THE EMERGENT CHURCH MOVEMENT, Part II
IT'S DISTINCTIVE TEACHINGS AND GOALS

January 17, 2010

As I noted in last week's article, the emergent church movement takes its name from the idea that as culture changes, a new church should emerge in response.  In this case, it is a response by various church leaders to the current era of post-modernism.  Although post-modernism began in the 1950s, the church didn't really seek to conform to its tenets until the 1990s.  Post-modernism can be thought of as the dissolution of "cold, hard fact" in favor of "warm, fuzzy subjectivity."  The emergent church movement can be seen in the same light.

The emergent church movement falls into line with basic post-modernist thinking—it is about experience over reason, subjectivity over objectivity, images over words, outward over inward, and feelings over truth. These are reactions to modernism and are thought to be necessary in order to actively engage contemporary culture. This movement teaches that there is not yet a standard method of "doing" church amongst the groups choosing to take a post-modern mindset. In fact, the emerging church rejects any standard methodology for doing anything. Therefore, there is a huge range of how far groups take a post-modernist approach to Christianity.  Some groups go only a little way in order to impact their community for Christ, and remain biblically sound. Most groups, however, utilize post-modernist thinking.  This eventually leads to a very liberal, loose translation of the Bible.  In fact it often leads to the rejection of much of the Bible.  This, in turn, leads to the acceptance of liberal doctrine and theology.

This week I would like to present some of this movement's goals and purposes. They are not Biblical, but practical for modern day approaches to "doing" church.

  1. The world is radically changing and the church must radically change with it
    Emergents believe postmodernity represents a dramatic break with the past and that only an extreme transformation in the church can keep the church relevant and effective in this environment. What is needed, they say, is not just a change in methodology. We need a new kind of Christian.
  2. Since the Church has been culture bound for so long we must reexamine and question every belief and practice in the Church, finding new ways to define and express these
    Visiting emergent blogs, one will find that absolutely any doctrine or moral standard can be questioned. It seems at times that emergents are engaging in a complete reinvention of Christianity accompanied by a radical redefinition of Christian terms.
  3. We have no foundation for any beliefs, therefore we cannot know absolute truth
    Critics of the Emerging Church movement insist that emergents misrepresent epistemological foundationalism (the belief that we do possess some knowledge that serves as a basis for further knowledge) as requiring “bombproof certainty,” something contemporary foundationalists insist they do not hold to. What contemporary foundationalists do believe is that we can possess real knowledge that is so certain it requires extraordinary evidence to refute it.  D. A. Carson points out that emergent postfoundationalism is based upon yet another of their false antitheses, saying “In effect the antithesis demands that we be God, with all of God’s omniscience, or else forever be condemned to knowing nothing objective for sure.” Additionally, emergents fail to consider the scriptural teaching of faith as something God-given which does possess supernaturally certain knowledge (Mt 21:21, Eph. 2:8, Heb 11:1). Emergents do not seem to realize that critiquing secular foundationalism is not the same as critiquing Evangelical foundationalism. In A New Kind of Christian McLaren’s fictional altar ego, Neo, says even Scripture is neither authoritative (in a “modern” sense) nor a foundation for faith.
  4. Since we cannot know absolute truth, we can only experience what is “true” for our communities
    Postmodern philosophers and theologians insist that truth is only known and validated within communities (“There are no Metanarratives only local narratives”). While this implies that truth is culturally relative and that true cross-cultural communication is impossible (those outside a community must first join a community before they can understand the community’s ideas), postmodern authors communicate to people of various communities simultaneously, apparently expecting them to all equally understand their intent.
  5. Since we cannot know absolute truth we cannot be dogmatic about doctrine
    Emergents see orthodoxy as “generous,” that is, inclusive of many beliefs Christians have historically thought of as aberrant or heretical. Many leading emergents echo McLaren’s refusal to assert Christianity’s superiority to other world religions.
  6. Since we cannot know absolute truth we cannot be dogmatic about moral standards
    Absolute stands on issues such as homosexuality are viewed as obsolete. Activities such as drinking, clubbing, watching sexually explicit movies, and using profanities are seen by some emergents as opportunities to show those who are not part of the Christian community that postmodern Christians do not think they are better than them through any false sense of moral superiority.
  7. Since we cannot know absolute truth, dogmatic preaching must give way to a dialogue between people of all beliefs
    Emerging Christians do not posture themselves before the world as though they were the light and the world were in darkness. Instead of “preaching” to the “lost” they join in “conversation,” with people of various beliefs. Conservative Evangelicals seem not to be truly welcome to contribute their distinctive content to this conversation since they represent the old, rotting corpse of “modernism.”
  8. Since propositional truth is uncertain, spiritual feeling and social action make up the only reliable substance of Christianity
    Emergents consider propositional truth a “modern” (and thus outmoded) fascination. Postmoderns think and communicate in narratives. Since the pursuit of truth is portrayed as a never ending journey with no solid starting point, they consider the only legitimate measuring rods of Christianity to be experience and good works. Without a solid footing in revealed truth, however, emergents have no firm foundation for knowing which experiences are valid and which works are good (something they do not seem to notice).
  9. To capture a sacred feeling we should reconnect with ancient worship forms
    Trappings such as burning candles and events such as silent retreats are popular in the movement. Embracing these premodern forms further breaks their connection with “modern” Christianity.
  10. Since sublime feeling is experienced through outward forms, we should utilize art forms in our worship
    Many participants in the movement see appreciating art for art’s sake as a spiritual experience.
  11. Through conversation with them, “outsiders” will become part of our community, and then be able to understand and believe what we teach
    The postmodern approach is not to try to persuade people to believe, it is to try to befriend people into joining. This is commonly expressed as Robert Webber does when he says “People in a postmodern world are not persuaded to faith by reason as much as they are moved to faith by participation in God’s earthly community.” There is a false antithesis in such statements, however. We do not have to choose between a purely cerebral attempt to talk others into believing correctly on the one hand and offering an open, unqualified invitation to our group on the other. The Bible teaches us to proclaim the gospel message with reliance upon the Holy Spirit to empower, illuminate, and convict (1 Co 2, 1 Thess 1:9). When such proclamation is absent, as it is in the Emerging Church movement, there is no prophetic voice coming from the church calling sinners to repent and believe the Gospel (Ac 2:38, 16:30-32).
  12. All are welcome to join the “conversation” as long as they behave in a kind and open-minded manner.
    Emerging believers reject any posture which hints at exclusivism. Dogmatic Evangelicals, however, are not treated as kindly in the conversation as others are (something many emergents admit).
  13. The ultimate goal is to make the world a better place
    The Emerging Church movement envisions a utopia in which the oppressed of the world are free, the poor are no longer impoverished and the environment is clean. This paradise is achieved through social activism. Many emergent leaders think it is selfish folly to live for the return of Christ.

The accomplishing of all of the above is seen by those in the movement as evidence that the Church is emerging to reach the culture, adapting to it. Critics of the movement see these things as signs that the Church is submerging into the culture, being absorbed by it.

Next week, we'll take a look at many of the methods of the Emergent Church Movement.

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