Chicago Emerging Baptists

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

White Horse Tramples Emerging Church

The White Horse Inn, a nationally syndicated radio talk show, recently discussed some of the issues of Postmodernism and The Emerging Church. I enjoy listening to many of the White Horse Inn episodes because they have some great discussions on theology and apologetics from a reformed bent.

The two recent episodes on Postmodernism and The Emerging Church caught my attention because I'm a church planter, planting churches in this "Emerging/Emergent Church Era."

While the term "Emerging Church" may be just as hard to define as "Postmodern" there was a very helpful article published in the 2006 Criswell Review entitled, A Pastoral Perspective: On The Emerging Church ( In this article, written by Mark Driscoll, Ed Stetzer breaks down the Emerging Church into three manageable categories.

The first group, Relevants, he defines as "theologically conservative evangelicals who are not interested in reshaping theology as much as updating such things as worship styles, preaching styles, and church leadership structures. Their goal is to be more relevant; thus, appealing to postmodern-minded people."

The second group that Stetzer identifies is Reconstructionists who he says are "theologically evangelical and dissatisfied with the current forms of church (i.e. seeker, purpose, contemporary). They bolster their critique by noting that our nation is becoming less Christian and that those who profess faith are not living lives markedly different than non-Christians; thereby, proving that current church forms have failed to create life transformation. Subsequently, they propose more informal, incarnation, and organic church forms such as house churches."

Lastly Stetzer defines Revisionists as "theologically liberal and question key evangelical doctrines, critiquing their appropriateness for the emerging postmodern world."

I mention these breakdowns that Stetzer has outlined so not to over generalize the Emerging/Emergent Church movement. Like so much of life (religion, politics, etc…) we all live on a spectrum, and not many of us would ever share identical beliefs with another. I mention this because the review of The Emerging Church by The White Horse Inn is mostly critical – and I mostly agree with their criticisms.

There were a couple of "shockers" for me in this episode (to keep this short I'll limit it to two – which I feel are the core of the problem with the Emerging Church movement.

The first one comes around at the 18th minute of the Emerging Church episode when a young woman is interviewed from a recent Emerging Church conference. She explains that what is attractive for her about the Emerging Church movement is "the ability to question what [she] couldn't in [her] fundamentalist church." She mentions two hot-button issues, woman's role in ministry, and homosexuality. But what she said next is what made my toes curl.

She explains her excitement of being able to question these issues saying "all these things that didn't feel true (fundamental teachings) to what I was experiencing around me."

Basically what she is saying is: "those doctrines didn't feeeeeeel right to me."

Now some of my students from our Single Adult group in Texas know exactly what's going on. They learned not to let your experiences dictate what you believe when we studied the book of Romans for 70 some odd weeks.

I believe that the church is in serious trouble if we let our experiences dictate what we believe – but I'll respond to this in a blog article following up this one.

The second "shocker" comes around the 28th minute. Here the producer of The White Horse Inn asks Brian McLaren (during this same conference on the Emerging Church) "What is orthodoxy and who gets to define it?"

McLaren's answer saddens me…

First of all McLaren never defines what orthodoxy is, he only answers the second part of the question, "Who gets to define it?"

McLaren answers that, throughout history the most powerful people/group got to define orthodoxy. He then goes on to explain how "we" can shape orthodoxy by being the most virtuous – or Christ-like.

He goes on to say:

"Before we can do theology we have to be a community – before we can be a community we need virtue, because it takes virtue to forgive, accept, deal with power and all the rest."

"Ethics comes first then doctrine comes second."


The members of The White Horse Inn felt the same way that I did. Didn't the apostles first have an announcement to make? Didn't they first announce the Gospel, which is of course the very best doctrinal statement? Didn't that doctrinal statement led next to community – the early church? So wouldn't Peter have said:

"Doctrine comes first, ethics comes second."


So what's the problem?

The problem seems to be, from the point that I've observed the Emerging Church movement, that Fundamentalism (the Church of Billy Graham) didn't work, or at least it won't work in our post modern culture because there has been an abandonment of absolute truth, Christian doctrine is a presentation of absolute truth, therefore postmoderns are skeptical and suspicious of Christian doctrine and reject them.

The Emerging Churches answer is: "Don't just believe it because it says so – question it –get your answer by feeeeeling it."

Now I suppose that one could argue that the apostles experienced Christ's life, death, and resurrection and therefore they can know it through their experience. My question is – Haven't we experienced it just the same way? And if not shouldn't we?

I guess what I'm saying is that we don't look at scripture as myth do we? Do we view the Bible as a story or history?

If we view the Bible as myth how can you be a Christian (truly)?

If we view the Bible as history – if we experience the bible as history, how can we expect our experiences (our life today) to supersede doctrine?


The Prescription:

We need to learn to wrestle. I'll be the first to admit that there are some very difficult doctrines that Christians believe. The gospel itself is a H U G E stumbling block! How many of us have Romans 9-11 in our bibles; how many of us have cut them out (physically or figuratively) because that's tough stuff?

Instead of just passing it over – wrestle with it.

Can you say, like Paul that "I am eager, and obligated to preach the gospel, and not ashamed to do it?" Is it up to us to apologize for God?

Can you be like Jacob when he wrestled God, dealing with the tough doctrines by saying, "God I'm not going to let go of you until you bless me by helping me deal with these doctrines!"


I'm afraid that if we don't learn to wrestle and work out the tough doctrines of our faith and instead simply believe only what we can experience and what feeeeeeels good that we will continue to lose our influence.

My next two blog articles will be on the consequences of the Emerging Church movement if we continue to give up on doctrine ("ethics first – doctrine second") on the Church and on Christians.

I recommend listening to The White Horse Inn's episode on the Emerging Church in the mean time.

Grace and peace,