Monday, April 14, 2008

Attempting to Make Sense of the Different "Streams" of the Emerging Church

While there are those in the general Emerging Church movement who may quip “’Emergent’ does not speak for us” or “’Emergent’ is not our denomination”, many of those same people also use and refer to books and material promoted by the organization referred to as “Emergent”. I have been amazed at some who take offense at being associated with Brian McLaren, but they are also the same ones who will often adopt many of his philosophies and quote from his books. Emergent (also known as Emergent Village) is the official liberal wing of the broader Emerging Church Movement. Emergent also seeks to be a profound influence in the broader Emerging Church.

But the movement can be broken down a bit more than just Emerging and Emergent. Mark Driscoll in an article entitled A Pastoral Perspective on the Emerging Church, explains the differences between three basic streams of the Emerging Church Movement as identified by Dr. Ed Stetzer. This is an interesting article that describes the various segments of the Emerging Church movement. But even in the category of the more conservative “Relevants”, I have great concern, especially since Rob Bell and Donald Miller tend to be their prominent spokesmen. Rob Bell is not in the least bit truly conservative theologically as many people unfortunately consider him to be. And Donald Miller tends to be doctrinally ambiguous, particularly in his book “Blue Like Jazz”. To me it is very telling when Brian McLaren can provide his glowing endorsement on the back of Miller’s book. Furthermore, there is information in Miller’s book pointing people to Emergent Village, including the URL to the website. Neither individual inspires any enthusiasm on my part. In fact, I feel the need to warn others about their teaching, especially in the case of Rob Bell. There is, however, a relatively small group within the Relevants who do embrace Reformed Theology and are more inclined to gain theological insight from such men as John Piper and Tim Keller. This group is generally theologically conservative, but is, in my estimation, very small. This is where Mark Driscoll would fit in. However, I am apprehensive to heartily recommend Driscoll's ministry given his propensity to utilize slang terms and phrases that are essentially unsuitable for Christians to use in general speech, let alone from the pulpit. Unfortunately, this has earned him the notoriety of being known as "Mark the cussing pastor", a term that Donald Miller refers to him as in his book "Blue Like Jazz". It is not his theology that I have the problem with, it is the way he presents himself in an apparent effort to be hip and cool to appeal to the younger generation.

While I recognize that there are certainly those who may hold to orthodox Christian beliefs within the broader Emerging Church, I often wonder what they expect to truly accomplish by being identified as “Emerging”, especially when their views are often in direct variance with the theological views of many of their colleagues. The very fact that they uphold the notion that there are indeed absolute truths, causes them to be ostracized by many if not the majority in the Emerging Church movement.

At the end of Mark’s article, he summarizes where he sees the movement heading.

“In the end, I believe the conversation will result in multiple communities arriving at different conclusions and breaking off to have their own conversations, with their own Bible translations, leaders, books, magazines, websites, blogs, conferences, and model churches. That is already happening as new networks are forming and new church planting networks are establishing new churches with varying answers to the missiological questions. Over time, this may result in new denominations because inevitably systems must be put in place to serve a movement and somehow an umpire must be put in place to make decisions about what is and what is not acceptable doctrine and practice.

The only hope is a return to the true gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture. The gospel must be unleashed in the world through the Church for the transforming salvation of sinners and their cultures. If the gospel is lost, as I fear it already has been among some Revisionists, then tomorrow will be a dark day for the truth about Jesus.”

In my opinion, the Emerging Church is destined to end up as a terrible train wreck. And if the rest of the evangelical church follows their lead, it will be headed down the same collision course with disaster.

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