Month: May 2006

Will Southern Baptists matter in 20 years?

The Southern Baptist Convention is in crisis. Does that sound like an alarmist statement? I don’t think so.

Bobby Welch has been a tremendous president. He has served as a cheerleader for soul-winning and baptisms. He worked, traveled and preached tirelessly to challenge Southern Baptists to do our best in evangelism. The reports show that baptisms are down for the first reporting year of his presidency. This is not President Welch’s fault. He has been faithful with the call. What we need is a comprehensive national strategy implemented by the churches if we are to get the job done. This must happen soon. The window is closing quickly.

Factoring in inflation and other variables, the Cooperative Program has been declining in real dollars for years. Gradually, participation through our time-honored funding system gets chipped away by societal and direct appeals. Unless there is a resurgence in giving, within 20 years the cash flow will not support our missionaries, seminaries and other ministries. Is it cultural factors, convictions or communications failures that cause churches to invest their funds in other extra-church enterprises? I think all of these are a part of the problem. We have to prove CP is worth the investment. People will respond if we challenge them. The story of CP effectiveness must be told better by all of us.

Strangely, after a 25-year battle for the Bible, we are struggling with our doctrinal identity. Are we evangelicals or Baptists? The answer is, “yes.” In the broader definition we are evangelicals, just as in the broadest definition we are Christians. However, there are doctrines and biblical practices that set us apart as Baptists. We should no more tolerate a teacher in our church espousing apostasy, than should we approve of baptisms that do not meet the New Testament standard. Baptism is to be performed by the proper authority (the church), upon the proper candidate (born again) and in the proper mode (immersion). This should be upheld not only because our forefathers lost their lives for this belief, but because the Bible teaches it. If we begin to blur the lines of what it means to be a Baptist then we will eventually cease to exist as a denomination and become a part of some amalgamated, hodge-podge of non-denominational evangelicals.

SBC messengers meeting in Greensboro, N.C. will vote on a president, a budget and numerous other items. What may not be settled there, but will be settled in the not-too-distant future, is the viability of the Southern Baptist Convention. The question is not about survival, it is about relevance. Will we really matter for the cause of Christ in 10 years, 20?

Enough of the bad news! I am optimistic. Awareness of the need to reach people is at a new level. A new burden for people and their eternal destinies will cause us to share our faith. The discussions about doctrine bring us back to our heritage and identity. The sufficiency of Scripture will allow us to agree upon certain common practices that we can all embrace as Baptists. People will give to a legitimate need. Giving will increase when people are convinced that the money will be wisely used to accomplish the mission and ministry objectives near to their hearts.

I am optimistic because I believe if God’s people will get back to the basics, get together and get before God, we will see greater days ahead.

God bless you, your church and the Southern Baptist Convention.

A pastoral perspective: on the emerging church




SEATTLE?In the mid-1990s I was a young church planter trying to establish a church in the city of Seattle when I got a call to speak at my first conference. It was hosted by Leadership Network and focused on the subject of Generation X. I spoke on the transition from the modern to the postmodern world and some of the implications this cultural shift was having on the church. Other participants spoke on the various ways that emerging generations were changing and how the church might faithfully respond.

That conference shifted in focus from reaching a generation to larger issues related to being the church in an emerging postmodern culture. The general consensus among us was that a transition within the church was taking place. Local churches were moving either from a Church 1.0 to a Church 2.0 model or from a Church 2.0 to a Church 3.0 model.

Church 1.0 is traditional, institutional, and generally marked by the following traits:

?The cultural context is modern.

?The church holds a privileged place in the larger culture.

?Pastors are teachers who lead people by virtue of their spiritual authority.

?Church services are marked by choirs, robes, hymnals, and organs.

?Missions involves sending Americans and dollars overseas through denominations and mission agencies.

As the Church 1.0 model becomes less popular, the Church 2.0 model becomes more prominent. Church 2.0 is cont1:PersonName w:st=”on”>temporary, with the following traits:

?The cultural context is in transition from modern to postmodern.

?A culture war is being fought to regain a lost position of privilege in culture.

?Pastors are CEOs running businesses that market spiritual goods and services to customers.

?Church services use 1980s and 1990s pop culture such as acoustic guitars and drama in an effort to attract non-Christian seekers.

?Missions is a church department organizing overseas trips and funding.

Today, the Church 2.0 model is the dominant American church form, but is being replaced by yet another incarnation of the church. The Church 3.0 model is emerging, missional, and bound together by the following traits:

?The cultural context is postmodern and pluralistic.

?The church accepts that it is marginalized in culture.

?Pastors are local missionaries.

?Church services blend ancient forms and current local styles.

?Missions is “glocal” (global and local).

Out of that conference a small team was formed to continue conversing about postmodernism and the overarching concern of what mission work would look like in the United States, including the implications for how theology and church are done.

Until that time most of the discussion regarding missions related to Americans sending their missionaries and dollars overseas to interpret and convert foreign cultures. But, our small team believed that America was becoming as thoroughly secular and foreign to the gospel as “foreign” cultures and therefore needed its own missiological agenda. It was at this time that we began combing through the works of such noted missiologists as David Bosch, Lesslie Newbigin, and Roland Allen. We also began traveling the country speaking to various groups of Christian leaders about what it would mean if Americans actually functioned as missionaries in their own culture. We also had many informal conversations with Christian leaders who were asking the same sorts of questions regarding the content of the gospel and the context of church ministry.

Beware of some emergent theology, but heed the positive, conservatives say

Some trace its roots to the seeker-sensitive movement of the 1980s and ’90s–a lineage many in the emerging church movement would cringe at. In fact, they would argue the emerging church partly is a reaction against the consumer-driven church models that many megachurches represent.

Aside from a few identifiable cultural attributes, a definition of the emerging (sometimes called emergent) church is elusive–the movement appears most strongly unified in its dissatisfaction with the evangelical status quo and its desire to translate Christianity for postmodern hearers.

Whatever the case, the emerging church is a notable development in evangelical Christianity. The Criswell Theological Review devoted its spring 2006 issue to it. Christianity Today has written of it. Numerous Southern Baptists have addressed it in news columns and at academic conferences.

At the Younger Leaders Summit held in Nashville prior to last year’s SBC annual meeting, at least one speaker, Houston pastor Chris Seay, was a prominent emergent leader. Seay and pastors and thinkers such as Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Dan Kimball and Mark Driscoll were principal movers in the early emergent conversation beginning in the middle 1990s.

Seay told the Nashville audience of reaching a heavily pagan culture in Houston through such things as art–the church has a gallery but you won’t find Thomas Kinkaide, he noted–and dialogues about morality and meaning using the HBO series “The Sopranos” as a springboard.

The emerging church tends to emphasize “narrative rather than propositions (‘tell me your story, don’t explain principles’),” according to theopedia.com–an Internet dictionary of biblical Christianity. Emergents tend to emphasize missionary [missional] living, relational engagement with the culture, and the piety and practices of the ancient church.

The emerging movement is fueled largely by the Internet blogs of younger evangelicals, who claim a variety of theological viewpoints–but with a common desire for more authentic Christianity. Emerging bloggers range from biblical conservatives who simply hope for a more authentically Christian church, to pluralists who believe Jesus can be found in other religions. Some in the liberal wing deride America as hypocritical and hopelessly Western.

At a website promoting a conference based on the book “A Generous Orthodoxy” by McLaren, a Maryland pastor from a Plymouth Brethren background and a leading emerging thinker, a check-the-box quiz helps determine if one is emerging enough to attend the conference. If one checks at least two of the 11 statements, he is qualified to attend, the website states in jest.

The statements (at www.off-the-map.org) are:

>I’m neither liberal nor conservative;

> I’m not sure Jesus would be a Christian if he came back today;

>I don’t want 10 easy steps to successful spirituality;

>I like Bono (U2 singer) but wonder about Benny (Hinn);

>I want people to be as honest and authentic as possible;

>I am unimpressed with a lot of what passes for Christianity today;

>I am unimpressed with myself;

>I’ve experienced the 41st Day dropoff syndrome (a poke at Rick Warren’s “40 Days of Purpose”);

>I need some convincing that this whole emerging church thing isn’t just a fad;

>I like Christians who do stuff even if I don’t always “get” their beliefs;

>I’m pretty ordinary most of the time (and fine with that).

McLaren is the author of several influential books, including “A New Kind of Christian,” and the aforementioned “A Generous Orthodoxy.” Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle who himself was instrumental in the beginnings of the emerging conversation, placed McLaren in the more liberal Revisionist camp of emergings in the latest issue of the Criswell Theological Review.

Driscoll warned that some emergent are drifting toward a “less distinctively Christian spirituality” and 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.”

Predicting an ultimate splintering of the emergent over theology, Driscoll concurs with the emergent categories formulated by Southern Baptist Ed Stetzer—Relevants, Reconstructionists, and Revisionists.

In a Baptist Press column last January, Stetzer said the first group, Relevants, “are intentionally reaching into their communities (which are different than where most Southern Baptists live) and proclaiming a faithful, biblically centered gospel there. I know some of their churches—they are doctrinally sound, growing and impacting lostness.”  They “really are just trying to make their worship, music and outreach more contextual to emerging culture.”

A second group, Reconstructionists, “think that the current form of church is frequently irrelevant and the structure is unhelpful,” Stetzer asserted. “Yet, they typically hold to a more orthodox view of the gospel and Scripture.”  Often embracing “incarnational” or house church models, this group is responding to decades of the traditional church’s cultural impotence.  Stetzer warned that “any (church form needs to be reset as a biblical form, not just a rejection of the old form. …Also, we must not forget, if reconstructionists simply rearrange dissatisfied Christians and do not impact lostness, it is hardly a better situation than the current one.”

Most of the concern about the emergent movement rises from the beliefs of the third group, the Revisionists, Stetzer wrote.

“Right now, many of those who are revisionists are being read by younger leaders and perceived as evangelicals. They are not—at least according to our evangelical understanding of Scripture.”

Stetzer said he does not question their motives, but, “Revisionists are questioning (and in some cases denying) issues like the nature of the substitutionary atonement, the reality of hell, the complementarian nature of gender, and the nature of the gospel itself. This is not new—some mainline theologians quietly abandoned these doctrines a generation ago.  The revisionist emerging church leaders should be treated, appreciated and read as we read mainline theologians—they often have good descriptions, but their prescriptions fail to take into account the full teaching of the Word of God.”

AGAINST MODERNISM

Emerging leader Michael Moynagh of St. John’s College in Nottingham, England tossed a variety of church models into the emerging camp in his definitive work called “Emergingchurch.intro.” Moynagh views the emerging church as a reaction to the influence of modernism in Western Christianity.

Though Rick Warren, a California megachurch pastor and Southern Baptist, might not want his approach described as emerging, Moynagh includes the multiple venues and worship styles of Saddleback, where Warren is pastor, as well as the “video café” church in San Diego where worshippers select from 13 services ranging from edgy alternative, acoustical, lush praise and worship as well as traditional, in his emerging description.

Noting these examples from a 2003 Christianity Today review of varying church styles, Moynagh said the key is found in “new expressions of Christian community that have different shapes according to the culture in which they are planted.”

Individuals emerge from a process of “deconstructing”—weighing the validity of one’s beliefs—their own faith experience to then rebuild a Christian faith that is celebrated as unique, Moynagh explained. While some claim to be reacting negatively to consumer-minded megachurches such as Saddleback, others emphasize the continuation of the initial journey of retooling church that may have begun 25 years ago with approaches like those of Saddleback, and Willow Creek Church in suburban Chicago.

“At the heart of what many are calling the emerging church movement is the understanding that our culture is changing,” explained John Mark Yeats, assistant professor of church history at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “Because of this change, emerging leaders argue that a new expression of the church must be emerging to interact with the needs and demands of our cultural climate.”

Yeats doesn’t argue with the need to recognize cultural shifts but warns that such change must be addressed from a scriptural standpoint.

“Pastors and church leaders intrigued by the emerging church movement should take caution and investigate the leadership and theology of the individuals they identify as part of the movement,” Yeats said, noting all Christians should practice such discernment. “While some like McLaren may come up lacking, others might surprise you.”

McLaren, a baby boomer and pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church near Baltimore, is considered by many as the “de facto spiritual leader for the emerging church,” as Christianity Today’s Andy Crouch described him in a 2005 article titled “The Emergent Mystique.” McLaren goes so far as to appeal for a changing theology.

“Jesus never led anyone in the sinner’s prayer, he never invited anyone to accept him as his personal Lord and Savior. No one ever ‘got saved’ or had ‘a born again experience’—these are modern ways of describing Christianity.  We are fooling ourselves if we say the message never changes,” he said in a Church Renewal magazine interview.

“At present, too many emerging churches are culturally creative but theologically conservative,” lamented Stuart Murray Williams in a comment quoted in Moynagh’s book. “Tinkering with shape, style and structure represent only superficial change.  New ways of interpreting the Bible and new theological insights will be needed if new ways of being church are to have lasting missiological significance.”

Emergents claim tolerance for those who are “content with the old” in what is termed the inherited church. But postmodern people “live mosaic lives, pasting snippets from the hyper-modern alongside the traditional,” Moynagh states.

Labeling of emerging churches is discouraged by emergent leaders, “lest they be shoehorned into a mold that doesn’t fit,” Moynagh added. “It is too early to call this a renaissance, but the tectonic plates of church are on the move.”

“Right now Emergent is a conversation, not a movement,” McLaren told Christianity Today in 2005. “We don’t have a program.  We don’t have a model.  I think we must begin as a conversation, then grow as a friendship, and see if a movement comes of it.”

In numbers, emergent churches are few, but their influence appears disproportionally high—perhaps because their concerns resonate with many younger evangelicals.

In a critique of the movement, theology professor John Hammett of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary cited one study that found less than 200 true “emerging” churches nationwide. It is nowhere close to monolithic, he told an Evangelical Theological Society gathering, noting the frequent disagreements among leaders.  He said that cultural concerns over postmodernism drive the agenda of many emergent rather than being driven solely by Scripture.

“The church always faces the twin dangers of cultural captivity and cultural irrelevance. The emerging church charges evangelicalism as a whole with being captive to modern culture and irrelevant to postmodern culture,” Hammett wrote in a paper reprinted with a postscript in the Criswell Theological Journal.  “These charges are not without merit.  However, the emerging church itself also runs the risk of being captive to culture, only to postmodern culture.

“The more desirable alternative is for all churches to engage the culture, with a zeal to understand its questions and to speak its language, but also with a higher and prior commitment to Scripture that governs and limits how far we can go in accommodating culture.”

In his postscript, Hammett wrote: “To those in the existing church, first, I admonish you to be very careful not to lump all those in the emerging church together.  The more I have read the more diversity I have discovered in the emerging church.  Brian McLaren’s prominence in the United States and his growing number of books do not mean he necessarily representative of the emerging church as a whole.”

Addressing Southern Baptist readers, Stetzer said that Baptists should work with relevants, dialogue with reconstructionists and “speak prophetically to revisionists that, yes, we know the current system is not impacting the culture as it should—but the change we need is more Bible, more maturity, more discernment and more missional engagement, not an abandonment of the teachings of Scripture about church, theology and practice.”

Stetzer added, “Every group that left these basics has ended up walking away from the faith and then, in a great twist or irony, is soon seen as irrelevant to the world they tried to reach.”

Chuck Lawless, dean of the Billy Graham School of Evangelism at Southern Seminary, stated during a collegiate conference earlier this year: “Read (emergent thinkers) very, very cautiously. Hear the positive.  Then pray that God would help us to work on our own churches to take those positives and to become more relational, to become more authentic, to become more vulnerable as needed, but without ever compromising the truth of the gospel.”

Hearing the future

Postmoderns, Emerging, Emergent, Younger Leaders, Gen X, Gen Y, or whatever other you call them, the next group of church and denominational leaders is on everyone’s mind these days. I guess that’s fine but those of us with a little gray in our goatees don’t exactly know what to say about this new special interest group. To generalize, they seem disgusted with the status quo in ways similar to our disgust with it thirty years ago. Positively, they are trying to emphasize the things their elders have failed to adequately prioritize. If we avoid being too defensive, we might hear something useful in their criticisms. Here are some elements of the “conversation” I find pertinent, particularly to Southern Baptists.

Compassionate ministries — Baby Boomer Baptists are often leery of social ministry. The over-emphasis on human needs ministry by the Mainline denominations (Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, etc.), at the expense of evangelism, has made us suspicious that this gospel is incomplete. It may feed, house, and clothe people yet leave them in their sins.

It is not nearly fair to say that Southern Baptists do nothing in this area. Crisis pregnancy ministries, hunger relief, disaster relief, and prison ministry are very much a part of denominational and local church priority across our convention. These ministries are also among the most effective evangelism ministries we do.

But this ministry is often indirect — we send money instead of getting involved. I think we miss something when we do that. Ask anyone who helped with Katrina relief and they’ll tell you it was far better to both go and give.

The role of bureaucracy — Our current generation of denominational leaders (vague term?I mean agency heads, state execs, and SBC presidents) inherited an expansive system of seminaries, missionary structures, and other support ministries that they only partially managed to pare down and reorder.

Nothing drifts naturally toward vigor. Any organization that is not constantly reforming will one day have reform forced on it by a crisis.

Consider the possibility that some denominational leaders seem to younger Baptists similar to the way former leaders appeared to us in the 1970s?not liberal perhaps but out of touch, controlling, less accountable to the churches than they should be. We should ask ourselves what those earlier leaders did to make us mistrust them. Do our current leaders sometimes do the same things?

It is crucial for us to know that our denomination looks that way to many people. A defensive reaction to their questions or suggestions only magnifies that perception. You don’t have to be very young to see it that way.

A too-small leadership pool — Only a few hundred people get to be on boards and committees each year. It is not reasonable for everyone to feel he is owed a chance to bear greater denominational responsibility. On the other hand, there’s no need for the same person to go from position to position for literally decades. We have enough earnest and knowledgeable conservative people to involve a larger number than we do.

Many, me included, have served on multiple committees or boards over the course of the last twenty years. This was a critique we made of the moderate status quo in the 1980s. They trusted only a relatively few people and rotated them through denominational positions. A call for the involvement of more people, and people of a new generation is well-offered and timely.

Reform in this particular area does not merely call for more representation by younger Baptists, by the way. Many of all age groups are qualified and available for denominational service.

Since this is a frequent criticism offered by some pastors, I need to say one more thing about it. It is right that we stop calling on the same people repeatedly for leadership. It does not follow that our theological tent needs to broaden as we spread denominational responsibility. Terms like “evangelical” or “conservative,” or even “inerrantist” are not specific enough, Baptist enough, to describe those who would hold Southern Baptist’s ministry in trust. We need not return to theological vagueness in order to broaden participation in the denomination’s business.

Cultural engagement — This is related to the observation about compassionate ministries.

Students headed to Houston, Austin, coast




Several thousand teens will be partnering with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and other Southern Baptist Convention entities to do mission work around the state this summer. There will be ample opportunities to serve whether a group wants to travel around the world or just down the road, said SBTC Missions Mobilization Associate Tiffany Smith.

One of those opportunities will be assisting a “PowerPlant” missions effort in Port Arthur, located in Jefferson County in southeast Texas.

PowerPlant has been around about five years and is an endeavor of World Changers, an ministry of the SBC’s North American Mission Board (NAMB). World Changers gives students an opportunity for hands-on mission work by building houses. PowerPlant gives students hands-on mission tasks assisting church plants.

“PowerPlant comes alongside of church plants,” Smith said. This year’s PowerPlant project will be June 24-30.

The groups who take part in the PowerPlant project in Port Arthur and Port Neches will work with Brent Sorrels and his wife Savannah, NAMB missionaries in Port Arthur. There will be plenty of opportunity for groups to serve, she said.

Sorrels said the Port Arthur area is becoming quite diverse. Although whites comprise about 75 percent of Port Arthur, the Hispanic and African-American populations are at 12 percent each and the Asian population is at about 4 percent.

“One goal that we have for our ministry is to get the gospel into every house in greater Port Arthur,” Sorrels said. “So, they’ll be distributing gospels in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.” Sorrels said he and his wife have been missionaries for several years but this is their first year to work with PowerPlant.

In addition to gospel distribution, groups will participate in prayer walks around the community while others will pick up debris still left in the wake of Hurricane Rita that ravaged this area on the Texas Gulf Coast last year.

Another ministry area will be the capital city of Austin. Some groups will be traveling to the Austin area to participate in “Target Austin” July 17-24.

The “Target” ministry was started by a group of youth ministers from around the state who were looking for an inexpensive way to encourage young people to do mission work. The focus city this year is Austin. Last year the group did mission work in El Paso. Next year the group plans to move down I-35 to focus on the city of San Antonio.

“They pick a city each summer and I try to help them orchestrate the details,” Smith said. Smith and the missions mobilization team work on matching groups with ministry needs to groups that want to minister. Groups will do typical mission projects such as Vacation Bible School or do construction and remodeling work.

Once a group is matched with a local church, it is up to each youth group to plan the type of ministry that it will do during the week. “I’m really just a matchmaker,” Smith said. After the match is made, youth leaders will get with the local church to discuss needs and plan from there.

Prof: Church must discern amid postmodern spirituality

LOUISVILLE, Ky.–Being biblically grounded and church-centered is essential to true Christian spirituality in a postmodern culture, Donald Whitney told students last February at the 2006 Collegiate Conference at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Whitney, associate professor of biblical spirituality at Southern Seminary, examined and critiqued postmodern spirituality among those who are professing Christians. He identified three characteristics of such “spirituality,” saying the first element is the eclectic, or varied, religious practices such people use.

The conference theme was “The People of Truth: Believing, Defending and Living Biblical Truth in a Postmodern Age.”

“Postmodern spirituality will draw from almost any source,” he said. “If a perceived spiritual benefit can be achieved then the practice is considered valid regardless of whether or not it is in the Bible.”

Contemporary sources of spirituality might include Catholic and Protestant practices, ancient and modern traditions and even pagan religious practices, Whitney said. As long as spiritual benefit is perceived, postmodern spiritualists consider the act valid. Whitney, though, argued that this opens people up to heresy.

“One of the dangers of grasping merely at the practice without examining the source, is that you unwittingly take some of the beliefs that go along with it,” he said. “People believe that something they perceive as so beautiful spiritually must be right and they get into heresy.”

A second characteristic of people who practice postmodern spirituality, Whitney said, is that they desire an experience that includes not just the mind, but also the whole person.

“Postmodern spiritually wants something that is more than just head knowledge, that works in real life,” he said. “It wants a worship that can be felt and relationships that are deep. It realizes that salvation is not just about the head, but about the soul, body and heart.”

This is a positive desire, Whitney said, but he added that experience must not trump biblical theology in determining what practices benefit the entire being.

“You must evaluate enjoyment by whether or not it comes from God,” he said. “A spirituality that emphasizes the spiritual [experience] heavily is in danger of disconnecting itself from sound theology. This is like cutting off the blossoms of flowers. They are beautiful for a while, and give a fragrant aroma for a while, but don’t last because they have no root.”

The final characteristic of postmodern spirituality is that it emphasizes relationships, Whitney said.

“This generation, more than any other, has grown up in broken homes,” he said. “They long for relationships they have not really experienced, which is a rightful longing.

“This culture has also distanced us from one another. We buy things on the Internet, get money from the ATM, and deal very little with people face to face. All of our relationships are through glass, be it through a computer screen with email and instant messaging, or through the television watching sitcoms and movies.”

The desire for community is good, although one problem is that people often develop it outside the local church, Whitney said.

“The place God has ordained as the primary place for meaningful relationships is the local church,” he said. “Like the ‘Cheers’ bar or Seinfeld’s restaurant, people develop a place they go for relationships. That is why Starbucks and other coffee shops are so popular now, because people go there to develop community.”

Yet even the relationships in church often are developed simply for the sake of having a community and not for encouraging people to seek a relationship with God, Whitney said.

“Community is good and right and healthy, but not if it neglects an individual response to the gospel and a relationship to God,” he said.

Whitney pointed to Scripture as the authority for developing appropriate spiritual practices.

“The Bible is the measure of the validity of any spiritual experience, and if an experience is not validated by Scripture then there is a conflict,” he said. “Every one of our spiritual experiences should be inaugurated with the Bible or be informed by the Bible.”

Referring to 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Whitney said Scripture is both profitable and sufficient in the area of developing one’s spirituality.

“Scripture tells us that the Bible is profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” he said. “IF Scripture is not profitable for you, the problem is with you, not with Scripture. The Bible also claims that the practices taught in it are sufficient for spiritual life. Any benefit that someone finds from a non-biblical practice at best is not necessary.”

 

Why we are ‘Convergent’ Christians




Every summer both of us spend much of our time involved in ministry to students. In these times of ministry we rub shoulders with a number of college students serving as staff, in the bands, or as participants in the events. Over and over last summer the conversations with these young leaders-in-training were the same?the emerging church.

The “emerging church movement,” or more simply, “emergent,” has actually been emerging for some time. Books either explicitly or implicitly related to this movement abound, with titles and authors including “A New Kind of Christian” and “A Generous Orthodoxy” by Brian McLaren, “The Emerging Church” by Dan Kimball, “Radical Reformission” by Mark Driscoll, and “Blue Like Jazz” by Donald Miller, to name a few, along with websites like www.theooze.com and http://www.emergentys.com/.

The cultural engagement and authenticity of the emergents are attractive, but the danger of much of emergent thinking is in its tendency toward pendulum swings. A pendulum swings from one extreme to the other. Reacting to Calvinism, some swing to Arminianism. We swing from discipleship on one side to evangelism on the other, as if the New Testament would have us choose one of those.

We swing from emphasizing worship as intimate and free on the one side (focus: nearness of God) to worship as majestic and orderly on the other (focus: the transcendence of God).

The problem with reactions is that they tend to overreact to what they saw as overreactions in the first place. Almost always such swings lead to unintended consequences. And, one rarely finds anything original in a reaction.

The emerging church movement (or conversation) is a reaction to established ministries and typical church life, or what some of them call the “modern church.” In general, this movement focuses on the arts over dogma, community over conviction, and creativity over conformity, to name a few examples. As D.A. Carson stated in a recent critique of the movement, a distinguishing mark of the emerging church is an attitude of protest.

We would argue that there is in fact another way beyond reacting to the real or perceived failures of the so-called modern church. Nor is the picture so simple as to make it the good guys vs. the bad guys, whether you side with the emergents on the one hand or the modern church on the other.

We would argue another option is available. On the one hand we have what we will call the “Conventional” church?the solid, Bible-based, evangelical churches of the past generation, which have done much good but have honestly not won the day in American culture.

We have much affection for these churches. Personally, we are the children of the conservative resurgence. These churches would typically be seen in such traditions as the Southern Baptist Convention and others who unashamedly hold to the centrality of Scripture, the importance of truth, and of maintaining a heritage of faith. These are the best-known evangelical parachurch organizations, like Focus on the Family, the most popular preachers on the radio, and some of the best known American churches.

Many positive things can be said for these churches. They have held up a standard of morality in a depraved culture. They have proclaimed the gospel consistently. They have upheld the place of the local church and the ministry of preaching the Word.

Still, while these conventional churches have existed all across the nation (but mostly in the Red states from the map of the last presidential election), they have been more effective in upholding truth than in impacting the culture. While conventional churches have stood for truth, homosexuality has made much greater progress than the church in gaining a hearing in society, for example.

While megachurches are built, ministries flourish, and many are reached, poverty still permeates culture, secularization accelerates, and the numbers of children growing up in homes where Christ is honored diminishes each year. So, while much good has been done doctrinally by the conventionals, much ground has been lost culturally.

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