Pastors’ and Theologians’ Forum on the Emerging Church

Article
03.01.2010

“What do you hope will ultimately emerge from the emerging church conversation for evangelicals?”

A 9News Pastor’s and Theologian’s Forum

Answers from

  • D. A. Carson
  • Mark Driscoll
  • Michael Horton
  • Mike McKinley
  • Daniel Montgomery
  • Brent Thomas
  • Carl Trueman
  • Jonathan Leeman

 

D. A. Carson

(1) I hope that the movement or conversation in its present form will increasingly divide between those who deeply and intelligently desire to be faithful to Scripture while learning to communicate the gospel to a younger generation, and those who, whether mischievously or ignorantly, happily domesticate and distort the Scripture because of their analysis of contemporary culture—and that the former will become among the sharpest critics of the latter.

(2) I hope that Christians both within and outside the movement will become more discerning. The Bible says that certain offenses must take place to demonstrate who is approved by God. In this fallen and broken world, God uses irresponsible ideas about Scripture to enable Christians to formulate a robust doctrine of Scripture; he uses convoluted and exegetically unwarranted approaches to justification to help Christian thinks through what Scripture says about justification more carefully; he uses sloppy analysis of culture to guide Christians into thinking about the complex ways in which the gospel is proclaimed within any culture, and is called upon to transform that culture.

(3) I hope that increasing numbers of Christians will come to embrace the joint responsibility of cherishing all that is good in tradition so that we learn to see ourselves in continuity with the people of God across the ages, while simultaneously probing and understanding today’s world so that, even while remaining anchored in the past and above all in Scripture, we clearly love the men and women of our own generation, and passionately desire to serve as faithful witnesses here, facing the challenges and opportunities of our own time.

(4) My most forlorn hope is that as this fad—for that is what it is—burns itself out, rising numbers of Christians will learn a great lesson, and resolve afresh to be passionate about Christ, about Christ crucified, about the gospel holistically considered, and not about fads. As a result, when new fads come along, we will learn from them what we should, while maintaining our allegiance to and excitement in the old rugged cross and him who hung upon it, was buried, and rose again for our justification, so that our reading and praying priorities, the kinds of conferences we attend and the colleagues we cherish and admire, the language we use and the heritage we seek to pass on to a new generation, are all shaped by eternal realities, and not by fads. Soli Deo gloria!

D. A. Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL, and is the author of numerous books, including Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church.

 

Mark Driscoll

A good friend of mine and noted missiologist named Dr. Ed Stetzer has rightly said that the gospel of Jesus Christ must be both contended for (Jude 3) and contextualized (1 Cor. 9:19-23).

Relatedly, the hottest theologies today are reformed and emerging. Reformed folks have a legacy of being great defenders of biblical truth, while also being less skilled at contextualizing the gospel for various cultural groups in America. The result is sometimes an irrelevant orthodoxy. Emerging folks are skilled at contextualizing the gospel but often woefully weak at contending for the timeless truths of sound doctrine. The result is sometimes a relevant heterodoxy.

My hope is that what emerges is a blessing of both teams, so that contenders for the gospel become better at evangelism, and contextualizers of the gospel walk away from some of the heretical doctrines (e.g. denial of the inerrancy of Scripture, penal substitutionary atonement, hell, and male pastors) they are considering by returning to Scripture and the legacy of faithful teachers who have guided the church in previous generations. In short, I hope for an uprising of cool Calvinists who can preach the Bible, teach the truth, fight the heretics, plant churches, evangelize the lost, comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable, and compel men to be manly.

Mark Driscoll is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church and the also the author of The Radical Reformission and Confessions of a Reformission Rev., reviewed by 9News here.

 

Michael Horton

Many of the concerns raised by emergent folks have helped the wider church to think through its preoccupation with “Boomer” values. At the same time, I hope that the criticism the movement has received will be taken to heart. The church is not a niche market or a demographic. To paraphrase the Apostle Paul, in Christ there is no Boomer or Buster, Gen Xer or Millennial. When will we get off of the movement roller coaster and patiently endure the community that Christ has established for the fellowship and growth of the saints as well as their mission to the world? Hopefully, all of us will take the church more seriously and find ways of integrating rather than segmenting the generations.

Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California in Escondido, CA, and is the author of numerous books including, most recently, God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology.

 

Mike McKinley

The emerging church conversation will be profitable for evangelicals if it results in a clarification of the gospel and a better understanding of how the church should proclaim the gospel to the unbelieving world.

Evangelicals need to clarify what elements of the church’s life and proclamation cannot be altered or adjusted no matter where the culture drifts. They also need to identify which aspects of the church’s life are adaptable and should be tailored to the environment in which the church is functioning. Failure to keep to the unchanging truths of the gospel has made the church impotent, a gun with no bullets. Failure to adapt the merely cultural forms of church life has made the church irrelevant, a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it.

At its best, the emerging church represents a valid criticism of the cold, dead, legalism that has killed so many churches. At its worst, it represents an extreme accommodation to the culture that leaves the church looking so much like the world that it no longer has a gospel to proclaim or a platform from which to do it. If evangelicals can sort out the essential, unchanging aspects of the faith from the cultural forms, then we will be better prepared for the next cultural shift that comes our way.

Mikey McKinley is the pastor of Guilford Baptist Church in Sterling, VA and the 9Marks lead writer on the topic of church membership.

 

Daniel Montgomery

There have been many attempts in recent years to have a “dialogue” with the emerging church. In reality, the so-called emerging church is so diverse that I’m often left wondering with whom this dialogue is supposed to be taking place. Is it the freewheeling neo-universalist emerging church, or is it the theologically orthodox church plants in black t-shirts? Nonetheless, if one backs up far enough on the emerging canvas, one can see some recurring themes—most born from reaction against their church predecessors. Instead of focusing on criticism, I want to echo a legitimate concern that emergent church leaders have voiced: a reductionistic understanding of Christianity.

First, many believers have adopted a reductionistic understanding of the church, believing that the church is a building, a political affiliation, or a name on a membership role. This understanding produces religious consumers, whose commitment waxes and wanes whenever the next building is built, when the politics cool, or when the next big thing happens down the block.

Second, many Christians have reduced the scriptures to a set of moralist rules or a self-help guidebook. Emergent leaders loudly remind us that the scriptures are an organic whole, the beautiful story of creation, fall, redemption, and glorification. Tired of Dr. Phil-inspired sermons, many emergent leaders invite us back into the life-changing story of scripture, the story of what God has done throughout history to reconcile all things to himself.

Finally, and most tragically, many Christians have come to believe a reductionistic gospel. One only needs to say a prayer and walk an aisle to be “saved.” The emergents are right in reminding us that a confession of faith is not the whole story. Salvation is an event, but it’s also a process (Phil 2:12-13). The gospel is the means and the motivation for every aspect of the Christian life – not just conversion. Instead of seeing the gospel as solely about justification, they remind us that it’s also about sanctification—the transformation of our minds and hearts into what he wants and intends for them to be. Our conversion is (as one emerging leader notes) the starting line of a life-long, life-giving journey.

Unfortunately, in the emerging church, these prophetic reactions sometimes swing the pendulum too far. Sanctification overshadows justification, and the glory of the cross isn’t acknowledged. The story of the scriptures overshadows the fact of the scriptures, and inerrancy and authority are lost. The joys of community overshadow the needs for polity, discipline, and worship, and the purity of the church isn’t guarded.

For this reason, I hope that evangelicals and emergents can hear one another. I hope that we can embrace the church in its rich biblical and historical heritage. I hope we can walk back into the strange world of the Bible, amazed as much by it’s God-breathed authority as we are by its life-giving power and presence. Most of all, I hope that all of us—emergents, evangelicals, and Christians of all stripes—can stand amazed once again at the blazing glory of Christ in his life, death and resurrection.

Daniel Montgomery is the pastor of Sojourn Community Church, a church he planted in Louisville, KY in 1999.

 

Brent Thomas

The emerging conversation has drawn attention to the need for both humility and orthodoxy. Humility is an identifier of Christianity, as many have been saying. Yet humility does not mean refusing to say something is wrong.

Unfortunately, humility has become equated with uncertainty, and it has been labeled prideful to ever draw lines or arrive at sure answers.

It’s true that doctrine is sometimes promoted in pride. It’s true that doctrine has often been fed to the head and not the heart. It’s true that doctrine has been treated as a mere intellectual pursuit. As we continue to take doctrine seriously, therefore, we must do so in humility, always considering others as more important than ourselves (Phil. 2:3-4) and learning to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). We should also repent where we have used doctrine as a hammer and for elevating intellectual pursuits, because “knowledge puffs up”(1 Cor. 8:1); and “a proud heart” is sin (Prov. 21:4).

At the same time, all the so-called humility in the world apart from truth is nothing more than a worthless rag. Only the truth will set us free, and this requires knowing truth from falsehood, and labeling error as such. As we see orthodoxy being stretched, we are reminded of its necessity. Scripture admonishes us to take doctrine seriously (Eph. 4:11-15), because some will (intentionally or not) bring false doctrine with them.

The emerging conversation has been a helpful starting point for many of these considerations, and I pray that the church at-large will grow in both humility and fidelity to the truth through this conversation, so that it may fulfill its role as the “body of Christ” and the “pillar and buttress of truth.”

Brent Thomas is the teaching pastor at Grace Community Church in Glen Rose, TX.

 

Carl Trueman

There are a number of things which we evangelicals as a movement have, on the whole, done rather badly. One of them is history, and a cursory glance at the key texts and figures in the emergent movement would indicate that it is no exception to this rule. So, to put it in a somewhat facetious way, I hope that evangelicals will see the poor historical analysis offered by various emergent leaders and be provoked in reaction to think in more depth about history, how our past is to be understood, how it can help to inform the present, and how it allows us to develop a critical perspective on the world in which we live.

Further, we evangelicals have not really spent enough time thinking about the church—what she is, what she should look like, and how she connects to individuals. The emergents offer, as far as I can see, some valid, if scarcely original, criticisms of evangelicalism in this area. If this causes us to think carefully about how evangelicalism (as an essentially transdenominational movement) needs to think in more ecclesiastical terms, then the EC will have done us a great service.

Carl Trueman is the professor of historical theology and church history at Westminster Theological Seminary, and the author of The Wages of Spin, Luther’s Legacy, The Claims of Truth: John Owen’s Trinitarian Theology, and other titles.

 

Jonathan Leeman

As Carson suggests in his second point above, most challenges to orthodoxy throughout the church’s history have enabled the church to better define what it believes about God and his relationship with humankind. Arius gave Christ’s church the opportunity to consider more carefully what Scripture says about the Trinity. The German Enlightenment prompted the church to develop a more robust account of revelation and inspiration.

Okay, what about the Emergents? Where is orthodoxy challenged, or at least “discussed”? Let me comment on two areas. On the one hand, the discussion they bring to the table simply represents the most recent stages of the revelation/inspiration controversies of modernity. The purveyors of a generous orthodoxy who claim to move beyond conservatism and liberalism say so because that’s what their theological daddies—the “post-liberals”—say (see “Emerging Consequences”). This is not the place for an explanation, but post-liberalism isn’t post anything. (Same Cartesian starting point. Same post-Kantian result.)

On the other hand, the generously orthodox aren’t so much interested in talking about revelation or inspiration. If you force them to, they’ll often—like their post-liberal fathers—wave the conversation away with something that sounds vaguely Barthian about God speaking, and the words of Scripture witnessing to what he has said. Really, they would rather spend their energy talking about how fallen, finite, and embedded human beings are. They have a very strong sense of the fact that humans belong to particular times and places and families and ways of speaking. Ergo, even if God does speak through Scripture, we have no way of agreeing or being certain of what his words mean. To the contrary, our embeddedness or situation-ed-ness will determine how we interpret Scripture.

If the first challenge to orthodoxy remains in the broad areas of revelation and inspiration, as it has been for some time, the second challenge moves us more narrowly into the area of Scripture’s clarity, or what theologians sometimes call its perspicuity. Is Scripture sufficiently clear for us admittedly fallen, finite, and embedded humans to understand what it means. The doctrine of the clarity of Scripture, which has been explicitly affirmed at least since Martin Luther, says that Scripture is sufficiently clear for instruction in the way of salvation and a life that is pleasing to God (2 Tim. 3:16), and that presumes the church in different times and places will agree on what the way of salvation is and what the life pleasing to God is.

It’s interesting to consider how many theologically conservative writers say that the emerging conversation is about relevance. Relevance is to the Emergent’s situational determinism what Dr. Jekyll is to Mr. Hyde, the sedate and urbane version of what can transform into a dangerous ogre. After all, both versions instruct the church to exercise greater awareness of time and place in how it uses language and metaphor.

The goal for evangelicals, therefore, isn’t to get rid of Dr. Jekyll. He’s a nice guy and an above-average scientist. The goal is to prevent him from drinking the nasty serum of postmodern epistemology that turns him into his less savory counterpart. One way of doing that may be to include a stronger doctrine of the clarity of Scripture in his diet. Mark Thompson’s brand new A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture, which 9News hopes to review sometime this fall, puts a healthy portion of clarity on the menu. Hopefully others will follow suit.

And pastors, explicitly teach your churches about the clarity of Scripture! Model it in your preaching as well.

Jonathan Leeman is the director of communications for 9Marks.