The Emerging Church Movement: Part 2 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 two.
Dr. Mark Bailey:Andy, why has the emerging church movement grown so rapidly? Number one, is it growing rapidly? We hear a lot about it, but if it's growing rapidly, why is it growing rapidly, and what's the appeal?
Andrew Seidel:Well, I think one of the reasons it's growing so rapidly is that they are sincerely attempting to touch a whole new generation and a whole new cultural group of people. Because things have changed dramatically over the last several years, and you have people that have a whole different perspective on life.
To its credit, they are trying to reach out to these people and find out: how do we communicate with them, and how do we bring the gospel to them? And so I think they're doing a significant job at that, and so there's a lot of energy and a lot of response that comes from it.
You know, we are really in a different place than we were forty or fifty years ago. I remember coming back from Europe on the airplane once reading a copy of The Economist, and the article that caught my attention was titled "The Europeanization of America."
We are in a very, very secular culture, and we've gone from the situation in which church was really central to the culture, to the place where the church is really at the side. We've gone from the place where the pastor of a church was one of the most respected people in the community, to a situation where that's not the case anymore. And so there's an entirely different way of thinking, and they're trying to reach out to that.
I think one of the other aspects of it is that they're touching on something that is so critical in this new area, our new time of thinking. That is that we've gone from being very, very individualistic to being very community-oriented.
It used to be that even in the church, it was all about personal salvation and your relationship with God. People are now thinking in a much more communal kind of way, and the community and relationships are so much more important. This emerging movement is really speaking to that and touching it. So I think there's a very significant response that's coming back. It seems to me that those are a couple of the critical reasons why it's growing so rapidly.
Glenn Kreider:I think there's also the appeal of the new, different, and even reactionary kind of movements that strikes a chord. People who are disenfranchised and unhappy, they tend to be attracted to reactionary kinds of movements. I think that explains some of it, too.
And I think some of it is explained by the use in this movement - and I know megachurches use technology and good music and all those kinds of things, too - but it's hard to overstate, I think, the degree to which these churches and these leaders have tapped into the use of technology and the role of contextualized music. I think that's another one of the things that's different.
I remember, when I was in high school, we all talked about how cool it would be to be in a band. My son's generation, everybody his age plays an instrument, and they're in a band. Please note: remember, everybody overgeneralizes all the time.
Mark Heinemann:And unlike previous youth bands, they're able to cut their own CDs, put their stuff on the Internet. People can listen to it anywhere you go, independent music.
Glenn:And this movement in Great Britain has had a major impact in the club scene. I think it helps to substantiate that. It's the music of a generation. Again, it's not just a generation, because some of those old guys like some of that music, too. But community is an important word, and it's a participatory kind of thing.
A kid comes into a more traditional church and says, "What can I do?" and the pastor doesn't quite know what to do with him. This kid comes in here who's really good with a guitar: "We've got a band for you." I think there's a desire, a real intentional effort to involve people in the life and ministry of the church, which I think is a good thing.
I don't want to sound like an advocate there, completely an advocate. To balance that, one of the results of that is that there's an immaturity, many times, in the movement and in the churches, that has all the problems that immaturity brings. This is a movement that's pretty new, it's still a baby, and it's important to have some cautions and some concerns. Not to be overly judgmental; but, on the other hand, to be very cautious about what this thing does as it grows up.
As a theologian, I'm particulary concerned that there be theologians speaking within the conversation to help to direct these people who are interested in thinking theologically, and many of them are.
Mark Heinemann:This Reformation needs a Melanchthon, a theologian to come alongside the zealous Martin Luther and help tie the whole thing to the Bible. And with that, I'd just like to hook on to what you were saying before: this reactionary aspect. One of the things is that as I read this stuff, it's like "This is unique, this is finally happening. Now another Reformation has started."
And yet I remember back in the '70s, Gene Getz and others were saying the exact same things: "We're being too consumeristic. We don't have enough community. There's not authenticity." And they did a number of things. At that time the group being reacted against was the denominational, monolithic... in somebody's imagination, the Old Way. "And now we're going to do the New Way. Now we're using materials from Serendipity, " and all that kind of stuff.
But we didn't have, in the early '70s, the Internet. And we didn't have CDs to send out with innovative teaching like Rob Bell has got. People all over the world are watching Rob Bell DVDs.
Glenn: And listening to DTS podcasts. [laughter]
Mark Heinemann: Well, theoretically, anyway. [laughter]
Mark Bailey:We touched on it, but let me just ask it open-ended: What are some of the key terms or concepts of the Emerging Church movement? How are they defined? Let me set a stage for that. Speaking of the Internet and its availability, I went on a website called The Emergent Village. It had a subtitle: "to explore the Emergent story."
Let me read a section of this: "Emergent invites you to explore the story, to come into this conversation with us. Many thoughtful Christians agree: the modern, colonial world is coming undone, and a new postmodern, postcolonial world is emerging.
"The world is emerging politically from the Cold War era to a post-Communist era, from a world of conventional and nuclear war to a world of terrorism and genocide, from a colonial world to a post-colonial one and perhaps a neo-colonial one. It's changing philosophically from modern to postmodern, from a world of absolutes and certainty to a world of questions and searching with the challenge and anxiety of opportunity and danger. It's changing socially and economically as a growing global economy.
"The rise of the Internet and other global media make the world seem smaller and more connected, yet also more fragmented and dense. It's also changing spiritually as religions of the world cope with new challenges and opportunities, religious and ethnic strife, and the loss of confidence in traditional authorities. The shift of Christianity's strength from the global North to the global South... This is just part of the complex and multifacted transition that, " they say, "are calling for new innovative Christian leaders from all streams of the Christian faith around the world to collaborate in unprecedented ways."
It seems that some of the terminology is "we want to be much more eclectic and drawing from other traditions and much less convinced, "if I can use that word. How do we wrestle with "you can know the truth and the truth will set you free," which seems to be Jesus' statement that truth and experience are not to be divorced? It seems that we've either divorced truth and experience, or we have lacked the experience of the truth and therefore we're pushing the truth back in favor of experience.
What are some of the other terms and concepts that you guys hear that help us wrestle with what they're wrestling with?
Glenn:Everybody in the movement talks about - and even the critics of the movement appreciate its missional emphasis - that what drives these people is that they're on a mission. They're in the story, which is the story of God's work in the world, God's redemption. They're very evangelistic.
They're very social-minded as well as evangelistic. They have an appreciation for the responsibility of Christians to be working to establish and to live out Christian life, kingdom principles, and those kind of things.
There is a real fear of absolutism, and language like "you will know the truth" almost always brings the question, "So what is truth?" I think that is the question of the day. I think the question with which we ought to engage emergent leaders and Emerging churches is on the nature of truth. They help us to see that the truth is more than - and I think in that statement we can actually see exactly the point - truth is more than a set of statements.
When Jesus claims to be the truth, he's not claiming to be a set of propositions. But sometimes the criticism of a propositional or correspondence view of truth leads to a minimizing of a correspondence view of truth. "Since we can't know all that is the truth, we can't talk about truth." Well, we can talk about truth, and we have to talk about truth.
And I think on our side, we who believe in the truth who is Jesus, we who believe in the truth that is the Scriptures - the Word of God - we don't shy away from saying "We believe this is the truth. This is true."
But in order to engage the conversation or to engage the culture, there are ways to do that that are more winsome then confrontational. That are more conversational than are dogmatism and forcefulness. For people like me and my colleagues who make our living articulating what the truth is, sometimes the way we say things is more important then what we say. To find a way to tone down the rhetoric and as Switchfoot puts it, "just calm down!"
Which is hard for us, who think we are right. And we are right! And I think that really is... I'm moving to a different topic here, but I think that really is one of the dangers in the movement. A fear of speaking the truth sometimes leads to a refusal to speak truth.
And I think, when I hear descriptions and read descriptions of the world today - including what you just read, Mark - it sure sounds like the world that Paul ministered in in the first century. It sounds like the book of Acts. As I read through the preaching in the book of Acts, and Acts 17 particularly, people were willing to listen to all kinds of things. But eventually it comes down to the bottom line, and in Acts 17 the bottom line is what is still the bottom line: the resurrection of Christ. And that's when people objected.
Eventually we need to get to the truth of the resurrected Christ, because the truth of the resurrected Christ means what we do matters. It means there's judgment; it means things in the end will be the way they're supposed to be. That really is the center of the Christian faith. Eventually we need to get to that, and I when I say "eventually get to that" I don't mean we draw the process out, the conversation out too long...
Mark Bailey: ...that's where it ultimately leads, and must lead.
Glenn: We have to speak the truth in love and that sometimes...
Mark Bailey:Coming back to your question on truth, it seems that some of our students who are entering Dallas Seminary and people in our churches confuse whether or not you can have exhaustive knowledge in this life versus whether not you can know anything truly.
And we are all affected by our prejudice, our pre-understandings. None of us, since Paul is right, see things "through a clear glass" yet. But that doesn't mean... The Bible seems to affirm, "these things are written that you may know." "He that has the Son, has life." You can know you have eternal life. It seems that some are giving up the certainty of anything in confusion with the exhaustive knowledge of everything.
Glenn:That's a very important point and that's why our commitment to, and our faith in, the God who was revealed in scripture means that we believe this is true. And that the articulation of the truth even though we don't understand it completely... None of us sitting in this room understand the Bible completely from beginning to end; we're growing in our understanding of it. But we believe that the Word of God is truth, and we proclaim it as such.
And you're exactly right that there ought to be a great deal of humility about our understanding. But sometimes it's a false humility to say, "well, I don't know anything at all."
At the same time, in fairness, it's really not fair to criticize some in the Emergent Movement, in the conversation, for not believing something just because they don't answer the question that somebody is raising. We've all been in situations where if you answer the question, you're being stuck in a pigeonhole.
But there are some questions you have to answer. We were talking before about the controversy with Brian McLaren and homosexual practice. That he refuses to answer the question sure seems to imply to many people that he has a position that he's not articulating. Eventually it would be nice just to answer the question and we all know.
Andrew:Mark, with one of the things you were saying about not having exhaustive knowledge, I think that's critical. There's another element to this, and that is that we have tended to try to use the truth that we have in a self-centered way to control our lives. In other words, I can take the Bible, and if I have these absolutes here, and if I just know the right absolutes and apply them to my life, I can make my life turn out the way I want it to. I can make my children grow up to be what I want them to be or I think they need to be. It's almost reductionistic.
There is a area of truth out there that we don't know, that we're very insecure about. And so we've tried to limit things and reduce them down to these steps or these things.
I think there's something of a reaction against that, and I think the shift that needs to be made here is in that system. It's about me, it's about me being able to control my life. And the shift that we need to make is that it's about God. And about the willingness to trust Him even in things we don't understand. That doesn't mean there isn't truth. There's an absolute truth.
Announcer:This concludes part 2; please continue with part 3. For more information about Dallas Theological Seminary please visit our web site at www.dts.edu.