Sunday, December 30, 2007

Phil Johnson ... Again

Phil Johnson strikes another sure blow in support of a biblical worldview. A must read.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Postmodernism and the Emerging Church

If you’ve been following the discussion here about the Emerging Church movement, and struggling to get your arms around postmodernism, or wishing you knew what that even meant, you should have a look at a 2006 post from the Parchment and Pen blog. Set aside some time to devote to reading Michael Patton's Understanding the Postmodern Mind and the Emerging Church. A couple of quotes to whet your appetite.

The issues that were the center of the controversy during the Reformation are no longer important—certainly not enough to divide over. In other words, the Roman Catholic-Protestant theological distinctions are irrelevant to the emerging church. Why? Because, while there may be a right answer, who is to say who’s right? More than likely, both are right and both are wrong. As well, the Arminian-Calvinist divide is no longer significant. In fact, to the soft postmodernist, both sides arrogantly act as if they have the right answer, when the right answer may not be available with certainty.


It is interesting to put all this into perspective and see that convictionless churches are usually empty churches. Most postmodern churches, from what I have seen, are not attracting as many people from the culture as you might think. The ideology of compromise is not that attractive. Why go to fellowship with other believers under an umbrella called “few convictions.” On the other hand, churches that have strong leaders with uncompromising convictions are full churches these days. This does not mean that we don’t show grace in the non-essentials, it just means that we don’t have to place all non-essentials on the altar for the sake of unity.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Wish It Was Coming Sooner...

Some information about a new book: Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be). The book will be released by Moody Press in April 2008, so we are can't expect to have it on hand for NCCT in February, but I sure wish we could based on the information that is on the site above. You can peruse the table of contents and read the beginning of the book's introduction there. You can also download a PDF of Chapter 3.

At any rate, this looks like one to keep an eye out for come April.

(H/T: Justin Taylor)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Making Introductions

NCCT'08 speaker Tim Challies today shared, via his blog, the experience of seeing, holding, and signing his finished book for the first time. This had to be a greatly anticipated moment for Tim.

Congratulations to you, Tim, and we look forward to seeing your book at the NCCT book store!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

MacArthur - The Truth War

Phil Johnson over at Pyromaniacs has been posting a series of brief excerpts from Dr. John MacArthur's book, The Truth War. The excerpt posted today really drives it home after what I've been reading of late from the emerging church conversation. Orthopraxy, anyone?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

MacArthur on Emerging

This interview with Dr. John MacArthur has stirred up a lot of controversy. MacArthur is quite direct in his assessment of the emerging church movement.

Let me just cut to the chase on this one: [Doug] Pagitt is a Universalist. What he was saying is real simple. He was saying when you die your spirit goes to God and judgment means that whatever was not right about you, whatever was bad about you, whatever was substantially lacking about you, gets all resolved. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Buddhist, a Hindu or a Muslim—doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian really; we’re all going to end up in this wonderful, warm and fuzzy relationship with God. That’s just classic universalism.

I think you know it’s most helpful, Paul, to go back and kind of recast how we view these people. He’s not a pastor; he’s not a Christian; that’s not a church. When you call yourself a Christian and you call yourself a pastor and you say you have a church, all of that has to be—to be legitimate—defined biblically. And if it’s not, that’s not a church and you’re not a pastor and you’re not even a Christian.

Not to be missed is Pagitt's "response" to MacArthur's interview. The comments (they read in reverse chronological order, so you'll have to scroll to the bottom of the page and read up to see them in sequence - guess that's how it's done in a "conversation") are quite interesting to read.

Monday, December 17, 2007

What is the Emerging Church? In Their Own Words

What better way to illustrate points about a movement than with quotes from the movement's adherents? The following video was produced by Allen Curtis Keating-Moore, obviously with the cooperation of the Solomon's Porch family. Solomon's Porch is a Minneapolis-area church, part of Emergent Village, and was founded and is pastored by Doug Pagitt. Keating-Moore lives in the Minneapolis area, but I have not been able to find any indication as to whether he is a part of Solomon's Porch.

This video is a must-see - it's enlightening.

Did you see any of Carson's "protest" characterizations (Protest Against Evangelicalism; Protest Against Modernism; Protest Against Mega-Churches) represented in the quotes in the video?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

What is the Emerging Church? (Part 3)

Part 1

Part 2

The previous two posts in this series dealt with D.A. Carson's characterizations of the Emerging Church movement as a protest against evangelicalism, and against modernism. (Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005)

Today's post will look at the third and final protest characterization enumerated by Carson: Protest against the Seeker-Sensitive Movement.

[T]he emerging church leaders, like the seeker-sensitive leaders in their time, are motivated, in part, by a desire to teach people who do not seem to be attracted to traditional approaches and stances - and the seeker-sensitive movement is now old enough to be one of the "traditional" approaches. Pastors in the seeker-sensitive tradition, then, tend to see in the emerging church leaders a new generation of Christians doing the sort of thing that they themselves did a generation earlier.

Adherents to the tenets of the Emerging Church would decry the norms of the seeker-sensitive movement on several fronts. The relationships within the church could tend toward superficiality. The church services would be very one-way in their structure; the preacher preaches and the congregants listen, and there is no apparent conversation happening in the service. Personalities of both pastors and members would likely be branded as inauthentic.

Is there validity in some such criticisms of seeker-sensitive models? I would say yes. Would I agree with the corrective steps taken by emerging leaders to address these shortcomings in the seeker-sensitve model? Certainly not.

My next post will be a brief video documentary looking at one particular emerging congregation. You just might be surprised at what you see…

Friday, December 14, 2007

Megachurches as Viewed by Non-Christians?

A San Francisco Chronicle opinion writer took aim in a column this week at megachurches. His comments are pointed, to say the least.
From what I read, this seems to be the modern megachurchly direction: minimize the dogma and melodrama and speaking in tongues, maximum the perkiness and nondenominationalism and piles of happy sanitized self-help schmaltz. In Jesus' name, naturally.

And that's the kinder part of the column… (Note, if you follow the link, that roughly the first half of the column is about the Catholic church - in less than glowing terms - and then he redirects his focus to conservative, evangelical megachurches.)

(HT: Justin Buzzard)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Emergent or Emerging?

I'm taking a breath before continuing with the next installment of the What Is The Emerging Church? series. Why? Well, in part because I have been asked to take a shot at clarifying the distinction between emergent and emerging.

You could very well hear or read statements like these in many places where you interact with people or observe other people's interactions:

  • The emerging church is redefining discipleship for our contemporary culture.

  • I've started attending a different church that is emergent.

These are obviously two very similar forms of the same root word, so do emerging and emergent mean the same thing in the two hypothetical statements above? Grab your secret decoder ring, and let's take a look!

D.A. Carson, in his book (Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), states at the outset that he will use the two words interchangeably in that work. So, it's settled, right? Hardly.

If you've been following along, you've seen the name Scot McKnight in recent days. McKnight is part of the movement, and delivered a lecture in October 2006 at the Fall Contemporary Issues Conference of Westminster Theological Seminary. In a portion of this lecture (PDF transcript) where he was critiquing D.A. Carson he said:
[C]onstantly misused in the debate today are the terms “emerging” and “emergent.” But, “emerging” is not the same as “emergent.” Please listen. “Emergent” refers to Emergent Village – an official clearinghouse for this conversation where there are cohorts across the world who officially associate themselves with [Emergent Village]. Emergent Village, or emergent, is directed by Tony Jones, a PhD student at Princeton, former youth minister, and now an energetic traveler on behalf of [Emergent Village].

“Emerging,” on the other hand, is bigger, broader, and deeper. “Emerging” is connected to [Emergent Village] the way [Westminster Theological Seminary] is connected to Reformed Christianity in the world (in all its brands). So, when you say “emergent” you should be thinking of Emergent Village and Tony Jones; when you think of “emerging” you should be thinking of … well, that is what I have to get to soon.

No, don't click away yet - it's just about to get really interesting! McKnight obviously feels this is important. In fact, if you read the transcript of the lecture, he inserted a note after delivering it indicating that he does not plan to give up on hammering this distinction, insisting that people get it right.

McKnight, who is a member of the Coordinating Group of Emergent Village, mentions Tony Jones, who is the National Coordinator (the top dog, as near as I can tell) of the same organization. What is Emergent Village? According to the organization's web site,
Emergent Village is a growing, generative friendship among missional Christians seeking to love our world in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

So now you're trying to decipher what that means! There is no emerging denominational structure, but I think most observers would tell you that Emergent Village is as close to a hub of the movement as there is currently.

Now, then, read the following quote from Tony Jones, taken from this interview, and seemingly offered unprompted by the interviewer:
Personally, I'm a little fuzzy on the supposed differences between "emerging" and "emergent." Some want to make a big deal of the differences, but they're used interchangeably by all but the most inside insiders.

There you have the top guy at Emergent Village taking essentially the complete opposite position on the question from one of the members of his Coordinating Group. This would be more understandable if McKnight was an outsider to Emergent Village, and didn't want to be lumped in with them, but both Jones and McKnight are insiders, making this ambiguity that much more surprising.

Glad I could clear that up for you…

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

An Always-Timely Reminder

Phil Johnson, over at Pyromaniacs, delivers an always-timely reminder for all who would endeavor to proclaim the gospel. Preaching Foolishness

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What is the Emerging Church? (Part 2)

Part 1

In yesterday's post, I looked at the first of three characterizations of the Emerging Church made by D.A. Carson in his book. (Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005) The first characterization of the movement is as a protest movement.

Today I will look at the next characterization, Protest against Modernism.

Yesterday's point could be stated more pointedly as protest against historical evangelicalism. Today's is somewhat more general, focused on modernism, which certainly influenced the traits of evangelicalism. The Emerging Church has, in large part, jettisoned modernism for postmodernism.

Much like the Emerging Church itself, modernism and postmodernism defy simple definition. I found this paragraph from Carson to be very helpful in bringing some essential clarity to the division, though.

The majority view, however, is that the fundamental issue in the move from modernism to postmodernism is epistemology - i.e., how we know things, or think we know things. Modernism is often pictured as pursuing truth, absolutism, linear thinking, rationalism, certainty, the cerebral as opposed to the affective – which in turn breeds arrogance, inflexibility, a lust to be right, the desire to control. Postmodernism, by contrast, recognizes how much of what we "know" is shaped by the culture in which we live, is controlled by emotions and aesthetics and heritage, and in fact can only be intelligently held as part of a common tradition, without overbearing claims to being true or right. Modernism tries to find unquestioned foundations on which to build the edifice of knowledge and the proceeds with methodological rigor; postmodernism denies that such foundations exist (it is "antifoundational") and insists that we come to "know" things in many ways, not a few of them lacking in rigor. Modernism is hard-edged and, in the domain of religion, focuses on truth versus error, right belief, confessionalism; postmodernism is gentle and, in the domain of religion, focuses on relationships, love, shared tradition, integrity in discussion. […] The majority of emerging church leaders see a very clear contrast between modern culture and postmodern culture and connect the divide to questions of epistemology.

Scot McKnight, in his lecture at Westminster Theological Seminary, touched on the impact of postmodernism on the emerging church.

Moral character, God reveals, is shaped by solid prohibitions. When the evangelical world prohibited postmodernity, as if it were the apple on the tree, from its students, the fallen among us […] chose to eat it to see what it might taste like. We found that it tasted very good even if at times you found yourself spitting out hard chunks of nonsense.

He goes on to describe several different approaches taken by Christians seeking to minister in the postmodern context:

[T]hose who minister to postmoderns see them as trapped in moral relativism and epistemological bankruptcy – they have no moral compass and they are afraid to render judgment on the truth. In other words, postmodernity is a condition out of which humans need to be rescued and in which the Christian wallows for a time in the effort to rescue them. […]

Others minister with postmoderns. That is, they live with, work with, and converse with postmoderns and they accept their postmodernity as a fact of life in our world. Because the Christian’s calling is to be “paracletic” instead of “parasitic,” the Christian will accept postmodernity as the present condition of the world in which we are now called to proclaim and live out the gospel. […]

Now, before I get to my third form of ministry and postmodernity, let it be said that plenty of emerging Christians and churches fit into these first two categories – in fact, the vast majority so far as I can tell. […] What I’m saying is that “within postmodern cultures,” as stated by Gibbs-Bolger, most often means that Christians are rescuing folks from postmodernity or walking alongside such folk in order to lead them to paradise. These sorts of emerging Christians don’t deny truth, and they don’t deny that Jesus Christ is the truth, and they don’t deny the Bible is truth – but they might be gentle when it comes to their use of the word “truth.”

A third kind emerging postmodernity is the sexy kind that, once it walks into the room, draws all lookers and lurkers: these folks minister as postmoderns. That is, they embrace the human condition of not knowing absolute truth or at least not knowing truth absolutely – and they speak of a proper confidence and a chastened epistemology and the end of metanarratives and the fundamental importance of social location as shaping what we know and find to be true.

Carson echos some of these same ideas:

[W]hile most leaders of the emergent movement set up a relatively simple antithesis – namely, modernism is bad and postmodernism is good – [Brian] McLaren is careful […] to avoid the obvious trap: many forms of postmodern thought do in fact lead to some kind of religious relativism, and McLaren knows that for the Christian that is not an option. He clearly wants to steer a course between absolutism and relativism, and he is more careful on this point than some of his peers.

But ask yourself: Though it may well be what McLaren wants to do, is it possible to steer a course between absolutism and relativism? Is it a simple either/or dichotomy between the two choices? Or is there a middle ground?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Scot McKnight on Willow’s Reveal Study

I posted a long entry about Willow Creek's revelations surrounding their Reveal survey last month.

Scot McKnight, the blogger behind Jesus Creed, posted today about the continuing response of Willow Creek to the results of their Reveal survey of their members. McKnight is, apparently, a part of the Willow Creek Church family.

You can read McKnight's post here: Willow's Reveal Study

One particular sentence in his post made me twitch as I read. McKnight wrote, "I wish more churches would do studies like this and permit evidence to shape ministry."

Personally, I wish every church would allow the teaching of the Bible to shape ministry. You?

The Hipper-Than-Thou Pastor

Time magazine has a short profile on Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Church of Grand Rapids, MI.

There are two reviews of Bell's most recent lecture tour, written by pastors, linked here and here. They are worth reading for a take on Bell's theology.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

What is the Emerging Church? (Part 1)

I have been asked by some who have looked at the information about NCCT'08 on the conference web site just what the Emerging Church is. This is a question which cannot be answered in a blog post, least of all one written by me. D.A. Carson, one of the keynote speakers for NCCT'08, has written a 200+ page introductory book on the subject. (Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005) He will also address this topic in the first NCCT'08 session on Friday, Feb. 8th.

Part of the difficulty in describing the Emerging Church is the fact that there is so much heterogeneity among the churches that make up this movement. If one wants to explain to someone what a Southern Baptist church is like, you could answer that question in part by referring to the Baptist Faith and Message. This shared definition of what it means to be a Southern Baptist is essentially a confession of faith for the Southern Baptist Convention. Now, does this mean that every SBC church feels the same when you attend? Clearly, no. Each congregation will take some of the personality of its pastor, the region where it is located, etc. But there is a document on which the convention has come to agreement, and most churches will teach the doctrine laid out in that document.

This is not the case with the Emerging Church. Not only is there no denomination (understand that I am not suggesting that a denomination is of itself a good thing), and not only is there no shared doctrinal statement, there are even emergent congregations with no statement of doctrine for their own church body! (Yes, that would suggest that there is no standard for judging good doctrine/teaching from bad in such a church. Any interpretation of a passage of Scripture would be as valid as another interpretation.)

Even leaders within the Emerging Church movement struggle to define the movement. Doug Pagitt says as much in an article published in Relevant Magazine: Unraveling Emergent.

In the first chapter of his book, as he defines the movement, D.A. Carson identifies three things which characterize the movement. I'll look at each of these in turn over the next few days.

First, the Emerging Church movement is characterized by Protest.

A common thread in the lives of many leaders in the movement is that they do not come out of a secular life, but rather they were part of churches - conservative, evangelical, traditional churches. Says Carson,

Most of these "stories of emergence" have in common a shared destination (namely, the emerging church movement) and a shared point of origin: traditional (and sometimes fundamentalist) evangelicalism. What all of these people have in common is that they began in one thing and "emerged" into something else.

So when the movement began to call itself the Emerging Church, it was not the world from which they were emerging. Rather, they were emerging from the historical, traditional church. Why?

As western culture has shifted from modernism to postmodernism, the intellectually elite have rejected absolutes. Ethics are situational, not absolute. Biblical spiritual principles are not absolute, but subject to widely varying interpretations.

One prominent book chronicling the roots of the emerging movement has a subtitle that is telling in this regard: Stories of Emergence: Moving from Absolutes to Authentic (Mike Yaconelli, editor; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003). The clear implication is that the idea that absolute truths can be known and should be held to, or even defended, is something which is to be fled, and which is antithetical to authenticity.

This "protest," then, is against traditional, conservative ways of "doing church." It is against those who believe that absolute truth can be known and taught.

Scot McKnight, author of one of the leading blogs for Emerging Church (Jesus Creed), in a lecture delivered in October 2006 at the Fall Contemporary Issues Conference of Westminster Theological Seminary, said, "I think he's [Carson] right: the emerging movement is a protest. … [I]t is clearly an anti- and protest movement."

(You should not conclude from this quote that McKnight is a fan of the entirety of Carson's treatment of the subject. Quite the contrary. I'll return to McKnight's lecture at another time.)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

More on Rob Bell

I recently linked to a review of Rob Bell's San Francisco stop for his The god's Aren't Angry speaking tour. Jesse Johnson has also posted a review of the Los Angeles area stop over at the Pulpit Magazine blog. You can read it here.