Assessment of the Emerging Church - Part II, John Hammett


As per my previous post, I have had time to digest John Hammett's paper, and in order as they occurred to me as I read it, here are my thoughts.

1. Tone. First thing I noticed was the tone of the paper, which is certainly not hostile, and is warm, and open. Makes a change from many critiques, thank you Dr Hammett.

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2. Brian McLaren & Steve Chalke: Hammett has not looked into whether Carson has accurately read Brian McLaren and Steve Chalke. So it is more a response to Carson, than dealing with primary sources. Also he continues to support the notion that Brian McLaren is the main emerging church leader in the USA and Steve Chalke in the UK. Steve is a friend and I have worked with him a few times, and know he'd never consider himself to be the figure head Carson and now Hammett suggest. I'm sure Brian is very influential in the US emerging church scene, but I don't know enough about the US to know if he is the most dominant thought leader but I suspect he is.

3. US & UK: The Emerging church is so diverse, or narrow depending on who you talk to and where you come at it from, that I think this paper's remit is impossible. Brian McLaren is a more obvious major influence on emerging church in the USA, and I think maybe the Emergent being mistaken for Emerging Church is more likely there.

In the UK, I guess Brian McLaren is one important voice, but not dominant, and there are many others like Stuart Murray Williams, who are more influential, and longer known. Day to day in the UK, I think people like Jonny Baker, and Andrew Jones are more connected and working with diverse groups involved in emerging church

I think the UK whilst smaller than the USA is more diverse with regards to emerging church, and different with it's alt worship influences that pre-date Emerging church in the USA. All of which are key to assessing emerging church, and something this paper misses. And the paper falls into the US centric trap, of speaking in generalizations that may apply to the USA but do not for other countries. A better title for the paper may have been 'An Assessment of the Portrayal of the American Emerging Church by D A Carson'.

4. Only Pro-testing: I think he rightly identifies along with Carson, the dominant post-evangelical, ex-evangelical, still evangelical protest against modernity. By that I mean a large section of emerging church is extended protestantism, coming from evangelicals, who may now be ex evangelicals (but not liberal), protesting the cultural accommodation of the modern church to modernity. But I think Hammett along with Carson miss something profound. Beyond that evangelical route/stream, there is the post-liberal stream within mainline churches, and a major post-colonial stream (african, asian, european etc), amongst many others, that are increasingly in dialogue with each other, that are vital to any meaningful assessment of the emerging church.

5. Post-modernism and Post-modernity: Maybe I misunderstood, but the paper seems to swing back and forward using post-modern as short hand for culture and sociology, and sometimes for issues of theology and belief. In my mind there is a huge distinction between the sociology of the emerging church and it's beliefs and theology, which is major part of my research. So sometimes he talks about the style of the emerging church, and then at other points about beliefs, as if they were synonymous, and I don't think they are. By that I mean a church can embrace cultural mediums and spaces yet not change its theology (what is believes it means to be a christian) etc.

6. All Change?: Hammett suggest not all churches need to change, as not all culture has moved to post-modernity together in the same way. In other words we need modern churches to reach modern people. I think he is correct here. But he presents this as if all emerging churches are against this (including emergent) and that everyone should change. Some emerging church groups do believe that, but working with Emergent I know we don't. We believe we need many new and many old and many current forms of church to respond to and renew church in our emerging contexts.

7. Culture as Authority: Hammett whilst being sympathetic to emerging church peoples desire to believe in scripture, concludes that most are making changes due to a response to post-modernism, and that this is wrong and like the reformers should be based on the desire to return to scripture to be valid, and assumes most are not doing this.

I think in many cases he is right, emerging church can be more about cultural accommodation than theological conviction. But for many of us, what is driving us is a deep seated desire to be authentic to scripture, and see how the modern church misappropriated the reformers sola scripture in ways they never intended and in ways that are a major cultural accommodations to modernity.

The implication of his conclusion is that the modern church and reformed traditions approach to scripture is correct and not a modern en-culturation and any other approach to scripture is wrong, and un-biblical. I think this conclusion also shows the lack of interaction with primary emerging church sources from non reformed traditions, but I guess Hammett might see these or any non-reformed responses as a cultural accommodations in any event.

People like John Franke are writing emerging church theology from a reformed perspective, and in ways that I am finding helpful, and in keeping with the trajectory of the reformation, that I hope Hammett and Carson begin to interact with more, for dialogue and discussion.

8. Epistemology: Interesting the Hammett picks up Carson and seems to agree that emerging church people have a simplistic and wrong understanding of post-modernity, especially in understanding the underlying epistemology of post-modernity. I think, many emerging church groups are more into the culture of post-modernity, and miss the epistemic issues, but Emergent in particular, and many in the emerging church are aware of and have been engaging in the theological reflection of the epistemology of post-modernity.

9. Lack of Critique: Great point he raises in that in moving towards post-modernity, are emerging church people being critical of post-modernity? I grates on me when I hear people say 'I'm a post-modern christian", which sounds like a cultural accommodation, rather than a missional statement. Those of us in the emerging church must be critical of post-modernity, as much as we may move towards it. But likewise, Carson and Hammett would do well to incorporate consideration for a critique of modernity, and acknowledge the cultural and philosophical accommodation of the modern church to modernity, as they critique the emerging church.

10. Foundationalism: Hammett suggest that Carson is right and that Brian McLaren and emerging church people whilst saying we don't believe that truth is all relative, don't do enough to assert truth claims.

I think for someone with a foundationalist approach to epistemology, any other expression of truth will bee seen as relativistic, and christianity must be asserted on the basis of claims of absolute truth. But for many of us foundationalism is not necessary for faith and belief as a christian, and does not mean we are relativists, we do not need to make claims for truth. And the implication of this and express declaration by Carson is that Brian Mclaren doesn't believe in truth which is so untrue.

I don't follow Jesus because I have the absolute truth about him, I follow him because he is the truth. It's a relational epistemology.

11. Culture or Scripture Driven: Hammett suggest emerging churches run the risk of being culture drive and not scripture driven. But what if our approach to scripture is more a cultural driven than a really biblical and christian one? A scriptural driven approach can then be more cultural accommodation in that case.

And I think we are to be a Jesus mission driven, Gospel driven church, with the scriptures as the supreme revelation of that, but we must always be honest and humble in our approach to scripture and open to the idea that we might have cultural accommodations rather than kingdom approaches. N T Wright said (this is my un-doubtledy inaccurate paraphrase) that in the modern church we thought we had a high view of scripture, but we really had too low a view, we have to defend it too much, clarify too much, propping it up with the philosophy of modernity, when in reality we need to have a much higher view. I think what Hammett and Carson see as a low view of scripture in the emerging church is in-fact for many of us a much higher view.

And as I get to the end of this, please excuse my grammar, and my ramblings that are more to do with my passions, also please excuse my typos, and know that my opinions are limited, inaccurate and I do not suppose to speak on behalf of the emerging church, and that this was more for me to read and think, and are about stating positions for the emerging church.