The Emergent Church Discussion and Ecclesiology
Over at Adrian’s blog, there is a discussion going on about the Emergent church and the influence of liberal theology on the Emergent movement. Adrian’s point ,which is certainly well taken, is that the emergent theologians are theologically liberal. The quotes Adrian documents are plainly liberal. It appears that the theologians of the Emergent church movement are undermining the church and her foundations by attacking the ideas of propositional truth and the epistemic value of propositions. Such theologies need to be renounced but not in a reactionary method. In other words, how can we hear what these theologians and churchmen are saying and marry the call for reformation in the church with a sound biblical theology.
I believe that pastors and bloggers need to enter the fight and use this medium to turn this discussion into a win-win for the church.
I am calling on the Neo-Calvinists, the Philosophy Bloggers, and the League of Reformed Bloggers to assist in doing the heavy lifting of problem solving to come up with the proper answer to the emergent church leaders real issues with the church.
I personally am going to make a series of posts interspersed with my current series on sanctification and enter this dialogue. I will attempt to keep the posts relatively short and handle one issue at a time. Note: I am not a philosopher or a theologian per se but a disciple-making pastor. Therefore, others will have to bring precision to some of the answers or at least questions I pose. Let’s work together on these questions as we seek to bring positive change to the church and, together, positively affect the church’s mission.
In this post, I would like to surface what the real problem is that the emergent church leaders are trying to surface.
The Real Problem
I believe the question that true emergent leaders ask is “What does it mean to be the church in the 21st Century?” a secondary question is “What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus in the 21st Century?” To answer these questions, the emergent leaders have attempted to completely deconstruct the Christian faith. In so doing, many historical fights over doctrine have reemerged. These emergent thinkers have jumped to solution too quickly and have been far too disrespectful of the evangelical tradition in their deconstruction. This attack on evangelicalism has many roots which need to be examined. In this post, I would like to simply reach common ground as to the vital problem facing the Western Church in general.
The vital problem is the plain observable fact that the church is failing in the 21st Century in Europe and more and more so in America.
A far superior approach to the problem is to ask a different question based on an observable problem. The problem is “Why does the story of the Western Church in the 21st Century look so different than the story of the early church?”
As we ask this question, we come to agreement that indeed there is a vital problem. As evangelicals, we need to own this problem in our communities as well. Our churches are not stunningly morally beautiful. Liberals also need to admit that the liberalism of the 20th century did not contribute to the solution to the problem but only exasperated the problem.
By asking the question this way, “Why does the story of the Western Church in the 21st Century look so different than the story of the early church?” , I have made a very intentional ecclesiological statement.
Reform our Ecclesiology – A Place of Common Ground
The goal of our Christianity is to incarnate a new story in the church. Our 21st Century reality requires first a new ecclesiology. Our goal, the “teleos”, of our Christianity is to build the Morally Beautiful Community. We who are Christians must face the fact that the witness of the redemptive power of the Gospel is not the sanctification of the individual but the sanctification of the corporate body. To properly define the problem, we must begin with agreement on the goal of the faith. The goal of the faith is “the city set on a hill”. Therefore, the goal of redemptive history is the church. This higher view of ecclesiology or the church is I believe the place to begin the 21st Century Reformation. It is vital that Western evangelicals, like myself, accept that our individualistic view of redemption, and, therefore, a low view of the church is not biblical but a product of our culture. Evangelicals would do well to the cause of the entire corpus of our Biblical theology if we show humility on this point. Here, is a mighty place of common ground. The church must “get it” on the need to reform our understanding of God’s purpose for the church and the need for the witness of the “salt and light” of the city and not merely the salt and light of the individual.
The Faith of Abraham
Abraham left his home and sought a city whose architect and builder is God. This journey toward morally beautiful community is the defining element of the Hebrew faith. The Glory of God in the church is our “true North”. One of the main reasons, we cannot come to agreement in this emergent and evangelical dialogue is because the “evangelical” side has yet to admit that our ecclesiology is too individualistic and limited.
Is there a way to begin the discussion by defining the problem as an ecclesiological one? I believe if we together accept that the individualistic ecclesiology of the western church has lacked a biblical worldview of community, then, just maybe, we can begin to bring reformation to the church in a constructive and not entirely destructive manner.