Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Emerging Church Responds to its Critics

In 2005 some Emerging Church leaders wrote a response to criticism that they were getting. Certain people were starting to speak out and even write books that were very uninformed. As a response, Brian McLaren penned a letter that was edited by a handful of other Emergent Leaders. It should definitely be read by anyone who seeks to converse with or about this movement.

The letter is basically laying out the attitude that most in the EC have, and attitude of humility and wanting conversation. In addition, it responds to some of the criticisms as well, and in doing so contains one of the best paragraphs I have read (best in that it is funny and crams more info into one paragraph than I have perhaps ever seen). Here it is:

Sixth, we would like to clarify, contrary to statements and inferences made by some, that yes, we truly believe there is such a thing as truth and truth matters – if we did not believe this, we would have no good reason to write or speak; no, we are not moral or epistemological relativists any more than anyone or any community is who takes hermeneutical positions – we believe that radical relativism is absurd and dangerous, as is arrogant absolutism; yes, we af firm the historic Trinitarian Christian faith and the ancient creeds, and seek to learn from all of church history – and we honor the church’s great teachers and leaders from East and West, North and South; yes, we believe that Jesus is the crucified and risen Savior of the cosmos and no one comes to the Father except through Jesus; no, we do not pit reason against experience but seek to use all our God-given faculties to love and serve God and our neighbors; no, we do not endorse false dichotomies – and we regret any false dichotomies unintentionally made by or about us (even in this paragraph!); and yes, we affirm that we love, have confidence in, seek to obey, and strive accurately to teach the sacred Scriptures, because our greatest desire is to be followers and servants of the Word of God, Jesus Christ. We regret that we have either been unclear or misinterpreted in these and other areas.

It is perhaps best quoted with the paragraph after it as well:

But we also acknowledge that we each find great joy and promise in dialogue and conversation, even about the items noted in the previous paragraph. Throughout the history of the church, followers of Jesus have come to know what they believe and how they believe it by being open to the honest critique and varied perspectives of others. We are radically open to the possibility that our hermeneutic stance will be greatly enriched in conversation with others. In other words, we value dialogue very highly, and we are convinced that open and generous dialogue – rather than chilling criticism and censorship – offers the greatest hope for the future of the church in the world.


The Zoner said...

Hi Nick-

A lot of the things about the emerging church are appealing, but from what I have read it seems they are afraid of offending with the Gospel. In the end it seems like a dressed-up version of universalism.

So while they may have some good ideas about how the church should proceed going forward, they seem to be lacking in adhering to scripture/doctrine.

What do you think?

Nick said...

Hi Zoner,

Thanks for stopping by and for your comment.

I'm not sure what you've read, but there are a lot of uninformed people writing and speaking about a movement they know almost nothing about (i.e. D. A. Carson, John McArthur etc.). To get the best read on the pulse of the Emerging Movement, I would recommend Scot McKnight's article called What is the Emerging Church. For a fuller look at its origins, I'd recommend Tony Jones' book The New Christians which I will be reviewing soon.

Having said that, here are a few thoughts in response to your post.

it seems they are afraid of offending with the Gospel

This seems like a loaded statement. i'm not 100% sure what you mean by this, but from my perspective it is not true. They hold to the gospel and to Jesus, and to his radical claims to give up everything to follow him. That is offensive. If you mean that they don't threaten people with eternal conscious torment in a lake of fire to coerce them into saying the sinner's prayer, then you're right. See, so there is just so many things that could be meant by the statement, and I'm just not completely sure what you mean (and I certainly dont want to put words in your mouth!). But, Zoner, I can say that I have not seen that trait in them.

they seem to be lacking in adhering to scripture/doctrine.

again, it depends what you mean. when we talk about scripture, we need to keep in mind that we most often mean "my interpretation of scripture." The EC has a high view of scripture, and namely, a high view of context (and not pulling a lone verse out of no where to prove a point). those who criticize the EC as not adhering to scripture mostly mean that they disagree with how they handle or interpret scripture (i.e Chuck Colson).

As for doctrine, you wont find a doctrinal statement for the ECM, for several reasons. One, because it is a conversation, not a denomination. They look to unite all different sorts of people from all different backgrounds to talk about faith and God and learn from one another. so, you can see why a doctrinal statement would simply exclude some from the conversation, rather than encouraging dialogue. furthermore, there is such a broad spectrum of those who identify with the ECM (from a baptist conservative pastor from Texas to a lesbian episcopalian priest), that it would be impossible to encompass everyone with a statement (or even a few statements).

In addition, one of the unique things about the ECM is that those involved unite around like practices, rather than like doctrine. They would say, "We know we are going to disagree about theology, so lets talk about it, but not divide over it, and agree to work together on the practices, the praxis, that we agree on."

If you pushed an emergent leader about a doctrinal statement, they would say "the Bible is our doctrinal statement", which is of course, very broad.

That being said, they do have a set of values and practices that appear in the appendix of the Jones book I referenced above. Here they are:

1. A commitment to God in the Way of Jesus
2. A commitment to the church in all its forms
3. A commitment to God's world (i.e. missional)
4. A commitment to one another

Now, Zoner, this is way longer than I intended, and i still only scratched the surface. I'd love to continue dialoging about this, but I have to run for now.

Thanks again for stopping by.

The Zoner said...

It was well worth it. Thanks Nick!

Nick said...

My pleasure. glad I could help.

You talking about the McKnight article?