Scot McKnight Resurrects Emerging Church Terminology from the Grave

After several people advocating the death of the term “emerging church” Scot McKnight makes the case that movements are not limited by the terms used to describe them. See his post here.

Parchment and Pen Clears Up Some Misconceptions About Emerging/Emergent Church

With Phil Sanders, Matthew Morine, and this blog discussing Emerging Church and Churches of Christ it seems there are A LOT of misconceptions out there. C Michael Patton clears up a lot of things in his most recent post at Parchment and Pen. I would highly suggest anyone wanting to know more about Emerging/Emergent church to read his post. It is very informed and informative. It also clears up a lot of misconceptions. He describes different strains of it, how and why it is not one size fits all, how it is more of a cultural phenomenon that is impacting views on Christianity rather than a particular church, and much more. Very helpful. Thank you Michael Patton!


Churches of Christ and the Emerging Culture

As I read Dan Kimball’s book on the Emerging Church a few things stand out to me that I thought I would mention here:

1 – There is a cultural shift that is taking place and more people are unchurched in America. We are one of the largest mission fields in the world. Missionaries will tell you that if you are going to reach people in another culture you have to contextualize yourself to that culture. You cannot expect to take our models of ministry and map them onto other cultures. So what do we do when the models for ministry and worship we have are based on a modern culture while the culture in America that is rapidly growing all around us is post-modern? Wouldn’t it make sense that our ministry models would reflect the growing culture around us? You see this lack of understanding of cultural transitions and the opportunities they open up when predominantly white churches are located in a neighborhood that is undergoing what some people have termed “white flight.” Those churches that turn themselves into a fortress and protect against their neighborhoods die while those who make the transition and continue to reach out to the changing culture around them can thrive. We have to taking the surrounding culture seriously in how we reach out to them. It is a lot more obvious when it is black/white/asian, etc but a lot more subtle when people of our own race live with a dramatically different worldview and culture that we do. This is clear on the mission field but is often unclear in our safe haven worship environments where we have tended to do things the same way for a couple hundred years.

2 – People want authenticity. Many Christians have mistakenly thought that the world needs to see faultless Christians. Because that is impossible and presenting yourself that way a fraud, people have labeled Christians hypocrites. People don’t need to see flawless Christians. People need to see that we mess up in a lot of the same ways they do but the important thing is how we feel about that (remorse) and how we let God deal with it through repentance and forgiveness. This allows us to be genuine about our sin and about a God who is able to deal with sin and forgive us. This shows people God can forgive them too. This also breaks down the old stereotype that Christians think they are better than everyone else and are “holier than thou.” At the same time, preachers who seem to flaunt their sin to show they are like everyone else just won’t cut it either.

3 – Churches of Christ have a lot going for them in reaching the emerging post-modern culture. Kimball makes the point that seekers don’t want seeker sensitive services (removing religious imagery, taking down the crosses, etc). They want an authentic and ancient forms to bring in an experience with God. They want something with roots that go back to the beginning. They want people who take Jesus and his teachings seriously. They want people who are kind and compassionate. The Church of Christ has been like that for years. I think we have a lot going for us in reaching the lost. Kimball writes, “How ironic that returning to a raw and ancient form of worship is now seen as new and even cutting edge. We are simply going back to a vintage form of worship which has been around for as long as the church has been in existence.” (Emerging Church, 169). He says earlier in the book that “post-seeker sensitive” worship and ministry will be more of a back to the basics and earlier forms…”This approach is really nothing new at all; in fact, it is simply going back to more of a raw and basic form of ‘vintage Christianity.'” (26).

4 – Churches of Christ have a transition to make in order to reach emerging generations that relates to point one. We have to realize that worship as we currently has components that are a product of the modern culture that the church of Christ came about. Singing is still singing and praying is still praying and preaching is still preaching, etc. Those things will always and should always be. But the linear format of 2 songs and a prayer does not speak the language of the culture we are immersed in. The order of worship (2 songs and a prayer, 2 songs and a scripture, Lord’s supper, 2 songs, a sermon, invitation, closing song, and closing prayer) is a product of our modern culture and also a product of needing order in the assembly. When the tradition becomes law we have a problem and turn ourselves into Pharisees if we are not careful. We have done this for so long that some people think it is the only way to do it. Some people get upset if the invitation isn’t offered even though the vast majority of people who are reached don’t happen at the invitation time.

This leaves us with a couple of questions:

1) How do we get people to understand which parts of our worship are scriptural and which are based on tradition?

2) What would missionaries coming to America from another culture do to contextualize themselves to our culture? How would they combine that information with biblical forms of worship to reach people in America today? What would keep us from doing the same thing?

3) How important is the worshiper or the seeker’s opinion of the worship? If God said we had to worship standing on our heads and humming would we do it or would we say that is just silly…we want to do it sitting in pews?

4) What ancient forms of worship are still appropriate for today? What would make an ancient practice no longer appropriate for worship today?

Velvet Elvis and Rob Bell’s View of Spirituality

I am about halfway through Bell’s book Velvet Elvis. Most of what I have read is pretty good. It is pretty surfacy with just enough meat to keep me hanging in their. I can see how people say he is creative, profound, and all the rest. However, I just finished Movement Three – “True” and found a few things that I thought were pretty disturbing. Bell talks about some friends of his who asked him to perform their wedding. “They said they didn’t want any Jesus or God or Bible or religion to be talked about. But they did want me to make it really spiritual. The bride said it in her own great way, ‘Rob, do that thing you do. Make it really profound and deep and spiritual.'” (V.E. p.76). To his credit Bell begins asking them questions that led them to the conclusion that “something holds this all together.” (speaking of both the beauty of nature and also their marriage). They conclude that they “would call this glue, this force, ‘God'”. (p.77).

I understand the importance of starting where people are at and leading them to a deeper understanding and appreciation for who God is. That is VERY biblical. Most people do have some sense of spirituality, areas that make ready footholds for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Here is how Bell sums that up for this couple, “My friends already intuitively believe certain things about the universe and the way it works. All I was doing was asking questions about things they already knew to be true. I didn’t have to convince them of anything. Now I could go on about the ceremony and the party afterward and the way it ended up being one of the most sacred things I have ever been a part of…” (p.77). If someone came to you and said they wanted a spiritual experience apart from God, Jesus, the Bible or even religion would you think there was something they may still need to be convinced of? Bell is probably reacting to generations of people who shoved “the truth” down people’s throats with little concern for speaking the truth in love.

Bell uses that illustration to launch into a discussion on spiritual experience. He goes back to the Old Testament and the Hebrew view of the glory of God. God owns the world and so God’s glory is made known through the world and the created things. Bell concludes, therefore, that “God is present everywhere in [creation].”(p.77). Because God is everywhere, truth is also available everywhere and to everyone because they too are part of God’s creation. He concludes that, “To be a Christian is to claim truth wherever you find it.” (p.81).

At the end of the chapter he comes back to the couple and the wedding, “I believe God made it unspoiled by speaking it into existence. And Jesus is the life force that makes it possible. So in the deepest sense we can comprehend, my friends are resonating with Jesus, whether they acknowledge it or not…Jesus was up on the cliff with us that day. It is not that God is over here and real life is over there. If it is real, then it’s showing us God.” (p.92). Let’s look at that statement. We would all agree that everything God made was good. He said so himself in Genesis. But not everything that is real is showing us God. Bell uses the term life force, a new age term that I am sure he borrows because he sees truth in it as it applies to Christ. He says that in the middle of the Godless, Jesusless, Bibleless, religiousless ceremony his friends were “resonating with God.” He would say that is so because God made the nature that surrounds them and is present in it. However, just because God is present does not mean he resonates with everything going on everywhere and all the time. By Bell’s logic, I can reject God and Jesus and yearn for something purely spiritual apart from God and it is still holy because I was made in God’s image and God is present no matter where I go.

Just because all things are “real life” and just because God is everywhere does not mean all things resonate with God. Rebellion certainly does not resonate with God. Sin certainly does not resonate with God. Self-centered spirituality certainly does not resonate with God. All three of those are real things. I hope Bell had a chance to engage those friends in further conversation and deepen their understand of “the force” that was present at their wedding.

This is by no means an all out assault against Bell. I am just seeing more and more that you do have to pick and choose as you work through his material. Some of it is excellent and other parts are highly questionable. I am sure many of you feel the same way about this blog! And before any of you Rob Bell blogites out there go on the offense, remember what Bell himself said, divergent (that would make a good name for a Christian religious movement now wouldn’t it?) views are just part of the theological dialogue that continues on long after we are gone.