Pros & Cons of the Emerging Church ~ BitterSweetLife

Monday, April 02, 2007

Pros & Cons of the Emerging Church

A Crash Course at the Speed of Light

Pros

1. Emerging Church is hard to understand. “The Emerging Church” is such a diverse and decentralized group of people, practices, churches and ideas, that it is by nature ambiguous and difficult to classify with precision. This means that thinking and discernment are required to navigate—and thinking and discernment for the sake of the gospel are rarely without benefit. So emerging church can be a clever bait & switch scheme that forces people to think about theology and ecclesiology when they thought they were just going to be cool.

2. Emerging Church people are good-looking. Which is to say, they typically are tuned in to culture and know how to dress themselves. Given the church’s ability to turn out people who wear stone-washed jeans and weird T-shirts, this should be considered a good thingespecially given Jesus' example of living inside a culture in order to redeem it. I say it tongue-in-cheek, but the fact remains: my track record for picking out “emerging types” based on their apparel remains high.

3. Emerging Church is “cutting edge.” This means that many of its emphases are an attempt to engage theologically with dilemmas and needs the church is experiencing in the 21st century. For example: “Incarnational, missional living” is a corrective to the “missions only happens overseas” mentality. Spirituality in highly relational contexts is an attempt to correct the consumerist, Hypermart Church indulgences of the past couple decades. So emerging church is self-consciously trying to deal with very necessary issues.

4. Emerging Church puts a high value on relationship and conversation. Many Christians have grown tired of hearing messages that arrive via a sound system from the safety of a bunker-like podium, and postmodern culture distrusts truth that has the smell of plastic wrap on it, so the strong thrust to talk about the Bible and Jesus while simultaneously displaying the communal life of Christ is very needed and highly biblical. I pride myself in being able to say all of that in one sentence.

5. Emerging Church attracts church planters. Because of the emphasis on understanding culture and living like Christ inside it, emerging church is an intellectual breeding ground for theologians who want to do more than write scholarly treatises. Such church planters may be uniquely qualified to penetrate diverse communities with the gospel because they are committed to the wider call of missionary living—above and beyond denominational traditions. This means that a church planted in urban Saint Louis, for example, may not look like a rural Southern Baptist church with Sunday suit-and-ties and Wednesday pot-luck dinners. After they’ve planted their churches, such men will be able to turn around and write scholarly treatises from a place of battle-tested experience.

Cons
1. Emerging Church is hard to understand. A large percentage of the human race instinctively reacts with fear and outrage to what they don’t understand. Thus, some folks will stampede like buffalo or attack like musk oxen at the faintest whiff of “Emerging/Emergent Church.” Burning a candle or having communion more than once a month may be enough to set them off. Such behavior may be paranoid, but tracking the numerous manifestations and streams of emerging church is enough to baffle trained theologians, so in a way, it’s hard to blame the confused lay person.

2. Emerging church people can be snobs. Like in the way they dress, for example, or with their technology, or the music they listen to. Some of us suspect that we really are better than you—or at least cooler, and that a high hip factor is prerequisite to your ministry bearing any fruit. I, of course, do certainly not think this, and I'm sure that everyone who reads this is equally in the clear where snobbery (i.e., pride) is concerned. We are so beyond that. In fact, I pride myself on my anti-snobbery attitude.

3. Emerging Church is "cutting edge." This means that it appeals to the Athenian in all of us, “always searching for something new.” Also, since emerging church is largely shaped by felt needs and concerns within the postmodern milieu, it has a tendency to be reactionary, which can give it a whiny tone. Like The Purpose Driven Church or last year’s clothing styles, the quality of emerging church thinking will appear somewhere down the road, and in the meantime, some people are just here for the party. Or because they're ticked off.

4. Emerging Church puts a high value on relationships and conversation. Unfortunately, when taken to extremes, “keeping dialogue alive” can have a dampening effect on truth. Like when the conversation is between a lesbian activist and a weak-kneed Christian, for example. Our doctrinal positions should not determine the limits of our friendships (look at Jesus!) but neither should our friendships compromise our doctrinal positions. Sometimes this means we may have to shelve our “conversations” when we reach the awkward silence that indicates antagonistic convictions. If this does happen, it’s OK. Sometimes, Jesus stopped talking and walked.

5. “Emerging Church” sounds a lot like “Emergent Church.” Don’t look for an accompanying pro side to this item, because I wasn't creative enough to find one. Emergent Church, the ecclesiological sprouts of the Emergent Village root, is often plagued by faulty theology that’s too willing to bend over backwards and slur its speech in order to accommodate the culture. It’s too bad that the terminology is nearly interchangeable.

What, you think I left something out? Of course I did, this post is less than two pages long! What, you think that some of the strengths of emerging church are also its weaknesses? Good call. Please add your thoughts in the comments.

By way of disclaimer, I should add that I am not a tenured professor, do not own a really prestigious theological webring, and don't have any books published. I'm just an amateur (student) talking about emerging church the way I see it and having a good time in the process.



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8 comments:

Micah said...

Ariel-

Tremendous article! I think the reality that the emerging church is hard to understand may be the most significant wall that we face within the current climate of SBC life. It has to be simply the most misunderstood faction of evangelicalism. As such, I'm thankful that guys like yourself, Dr. Devine, and others, are presenting theological critiques that enlighten our understanding of the ec movement and enhance our ability to partner with them (if not begin to take on some of the ec's characteristics.)

Andrew Conard said...

AJ - I truly appreciate your thoughts and compilation of pros and cons. Overall, I agree with your assessment. I would add two comments. I think that it may be more appropriate to refer to the emerging movement that is happening within many individual congregations and various denominations. However, EC has a great deal of momentum (in both formats that you mention) so I'm not sure how far emerging movement will go.
Also, I would like to push back on keeping the dialogue alive. I think that there is a great deal to be said for people who agree to remain in relationship while disagreeing about any particular issue.

Thanks, AJ

david rudd said...

i think this is a nice summary. the willingness to embrace paradox is a crucial element of the emerging church because it is a crucial element of pomo culture...

as cap'n jack sparrow said.

either you can accept that your father was a pirate AND a good man or you can't.

translation: you're either modern or your not...traditional or emerging...rigid or flexible

i digress...

Pedro said...

Done, brother. I posted it.

J. K. Jones said...

Good post. It does sound as if you are dogging a fight on some theological issues. I’m pretty sure Jesus wouldn’t do that.

I would like to hear if you distinguish between Mark Driscoll and, say, Rob Bell. I get into trouble with Bell and the new hermeneutic, a new way of interpreting the Bible, he seems to follow.

Ariel said...

I'm thankful that guys like yourself, Dr. Devine, and others, are presenting theological critiques...

Thanks, Micah. Any dayyou get mentioned in the same breath as Dr. DeVine, it was a good day.

I think that it may be more appropriate to refer to the emerging movement that is happening within many individual congregations and various denominations.

I'm not sure I'm tracking with you, Andrew. I think perhaps you're saying that emerging church is better understood as a set of influences appearing here and there...rather than a "movement?" If so, I may agree.

I think that there is a great deal to be said for people who agree to remain in relationship while disagreeing about any particular issue.

I heartily agree. What troubles me is when relationship is allowed to hijack truth and the Bible is gagged in order to "keep friendship alive." This can't be considered real friendship. But as long as disagreements are openly acknowledged, relationships are the ideal place for them to happen!

either you can accept that your father was a pirate AND a good man or you can't.

Appropriating Jack Sparrow for emerging church purposes is a bold move. Nicely done.

It does sound as if you are dogging a fight on some theological issues. I’m pretty sure Jesus wouldn’t do that.

I'd welcome a more specific critique, J.K. (You're not in the Rowling family of J.K.s are you? If so, can you introduce me to your publisher?) Maybe we're talking past each other... but I'm not aware that Jesus argued about anything other than theological issues. I mean, ultimately, what else is there to argue about? (Besides basketball teams and coffee selection...but you know what I mean.)

I don't mean to be unnecessarily abrasive, but polemics may be justified when truth is in the balance. Having said that, I'd welcome further comments.

Ariel said...

I would like to hear if you distinguish between Mark Driscoll and, say, Rob Bell.

Not having read Rob Bell yet, I can't speak with authority on his hermeneutic. But there's a world of space between him and Driscoll, who is essentially a culturally-aware Reformed guy with a very high view of scripture.

I know that Driscoll is not a big fan of Bell - he made a comment to that effect in the message he gave at the Desiring God conference last year.

Kevin Walker said...

Hey -
This is my first time reading your site, and I've really enjoyed it. I've been interested in the Emerging Church for some time, and your pro vs. con article was really on the money concerning it.

Grace & peace,
Kevin

 

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