Friday, February 6, 2009

Why I'm Open to the Emergent Church

Like many of you, I grew up in a church home with a pastor-Father and worship-leading-mother bred to be the youth group superhero. Since moving away to Taylor, my home church has more or less fallen apart, causing me to question a few things about the American evangelical church institution. I’m not going to go into details, but I think I could give a substantial case as to why the “church has failed me.” I think I’m a pretty good case for Friday’s Chapel speaker, Ted Kluck’s, stereotypical rebellious twenty-something who could jump on the trendy new emergent bandwagon because I’m sick of the “evils” that American evangelical Christianity represents today.
But the thing is, I still love the church. My home churches have been full of too many amazing people and I’ve seen way too much good come out of my church experiences to disregard the church as a completely faulty system.
Coming into Taylor, I was exposed to many new authors such as Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and Donald Miller* that all hinted at something more than what my fairly normal church was preaching. A number of Kluck’s reasons for not being Emergent felt more like a personal vendetta against Starbucks than any sort of theological reason. Likewise, his reasons for loving the Church sounded more like reasons why he didn’t like the Emergent church than reasons why he loved the Church.
In response to Kluck, I would love to pick him apart for what I found to be silly arguments (what’s wrong with using the arts in worship?!) but I think I’m going more for the unity thing than divisive thing. So I’m going to give a few reasons why I’m open to the Emergent (or at least the emerging) church.
First and foremost (and maybe the one they get the most criticism for), they actually care about social justice issues. The second half of the Old Testament (hello prophets) and Jesus’ teachings are brimming with commandments to seeking justice, etc. They take that seriously. From what I have seen in Evangelical churches, there is very limited emphasis on actually serving the poor, helping the widow, etc. Kluck argued that the Emergent church is espousing a works-based gospel (and maybe they do lean too far this way) but as Taylor’s MLK Jr’s speaker explained so well, there’s a beautiful, mysterious connection between the vertical redemption that God does in us personally and the horizontal redemption of the earth he is creating through us. I don’t want to miss a part of the gospel by pledging allegiance to one side or another.
Next are a few more minor reasons why I’m open to the Emergent church. They employ the arts to a higher degree. I know the Emergent church isn’t the only Christian movement to engage the arts but they do set aside more room for expressing worship in a variety of ways that are somewhat neglected elsewhere. Another point is that the Emergent church characterizes itself as being a “discussion” of theological ideas. Although this definitely can lead to some sketchy theology, I recognize the need to re-evaluate what we believe and how we interpret the gospel.
One criticism Kluck gave that I’m having a hard time ignoring is saying how the Emergent church ignores the Bible and rather focuses on other mediums to provide a spiritual atmosphere. I’m a Rob Bell fan. One reason why is because he has helped me understand scriptures better than pretty much any other preacher. He ties Old Testament laws with New Testament principals and although he’s “fun to listen to,” there’s no way I would continue listening to him if he were short on content. Sorry, had to put that in there.

I’m done.

*I know all of these guys wouldn’t claim to be Emergent but Kluck seemed to group every remotely emerging figure out there into the same category so for simplicity’s sake, I will too.


Ben said...

Coolness, you should write a letter to the Echo.


Anonymous said...

Excellent. I was going to blog about this, too (probably still will).

aj said...

fair enough. thanks for the blog report.

rm said...

Just found your blog, Josiah. Sorry to say that I could not disagree with you more about Brian McLaren: I find both his politics and theology irrational and disturbing. His politics are politically correct to the max: buying into the "climate change" hysteria (as a recent Echo editorial said very well), posting a juvenile doctoring of a Rush Limbaugh speech on his website (making it sound as if Limbaugh has finally "seen the light" and is committed to big-government social programs that McLaren thinks are compassionate toward the poor but which, in Limbaugh's mind and in mine, recent history shows only make poverty worse), and on his website quoting approvingly some pastor who calls Israel's self-defensive incursion into Gaza an "illegal war." (Irrational Israel-bashing has, of course, become almost a calling card for progressives these days.) More broadly, his focus on Christianity as social action makes the Palm Sunday mistake, the mistake that somehow Jesus came into the world to change political reality.

In this last point, I believe he is as mistaken as N. T. Wright in what may be the clumsiest book I have ever finished: Simply Christian. Wright says over and over again that Jesus came 2000 years ago to "put the world to rights." Given the state of the world, if Jesus came to put the world to rights, He failed.

The focus of the New Testament is not on "social justice," a term straight out of the mix of Marxism and Christianity called "liberation theology"; it is on individual love. We are told to love our neighbor (an individual) as ourselves. And we are told to love the least of these (not "the poor," but poor individuals) and that doing so is like loving the individual who (in a necessary atonement that McLaren seems reluctant to affirm) died and rose again to save all who believe.

rm said...

I just found a section of an interview on youtube where Brian McLaren explicitly denies the notion that the death of Jesus on the Cross, and our acceptance of that death, is necessary to save us from damnation. And the way McLaren arrives at this denial is really juvenile in its anti-intellectualism.

Here is the link:

Josiah said...

Hey "rm,"

thanks for your comments.

I find my comments concerning Brian McLaren somewhat difficult to disagree with considering I only mentioned that I've read some of his books and have been vaguely impacted in one way or another by them. I appreciate his rethinking of Christianity but certainly do not agree with him on every point.

As for his politics, he's basically just a liberal ... I don't think that makes him "politically correct" unless you're implying that all Democrats base every viewpoint on not offending people for PC's sake.

As to the N.T. Wright comment, if Jesus (and now the Holy Spirit) did not come to redeem the earth today, what are we (as Christians) doing on earth? Certainly the earth will not be perfected until Jesus' return but I think part of our calling now is to bring about the Kingdom of God.

Granted Brian McLaren (and many Emergents) focus too heavily on social justice issues to the avoidance of "personal love," but I'm fairly certain that social justice needs need to be included in our love of others. In fact, loving people on a personal scale is (or should be) the foundation of social justice issues. They are intimately connected.

On McLaren's "denial" of our necessity of Christ's atonement, I think he does get a bit fuzzy on this subject and this is the area where I part ways with his views. But I don't think that negates other interesting ideas he may have.

The conversation continues...

rm said...

Oh my goodness, Josiah. "Political correctness" isn't just about not offending people; it's about imposing an ideology. It's rooted in Marxism. It says that absolute notions of truth are not really based on truth but on power structures, and then it turns around and sets up its own power structure. It's not liberal or Democrat; it's radical or progressive. It's straight out of the late French Revolution; it emulates the Jacobins who devised the Reign of Terror. Yes, I know the politically correct aren't killing anyone, but they set out to destory their enemies more subtly. They engage in a kind of intellectual (or anti-intellectual, really) denial of anyone who dares use reason. Thus, they lie about the climate change debate, and say that there is a consensus about it. Thus, they come up with a concept like "diversity," which values people based not on their individuality but on what ethnic group they belong to. Of course, this used to be called racism; now it's called "diversity," and anyone who dares disagree with it is himself or herself labeled a racist. For more, read about last fall's University of Delaware controvery. Read Tenured Radicals. Read Diversity: The Invention of a Concept. Read William Blake--with one difference. Blake spoke of an Orc cycle in which the oppressed oppressed their former oppressors. The PC call anyone who dares search for truth an oppressor and then they set out to oppress that "oppressor."

blake said...

i didn't take time to read the comments. (i had enough trouble making it through the entire post)

do you really consider the emerging church and the emergent church to be the same thing?

(i'll give you a hint - they aren't)

JTT said...

Stumbled across here and I have a couple of things:

1. You said at the end something about these guys wouldn't all consider themselves emergent, that was just this speakers classification. They call themselves Emergent. This speaker probably did his homework on that one.

2. McLaren is shady, but how did no one comment on Rob Bell? Did the man not question the virgin birth and state that everything would still be the same? Once a heretic (if not repented) always a heretic.

Basically here is the problem, if you take these leaders and believe what they believe, you will be screwed. These guys take the scriptures, and they believe that what was true for the culture back then, doesn't apply today. It's trajectory hermeneutics. And if that's how you interpret scripture, then it's all wrong. This believe is spineless, and it's tolerance.

I don't write this stuff to bash on you man. I really hope you check into these guys though and evaluate what you believe and why you believe it.

JTT said...

Just one more thing. I realize that you weren't siding with those guys, but stated that you read there stuff. But I wouldn't go reading that stuff without reading the Bible first (something I'm learning, not mastered).

If you don't know the truth well, then you can't judge the things these guys write well. That gives you great goggles to read their stuff through.

Josiah said...

Blake: I understand the difference between the emerging church and the Emergent church. Unfortunately, Ted Kluck didn't make the distinction. I apologize for not doing so in my blog.

JTT: I've heard comments by Rob Bell and Don Miller where they were confused why they were called Emergent (although they would definitely be a part of the emerging church).

Also, thanks for recognizing that I don't consider Rob/McLaren/Miller to write inerrant truth. And I read the Bible ... it has a tendency to speak Truth. And by tendency I mean all the time.