29 May 2008

Questions for the Emerging Church

For the sake of the conversation, I would like to pose a few questions to those who consider themselves part of the emerging church/Emergent, without providing (rationalistic, linear, and propositional) answers.

- Is it possible that in our zeal to know and engage our culture, cultural paradigms and ways of thinking gradually, imperceptibly come to dictate our reading of the Bible, rather than biblical paradigms and ways of thinking dictating our reading of culture?

- Is it possible to so concentrate on adapting the method of ministry while retaining the message of ministry that it is the external form rather than the internal substance that is attracting unbelievers?

- Are we paying sufficient attention to the fact that while, in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul deliberately contextualized his message, in 1 Corinthians 2 he deliberately refused to contextualize his message (vv 1-5)? That though he became “a Jew to win Jews” and “a Greek to win Greeks” he never became “worldly to win the wordly”?

- Do we want unbelievers to be attracted to us mainly because we are so like them or mainly because we are so different from them? Is it personal holiness or personal sameness that our unbelieving friends need? Do we want to bring the church down to the culture or the culture up to the church?

- Is it possible that in seeking to reach the culture by distancing ourselves from the evangelical construction of a magisterium of necessary doctrinal knowledge which determines "who's in," we might erect an equally dogmatic magisterium of cultural knowledge which determines "who's in"? Might cultural dogmatism replace doctrinal dogmatism?

- Is it possible to mistake epistemological humility for evangelistic cowardice?

- Is it possible for us to help people on their way to hell while at the same time helping them in practical, material ways?

- Would Jesus, Paul, Peter and John be comfortable with the slogan, “Always preach the gospel, and sometimes use words”?

- Is it possible to forget that while corporate transformation is a necessary and immediate ramification of the Bible and the gospel, a house can never be built without solidly constructed individual bricks?

- Might we so emphasize the need for Christians to redeem culture that we neglect the more fundamental need for Christ to redeem individuals?

- In eschewing the consumerism of so much current evangelicalism, might we create our own, very different, consumeristic culture? Can candles, art, and speaching instead of preaching be a product offered to a customer just as much as corporate smoothness, spectator de-involvement, and stadium seating?

- Is it possible that 200 years from now, the communal discipleship, leadership from the bottom up rather than the top down, and narrative theology of Postmodern Christianity will seem as ridiculous to our great-great-grandchildren as the individualism, hierarchical leadership, and propositional theology of Modernist Christianity does to us?

- Is it possible that in our quest for intimacy with God we might become irreverently casual? That in emphasizing immanence we might neglect transcendence? That while (gloriously) believers are sinners in the hands of a propitiated God, unbelievers (frighteningly) are sinners in the hands of an angry God?

My sisters and brothers who consider yourselves emerging, I have lots to learn from you. Thank you for already teaching me so much. And thank you for your patience with me as I stumble along in this conversation.

P. S. The books that, for me, have prompted the above questions are:

- SoulTsunami: Sink or Swim in the New Millennium Culture (Leonard Sweet, 1999)
- Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality (Donald Miller, 2003)
- The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations (Dan Kimball, 2003)
- A Generous Orthodoxy (Brian McLaren, 2004)
- Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith (Rob Bell, 2005)
- Preaching Re-Imagined: The Role of the Sermon in Communities of Faith (Doug Pagitt, 2005)
- How (Not) to Speak of God (Peter Rollins, 2006)
- The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything (Brian McLaren, 2006)
- An Emergent Manifesto of Hope (ed. Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt, 2007)
- Intuitive Leadership: Embracing a Paradigm of Narrative, Metaphor, and Chaos (Tim Keel, 2007)
- The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier (Tony Jones, 2008)


ErinOrtlund said...

Interesting questions Dane! I hope you get some good debate/dialogue going. Do you know how many churches there are that would call themselves Emergent?

It brings to mind my experience as a Young Life leader in college. I didn't stick with it long, because at least in that particular group, it was a lot about fun and targeting popular kids, and I found it kind of lightweight. It just contrasted so much with my experience of becoming an evangelical Christian in my teens--that sense of making a decision to change my life radically and to be willing to not fit in at all with the larger culture and my peer group.

Dane Ortlund said...

Thanks for your thoughts Erin. I have no idea how many would label themselves emergent. I suspect that such a tally would be difficult because while some are clearly in and others out, the line distinguishing the 2 is very fuzzy.