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Jesus Creed


Emerging: A Letter

posted by xscot mcknight

I got a letter from a young high school pastor in the southeast and he’s happy to share it with our blog community. This young pastor leans in some emerging directions but his pastor is now criticizing emergent. I’d like us to give him our wisdom today.
Hi Scot,
I have followed your blog for a long time now and I have commented in other places on your book Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us and I really like it. I am writing to you because I am concerned about something that is going on in my church and I was wondering, if you have the time, if you could respond or give your opinion on the matter. Recently my church has been having fun taking pot shots at the emergent movement. In particular, they are most worried about too much social justice, not enough penal substitution in explaining the gospel, too much postmodernity and one of the elders the other day said he had read your description of some emergents as having “ironic” faith and it bothered him deeply.
I have recently come into trouble at my church because I am teaching the book of Luke to our new junior-senior high mission group. (By the way, I have a degree from a Christian college.) One of my problems is this: I keep a blog that I didn’t think anyone from the church read (shows how much I know) and one of the parents came to me very upset. I had written on the blog that the Bible has tensions within itself and that there have been differing interpretations of the Bible over time (I was using Oden’s IVP series on early Christian interpretations) and that the students seem to have trouble thinking about the Bible historically (to avoid present-mindedness). Also, in light of RJS’s posts — I really like her stuff by the way — about science and faith, I have said a few things about how we read Genesis 1–3. I sat down with one elder and he understood what I was doing, and said it wasn’t a big deal, but that I have to be careful what I put on my blog. I met with our pastor, though, and he was concerned that I had too many links to emergent folks on the sidebar.
This would all be well and good, but after talking with him for about an hour about the emergment movement I am realizing that he really knows very little about it. He has never read Dallas Willard or N.T. Wright or Dan Kimball or any of your books, let alone anything by McLaren.
Here’s where I see the big issue: Sometimes I feel like the people in my church are living in a time vaccuum. They are fighting to “protect marriage” in the State and to ban abortions and I just think there are better ways than legislating morality. But more importantly, we differ on the nature of truth. I believe all truth to be contextual whereas my pastor believes all context, no matter what, will lead back to one truth. Teaching Luke’s understanding of God’s work in this world has a different focus than how Paul understands God’s work in this world. These are the ways I view things and my pastor might be beginning to think that I am “too liberal.” The problem is I am not liberal enough for him to ask me to stop teaching. I’m somewhere in the middle, but I am starting to feel seriously constricted by my home church after four years of college.
Is this something that you would suggest I stop teaching over? Is this something worth leaving a denomination over? Any thoughts would be appreciated.
Sincerely yours….
Please respond thoughtfully to this young pastor, and I will post my thoughts Wednesday.



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tad deLay

posted October 27, 2008 at 1:18 am


When i started to feel emerging leanings, it became so enticing to become cocky and let everyone know anytime I disagreed with a conservative pastor about something. It’s easy and sexy to do, but somewhere along the way, i quickly forgot the importance of submitting to Spiritual authority. Preach with conviction, but submit to authority- if you can’t do both, then it may be time to move on.



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Peggy

posted October 27, 2008 at 1:42 am


I wonder whether some of our Quaker Jesus Creeders might not say something to you along the lines of “stay and teach as long as you can.” Patience in transition is a challenge but is beneficial in so many ways. See tad’s comment at #1….
Processing your journey with teenagers might not be the best thing … and your blog might not be a good place to talk about them, either. Teach what you can from places and contexts that are orthodox and you’ll be okay. There’s plenty to challenge young people straight from the Bible!
It has taken our family four and a half years to finally step away from a church where I had formerly pastored. But I could not process our issues and questions there–we had to do that with other folks in other places. I did a fair amount of it here at the Jesus Creed community!
When you get to the place where you cannot continue to support the way your church thinks about and does ministry, I bet God will show you the next steps.
Until then, may the Holy Spirit bring you wisdom and discernment in many ways and shapes and forms!
Shalom, brother.



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Friar_Tuck

posted October 27, 2008 at 1:44 am


Practical advice:
Put others with non-emergent leanings on your sidebar as well.
I am sorry if this doesn’t sound nuanced enough, but at somepoint you are going to have to decide if this is a battle you want to fight. If your theological leanings in this regard are non-negotiable…well…you might lose your job. Get your resume out there.
If you are wanting to stay and work within the system…well…do that.



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Jeremiah Daniels

posted October 27, 2008 at 1:54 am


Never stop teaching.
I have been very slow to make my break with my tradition. The process is reaching the 11th hour now.
For years I did not even comment in blogs because I knew from being the son of church leader that those sorts of things get policed in more conservative groups.
I agree with #2 above. You might want to get your resume ready.
But, you might also consider the language you use.
About 10 years ago, I was asked to take speaking tour through six different assemblies of my tradition.
I knew that my tradition has a lot of subtle differences that can set people off.
As I pondered my lesson for the tour, I decided I would deliberately pick a passage which was controversial.
I proceeded to study BOTH sides of the interpretation of this passage.
At least in the case of the passage, I determined that the two sides of the issue were really arguing semantics more than anything substantial.
So, when I knew the church was on side A, I recast the explanations of side B in words side A found palatable — and vice versa.
Everybody left patting me on the back that I was ‘in the fold.’
Of course, this is not always possible and it requires a lot of self control and study.
But, as Paul said, “be all things for all men so that some might be saved.”
I have learned as I get older that you can teach people best when you understand where they are coming from and put things in ways that they can appreciate.
Occasionally, this can be blunt and forceful, but usually its done peacefully, even casually.
Regardless if you do or do not find the above useful. My main message is simply …
NEVER STOP TEACHING



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Greg Laughery

posted October 27, 2008 at 1:57 am


I appreciate your thoughts. Being in the middle is sometimes the most difficult place to be, but it may nevertheless be the right place to be. Christians can often tend to polarize and if we don’t take one side or the other we don’t fit in anymore. This can lead to tensions, although these may be positve if mutual exchange between you and the leaders and members of the church can continue with love and respect in spite of differences of opinion.
I’m not sure I would be comfortable saying all truth is contextual and leaving it there – that’s not a middle position, but solely a pole. Maybe it is closer to the truth to talk about truth and truth for me? All truth is not contextual because it’s God’s truth, it’s only contextual for me, and I’m not the source, origin, or measure of all truth.



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Jeremiah Daniels

posted October 27, 2008 at 2:03 am


#4
Perhaps I am naive, but I always appeal to the principle or spirit of a passage and focus the student back on the principle being taught.
I believe the principles are universal but the examples in scripture conform to them.
I generally find it more productive to do exegetical studies than topical ones.
But, hey, that is probably just the style I am comfortable with.



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jon

posted October 27, 2008 at 4:54 am


I would like to say that; don’t stop teaching. but what you can do in your situation is how you strike a ‘balance’ in your emerging ideas and your church’s doctrines. Work hard on what you tend to agree and when it is possible you can add some of your emerging leanings. I understand that this is a general suggestion but i hope it helps in this area.
In terms of whether this is “something worth leaving a denomination over” this is a hard one. My personal opinion is, if your church leaders or pastor can’t find any point of agreement to ‘mend’ the issue of whether it is right for you to stay on teaching, you will have to decide to leave. I understand the difficulty of this.
Thanks for posting this as I too am in a similar position. Anyway my prayers to the one writing the letter.



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Jeremiah Daniels

posted October 27, 2008 at 5:05 am


#2 Peggy — missed your comment earlier — spot on
#8 David — spot on too. I have found that a lot of times in order to ‘win’ you really must ‘lose.’ Its not about beating people with educated arguments and stunning them with your wide knowledge. As a teacher, you have to ask the question WHY DO YOU WANT THEM TO KNOW? Is it for your own ego? What’s the motive of your heart.



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David

posted October 27, 2008 at 5:06 am


The body of Christ is made up of different generations of Christians for a reason. The men who are talking with you may not have read McLaren and Willard but you can almost certainly learn from them. I’d encourage you to listen to them and gain from their experience in ministry. Right now God has placed you there under their leadership.
I’d also encourage you to be very careful not to fall into the temptation to be building a case against them with those who might side with you. I think this is a huge part of the submission issue mentioned by the brother in post #1. Staying and submitting is not really submitting if you are quietly building a case against them.
Finally, I’d encourage you to be careful what you teach to the teenagers. You may be learning and growing and questioning but I always assume that whetever I say or do in front of young people they will take 10X further. I think it’s helpful to keep James 3:1 in mind here.



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paul

posted October 27, 2008 at 5:47 am


My friend and I were both youth pastors in similar situations (at sister churches).
I ended up stepping down and leaving the church community I was apart of. It was a healthy process, with elder/pastor support (took about a year), and I am still friends with many in the community.
My friend is still a youth pastor in his church and is finding both success and struggle at every step. He is being used to slowly transform many…and he is finding that they are also slowly helping him to grow as well. He is much more patient than I.
I say stay as long as you can…continue teaching (with humility and discernment)…and make sure to always love everyone regardless of how they treat you. You may find that God teaches others through you (and you through them). And who knows, maybe you will be able to stay in this community…or maybe you will need to move on. At least you can say you loved everyone in the process.



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Joel Frederick

posted October 27, 2008 at 6:02 am


i think the advice given so far is interesting but what hit me in the letter was the issue around the pastor. If he is taking pot shots at emerging churches without knowing what they are about (there is a wide range of beliefs in there so some criticism may be fair, some not) it is at best, gossip and at the worst, slander. Both, if memory serves me right, end up on Pauls lists of things followers of Christ should not be doing.
You have the choice to confront sin where it exists in the church. (following the model in Matt 18 of course). These in particular will quickly tear down a church.
(I’ve been there — different situation — so maybe I’m a little sensitive to these things)



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Tyler

posted October 27, 2008 at 6:08 am


I think you might be confusing some things – for example, if I’m reading you correctly, you wrote as an example of how you believe truth to be contextual, “Teaching Luke???s understanding of God???s work in this world has a different focus than how Paul understands God???s work in this world.”
Look. I know it’s cool to read emerging authors complain about absolute truth, and say “I want to be cool too, so I’ll agree with them,” but what you just described is not really as radical as contextual truth, it sounds more like Biblical Theology. If you really thought that truth was contextual, then in the church that you work in, legislating morality, living in that time vacuum, preaching PSA and belittling postmodernity IS your contextual truth, so you better get used to it.
If you’ve grown up in the evangelical subculture, I can completely understand the attraction to many emerging ways of thinking (Scot McKinght, Dan Kimball, Dallas Willard style), where not legislating morality, appreciating Eastern Orthodoxy liturgy and teaching Christus Victor are really something radical. But to those of us who grew up saturated in postmodernity, and then came to Christ, fighting for that kind of stuff in a semi-fundamentalist church sounds really dumb. If you’re really as emergent as you think you are, I cannot for the life of me imagine why you’re still there – except for the fact that they’re paying you money.
My advice – either prepare your resume and go to a more academically-appreciative church where it will already be taken for granted that the Bible has certain tensions within it, or settle down and teach what that church wants you to teach.
Let me put my advice into perspective: let’s say you’re a 5-point Calvinist and you (somehow) get hired by a Wesleyan-Arminian church. If you start teaching the youth about predestination/election, that strikes me as just being an asshole.
Be a Calvinist if you want, but don’t think that it’s okay for you to completely go against what the leadership expects of you – that’s just not cool. If you’re convicted that you need to teach the TULIP, leave and find a reformed church. Don’t be a total jerk. Does that make any sense?



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Chris E

posted October 27, 2008 at 6:15 am


Make sure you are reading the critics of Emergent. imho, there is much that is good in the movement and some that is, frankly, unspiritual and humanistic. By reading and understanding the detractors, you will get the best of both worlds, and you will be able to better understand the context of the shots you feel your pastor is taking at emergent.



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Georges Boujakly

posted October 27, 2008 at 6:34 am


I echo the good advice you have already received. I
believe in collective wisdom but first from the community where you have anchored your life. None of us is ever an individual only. Surely the community is not devoid of wisdom. Did you not know that your teachings would raise eyebrows? (This is not asked in a spirit of confrontation). Spilled milk principle is to have talked about your new learnings about Scripture with a few others before you ventured out in teaching. Perhaps you have done that.
If you are able to continue teaching and avoiding labels at the same time do so. Surely you don’t buy everything anyone says. There is little to be gained, if anything, from lines drawn in the sand. Trust that this conflict is not beyond the Lord’s use to shape you into his likeness even more as well as those who are concerned about what you teach to their children.



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Dan Brennan

posted October 27, 2008 at 6:58 am


As to your question about stop teaching this in your church, I would encourage you to stay if at all possible within your communal context of your church’s leadership. What that means for you is to have your finger on the pulse on what areas the leadership considers to be “off-limits” and stay away from those areas when teaching–with honor and respect towards your elders. They may have certain areas where they encourage open and free conversation where there is a disagree-but-agree for a greater good. While in other areas, there may be too much uneasiness. Find the former and teach with great passion.
The second question is something you have to process if you honestly can’t practice the above. It could be that if you take the long term perspective, it is good for you to stay. There is a special ecclesial unity to embrace in friendship and community when there is not sameness. All communities hunger for truth and embodied love no matter what labels we put on them. Or, you may find it too constricting to stay where you are.
If at all possible, I encourage you to pursue a deeper friendship with one of your leaders.
It is an interesting development about the freedom and/or restraint of blogging and faith community boundaries.



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Bill

posted October 27, 2008 at 7:11 am


You explained what you are doing but why is not clear. For instance, why do you believe this is so important? I am not saying this is not important but why is it important to you?
Always have your resume ready. Don’t wait for the clouds to gather. Watch your words especially since your blog is being monitored but watch your words anyway. Guard your heart.
Try to steer clear of language you don’t understand and which might confuse your listeners. If you don’t understand the lingo and have command of the underlying meanings, find some other way of speaking about it or just don’t speak until you can find a way to communicate. Using the words “emergent”, “missional”, etc. may sound cool to you (and perhaps others) but your audience is getting flustered. In a more pragmatic sense, the people who cut your paycheck are getting edgy.
The practice of the Jesus Creed will help you. Love must be preeminent and motivate you not necessarily McLaren, McKnight and Wright. These mean are wise and they have a voice but they are not sitting in your office or in your chair. Remember your calling. I am not too sure Jesus cares all too much, nor is He impressed, if you are “emergent” or not. He does care about your heart and how you treat Him, yourself and others as you are tested in your love for His church, your church, your neighbor and your God.
I don’t know your name but I will pray for you today.



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Diane

posted October 27, 2008 at 7:23 am


Dear Pastor,
I don’t think, in general, there is an abstract ideological litmus test for when to leave a church or denomination. God wants us to join him in his work and will lead us where he wants us to be, whether or not it is always comfortable for us. I imagine you will have to go deeply into your own prayer life and heart to discern what God is calling you to do and where he wants you to be. Maybe you do need to leave and find a more congenial church environment. But maybe God wants you to be a prophet and a voice crying in the wilderness. If that is what God wants, you will keep being “bounced” into situations like the one you are in where you are challenged by more conventionally evangelical people. If that is what God wants, I would see what is happening now as education and preparation for you, so that you can gain wisdom as how to navigate a “one” Christian church with differing denominational (or generational) emphases and fears. It sound as if God is doing a good work in you by bringing you into relationship with diverse groups of people. But I can also understand how frustrating it can be, especially if you know that the emerging church ideas you are teaching have been misunderstood and maligned unfairly.
Simple things that people have suggested, such as links to more orthodox sites, seem wise. Maybe you could get adults into a study of N.T. Wright. It seems to me an important task to try to gently bridge the gap between emerging and more conventional faith, rather than for everyone to go off into his or her own comfort zone.



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Travis Greene

posted October 27, 2008 at 7:33 am


I don’t think the letter-writer is namedropping Scot, Willard, McLaren and so on just to prove how cool he is. His point is that his senior pastor is criticizing emerging ideas without actually having listened to any of them. I don’t think he’s saying “What a loser, he hasn’t even read The Divine Conspiracy”, which is the vibe I’m picking up from some of these comments.
Anyhow, so much of what to do depends on the situation. You don’t mention what the denomination is, which I think is a big factor; some have much more diversity of thought than others. I think you’re required to be receptive to the ideas of those in your church, particularly since you work for them, but I think you’re also required to be honest about your thoughts. If you really feel like you have to put on an elaborate charade and say things you don’t really believe for fear of censure, it may be time to move on. If you’re still feeling your way around on certain questions (who isn’t?) and your pastor is amenable to it, maybe get together regularly to discuss those things. That way if he begins to think your theology is beyond what the church officially teaches, you both have an opportunity to end the relationship on good terms.



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Richard Jones

posted October 27, 2008 at 8:06 am


It sounds to me like you are out-growing your church theologically, or another way to put it another way: your faith journey is leading you in a different direction theologically from your church. That happened to me also. I knew my church was not going to change. BTW, I, too, am a youth minister. The best course for me was to move on to a church more compatible with my widening theological perspective. I found my fit in a United Methodist church (UMC in the south and UMC in the west can be quite different). You may not find a church with your exact perspective, but if you find one that is open to change or recognizes differing points of view, it will be a better fit for you.



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theonlypj

posted October 27, 2008 at 8:14 am


Hello friend,
I spent 10 years in youth ministry before backsliding into preacherhood…
More than anything, know that your friends here are praying for you and hoping for your spiritual health and the wellness of your congregation.
I’ve got 2 thoughts – first, this situation dsiplays that each congregation has DNA. Even 2 congregations within the same denomination will have differences in style and personality. Nothing wrong with that – it is what it is – but a large part of the difference among church DNA is content vs. community. I’d think we’d all agree that a content driven church is a difficult place to process theology. Perhaps a community inspired congregation in the future will be a better fit. I agree with Richard #19, but it’s not just the denomination that will seal the deal – it’s the church’s view on community.
I was in the same boat on the opposite shore a while back. Conservative youth minister in a very open denomination theologically. Wait on the Lord with patience and humility and He will lead.
Blessings
PJ



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Erik

posted October 27, 2008 at 8:23 am


I think there has been some good advice, but I also think something needs to clarified. Yes, submission to leadership is an obedient thing to do, but we are also forgetting that as the called and commissioned youth pastor of this congregation, he is also a leader. Does he have some latitude, then, to help direct this church? In that sense, I say, don’t stop teaching. Of course do so with love, humility, patience, and respect, but do not shy away from teaching what you are if you believe it is helping your students follow Christ more faithfully.



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ChrisB

posted October 27, 2008 at 8:46 am


There seem to be two things going on here. The author is more politically liberal than the folks in his church, and he is more postmodern than the folks in his church. (Oh, and he’s probably better educated on modern biblical criticism (never use that term in church!) than most of them.)
Politically liberal? Get over it. If you don’t like “legislating morality,” vote accordingly and keep your opinions to yourself.
Postmodern? Most older evangelicals (and a lot of young ones) are not and will never be very pomo. There is a spectrum of postmodernism. On one end you have the people who think postmodern ideas are so obvious they hardly require stating; on the other end are people who think pomo is ridiculous. Most southern evangelicals are going to be closer to that end.
Talk to your pastor about your feelings that he hasn’t given the emerging movement a fair hearing. Suggest that y’all read and discuss a book together (maybe not McLaren). Decide together where you will draw the line on what you teach the kids. If you can’t live with that line, move on.
Blog: Change your sidebar, add a disclaimer, and make sure your leadership understands that what is written on a blog is often rough, in process, and not necessarily what you will teach the kids.
BTW: “I believe all truth to be contextual”
Don’t tell your pastor that. Or at least find a better way to express it. Most conservative evangelicals will accept that all expressions of truth are contextual but not truth itself. You think that’s just playing with sematics? Tough; he won’t.
Good luck.



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Mike

posted October 27, 2008 at 8:48 am


I’m not surprised that the older pastor has not read McKnight et al. Pastoral ministry is hard, and many pastors do not have (or take) the time to keep current with new writers. If you continue in ministry, don’t be surprised when the same thing happens to you in 20 or 30 years. It could be a great blessing to both you and him to set up a regular hour once a week or so to read and discuss together books that have influenced each of you (and let him pick the first one). Unless you’re willing to cut off all ties to this community and theological tradition, you’ll continue to receive similar responses, and it will pay off in the long run to approach the situation from a learning posture.
Finally, don’t blog anything that you wouldn’t be willing say in public – because you are saying it in public. Don’t hide who you are, but be aware of the context from which others are reading your blog. (And, it sounds like they don’t understand what a blogroll is – you might want to clarify how a blogroll is used and what it means in the context of the blogosphere.)



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Karl

posted October 27, 2008 at 9:03 am


This is a bit of an aside, but I’m curious to see Dallas Willard and NT Wright apparently listed as emergent writers. Has either of them owned that label the way McLaren and others have done?
I know both Wright and Willard have been influential to the thinking of many emergents. But their appeal and influence goes far beyond emergent, and one doesn’t need to be emergent in order to agree with their writings – does one?
What I’m getting at is this: if someone says they are a fan of McLaren’s writing then they are almost certainly emergent or emergent-influenced, whether or not they know it or would use that term. But if someone says they like Willard or NT Wright, that doesn’t tell me with nearly as much accuracy whether they are emergent.



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Taylor

posted October 27, 2008 at 9:04 am


It depends on how conservative your church leadership is. If you’re in a really conservative, borderline fundamentalist church they are unlikely to ever understand you. How will you know how conservative they are? Look at the authors they read. If all you see is John MacArthur, and Ray Comfort it’s time to update the resume. If on the other hand they have some Dallas Willard and John Ortberg to compliment John Piper then I say stay and figure it out.
One other thing. Try to give the parents what they signed up for. You have a duty to stand by them as they raise their kids.



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Karl

posted October 27, 2008 at 9:05 am


Part of what I’m getting at above is that maybe writers like NT Wright and Willard can be a bridge between someone who has more emergent leanings (like the writer of the letter) and someone who believes herself to be more anti-emergent. As opposed to McLaren, a more “acceptable” or less controversial writer like Willard or McLaren might be a good starging point for discussion and the finding of common ground.



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Tom

posted October 27, 2008 at 9:16 am


This is a tough spot. In my experience, observation, and opinion pastor and youth pastor have to be fairly close in their theological and hermeneutical approaches when they minister together at a church, and particularly a church that has only 2 -4 staff. Otherwise it introduces too much tension in their relationship and ultimately in the church body. And, that’s not really good for anyone… for youth pastor, pastor, congregation, or students. So, my encouragement is to resolve this in some way. Of course I fall more on the side of your pastor so I encourage you to read all of D.A. Carson’s books, Grudem’s “Systematic Theology, Lewis/Demarest “Integrative Theology”, etc., etc., before you come to a conclusion on these matters.
As for blogging, I see a lot of blog writers making this mistake of just blurting out their thoughts without thinking that this is going out to the whole world, including your church, friends, and enemies. I would encourage you to never write something on a blog that you wouldn’t say face to face to people.
Just my two cents. God bless. You’re loved.



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Tom

posted October 27, 2008 at 9:19 am


#24 – I would agree… Dallas Willard and N.T. Wright are not in the same theological camp as McClaren.



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Preacherman

posted October 27, 2008 at 9:41 am


I believe emerging is where God is wanting his church to go in the 21st century. It is so important that ministers work together as a team. When the pastor isn’t on the same page as the other pastors that work with him it only causes problems. It is my prayer that this minister change his heart. I pray that ministers world wide will understand that this isn’t just another fad or gimmick. Thank you Scot for educating us all about the emerging church.



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Daniel

posted October 27, 2008 at 9:42 am


Would you be willing to die for your theology? Not talking about the argumentative preferences of music or worship styles, but your differences on the authority of Scripture, justification, penal substitution, creation, et al?
Basically the question is, are these unshakable convictions? Or is it just where you are at the moment and possibly later in your life’s narrative you might come to different conclusions? If the former, test your convictions to make sure they are truly Biblical, and if so, move on with grace. Do not seek to divide, but learn to speak and teach with grace. If the later, then place yourself as a student of God’s Word. Do not assume that your leaders are taking “pot shots” but seek to know why they say these things. I know this isn’t the best place to say this, but questioning your “emerging” leanings is not a bad thing. Others motives are hard to tell, but our own motives should be constantly evaluated.



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John W Frye

posted October 27, 2008 at 9:43 am


Friend,
I am a 60 year old pastor and I have read most of Willard, McLaren, McKnight, Frost and Hirsch, Guder, Ray Anderson, some of Dan Kimball, some of LeRon Shults, a whole of NT Wright, etc. I graduated in from seminary in 1975. I am so sorry that many, many pastors petrify theologically at the year they graduate from seminary. Readers are leaders and leaders are readers. I have a colleague, Jeremy Bouma, who is 28 and he has read more than me regarding the emerging conversation. We come at these ideas from a wide generational gap but have a tremendous respect for one another. You need this kind of relationship.
You also need a community that receives and affirms your growing theological maturity. The fact that you had to write to Scot tips your hand that you feel alone. My friend and I say to you,”Get out of there and get out fast.” :)



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Tyler

posted October 27, 2008 at 9:44 am


“I believe all truth to be contextual”
I think you have to be really careful here, especially at what seems to be a somewhat conservative church. If you don’t categorize a statement like that people think you are saying truth is relative and that people can make Christianity what they want within their own context. I hope that is a path you don’t want to go down.



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Brad

posted October 27, 2008 at 9:50 am


Regarding being against “legislating morality”…
This gets me. So we don’t want to legislate programs that help the poor, weak and feeble, as well as those that say murdering someone is against the law?
Weird to me.



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Brad

posted October 27, 2008 at 9:52 am


Sorry, I know my last comment didn’t come with any advice. No harm meant there. Grace.



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jeremy bouma

posted October 27, 2008 at 9:55 am


Hi Friend,
I feel you. I was part of a ministry in DC where I was starting to feel out of place because of my theological shift, and consequently theological disconnect from the ministry. It created tensions in some relationships because I began to disagree with the party line. I was no longer a party-line-tower.
I felt alienated and alone in my theological struggle and didnt understand why they didnt “see” and “get it.” Now I am sure I was immature in some of my handling of the situation (I was 25-26), but they also were so stuck in there ‘version’ that they couldn’t even see a need to shift for MISSIOLOGICAL reasons, let alone potential theological ones.
Anyway, that tension eventually led to a bad parting of ways. And so I and my colleague John sense a need to leave now, because I know for me I should have left a month before everything ‘hit the fan.’ Maybe you are feeling that same tension and feel it is time to leave, too, but you’re too comfortable or scared in the face of the blankness of your seemingly uncreated future. We dont know your situation entirely, but if you are feeling alone enough to write an email to Scot, then maybe that time is up to part ways graciously and find a place that is healthy for your theological, personal, spiritual, and professional growth…
-jeremy



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Mark Baker-Wright

posted October 27, 2008 at 10:00 am


Comments re: Willard and Wright as Emerging:
While I’d be inclined to agree that Willard and Wright aren’t necessarily self-proclaimed “emerging” thinkers, it seems to me that the issue of distrust by the pastor/congregation is more related to whether or not they are too “liberal” for them, which remains a valid concern.
I’m not as familiar with Willard, but Wright is a very nuanced thinker. He’s actually not what I would consider liberal, but his nuance causes him to settle on positions that are somewhat different from the stereotypical conservative evangelical, and this bothers many. I’m afraid to say that I consider this more of a problem of a latent (and often unstated) anti-intellectualism within certain strands of evangelicalism than anything else. Folks simply can’t deal with nuanced thinking, and I think that’s a serious problem.



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John W Frye

posted October 27, 2008 at 10:12 am


Mark Baker-Wright,
I wonder if many are not confusing the vast emerging conversation with “emergent church” or “emergent village.” When Willard takes to task then USAmerican creation of the “barcode gospel” and “the gospel of sin management,” he is fostering the emerging conversation. When NT Wright plants the USAmerican evangelical gnostic Jesus solidly within 1st century Second Temple Judaism as a pure human being (without denying his deity), he is fostering the emerging conversation. You do not have to be a self-proclaimed adherent of “emergent” to be an active participant in the emerging conversation.



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Karl

posted October 27, 2008 at 10:35 am


John W Frye I understand what you are saying but by that definition even guys like Piper or (to an even greater extent) Tim Keller are active participants in the emerging conversation when they challenge various aspects of the status quo in American Christianity.
I’m not sure a category so broad that Willard and NT Wright are lumped in with McLaren, is a very helpful category. I have fundamentalist friends who might lump those authors in the same category but I’d make the same argument to them – not helpful to lump such disparate thinkers in the same bin.



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Travis Greene

posted October 27, 2008 at 10:44 am


John,
You are correct. Wright and Willard are enough in some places to get you branded a heretic. Or Rob Bell.



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Karl

posted October 27, 2008 at 11:06 am


Travis there are lots of writers who are “enough in some places to get you branded a heretic.”
I don’t think that necessarily means all of those writers belong in the same category with one another unless the category is so broad that its only use is to define “writers that a fundamentalist or really conservative evangelical probably won’t like.”



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dopderbeck

posted October 27, 2008 at 11:13 am


I can relate. Eventually I left a church where I had long been involved in leadership, partly because of the sorts of things you’re now experiencing. It was difficult, but a good move. I found a church that is still pretty conservative, but in which there’s enough latitude to have healthy conversations about things like the emerging church without knee-jerk reactionism. I am learning, too, gradually, when it is wise and necessary to speak up in favor of change, and when it is not fruitful or not really necessary. Not sure I can say what you ought to do, but at least know that there are plenty of stories in which people go through difficult transitions and find a more productive ministry setting.



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Travis Greene

posted October 27, 2008 at 11:14 am


Karl, Fair enough. But John is right that Willard and Wright in particular are very influential in the emerging conversation. You’re right, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re part of it, in the sense that they have owned the label (Is Wright aware of it at all, I wonder?).
I’m not sure why you think Brian McLaren and Dallas Willard, in particular, are so vastly different. I became aware of Willard through McLaren. That doesn’t mean he has Willard’s endorsement, of course, but when somebody’s footnotes are full of references to somebody else, it’s safe to assume they’re in some kind of same category.



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Jenn

posted October 27, 2008 at 11:50 am


Hello,
First and foremost, I am so sorry that you are dealing with this. It is so painful to feel rejected by your church, and to feel like you are fighting against them. My situtation is similar to yours, and I have often wondered if I should stay and try to change things, or if I should go.
Honestly, I don’t have an answer for you. A lot of it is going to depend on what God is calling you to do right now. Is there good that you can still do at your church? Are you called to help your church change? Can you be yourself at your church? For me, I do not feel like I can fully be myself at my church and that I can not fully express the gifts that God has given me, but I still feel like for a time, that I have something to offer to my church. My church isn’t the perfect fit for me, and I know that God has something else in store for me in the future, but for now, I have been called to this church and can both learn from them and teach them. Regardless of how healthy your church is, or how good of a fit it is for you, you have to listen to where God is calling you at this point in time and then figure out how to faithfully serve in the church you have been placed in. I’m sorry that this isn’t an easier answer.
One of the most helpful things that I’ve ever done in youth ministry is to join a youth pastor’s group. They have provided so much strength, encouragement and wisdom in times of difficulty. You’d be amazed how similar our stories are. You might want to call around to local churches and see if any of the other youth workers might be interested in meeting up for coffee once a month. It helps to just have somebody there to listen and to have people to bounce ideas off of.
Blessings!



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snc

posted October 27, 2008 at 11:53 am


I think you need to look at the big picture of that specific church, the specific denomination and specific nature of your theology and see what tensions you can and cannot live with. Once you determine what you can handle and if there is some support within your church and your denomination then there is hope to continue. If there are too many tension points, not enough support within the church and denomination, then its time to jump ship.



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BeckyR

posted October 27, 2008 at 11:59 am


When things get hard it’s an excellent opportunity to learn what “love one another” means. You should have a commitment to all who make up the body of this church, a commitment where leaving is the very last thing considered when attempts at loving have failed. People leave churches too easily when there’s a ocnflict rather than staying and growing in what it means to love one another.
Personally I’ve been in a house church for 31 yrs. Commitment to each other is stressed and working out a conflict when one comes up, rather than considering leaving since we have this commmitment. It’s afforded many times to grow up in loving one another, learning often the ocnflict stems from me rather than the other person I see as involved. That’s too true for other’s too.



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D C Cramer

posted October 27, 2008 at 12:11 pm


I think the way you frame the conversation or the language you use could be important here. For example, saying “all truth is contextual” could be taken in a metaphysical or an epistemological way. Taken metaphysically, it would affirm your pastor’s greatest fears: “My associate pastor is a postmodern relativist!” Taken epistemologically, it is an important, if not somewhat banal, affirmation that even your pastor would probably endorse: “We all perceive the Truth from the perspective of our own life situation or worldview.” Strictly speaking, then, Truth itself isn’t contextual, but the way it’s conveyed to us is.
Sorry if this is more theoretical than practical advice, but it could have practical application in terms of how you relate to your pastor and others.



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Mark Baker-Wright

posted October 27, 2008 at 12:16 pm


John W. Frye in #38,
I wonder if many are not confusing the vast emerging conversation with ???emergent church??? or ???emergent village.”
I’m inclined to agree, and indeed made sure I said “emerging” instead of “emergent” in my own remarks. Rather than focus on the distinction, however, or even who’s “in” and who’s “out,” re: “emerging,” I thought it important to get at some of the root ideas. In my opinion, if people mistrust “emerging” thoughts and/or label them as “liberal,” it’s because they don’t know what to do with nuanced thought.
I could be wrong, and would welcome debate on the issue. But it’s a trend that seems, to me at least, to be a persistent one.



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Rick

posted October 27, 2008 at 12:36 pm


DC #47-
You are right. Some heart to heart discussion about terms, definitions, and what are considered the “core” issues.
Mark Baker-Wright #48
In regards to the emergent/emerging confusion, it is this type of unfortunate broadbrushing that Scot, Dan Kimball, Erwin McManus, etc… appear to be trying to avoid with their developing network.



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Glen

posted October 27, 2008 at 12:39 pm


I can totally relate to your struggle. I work for one of the largest bastions of modern North American evangelicalism. As I have delved into the writings of McKnight, McLaren, Willard, Wright and others in the emerging movement, my theoligical convictions have shifted to the point where they are no longer compatible with my employer.
Until I am able to find another job, I will continue to focus on the things we agree on and let those be my motivation in my day-to-day work. But constantly feeling like I’ve got to keep my true beliefs a secret from everyone around me has become too difficult to let it go on for too much longer. Change is tough though; jobs don’t grow on trees.
Anyway, being in the same boat as you means I don’t have much advice to offer, but I just wanted to let you know that you’re not alone in your struggle. I pray that God plants you in the right place – whether it’s in a new church where you can explore these ideas with more freedom, or whether it’s staying in your current church as a much-needed reformer.



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Ben Wheaton

posted October 27, 2008 at 5:12 pm


Mark # 48-
Beware of making the mistake of thinking that anyone who disagrees with you about the value or correctness of Wright, Kimball, McManus et al. are just anti-intellectual or stupid; that way lies madness, and does the debate no good at all. Have a little respect for your opponents, please.



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john

posted October 27, 2008 at 5:23 pm


I agree with Glen above…although I question some of Mclaren’s ideas and think he may be too edgy.
I think that this young man has some reason to be concerned…but one has to choose the battles they are willing to die for. There are some ideas that I have that I can’t go public with because they would be too radical to some.



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Duane

posted October 27, 2008 at 6:27 pm


My first thought is, “Get a case or two of ‘The Blue Parakeet’ and hand them out to to these detractors with a challenge to them that they read it with an open mind.”
Then, after reading the post I read from a devotional I am currently going through, “The Word Made Flesh,” by E. Stanley Jones and this just leaped off the page and stuck with me all day, so for whatever it is worth, take courage from this:
“Jesus did not say, ???I am the answer,??? as we often say in slogans: ???Christ is the answer.??? No, he is the Way to the answer. If a teacher would give the answer to pupils studying arithmetic, would that help? No, it would weaken. Instead of giving the answer, the teacher gives the way to find the answer. The pupils themselves can find the answer if they know the way. So Jesus does not give us ready-made answers. That would weaken us. Instead he gives us the Way???the Way to find all answers. Take his way, and the answers come out of the Way. Apply his method. His Spirit, his Way to any situation and you have the answer. So he doesn???t give answers, he gives the Way to answers.
“And Jesus doesn???t give Truth???he gives the Way to find Truth. If you take his Way, you will find the Truth. The Truth isn???t something handed to you in a neat bundle tied in a blue ribbon. It is something discovered as you follow the Way. After I was converted I went to the public library and took out a book on the philosophy of religion???I thought this would explain what I had found. I didn???t know what it was talking about. I gave it up after some pages and handed it back. I learned that my feet were on the Way and, therefore, I would discover Truth as I followed the Way. So I have been discovering Truth as a Life process. Truth has been and still is an exciting discovery as I follow the Way. It unfolds.”
Your students are very fortunate.



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Mike F

posted October 27, 2008 at 8:38 pm


As far as contextual truth, remember that all biblical authors and individual biblical books, though unique with different “contexts” for conveying truth, are part of a larger canon. Though your church probably has a canon within the canon, as most churches and Christians do (whether intentional or not), the entire canon is the repository of God’s Word, His authoritative message. Although you might have your own perception of what “contextual” and “in tension” mean, for others (possibly your pastor) it may sound like your pitting books, authors, or verses against each other. True, the Bible has tensions, but there’s a more constructuve way to handle this than to call them “tensions.” You should point out that there’s a reason Job makes counterclaims to what Deuteronomy teaches, and that there’s a reason Ecclesiastes sees work as meaningless while Proverbs celebrates the value of hard work. Trust me, kids are going to have their faith challenged apart from you. Your job is to build them up. I’ll leave the emergent examples for people who know far more about them than I do, but please be careful about bringing up contradictions or verses in tension just to point out that the Bible is not an easy book, or that faith is more difficult than it appears on the surface. Kids will learn this without a church leader, trust me. Make sure YOU know why the Bible has these tensions before you raise questions you might not be able to answer. Surely the Hebrews who canonized the Old Testament and memorized all of its content were not bothered by your tensions. And surely those who canonized the New Testament (don’t worry, I believe the Holy Spirit was a vital part of the process) new about the passages YOU see in tension.
So hang in there, and be sure to listen to your pastor with an ear for wisdom before dismissing him as someone who merely does not understand. That door needs to swing both ways, with the old listening to the young, and the young learning from the old.
Mike



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Rachel H. Evans

posted October 27, 2008 at 9:42 pm


Pastor – Thank you for sharing your story. I appreciate your honesty and openness to input.
I don’t have much experience in church leadership, but I can certainly relate to the whole “time vacuum” situation. It can be frustrating when you feel like you are encountering all of these new ideas, only to meet with passionate opposition from folks who haven’t even bothered reading the books or studying the issues.
Honestly, I think that if you are in your twenties, you may want to pull away and give yourself some space to breathe. It’s hard to really think and grow amidst pressure to please and perform.
I recently left my home church because I found out that my book was getting published by a major Christian publisher. It’s a bit of a spiritual memoir with some Emerging themes. I wanted to be able to write freely without worrying about how the book might be received by the congregation and without threatening to divide the church.
Perhaps, as a young teacher, you might want to find a place where you don’t have to walk on eggshells all the time, and where you will not inadvertently threaten the peace among fellow believers. I think that new ideas like these are often better received when they come from longtime senior pastors than when they come from feisty young “liberals” like us! :)
Many blessings!



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J Ted

posted October 28, 2008 at 10:07 am


Looks like I´m a day late to the conversation, but I wanted to say one thing, as someone who could have written this same letter a year ago, almost word for word.
Be careful not to put faith in labels. Unless you can say you agree with everything that has been thought or said that involved the world “emerg…” than you shouldn´t let people label you as such. Labels make it easy for us to lump people into piles, but in reality they only complicate relationships. Also be careful not to think of your brothers and sisters at your church as any one label, even if they do fall into that catagory 99 percent of the time.
My “advice”: stand up in all the appropriate places and proudly announce you are not an Emergent or Emerging, you´re just a guy trying to do the best you can to follow Jesus, and sometimes that looks like this and sometimes it looks like that. And don´t stop teaching.



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Mark Baker-Wright

posted October 28, 2008 at 11:59 am


Ben in #51,
Beware of making the mistake of thinking that anyone who disagrees with you about the value or correctness of Wright, Kimball, McManus et al. are just anti-intellectual or stupid; that way lies madness, and does the debate no good at all. Have a little respect for your opponents, please.
I actually tried to word my response carefully enough so that it was clear that this was the impression I was being given, rather than it actually being the reality. To the extent I failed in that, I apologize.
That said, I do remain concerned that anti-intellectualism is the cause of a lot of this distrust. I do not, however, claim that this is always the cause.



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Mark Baker-Wright

posted October 28, 2008 at 12:03 pm


Re: my own remarks above
There’s no way to adequately make a case in such a short comment, but I would also wish to assert that I have reasons for concerns of anti-intellectualism that go beyond the mere fact of disagreement.
But, yes, my earlier statement WAS to far-sweeping. I didn’t mean to make it so.



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Drew

posted October 28, 2008 at 4:14 pm


I would be interested to hear where you ground your belief that all truth is contextual. That is a pretty bold thing to say without some grounding or explanation behind it.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted October 29, 2008 at 3:49 am


This is a tough one. With the good counsel Scot has given you this morning, I might add that we need to be sure ourselves that we’re committed to God in Jesus and to Scripture and orthodoxy as the viable expression of that, so that we’re not about defending a movement. In doing that, it’s not to say we can’t find good things in it, and even identify with it, to some extent. But that our commitment is to God in Jesus and to God’s word.



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Warren E. Hicks

posted October 29, 2008 at 12:25 pm


Re: Mike & #23
I resonate with both of his comments. My pastoral theology professor in seminary used to say, “Show me the date of the newest book on a pastor’s shelf and I’ll be able to tell you when his growth in ministry stopped.” I chuckled a bit at first and then began noticing my bookshelves (not even 8 years after ordination) and found that I needed to carve out time to be well-read in what’s coursing through the veins of all segments of the Church (and by that I mean Christ’s Body in the world).
It was through this that I have found new partners and travelers on the Way of Jesus. Folks like Scot McKnight, Dallas Willard, N.T. Wright, Rowan Williams, Brian McLaren and others. I also found that there is a timelessness with the work of folks in emergent that I had a memory of. That memory has sent me back to folks like Karl Rahner, Teilhard de Chardin and others. I have found that they were pointing the Church to look at the same horizons 30 years and more ago.
My short answer is don’t stop learning in order to keep teaching. The heart of God speaks to our hearts with sighs to deep for words. The timelessness of truth finds its way through every imperfect vessel.
On the practical side, connections as mentioned elsewhere, with other folks of a more ‘orthodox’ stripe on the blog provide for credibility.
With such thoughtful questions and concerns about the souls you’ve been given in stewardship, I’d say those souls are blessed to have a companion like you, for however long.
To quote Julian, “All Will be Well, and in all manner of things, all will be well.” Blessings on your ministry, wherever it may be.



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Anonymous

posted November 1, 2008 at 7:17 am


Around the horn (10/26-11/1) « Zoo Station

[...] Over at the Jesus Creed Scot McKnight received a letter from an emerging pastor,? and then responded: [...]



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