Dluxe's World

Tuesday, November 13

when speaking of the 'e.c.' ....

... you must use only lowercase letters and occasional punctuation

Well, I promised some actual content would start appearing on this blog again. And I am at least someone who (tries) to keep my promises (as often as I can). In this case, the topic kinda fell into my lap though it is a rehash of a lot of old stuff.

I posted a set of videos a few days ago in which WOTM radio's Todd Friel interviewed emergent church 'leader' Doug Padgitt. If you haven't watched them, you might want to before reading the rest of this post.

Let me start by saying that I specifically refrained from commenting on the original videos because I wanted them to speak for themselves. I am not a huge WOTM fan and never have been. Moreover, Friel still has too much of the edgy-comedian edge to him to be a great interviewer.

Additionally, it's worth noting that I would affirm, in agreement with the 'emergers', that there have been some pretty significant errors in the traditional church and evangelical mindset that needed correction. The increased emphasis on missional living, cultural engagement/contextualization, removal of artificial legalism, and default patterns for 'doing church' are all things I find myself applauding.

Ok. In the comment thread to the Friel/Padgitt videos, our friend Mary had some things to say. I want to respond to several things she raised here in the main... Mary's comments are in italics.

An odd and rather unfortunate interview... It seems to polarize the two men onto extreme sides without searching for common ground between them. This happens all the time in the political realm and I wish it wouldn't happen in the church so much.

I agree the tone of the interview is not spectacular.... However, I understand the reason it might've been that way.

Some of us are theological neatniks and would hold that there are clearly areas of theological disagreement that no amount of common ground can repair. For many on the outside of the e.c. stream, the perception is that there are fundamental areas of orthodoxy which the e.c. is content to be 'vague' on. At best, that fuzziness is rooted in a desire to engage saint and seeker alike in a process of real, vital discovery rather than simply 'preaching'.

While there is clearly merit to that approach in certain circumstances, there are also times where there is black-and-white truth that needs to be dealt with. The public faces (more on this later) of the e.c. don't seem to draw the lines the same place I do. For example, a lot of tension in the interview could've been diffused had Padgitt simply said something like "Well, there will be a new heavens and a new earth and we will be in the presence of God for eternity." However, he chose to take the postmodern "What's in a word?" route... I can't help but wonder where else the fuzziness comes in...

Like or not, the so-called "emerging church" is here and will have a major effect on American theology for years to come, so it seems that a better approach would have been oriented more towards reconciling and understanding rather than nasty polemics.

Again, agreed assuming that we can find the common ground. If we're talking about methodology and style, ok. But if we're talking about doctrine, there are areas that I think we rightly need to challenge. I think that we fail to recognize how incredibly easy it is for us to pervert the Gospel of grace into something far dif'rent.

Anyway, I think I would like to have heard more from Pagitt about what it means to be "at work in the world." While not fond of the evasive speech that has come to define the e.c. movement, I really think their missional life has a lot to offer and inspire.

I think the emphasis on missional living is a vital and valid corrective that the e.c. community has brought to the fore... It is important to mention here, however, that the emergers hardly have a copyright on this. Find me a person interested in missional living who hasn't found themselves nodding along with Tim Keller, Ed Stetzer, or Newbigin. Yet those three balance an almost-emergent committment to living the Christian life with both a strong ecclesiology and traditional, orthodox doctrine.

The "at work in world" philosophy of ministry and life is a prophetic call to many American Christians to stop hibernating in the cave of evangelical subculture.

YES! Agreed and affirmed.

I just wish that e.c. leaders were more plain-spoken. I think the idea is to be more "user-friendly," but one must be careful not to engage in deception. From experience, I know that many emerging churches are actually still very conservative in doctrine... they just won't admit it outright.

Three things to say here:

1. One of the main challenges the e.c. has with people on the Reformed side of the fence is that the leaders are plenty plain-spoken. If you haven't read McLaren's new book, you should. It's an eye opener and quite plain about the need to "question and reinvent" just about everything traditionally held as orthodoxy or praxy.

A Josh Harris quote always rings in my brain in this discussion: "It is not humble to be uncertain about those things that God has made plain [in the Bible]." Such 'uncertainty' is, at its core, pride-saturated elevation of human intellect and 'logic' above the disclosed word of God. Worse yet, it only takes a couple small compromises before I think we're "preaching a Gospel different to the one [Paul & the apostles] preached".

2. The e.c. is a ridiculously slippery entity... To call McLaren, Padgitt, Tony Jones, and others the 'leaders' of the e.c. is admittedly problematic. "After all," an emerger might say, "We're not a church with a statement of faith like everyone else. We're a conversation."

So, I recognize that the so-called leaders of the e.c. hardly speak for everyone inside the conversation on every issue of doctrine or practice.


3. The problem with Mary's statement is that there is little or no outcry from within emergent streams poo-pooing the more outrageous statements by the proposed 'leaders'. The silence, in this case, is truly deafening.

Obviously, many people may be unaware of McLaren, Padgitt, and others. "If I don't know what they're saying, I can't speak out in for/against them..." However, as Mary noted, the e.c. stream is a force within the evangelical world today. For pastors to not be engaged with the pertinent ideological issues is irresponsible, I think. Mind you, that engagement looks very different for a pastor in Windsor, VT than it does for the guy in NYC.

So, they are actually less an enemy to traditionalists than is currently perceived. Pagitt's soteriology is not really representative of the emerging church movement, but he sure does make a good whipping boy.

I agree that the e.c. as a movement is not an enemy to the cause of Christ. I think the supposed leaders are real problems, however. The ideas being touted by these men/women are impacting an entire generation of new believers and future leaders. That's a big deal. And when McLaren can be completely passive re: the questioning of the doctrine of penal substitution, I get worried. And when no one else in the stream speaks up, I get extra worried.

If Padgitt's view of salvation is not representative of the movement, then where is the outcry? Of all the issues we might want to get loud about, I'd think salvation specifics is one of them.


Closing comments... I would call myself a closet-emerger. I love the personal connectedness in how the emergers 'do church'. I think the challenge of how to better handle cultural engagement is long overdue - and I thank the e.c. for spurring the discussion. I listen to some 'emergent type' preachers (Darrin Patrick, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler) and like them a lot.

But, I have been concerned from the start regarding he increasing 'epistemological humility' that is continuing to grow in the movement. There are things that we must know and communicate clearly - like the Gospel. If we're not doing that, all the good, God-centered thoughts, works of community outreach, or compelling discussions will save our hearers from sin or make us a true church.

I hope this will continue in the meta....

//rant off.
/// re: The TeamPyro Po-Motivators - I just think they're hilarious! So there.
//// If you're interested in getting some helpful info re: the emerging church, hurry and check out Darrin Patrick's excellent lectures at Covenant Theological seminary (which Steve McCoy is tracking on his blog) . Really helpful on the history and some help with classifications....

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  • Wow... I had no idea that would I set off such a storm in yer brain, but I am glad to be of service!

    Where is the outcry, you ask? Well, perhaps a backlash is coming, but only after the emergents' admiration for innovation becomes more qualified. And, perhaps, it may really happen after this philosophical school of churchiness becomes more institutionalized. That may take some time, and by then, other people will be putting forward another version of "authentic New Testament Christianity" and castigating their predecessors. *sigh* I love Protestantism.

    I still maintain that Padgitt is kind of an extreme example of this loosely-defined movement. Many e.c.'s are actually still connected to more mainstream denominations, or operate as specialized ministry groups within larger congregations. I believe this gives a measure of accountability while maintaining some flexibility for experimentation.

    That said, the mother denomination of my family's church is always bragging about our urban "mission" here in Philly, but I suspect if some of these same proud parents came over here for while, they might be a little upset. Our church really places a lot of emphasis on welcoming and accepting people, no matter what they happen to be doing or saying at the moment. My pastor is plenty critical of destructive behaviors and attitudes (believe me!), but somehow people come and stay anyway. Many attenders are those who would never, ever, otherwise set foot in a church. (For example, two members of my husband's small group are gay and one is a former practitioner of BDSM.) There is a level of genuine concern for others that is understood through the heart of the Gospel.

    So, good stuff, I think. It would be nice if the e.c. could better articulate its ecclesiology to "way of church" it has supposedly left behind. I think the e.c. has antagonized other evangelicals through its constant criticisms of them, and this has hurt some egos.
    A complete and happy truce is not going to happen, but perhaps some more construction conversation will keep some people from damning each other, even when God is not.

    By Blogger Mary, at 11:27 PM, November 14, 2007  

  • Mary,

    The 'brain storm' isn't your fault... :) This has been the source of many posts and discussions. So, more of the same. You know Eva and I have seriously been thinking of church planting, right?

    Anyway, one final word re: welcoming/accepting - Praise God that your church is out doing real business with people in Philly! There are jacked up people who need Christ, and someone must go preach to them. Moreover, the truth is that under the facades we put forward to each other, our hearts (and those of your so-called "proud parents") are equally dark with sin.

    That's why grace is so amazing.

    The only caution I'd state here - not aiming specifically at anyone, but in general - is this:

    We have to be careful to recognize the balance between engaging with lost people and exhorting the people Christ has ransomed towards greater joy in faith and godliness. Paul cautioned the Corinthians against both - not to withdraw from sinners (because that would mean leaving the world) and to make sure to appropriately discipline sin in the assembly of believers.

    The two must be held in the appropriate tension... I think the main challenge the e.c./missional movement faces is rooted in the danger of slipping too far towards 'engagement on any terms'.

    In some instances it is valid to criticize the traditional church for falling into moralism/legalism... But we need to correct that failing, not fall over the edge into something else.

    By Blogger HeavyDluxe, at 10:50 AM, November 15, 2007  

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