Sunday, October 30, 2005

What Drives the Emerging Church?

Many critics and analysts are very concerned with what drives and motivates the emerging church conversation. Recently, one critical article spoke of the emerging chruch being "driven by disappointment" with modern and traditional churches. I also read a scholarly paper which listed "reactionary" as one of the weaknesses of the emerging church. I might be alone here, but when I hear that emergent leaders and thinkers are disappointed with and reacting to modernity, I say, "so ... and ..."

We should be disappointed with the church in modernity. What did it do? Much of it capitulated to the winds of scientific triumphalism and ended up giving up the historic faith. The rest of it, in its hell-bent effort to "stand firm," got mean and cranky, denying the spirit of the same faith.

We should react to these changes. The emerging conversation encompasses many of the "confessing" movements within formerly liberal mainline denominations. For an optimistic look at what is happening in Christendom, read Thomas Oden's The Rebirth of Orthodoxy. It is a breath of fresh air. So is the attitude of those whose concern for tolerance has led them to speak and write kindly about their theological opponents. Brian McLaren, for instance, impresses me over and over with his irenic spirit. I think he is off base on some of his theology, but his spirit is so kind and gracious that I am put to shame reading him.

Furthermore, I would challenge anyone to point to a movement within Christianity that wasn't reactionary. Christianity itself was a reaction to Judaism's treatment of Jesus. Paul and John's writings were reactionary to gnosticism. The Eastern and Western churches reacted to one another, leading to the big split. The Reformation was reactionary. Fundamentalism was reactionary. Evangelicalism was reactionary. So, the emerging church is reactionary - how is that a bad thing?

Once again, the drive of the emerging church is its defintion - to live the ancient Christian faith in an authentic way in the midst of postmodern culture. If that means changing the way church was done in modernity, so be it.



Elizabeth said...

i think you are right on in this, robb.

by the way, what is aaron marshall's address? i sent a package to you and vanessa at his address and i got a call this morning from Fed Ex saying that the address is wrong...

A said...

I think this is one I can answer:

2986 Silverton St.
Springdale, AR 72764


Elizabeth said...

rats! i definitely sent it to "filberton"...oops. well, i hope fed ex is smarter than i am!

Kevin R said...

i have been thinking lately about this emerging church conversation. now let me preface by saying i am optimistic of this movement. but what makes it more effective than the modern church (not that i am saying the modern has been 100% effective)? what happens when post-modern is a thing of the past. what about "modern" churches that have changed with the culture, adapting and really trying to reach out and keep their heritage in the early church? are they considered modern or post-modern? what does the post-modern church have to offer that will combat the same problems the modern church has faced, when post-modernism passes?

Robb said...


Good question. However, it presupposes that the work of the church is static and be completed. I don't think that is ever the case. The church will constantly and forever have to adapt to changing cultures to spread the gospel of the kingdom until Jesus returns. When postmodernism passes, the church will have to adapt to something new. However, Thomas Oden says that modernity lasted from the fall of the Bastille until the fall of the Berlin Wall. If postmodernity is similiar, this is a problem our great, great, great grandchildren will be confronting. That was my long answer.

My short answer is, of course the church will have to adapt and change.

A said...

Kevin, your question/observation is a very insightful one. This is something I have thought extensively about as well. I think there are several conclusions to be drawn from an honest consideration of the thoughts you raise.

1. Most of those who believe postmodernism is the "next" philosophical movement to be reckoned with also believe that it will be here for a while. The modern era was a 40-50 year period depending on who you believe when beginning and ending dates are ascribed to it. If postmodernism is the prevailing way of thinking for 50 years, then we've got some time to get a handle on it and live within it.

2. It is definitely a value to prioritize that this is not the final chapter to be written. Postmodernism will die the same death that modernism is now in the long term future if the idea of adapting to philosophical shifts within culture is not constantly kept in focus. It may prove to be just as difficult for thoroughgoingly postmodern thinkers to make this kind of adjustment in 50 years. If this proves to be the case, the pioneers of the next movement will have to be as bold as we now are to make the shift and create a new approach within church to address the culture.

3. Hopefully, (and I say this as humbly as possible and with a big "by God's grace alone" caveat)Vintage Fellowship will have hardwired into its DNA the idea that postmodern philosophy isn't the last word, it is just the next word. We must endeavor to address the shift now and whatever ends up developing in culture in the future if Vintage or any other church will have a truly long lasting legacy of bringing the truth to bear in the culture in which we live.

kevin said...

i did not mean to imply that the church is complete. what i was asking is what approach does the post-modern have that differs from the modern as culture changes? obviously the modern church has not done a good job at this. so even in 2 years or 5 years post-modernism will change, culture constantly changes. my question was more directed at post-modern philosophy and methodologies of ministry.