Monday, September 10, 2007

Discussing Emerging Theology

It fell off the first page, but here a conversation about the nature of theology was evolving. Since I am always up for a conversation about theology, I thought I would take it up in its own post.

Is there a difference between "emergent," "emerging," and "liberal" theology?

Historically, the answer is yes. In theological terms, "liberal" theology is a product of modernity. It developed when rationalism and the scientific method, coupled with the concepts of objectivity and individualism, where applied to the Bible. The result was a rejection of the supernatural elements of the Bible, including most notably the virgin birth, diety, miracles, and resurrection of Jesus. The modern response to "liberal" theology was (is?) fundamentalism.

"Emergent" theology is not a monolithic thing, but it is the product of postmodernity, rejecting the tyrrany of rationalism and the scientific method, as well as the myths of objectivity and individualism. "Emergent" proponents, such as Brian McLaren, have caused much controversy by advocating such things as theistic evolution, complete gender nuetrality, and a quasi-universalism.

"Emerging" theology is even less monolithic than "Emergent" theology. It too is a product of postmodernity, rejecting many of the basic aspects of modern thinking. Most "emerging" leaders seek to focus on a fresh expression of historic orthodox Christian beliefs that connects well with postmodern thinkers.

So, they are not the same thing historically. Nor are they the same thing in content.

Liberal theology rejects the diety of Jesus.
Emergent and emerging theologies don't.

Liberal theology devalues the authority of the Bible.
Emergent and emerging theologies don't.

Liberal and Emergent theologies deemphasize hell.
Emerging theology doesn't necessarily.

You might disagree with all of them, but don't say they are all the same thing. Because they are not. I know this to be true because I am an emerging theologian who is neither liberal nor Emergent.


Anonymous said...

Dt. John Macarthur one of the most respected has a beautiful dialog on the dangers of the emerging church.

What's So Dangerous About the Emerging Church?
It’s creative. It’s hip. It’s wildly popular with people who are dissatisfied with orthodox doctrine, dogmatic preaching, and traditional worship. And in spiritual terms, it’s deadly.

The Emerging Church is the newest trend sweeping through modern Christianity and creating huge debate in the blogosphere and beyond.

Pastor, Bible teacher, and best-selling author John MacArthur critiques and challenges the Emerging Church movement in an hour-long interview with Phil Johnson. What’s So Dangerous About the Emerging Church? is yours free on CD from Grace to You if you’ve never contacted us before.

I suggest you check it out it is a great read....

Anonymous said...

Well, one can always find someone to back up assumptions they find new and different in a bad way. I for one am excited that Christians in these "emerging" churches are finding relevant ways to kick up the skirts of those way to comfortable with their traditions and provide a place simply filled with love, I have been to an emergent church and loved it. We should never get too comfortable with our own religiousity, that's when we become lethargic, turning to point out what's wrong with everyone else less we look inside ourselves. We loose sight of the main goal of all Christians: love. Wasn't this the greatest of all commandments? Whatever church you decide to go to, whatever case you decide to take on, make sure it is of utmost importance and not some over-zealous hunt for what's wrong with us- love and be loved as our Father says. By the way, didn't Jesus get the same treatment from the Pharisees in his day (they were scared of his love for all)? Interesting.... anyways, love and grace to all.

Robb said...

I am familiar with MacArthur's book. I haven't read it but I have listened to a couple of interviews with him about it, including one on the Paul Edwards show.

I have read more MacArthur books that you can shake a stick at. And while I deeply respect him - honestly I do and anyone who knows me knows that - I have two deep concerns.

First, MacArthur's books about other Christians always seems very harsh and polemic to me. It's like "grace to you" as long as you are not charismatic or seeker-sensitive or emerging.

Second, there is a cult of personality that surrounds MacArthur that makes me very uncomfortable. People who love his writing and teaching make him an authority. I am sure MacArthur himself wouldn't like this, but I also haven't heard or seen him actively discourage it either. It's just a concern.

So, MacArthur doesn't like the emerging church. OK. There are lots of churches MacArthur doesn't like. My church is an emerging church and while John MacArthur has never been there, I am pretty sure God has. And I hope he liked it.

A said...

I find it interesting, and saddening, that we humans, and especially Christians, find it so easy to quickly label people based on the slightest of information. I spent a lot of years as the president of that club. Life really is easier when one thinks that things fall neatly into categories.
That is, until life happened, and things got messy, and I found myself on the wrong end of a label that was inaccurate. Funny how that makes you realize how quick you were to assume things about people, label them, wrap them up neatly in a bow, and dismiss them.
Sadly, we who claim to follow Jesus seem to be the very worst at this. We who are supposed to be known for our love for one another as the single defining characteristic of our identity as Christ followers. We who, of all people, ought to have learned the lesson Jesus experienced when he was mis-labelled as a blasphemer and a criminal, all the while he was God in flesh.
Yes, we need to "hold fast the faithful word" as our alma mater proclaimed in its theme song. Yes, theology is important. Yes, we need to be careful about truth and how we handle it. But, I have repented of my over zealous impulses in years past of shredding those who might differ with me but who still love Jesus, seek to follow Him sincerely, and care deeply about introducing Him to others so that they can too.
It saddens me that someone would claim that we at Vintage have compromised the gospel simply based on the knowledge that we were doing a sermon series about sex last February. The series had yet to even launch and that claim was laid. They never even bothered to view one service video which is available on line. If they had, they would have seen that in every single one of our services in the past year the gospel has been presented clearly and compellingly and people have been urged to accept it. Go figure, we think that matters.
I also am saddened by those who so vehemently seek to bash us because we say we are emerging. Especially after we make clear the distinctions that exist between emerging and emergent, and after we specifically enumerate the issues we have with those who claim the emergent label (as graciously as we can since they are in most cases our brothers and sisters in Christ). Has anyoen even bothered to find out our theological backgrounds? Has anyone even bothered to ask what our motivations are for starting and leading Vintage? Has anyone a clue that we spent almost an hour this past Sunday listening to testimony after testimony from our attendees about their changed lives because of Vintage. People have faith in Jesus because of what we've done that they didn't have a year ago. People have fellowship with other believers regularly because of Vintage that they didn't a year ago. People love God and others because of Vintage in ways that they couldn't express a year ago.
If that is deadly spirituality, then I want some more of it.
Are there emerging and emergent people who are not where we are theologically or in their praxis, of course. But so too are there Southern Baptists, and GARBC pastors and Presbyterians and Catholics that people who claim those labels aren't proud of. Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Let's not dismiss genuine servants of Jesus who are seeking to reach a segment of our culture that most have dismissed and forgotten. Seems to me that's what Jesus did.

Jbhart said...

"What's So Dangerous About the Emerging Church?
It’s creative. It’s hip. It’s wildly popular with people who are dissatisfied with orthodox doctrine, dogmatic preaching, and traditional worship. And in spiritual terms, it’s deadly."

So, what specifically makes the "Emerging Church" deadly? I mean I find this statement very uninformed and not backed up with any evidence. If people are seeking Jesus and believe he died and rose for their sins. We are apart of His story what about that could possibly be "deadly". I find this a bit closed minded and misinformed.

Matthew said...

It is so hard to find room in one's heart for the love we are admonished to have for others when it is already filled to the overflowing with self-righteousness and fault-finding.

It is such an easy trap to fall into--I struggle with it quite a lot myself. But just because an error is easy (and even pleasurable) doesn't make it less an error or more excusable.

It is a hard thing to be called to love, when hatred and indifference and judgement and fear are just sooo much easier. I worry that too many of us are in the process of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

One of the things (like Candice there was more I suppose I could have said than I did) I like about Vintage is that we have the opportunity to try and show our love for one another without the explicit demand (or the implicit expectation) that all the broken things within us be fixed first. If the Church that the Lord intended was only for the unbroken and faultless, I doubt He would have bothered in the first place.

corexian said...

Matthew and Aaron both bring good points: brokenness and our human imperfection. The danger that I see in fundamentalism, which I'm starting feel like anonymous is coming from, is that they think they have the corner on how church is "done."

This excuses several things the Bible makes clear of us, as creations. We aren't perfect on our own, ever. Nor can any group of us obtain the perfection touted by fundamentalists. We are broken in need of salvation, whether individually or together. It is time to realize this.

God perfects us, but the process takes our whole lives. If we find ourselves in the perfect church, we are already in heaven communing in the presence of God. It is natural for God to continually work on us individually, incurring change; why would that not be true of us as a church? This doesn't mean giving up on foundational values. If that were the case, we couldn't be called Christians. But it does mean that we should be shaking off the man-made rituals that hold us back from God. This is exactly what we are emerging from: man-made burdens.

Hey Kool Aid said...

I too have a hard time understanding why the emerging church is deadly also. There is nothing wrong with worshiping our Lord in a non-traditional way. Why do fundamentalist frown on us all that sport tattoos/body piercings, listen to rock and roll and love to worship God?

Robb said...

I know us postmodern types get ripped on for valuing things like tolerance. But I hope that our tolerance gives us a humble attitude of "this is what I believe and this is why, but I recognize that not everyone agrees with me, and that's ok." I think the church would benefit from learning this kind of attitude from our culture.

Matthew said...

This is a bit off the topic, but how precisely would you define "postmodern"? Is it an all or nothing sort of thing? Is it something one can choose or reject or it something that one just is?

If I'm not being to nosey, how does it impact your world view and philosophy?

The definitions of postmodern on the internet are truly legion. My favorite one so far basically defines postmodern as "a a reaction to the modernist worldview." Heh--yeah, that's helpful. ;-)

Kevin said...

as a add on comment to the first anonymous, is John Macarthur the only person you can cite on critiquing the emerging church? I would never use just one source.

although I may not agree with everything someone does, first I would not be quick to criticize it if I didnt do my homework and two you can always learn something from someone.