Conference examines emerging churches

WAKE FOREST, N.C.?The so-called emerging church movement has arisen to fill a void created by the ineffectiveness of most conventional churches in spreading the gospel, researcher-missiologist Ed Stetzer said at a Sept. 21-22 “Convergent” conference at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Stetzer and Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle and president of the Acts 29 Network for church planting, were among the conference’s featured speakers at the Wake Forest, N.C., campus.
Before comparing the orthodoxy of conventional churches and emerging churches, Stetzer challenged the crowd of 500-plus pastors, church planters and seminarians to ask what has prompted the need for alternative churches.

As director of LifeWay Research and missiologist-in-residence at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, Stetzer said Southern Baptist churches are not evidencing healthy growth. While many churches note increases, very little of that growth comes from evangelistic conversion, he said.

“If we’re not growing through seeing men and women come to faith in Christ, then something’s wrong,” Stetzer said.

From Luke 24 he identified three things churches must recover to stay on mission: the centrality of the cross, the message of repentance for forgiveness of sins, and the importance of the witness.

Stetzer spoke of some pastors who seem to convey, “This is my Bible and I’ll never refer to it again,” lacking confidence in the gospel’s power to change lives. Without the gospel front and center, Christians give up on the church, he said, challenging such disengagement by declaring, “I know the bride of Christ is not pretty, but you cannot love Jesus and hate his wife.”

A new class has arisen of the formerly churched, Stetzer continued, calling this young crowd “the pajama ‘jehideen [a pun on “mujahideen”], sleeping ’til noon every day, living in Mom’s basement, attacking anything that will try to reach anyone for Jesus Christ.”

Whether in a Louisville gathering of artists with their black T-shirts, holey jeans and blond spiked hair?all “individuals who don’t want to be squeezed into a mold”?or an Oklahoma cowboy church interjecting “yee-haw” between stanzas of “Victory in Jesus,” Stetzer said God is at work in biblically faithful churches transforming lives through repentance and forgiveness.

“If our desire is to create a denomination where everyone looks alike, everyone worships in the same way, everyone does all the cultural, traditional trappings and we call that biblically faithful, we will never reach beyond the narrow, cultural confines that have defined us,” Stetzer warned. “If we are going to reach men and women from every tongue, tribe and nation, it is going to take all kinds of scripturally sound churches to reach all kinds of people.”

Instead of being upset about emerging churches or the influence of “first, second and third John,” referring to three famous Reformed theology preachers named John?Calvin, Piper and MacArthur?Stetzer called on Southern Baptists to affirm their faith statement and share their witness for Christ.

“Whether conventional, traditional, emerging, Calvinist or a little less so, just get on mission and be faithful to the gospel.”

Driscoll previewed some of the research he compiled on the increasingly liberal views of the left-leaning Emergent Village, to be published first in the Christian Research Journal and subsequently as a book by Crossway.

Driscoll said Emergents are rewriting what it means to be a Christian by abandoning substitutionary atonement when they avoid speaking of the cross in reference to sin.

Driscoll said some Emergents like Brian McLaren prefer to “plead the fifth” when asked if homosexual acts are compatible with the Christian faith. Driscoll said when McClaren was asked about his position on homosexual “marriage,” his answer was, “‘You know what? The thing that breaks my heart is that there is no way I can answer it without hurting someone on either side.’ To which I would respond, ‘Now you have hurt God.’ God is in Heaven and he has spoken to this issue with great clarity.”

Driscoll also noted McClaren’s endorsement of the Jesus Seminar, an academic group that denies the historicity of the resurrection. This view diminishes the impact of Jesus’ crucifixion on a sinful society and negates the need for his substitutionary atonement for sin, Driscoll said.

“There is nothing that we have to offer apart from the person of Jesus and his work on the cross,” Driscoll said. “So if the cross is lost, Christianity is lost, and hope is lost and Christ is lost. That means that, ultimately, we are lost. So this issue of the atonement is incredibly important.”

Driscoll said some of those he analyzed also support controversial doctrines such as open theism and process theology; they hold to a “trajectory hermeneutic” that allows doctrine to evolve; they shift from a complementarian to an egalitarian view of male leadership in biblical matters; and some even deny the virgin birth.

Though neither he nor his church are associated with the SBC,Driscoll questioned the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s wisdom in inviting Solomon’s Porch pastor Doug Pagitt of Minneapolis to lecture at their Wired2Go church leaders conference Oct. 16, warning the audience of what he considers heretical views held by Pagitt. (The week after Driscoll’s comments, the North Carolina convention disinvited Pagitt.)

“Might I submit to you if you are thirsty for insight on theology you not drink from the toilet even though there is water there,” he told the conference crowd.

Borrowing from Stetzer’s method of categorizing emerging church leaders, Driscoll placed McLaren, Pagitt and Rob Bell within the “revisionist stream” identified with the Emergent Village, while Dan Kimball and “Blue Like Jazz” author Donald Miller are in a milder “cool church crowd” labeled “relevants” who “are not necessarily trying to rewrite theology, but offer innovative methods of ministry.”

A third stream, the “relevant reformed,” are “confessional, contextual, cool Calvinists,” Driscoll said.
“That’s my team,” encompassing the Acts 29 Network and such leaders as C.J. Mahaney, Josh Nelson and Matt Chandler who engage in expositional Bible preaching and teaching that is theologically motivated. Driscoll said some are slightly charismatic in that they raise their hands “and sing songs that aren’t on the cutting edge of the 18th century.”

Driscoll said this more orthodox group agrees that old ministry methods aren’t working as the world has shifted from the assumptions of modernity. They are concerned that churches are struggling, he said, and that lost people are not coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus in the numbers they would envision.

Alvin Reid, an evangelism professor at Southeastern Seminary, told the conference that too many Southern Baptists think there is a direct correspondence between “how we look and how we believe”?and both are unchanging.

“If the 1950s come back, a lot of our churches will be ready,” predicted Reid, urging contextualization of the gospel without compromising doctrine. “One does not have to sacrifice orthodoxy for orthopraxy or vice versa,” he said.

Once an “agile, mobile and hostile” high school linebacker, the 48-year-old Reid said he blew out both knees and has an artificial hip, making him “fragile, senile and docile” as well as “in denial.” He has gone from the football field to watching it on TV. Though he remains excited and motivated, yelling as if the players could hear him cheering, Reid said he doesn’t change anything sitting on his couch eating pie while watching the game.

“The conventional church has become like that. We still know the plays, how

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