The Whole Christ

"He is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:17)

On the Emerging Church

There is much that I could say regarding the Emerging Church. It was a big movement a few years back, but it has now lost much of its momentum, probably due to many of the heretical tendencies within it. Many members of my own Church appear to have been heavily influenced by some pastors from the emerging movement, like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren. In a Christianity Today article a few years back, Scot McKnight listed 5 ‘streams’ which together made up the emerging Church movement. The article can be found here. Looking back on the movement, I will be interacting with those five streams and stating where I agree and disagree with them as approaches to how we do Church.

1. Prophetic (or at least provocative) rhetoric

“Our language frequently borrows the kind of rhetoric found in Old Testament prophets like Hosea: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (6:6). Hosea engages here in deliberate overstatement, for God never forbids Temple worship.”

I half agree with this one – I think a bit of overstatement can be biblical. However, there is a time for overstatement and a time for clarity. We have to bear in mind that the words of pastors in the 21st century are not infallible like those of Jesus and the prophets. If someone asks a straight question, they usually deserve a straight answer. Of course, Jesus often answered the Pharisees in highly rhetorical ways; however, we must bear in mind that these people had set out to murder him – this is not the norm for western Christians! The epistles of the New Testament and the Law of the Old contain a lot of straight talk.

2. Postmodern thinking

“Postmodernity cannot be reduced to the denial of truth. Instead, it is the collapse of inherited metanarratives (overarching explanations of life) like those of science or Marxism.”

I think it can be extremely useful to bring out all of our underlying assumptions and to question the popular metanarratives of our day. In this regard, it is ironic (to say the least) that the emerging types seemed prone to blindly accepting the inherited sociological framework of Evolution.

I think that a postmodern suspicion of overly simplistic metanarratives was one of the great strengths of the emerging movement. It just seems unfortunate that the Emerging Church movement was on the whole more interested in critiquing Christian metanarratives than in critiquing the popular secular one.

3. Praxis-oriented

“Evangelicals sometimes forget that God cares about sacred space and ritual—he told Moses how to design the tabernacle and gave detailed directions to Solomon for building a majestic Temple.”

I love this one. In Revelation 4-5, there is a scene of heavenly worship. And in that worship there are robes, incense, prostration, lots of stringed instruments, chanting and the like. Why isn’t our worship this holistic? Of course, the way we worship should not be chaotic, but thoroughly prepared and carefully orchestrated – like the sacred feasts of Israel. However, I see no reason why worship can’t involve the whole person and at the same time be conducted in an orderly fashion. But let’s keep the bible central here, as everywhere.

4. Post-evangelical

“No systematic theology can be final. In this sense, the emerging movement is radically Reformed. It turns its chastened epistemology against itself, saying, ‘This is what I believe, but I could be wrong. What do you think? Let’s talk.’”

As a reformed postmillennialist, I can get behind this. I think the evangelical conception of the Church and the Kingdom of God can be a little too static at times. So long as we are clear regarding the Gospel message, I don’t see why our understanding cannot change and even improve as time goes by. However, we must stick by the creeds and be prepared to die for the Gospel.

5. Political Gospel

“I don’t think the Democratic Party is worth a hoot, but its historic commitment to the poor and to centralizing government for social justice is what I think government should do.”

I think there has been confusion here between the roles of Church and state. The Church is commanded to disciple the nations – that’s what the great commission means. We are to help the poor, to free the oppressed and to heal the sick. The state, however, has not been given this duty. They are simply given authority to punish evildoers (Romans 13, 1 Peter 2).

All in all though, I don’t believe that politics belongs in the pulpit. Neither Jesus nor Paul was centrally concerned with such affairs; rather, the ministry and mission of the Church was most important. The Church is new wine bursting old wineskins. Let’s make it the best wine possible!


4 responses to “On the Emerging Church

  1. Stu N 2 October 2012 at 8:29 pm

    Consciousness emerges from… well, what it emerges from I’m not sure. Electrical impulses in the brain I suppose, at least for humans in our present form. And morality emerges from consciousness, at least to the point that morality cannot exist without consciousness; therefore I think it’s a huge stretch to say ‘The reason why I link the two [evolution and socialism] together is because if human morality has evolved, then it must serve a solely utilitarian function.’

    As someone who believes in the God of the Bible and doesn’t disbelieve evolution (this describes my position, fence-sitting and wishy-washy as it is), this vaguely offends me. We’re still made in the image of God, so our morality comes from God.

  2. Stu N 2 October 2012 at 8:41 pm

    I should point out the segue between paragraphs one and two is that I don’t believe evolution can explain the emergence of consciousness!

  3. thetotuschristus 2 October 2012 at 10:28 pm

    Well, I was attacking evolution as a sociological theory, not as a biological one – so technically, this criticism doesn’t apply to you.

    I should make it clear that I don’t think your position (theistic evolution) is incompatible with Christian Orthodoxy. Having said that, it does lean in the direction of gnosticism by rigidly separating the body (formed by a process of death and decay) from the soul (formed directly by God). It also implies that the ‘image of God’ is restricted to our inner self, rather than encompassing the whole person. Have you studied Genesis chapters 1-2 in detail and how would you interpret them?

  4. thetotuschristus 5 October 2012 at 11:47 pm

    Further to our brief conversation, if you’re interested in looking into this further, I’d recommend James B Jordan’s essays in defence of the six day interpretation. You can find them here:

    He takes on 3 alternative interpretations, namely Meredith Kline’s “framework interpretation” (seven days are a literary device), John Sailhamer’s “local creation interpretation” (literal seven days, but creation of covenant land, not whole earth) and C John Collins’ “anthropomorphic days interpretation” (seven days are a literal to God but not to us). He doesn’t take on the day-age view, presumeably because it is the least defensible of all the alternatives. Finally, he lays out a good reading of Genesis 1 – which is hands down the best exposition of Genesis 1 I have ever read. His science fiction influenced imagination really comes into play!

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