Mark DeVine & the Mangling of Emerging Church ~ BitterSweetLife

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Mark DeVine & the Mangling of Emerging Church

More SBC & Emerging Church Craziness with an Appearance by Acts 29

When Dr. Mark DeVine headed to Jefferson City a couple weeks ago, little did he know that his
research on emerging church issues would be hijacked and deliberately misinterpreted in order to bolster a culturally-fearful, politically-driven "church" agenda.

DeVine attended the meeting at the request of the Missouri Baptist Convention. His purported task: Help key leaders get up to speed on the emerging church in order to halt the misinformation and knee-jerk reactions that have characterized much interaction between SBC and emerging church thought recently. Unfortunately, viewed in hindsight, the committee meeting was merely an attempt to add a scholarly endorsement to another episode of head-in-the-sand decision making (link to Pathway article).

At this time, crime scene investigators are examining oral and written evidence to ascertain who exactly will be charged with perjury and to what extent. Actually, I made that up. But if the context were different...

When I read the above Pathway article, which wildly misrepresents DeVine's position, I was confused about what had actually happened in this closed-doors committee meeting. Apparently, so were scores of other people, who have been stuffing notes into DeVine's e-mailbox. Turns out that confusion was the only rationale response--one which DeVine shares.

Here's my abbreviated transcript for those of you who don't have time to read all the background.

Setting: Committee meeting in Jefferson City.
DeVine: So while I have cautions about some streams of the very diverse phenomenon labeled "emerging church," there are other elements that I applaud. For example, some churches combine a devotion to biblical authority and historical orthodoxy with a willingness to enter culture and bring Jesus to lost people. One example of this is a church planting network, Acts 29, which has experienced dramatic success in evangelizing urban populations--the very demographic that Southern Baptist churches usually fail to reach.
Committee leader: Thank you for your very helpful research. Now, based on what you have said, we will ban all Missouri churches from working with Acts 29 in the future.

My synopsis doesn't do justice to the weirdness. In the next few weeks, we can look forward to (yet another) incisive, clarifying article from Dr. DeVine, because he is a professor with backbone who doesn't like having his words mangled. This piece will likely appear in the offending Pathway. This means that The Pathway may, for the first time, feature a balanced perspective on emerging church and its place within the Southern Baptist convention, which may cause cardiac arrest in some circles. It's also possible that we'll see a retraction or two appear in print, if the people involved repent of their political maneuvering.

Bizarre, all of this. The shock is still wearing off for me. (In a few days I may read this post and wonder why it's so shrill.) Maybe I'm naive, but manipulation, fear-mongering and word games are completely alien to anything I would call "church."

Update: Here's a post on the topic from Scott Thomas of Acts 29.

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gymbrall said...

From the article:
Committee Member David McAlpin, pastor, First Baptist Church, Harvester, in St. Charles, was ill April 16 and did not attend the meeting.

That's funny, after reading the article I'm not feeling so well myself...

John B. said...

My short answer is, "Welcome to SBC politics." Because, as you suspect, for those folks (at the level of the General Convention) doctrine and theology long ago (before you were born) took a back seat to power and control and the requisite litmus tests that come along with such attitudes. While I was in Mobile teaching at an SBC-affiliated school I saw and heard things that--there's no other way to describe them--I'd call pre-Reformation in nature. Being a Lutheran, I'd have some knowledge of such things. That those in power in the Alabama convention could not was more than a little telling--not to mention disturbing.

Now: I don't know whether the Missouri convention would call itself moderate or conservative; as you describe their behavior, though, they don't sound like Moderates. Mr. Sherman would know more about that, of course. But for a denomination, at least in Alabama, that has systematically done all it culturally and legally can to separate itself not only from secular society but even from other denominations, it has to be something akin to heresy to their mind to hear someone say to them that the church should "enter culture" and--heh, heh--that the SBC has actually failed in some aspect of evangelizing.

I'm chuckling a bit, yes. But I do hear and respect your dismay. It's been the unfortunate fate of many good, God-fearing, old-school Baptists and others sympathetic to the Baptists these past 20 or so years that they end up saying something that someone in power in the conventions doesn't want to hear, no matter its truth or its expression of the common purpose of making disciples, and they are ignored, beaten up, and/or driven out of the church.

I wish Dr. DeVine well. He has a tough row to hoe.

Methinks the SBC is due for a Counter-Reformation.

brad brisco said...

Ariel, remember you can stay in KC and move away from the dark side (the dark side being MO Bap. politics) by moving west just a bit. I really do thank God for allowing me to be in KC, KS. Also, have to say again how much I appreciate Dr. DeVine.

Ariel said...

Appreciate the thoughts, guys.

John, I've been oblivious to the role that politics has in various aspects of "church"... in fact, the political hierarchy of the Catholic church has been something that repels me. I guess Protestants aren't exempt. One more step down the road away from religious naivety...

Brad, Kansas is looking really good right now. I mean, even better than it usually looks, which is saying something.


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