jazz and Searching for God Knows What and Rob Bell whose book, Velvet Elvis is widely read and very provocative book.
But what makes Bell particularly interesting is that Bell breaks a lot of the stereotypes and a lot of the generalizations about emergent. Most emergent churches are pretty small and that's what Gibbs and Bolger defend and explain really well in their book called Emerging Churches, this variety of churches here and in Great Britain, this variety of churches that are emergent style. All of which are very small and have some characteristics in common. Rob Bell's church is huge. To which, he expresses absolute shock and surprise at that. We sent out invitations and 3000 people showed up.
His "Numa" film series and his book Velvet Elvis. He's a prominent speaker in conferences. That raises the question is Rob Bell emergent? He doesn't have the imprimatur on his work. And yet everyone in the movement reads him. It demonstrates I think the diversity in the conversation and difficulty of saying all emergent churches or like this. A person who says they are all small can't put Rob Bell in there.
I was reading today on blogs, and that by the way is a fruitful way to get into the conversation. On the other hand the problem with blogs is that anybody with a little bit of computer knowledge can appear to be an expert. You have to wade trough a lot of stuff in order to make sense of it and to be critical. I read a number of blogs this morning where Andy Stanley's name was thrown into the mix and some people are even putting Bill Hybels in the mix.
Now it seems we have gotten into really strange territory since many of the leaders, McLaren is pretty explicit about this. Tony Jones talks about this. Andrew Jones talks about it. One of the things we are reacting against is the church growth movement, the seeker model. Bill Hybels considered part of the movement seems to be incredible non sequitur, Andy Stanley as well.
This is not an emergent style. So why would we say Stanley is emergent well that has to do with a speaking on platforms with people who know people who are emergent. I think we really have to be careful in that degrees of separation game that many people play.
Mark Bailey: I know we have guilt by association; we have credit by association.
Announcer:This concludes Part 1. Please continue with Part 2. For more information about Dallas Theological Seminary, please visit our web site at www.dts.edu.