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.