The Emerging Church: Another Dead-End or the Hope of the Church?

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This was the title of my talk at Fuller on 1st November. My new straight to ipod recording equipment failed me, so no MP3 I'm afraid. I am turning my notes into a paper, and will serialise it as well here. Meantime here is a review from one of the students at the seminar for one of Fuller's newsletter. --------------------------------------

FSC‘s first “Conversation on Culture” 11/1/06: Jason Clark

Evangelicals are often chided by outsiders (rightly sometimes) for being narrow-minded, one-sided and anti-intellectual, too staunch, too conservative, and too vociferous. They’re self-protecting, arrogant hypocrites who forget about who Jesus really was and is, we’ve all been told. As such, and at an evangelical institution such as Fuller, one might have forgiven Jason Clark of Emergent UK for the opposite kind of harshness, had he unequivo- cally lauded the emerging church and condemned those uncertain about this socio-theological phenomenon that is never quite adequately ex- plained. In his presentation, titled “The Emerging Church: Another Dead-End or the Hope of the Church?”,

Jason dealt with both of these evangelical responses to it. On the one hand, among those who consider it a dead-end, are both those who view it as an irrelevant move- ment soon to die out, and those who view it as another heretical outburst whose dying out (or squashing!) needs to be sped up. On the other hand are those who see it as the hope for the church.

But a one-sided posterboy Jason was not. Rather, Jason discussed the nature of the emerging church as a sociological and theological movement by tracing some of its philoso-phical and cultural influences. He then continued by pointing out its strengths, its weaknesses, and the way forward for those who see it as a breath of fresh air.

In any cultural milieu, says Jason, those who proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ are tempted by alle- giances that ultimately accommodate the gospel to the world – we dress up the gospel in clothing more accept- able to its “cultured despisers”. Although cognizant of the way in which modern Christianity was co-opted by foreign assumptions about what it means to be and to know, and himself critical of the fruit of such allegiances, Jason is wary in giving postmodern sensibilities the same weight as gospel claims, at least in the church. “We might engage in post-modern cultural apologetics but are we in danger of a post-modern enculturation ... where we are captive to post-modern thought rather than the Bible?” asks Jason.

He gives examples: viewing the church’s mission as mere response to culture’s questions (a la Tillich); seeing the church as, at best, an optional add-on for the Christian life or as, at worst, a stumbling block in the way of people’s genuine journeying toward Jesus; and despising any and all particularisms in favor of more unbiblical universalisms.

Having leveled such a strong critique at the emerging church, what could Jason possibly say is the way forward for it? Perseverance?Abandonment? He points to five things the emerging church will have to become in order to correct its own potential and actual lapses: First, it must become a deeper church by valuing old, new and even Christian faith.

Second, following the example and work of such theologians as Stan Grenz, Jon Franke, Scott McKnight, and Ray Anderson, it must become a theological church by developing a theology robust enough not to be either threatened or co-opted by postmodernism.

Third, it must become a Biblically-informed church by reading and re-reading the Bible as the church- and culture- critiquing set of authoritative texts that it is.

Fourth, following the ancient church on the road to depth, it must become a creedal church, checking the individualistic impulse towards fashioning the church in the image of ourselves.

Fifth, it must become a confessional church, not to celebrate sectarianism, but to show the richness and vitality of a deeper church. “Maybe then,” says Jason, the emerging church’s legacy will be that it was “the response of the church catholic to our emerging culture ... known for it’s vibrant ecumenical depth, with a life giving theology, rooted in a new Biblicism, growing counter to our individualized culture, as it affirms the creeds, with a plurality of local confessions from communities growing in faith, with new Christians handing their lives over to the way of Christ.” We can only hope the emerging church will have such an impact.

- Justin Ashworth MAT-BST student and FSC Program Coordinator

The environment in which Christian leaders and pastors minister is both ever changing and vitally important. “Conversation on Culture” is FSC’s new way of addressing this reality