Emerging Church Controversy in the SBC ~ BitterSweetLife

Friday, March 16, 2007

Emerging Church Controversy in the SBC

**Update: Here's a measured look at emerging church & the SBC from my professor, Dr. Mark DeVine. Well worth your time if you're concerned with these questions.
As a student at MBTS, I regard my adopted denomination with a curiosity that occasionally reaches the level of bafflement. Yesterday the bafflement was accompanied by rising blood pressure. I think it's best to put the disclaimer at the front end of posts like this one, so there you have it. Now, on to fair and balanced commentary!

The latest edition of the Southern Baptist Convention's newspaper, The Pathway, has an article on the "emerging church" within the SBC. However, to be fair to investigative journalists everywhere (with the exception of those in North Korea) I probably shouldn't refer to it as an "article."

The purported goal of this piece is to call young pastors to task for unexamined concessions to culture and ambiguous, Brian McLaren-esque theology. There is nothing wrong with this goal. Such caution may even be helpful. The problem comes in the unsubstantiated, pretentious and potentially libelous content of the "article"--which is essentially a mud-slinging fest dignified with a national platform. In case you haven't heard...

Assertion: The "Emerging/Emergent Church Movement" is "one of the most dangerous and deceptive movements" to ever infiltrate the SBC.

Reality: The so-called "Emerging Church Movement" is so large, diverse, and decentralized that it can hardly be called a "movement." An equivalent phrase might be "Churches Interested in Culture." The Emergent Church, on the other hand, is a more tightly knit group with problematic theology. Linking the two is confusing and unhelpful.

Implication: Guys like
Darrin Patrick of The Journey are beer-swilling young hotheads who embrace "ambiguous theology" and encourage people to watch evil, violent R-rated movies.
Reality: Men like Darrin Patrick are committed to sound biblical theology and cultural contextualization. Like Jesus, they don't think that culture and truth are necessarily incompatible. Patrick is, in fact, a teetotaler, but he is up-front about the fact that the church needs to be where people are, even if that's inside bars, and that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with beer.

Insinuation: Mark Driscoll is a profanity-spewing theological pretender who throws alcohol-soaked lingerie parties for his Seattle congregation.

Reality: As a Calvinist pastor and committed husband and father, Mark Driscoll is a strong advocate for chastity and has publicly made a break with his "cussing pastor" days. At Mars Hill, his church is "theologically conservative but culturally liberal." This does not, however, involve strip-tease shows, as the even slightest journalistic initiative would reveal.

I'll end my summary here. I recognize a need to be compassionate toward the people who create caricatures like the ones presented in this article, and more compassionate still toward those who are taken in by them. I suspect there's a lot of fear at play in this so-called debate--fear of change, fear of cultural immersion, fear of bad theology, fear of alcohol. Some of these fears are understandable.

However, I think those whose names are being dragged through the mud are even more deserving of compassion. Guys like Darrin Patrick, Mark Driscoll and Ed Stetzer and the ministries they represent (The Journey, Mars Hill Church, Acts 29) deserve to be treated fairly and with respect, given their track records and passion for the gospel.

The ignorance and muckraking on display in diatribes like the Pathway piece are absolutely not conducive to Christian unity. Instead, they contribute to the kind of knee-jerk factionalism that Paul rebuked in the Corinthian church.

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BradB said...


Great post, if you were not already familiar with Moran, now you know what many others have known for a long time. This is his normal mode of operating, build and destroy straw men for the purpose of personal agenda, regardless of the consequences towards others. The means justify the end.

I will say again, thank God (and I really mean thank you God) that I am on the KS side of KC.

Keep up the good work.

Luke Camara said...


It is great to hear that you are rejecting scary tactics, but I wonder where the love is in return? Surely a large denomination like the SBC would have supports of the emerging "movement" (I do think it is a movement, the fact that it is not centered around one figure supports that claim) within its walls. Do you know of any? I am a part of the C&MA a very conservative group that has avoided most of these issues.

Micah said...


Great article! As you well know, there are many pastors, leaders and churches within the SBC that are encouraged and excited by the EC movement. We in the SBC may be full of problems, but we are not completely devoid of hope.

Thanks again man.

Rustin S said...

Thanks for this post. I constantly find myself in this 'in between' space of people who are arguing these issues out in sound bites and unfair caricatures. To be sure, there are extremes on both sides to be avoided, but I have hopes for health and renewal that is possible through self-critique and a reclaiming of a missional framework for church, which is being championed more in the emerging movement than in those who oppose it. There is much more common ground to be found and generosity to be extended. Thanks for your contribution.

Chad said...

As a Southern Baptist who has just recently decided to stay/go back to the convention after seminary, these thoughts are scary.

I have kept up with the Moran issue and it just seems like bad ideas. I understand that the traditional convention seems to be frightened by the EC, but they are fighting againist a group that doesn't exist officially. There are multiple strands of emerging that look very different.

I think it is funny that most of the EC people that I know are just Baptists who "found" out about the rest of Church History. I hope and pray that this issue can be resolved in a Christ-like manner over the next few years.

BradB said...

I was just thinking what an incredible contrast between Moran's comments and actions and Dr. DeVines latest post on his honest interaction with and sometimes struggles with the emerging movement.

r. radewicz said...

Dr. Bruce Ware of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary will be the featured speaker at Mars Hill in Seattle this coming March 23 & 24, and will be preaching from the pulpit there on Sunday, March 25.
Very cool.

Ariel said...

Thanks for the comments, guys.

I hope commentary like this is helpful in clarifying the real issues in this debate. I also hope that cooler heads will prevail, and SBC churches and emerging church advocates (of the theologically solid variety) will engage in fruitful, honest alliances whenever possible.

I wonder where the love is in return? Surely a large denomination like the SBC would have supports of the emerging "movement"

Luke, I'd refer you to guys like Mark DeVine (see the top of this post) who is a professor at MBTS but is trying to sift through EC issues and embrace the good stuff.

I also think there's a groundswell of younger pastors and students who may not have much clout in denominational affairs at present, but probably will in the years to come...if you check out the blogs of some of the guys who have commented here, you'll discover a few. :)

R. Radewicz, I've heard Bruce Ware speak before, and he's not only brilliant, but very classy. I wish I could have been at Mars Hill to hear him!

J. K. Jones said...

I am learning to respect EC, partly because of posts like this one. Thanks for your help.

Ariel said...

You're very welcome, J.K. I'm happy to hear it.


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife