Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Pro Church

posted by xscot mcknight

In case you haven’t figured this out, I’m working my way toward an article on the Emerging movement for a magazine and so I’m testing some ideas as I move forward each day with some reading (in the time I can manage). So, thanks for the comments and observations.

I’ll use “EM” for Emergent movement.

The EM is pro-Church. To make this claim requires some nuance and some careful thinking. The EM is pro-Church more than it is critical of the Church, and it is plenty critical. The EM is both (at some say it is) post-Evangelical and post-Liberal churches but that critical stance over against the way “Church as it has been done” is not left dangling. The EM is pro-Church in that it is ecumenical. It is not ecumenical in the classical sense of the Ecumenical Movement, which is a failure because it was set on a course of finding a doctrinal basis among sets of Christians who could not agree, but in the sense of being missionally focused. Because it is missionally focused, it finds it much easier to cooperate with other Christians with a similar missional focus and to cooperate with other Christians because its own theological agendas are less central. Andrew Jones calls, at Tall Skinny Kiwi dot com, this “deep ecclesiology.”

This is why the EM is taken with the ancient creeds: its belief that the Church is ultimately one, because it can be focused in its kingdom mission, can embrace the creeds of the entire spectrum of the holy, catholic Church. Robert Webber’s notion of an Ancient-Future faith, with its profound appreciation of Eastern Orthodoxy and certain themes of the Roman Catholic Church and its disappointment (at times) with the Protestant Reformation, has had a deep influence on the EM. Here you will find a genuine evangelical ecumenical posture.

It is also pro-Church in that the Church is designed to be a community. Here again, the EM reminds one of the Anabaptists or the Jesus movement of the 60s and 70s, where Christian communities grew out of a radical commitment to the Church as a community. For the EM, while it shows similarities to these early Christian experiments (some of them, like Reba Place in Evanston Illinois), community is more missionally-driven than fellowship-oriented. It should be noted that the community emphasis is on a community that seeks to blend with the local community into a harmonious effort to realize the ideals of the Kingdom of God.

Once again, this pro-Church community focus leads us back to its local expression. The EM’s focus on Church is not on ecclesiastical structures or denominational politics, but on a local church community of faith incarnating the kingdom vision of Jesus in its local community for the good of the world.

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posted July 12, 2005 at 10:37 am

Thanks Scot for working out your thoughts in front of a crowd. Most authors would not consider this because of the risk that someone might steal their good idea. That was the old way, the new way is collaberation. It will probably mean that the forward of books will get bigger as authors have more people to thank for the publication of their thoughts.On the Emergent Movement as pro church, I agree. The problem is the way they define church in some of the ways you suggest often is perceived by those in the “traditional church” as being critical. Insulting someone’s idea of church is akin to insulting their mother’s cooking. My perception is that as the Emergent Movement matures they will be better able to offer critical reflection about the nature of church without coming across as strident and arrogant. Maybe if some of them just shaved once in a while they wouldn’t be so intimidating…

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posted July 12, 2005 at 12:33 pm

looking forward to your writings . . . so that i can quote you . . .its treacherous waters and many have drowned in trying to navigate where you are going, but you have won the trust of EC folk and you should have a good shot at adding definition to what is going onall the besthey scott – if you allow comments on your blog from non-blogger users, then we can sign in with our own address [hint, hint]

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Scot McKnight

posted July 12, 2005 at 1:03 pm

Andrew,I was open to anonymous bloggers but I find it an opportunity for some to take cheap pots shots, and so I went the direction of most and clicked on the box that makes people sign in.

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posted July 12, 2005 at 5:04 pm

The missional focus that you note seems to bring the EM church and churches together is, I believe, a historic characteristic of the Evangelical Covenant Church. In fact, it the recent revision of Covenant Affirmations, a section was added bringing that core value to the fore. Actually, a mission focus has always been there, the revised document simply brings it into the key document of the denomination. Mission has always been the uniting and driving force in the denomination.At the same time, the ECC is virtually the only denomination on the planet that is not defined by doctrine, but rather by a set of core values/principles/affirmations that guide its life at the macro and micro level in the church and believer respectively.My point would be that if there is a denomination that would have something in common with the things you describe about the EM, it is in fact the ECC.

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Scot McKnight

posted July 12, 2005 at 5:08 pm

I couldn’t agree more “molson.”

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Dan Edelen

posted July 12, 2005 at 7:41 pm

Scott,I’m not sure that the EM is “pro-church” as much as they are pro-“Open Door”–and therein is both the strength and the weakness of the movement.The strength in the Open Door means that the EM wants all people to have a deep and abiding love relationship with Jesus, and to embrace such people and call them brothers and sisters. That’s admirable and needs to be emulated.What is not admirable in that desire is that too many people in the EM want to lower the standard for what is considered a brother or sister in Christ. The EM also has a tendency to ignore the tougher discipleship challenges that Jesus Himself posed to anyone who would desire to be a disciple, or to redefine those requirements to be something other than what the Bible or the ancient teachings of the Church would have them be. In this, the EM is simply wrongheaded.When considered this way, the EM is pro-church in the same way that Marxists are pro-reform–as long as the revolution that installs that reform looks exactly like a Marxist one.

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Scot McKnight

posted July 12, 2005 at 7:53 pm

Dan,I must say your comments are a little hard on EM by connecting them, as you do at the end, with Marxism. We can’t help the conversation by guilt by association.Having said that, my question for you is this: Are you basing your comments about what the Open Door (never heard of this since it seems you have some official policy in mind) or the lower moral standards are on something you’ve experienced? I’ve not encountered this, though what I sometimes see is a willingness to tolerate some sorts of behavior as a person grows into the faith. (Driscoll’s book, Reformission, has examples. Kimball too.)I do not doubt what you say so much as wonder if we move anything forward by stating things without some kind of evidence.

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Dan Edelen

posted July 12, 2005 at 9:54 pm

Scot,I thought my allusion to “Open Door” as in “open door policy” carried enough context to make the point, but I guess I got too abstract.I’ve been hanging out at TheOoze since 2003 and have been following the Emergent chatter over the Web on various blogs and in the writings of Emergent authors. A few things stand out that reinforce the idea of Emergent being pro-“Open Door” instead of being pro-Church:1. As much as Emergent feels comfortable tweaking today’s Evangelicalism and those inside the Church, it has an almost pathological desire to be liked by people outside the Church. I see this as an indication that Emergent may, in fact, be more interested in starting something that will appeal to the lost than in truly reforming modern Evangelicalism.2. Because of this desire to be liked by the lost, the EM has started whittling down traditional impediments to the lost coming to Christ. The problem here is that the EM continues to whittle long after the real problems are addressed. As a result, some of the harder discipleship requirements of the Lord are starting to suffer. The cross is almost completely gone in a lot of Emergent theology, for instance.3. The desire to be liked by the lost has often led to the EM chastising the traditional voices and institutions of the church for no other reason than that they are not the latest fad thinking. The modern Evangelicals are accused of using a Walkman in an era of iPods. While this plays to the lost crowd who can assent to this, it seems more like calculated marketing than a restoration of Gospel truth.4. In playing to the postmodern crowd, this becomes a meditation on “realness” rather than reality. Too often, the most devout in EM circles are the ones that do not change so much as accept their inability to change. This is captured in MacLaren’s debacle over whether or not there are Muslim Christians or Buddhist Christians. It goes beyond “having one’s cake and eating it too” into the realm of “oh, and try some of the pie as well!”5. This culminates in the pandemic of universalism that radiates out of the heart of so much of the EM I see out there. And what could be more “Open Door” than this?All these ideas play into EM’s need to be liked by the lost and perceived as having an open door. I see too much of the EM calling for a sort of sanctification that truly doesn’t ask the potential disciple to lay down his/her life so much as accept everyone where they are–even if they never run the race we are all called to run.God requires that we fish or cut bait. That open door must have a cross in front of it somewhere or else the music inside the sanctuary that is drawing the lost has no Gospel in it.Does this make more sense now?

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Scot McKnight

posted July 13, 2005 at 4:26 am

Dan,Thanks for all this, thanks for clarifying your argument in more detail. Once again, and I’m not trying to be ornery or accusing you of being wrong-headed, but there is again no concrete evidence cited.Let’s agree to carry this forward by reading something on the Ooze that you think moves this way. (Let’s leave McLaren out of this discussion; everyone has argued about his stuff, which sometimes I like and sometimes I don’t.)What on the Ooze suggests universalism and let’s look at it.

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Ted Gossard

posted July 13, 2005 at 7:08 pm

I applaud the pro church stance of EM. Church today for many evangelicals seems to be almost optional. Commitment seems usually to be optional. Maybe it has alot to do with the churches themselves. On the one hand a church may hardly function as church (I say in continuity with both the best of Christian history as well as the scriptures)- for example maybe just fulfilling a program. On the other hand people may have suffered burnout or the like from churches that not only demanded “commitment”, but piled on the one “committed.” So this stance of EM can be helpful and hopefully corrective for many of the rest of us.

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Dan Edelen

posted July 14, 2005 at 8:07 am

Scot,About Universalism in the EM:1. Taking MacLaren off the table is a little unfair since he really is the voice for a lot of the EM. With each successive book, he reveals more of a leaning toward universalist thought.2. It would take me forever to locate and post every thread on TheOoze that has dealt with universalist ideas in the time since I’ve been there. My experience has been that the most “modern” (as opposed to self-identified “postmodern”) folks on TheOoze, along with the true Orthodox (big “O”), have been the ones most critical of universalism, but they only comprise a minority on the site. It is my experience that the more sympathetic someone on TheOoze is to other world religions, the more likely they are to be universalists. That much of postmodern thought likes to deconstruct the exclusive truth claims of Christianity, reflects in the conversations I’ve been a part of at TheOoze and further supports universalism. I know this is a cop-out of sorts, but if you go to TheOoze and use their forum search tool, you can pull up more than seventy threads that have talked about the keyword “universalism.” I know for certain that even more threads have talked about the concept without mentioning it by that word.I hope this helps.

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bill bean

posted July 14, 2005 at 11:51 am

Scot, I get the sense that in your article on EM you might be making a case for what EM is FOR rather than AGAINST. I like that. As an emerging type I’m trying to do that myself. I find that numerous folks, across the various divisions, are FOR a lot of the same things. This sure helps with relationships but doesn’t have to lead to some kind of useless ecumenism.

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Scot McKnight

posted July 14, 2005 at 1:04 pm

Bill, I’m trying to see the pros and cons and have now got a rough draft ready. But, I have to wait to see what the publisher will do with this.

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