I’ve just been listening to a great talk by Jason Clarke on the Emerging Church (not to be confused with the emergent church’s Jason Clark). Unfortunately you have to pay to get the CD of the talk, you can’t download it.
There’s lots to say in criticism of the emergent church, namely that it’s mostly rebadged 19th century liberalism, but there are some things it can teach us. If we don’t follow the emergent church by throwing the orthodox baby out with the bath water we can learn three things.
- Rationalism. Conservative evangelicals tend to rely too much on reason. There’s almost the belief that reason is the answer to everything. We tend to look for propositional truthes everywhere even in the narrative patrs of the Bible (which is a lot) and think that if only we have an intellectual understanding of the Bible all will be well with our world. The trouble is, this just isn’t true. The gospel is rational, but it’s not only rational. What goes into our heads must transform our hearts at a deep level. We must be careful not to jetison reason, but be wary of making it the silver bullet for the church’s problems.
- Retreat. Christians have become experts in creating counter cultures. Maybe this hasn’t made so much of an impact in the UK, but in the US you can find a Christian version of just about everything. Christian exercise videos, Christian TV channels, Christian nightclubs. The list goes on. In an attempt to avoid worldliness the church has just become more worldly. As Jason Clarke says, “the church has suceeded in being of the world but not in it“. A damning indictment indeed. In order to have any impact on our culture at all we must avoid retreating into our safe little worlds and live in the real world. And we need to be less frightened of being worldly and trust in the God who said: “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit“.
- Reductionism. Late 20th and early 21st century Christianity has tended to reduce the gospel to an individualistic message. We talk about having a ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ (not biblical language at all), and see the gospel as merely a ticket into heaven when we die. While the gospel message is not less than that, it’s so much more. The emergent church have re-introduced the kingdom of God and the corporate nature of Christianity back into the church and that’s a good thing. We need to avoid going to the emergent extreme and over emphasising the kingdom at the expense of the individual nature of the gospel but we must strive for balance.
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