Interview with Brian McLaren

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Today I want to offer you a glimpse of an Interview with Brian McLaren that appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette. To appreciate what McLaren is doing here, you have to understand the tightrope he’s walking between his proponents and detractors. It’s a very delicate thing. But he threads the needle with such panache (to mix a metaphor), I just thought this portion really bore special mention:

Gazette: Some evangelical leaders say that the emergent church may be too “relative,” and it doesn’t place enough emphasis on the black-and-white tenets of the faith. How would you answer?

McLaren: "The philosophical issues [in determining whether the emergent church movement accepts the existence of absolute, objective truth] are quite complex — more complex than many people realize. For people unaccustomed to those levels of philosophical complexity, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that if some of us don’t use some of the expected code words that they do, that means we’ve crossed over to the dark side. Many of us feel that we need to risk being misunderstood and misjudged in this way by our Christian brothers and sisters because we want to address the questions and concerns of our non-Christian friends and neighbors.

"As for black-and-white tenets of faith, speaking for myself, I gladly affirm the ancient creeds of the church and celebrate the value of Scripture, and although I’m not a very good Christian — meaning that I have many faults and failures — I seek with all my heart to live by the message and example of Christ. I’ve sensed this same commitment in all of the emergent folk I know, but I’m sure there may be a few exceptions — just as there are among any group."

To rephrase, in order to be relevant to the world in which we live, many people feel it’s worth appearing compromised to mainstream Evangelical culture. Is it "compromising" not to use Christianese? Is it compromising to wear the clothes of the culture? Is it compromising to reject the "added things"—the things that distinguish us in appearance and speech that many Evangelicals have elevated to a place of prominence they never deserved?

What a wonderful testimony to Christianity.

Of course, part of what I’m noticing in McLaren’s responses is an ability to appreciate political things, a realm I have consciously stayed out of for most of my life. But the other reason this is so encouraging to me is because it means that even in "the Evangelical Vatican" a significant portion of people obviously find the emergent conversation intriguing. Whether or not they’re also inclined to the emergent sentiment isn’t as clear, but it’s exciting because many times I feel like the clueless guy at the cocktail party. I look around and wonder what I’m doing here. I find myself jumping off that tightrope to spar with the spectators simply to prove I’m not one of the polished, legalistic safety-mongers—or whatever. I stick my foot in my mouth—a lot. Almost intentionally, it seems, at times. So my respect for McLaren and those so skilled on that tightrope is very large.

And speaking of, here are a few more, highlighted in this month’s Celebration of New Christian Fiction over at Jeanne Damoff’s blog. (Nice transition, eh? I’m embarassed.) Thanks, Jeanne! And thanks, Pat Loomis, for getting it going. Any of you with blogs who’d like to join in, send any of us an email. We’re going to make this thing huge.

Walk on, friends.

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19 thoughts on “Interview with Brian McLaren”

  1. Aw, don’t be embarrassed, Mick. I think your transition is just dandy.
    I appreciate McLaren’s sincere efforts at diplomacy. Wouldn’t it be nice if we’d all remember that God is fully capable of guarding His own glory and perfecting His bride? Maybe we’d quit being paranoid and start learning from each other.
    Ah, well. One can dream.
    Have a “dreamy” day. ;)

  2. i’m so glad there are those willing to walk the tightrope, mick. the foot in the mouth thing is a fact of life, i do it aplenty. i’ve always said, if i smile wide enough, i can get both feet in. and i try. to smile that is.
    when i read mclaren’s books, i finally felt like someone understood. like i wasn’t alone on the planet. i joined a pomo discussion group online and got gutted like a fish by the theologians. something to remember is this pomo stuff is pulling in a lot of people who don’t want to be theologians, but still want to be involved in the discussion. without using ten dollar words.
    sigh,
    suz

  3. “Is it ‘compromising’ not to use Christianese? Is it compromising to wear the clothes of the culture?”
    I have no problems with throwing off the trappings of the 21st century Evangelical sub-culture. However, I wonder if the Emerging Church movement is simply exchanging one culture and one kind of Christianese for another, more “relevant” dialect.
    There is a rich, churchly tradition to some strands of Protestantism that both the Evangelicals and the Emerging Church folks seem to have forgotten or ignored. It is probably most richly and clearly seen in the tradition of the Westminster Standards, although I would argue that confessional Baptists have a bit of this as well.
    McLaren and company are making their stand on the ancient creeds. But on their journey back through history, it seems that they missed the exit for the Reformation, and this is truly a pity.

  4. Kyle,
    That’s interesting. Can you elaborate? What in particular are you suggesting that the Reformation might add to augment McLaren’s perspective?

  5. Perhaps the biggest benefit of tapping into the Reformation is that you benefit from the wealth of their theological reflection. As I said before, you get wonderful summaries of this in documents such as the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Savoy Declaration, and the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith. In these documents you have the encapsulation of the best of protestant theology. Referrring back to the ancient creeds is great, but why stop there when you can utlize Protestantism’s rich history of salvation of grace alone?
    Secondly, tapping into the Reformation would help McLaren’s cause by getting you back past Fundamentalism’s 20th century follies to a comprehensive expression of the Christian faith. You escape the bad kinds of Christianese by embracing the historic language of the Protestant faith.
    Acknowledging the Reformation is also an honest recognition that American Protestantism came from somewhere, historically speaking. It is not as if you have the Ancient Creeds, two-thousand years of church history, and then springs the Emergent Church movement out of nowhere. The Reformers were self-consciously expanding on the church Fathers (Calvin was constantly quoting Augustine, for example) and the ancient creeds, so it seems sensible to take advantage of their theological expansion on these themes. Doing so would ground contemporary Christians in a historical tradition and also equip them with a well-developed understanding of the Christian faith.
    Finally, certain strands of the Reformation produced very helpful ecclessiology. The Presbyterian and Baptist Ecclesiology of Britain had a very clear view of the church’s role in society. The Church is a spiritual organization whose responsibilities are summed up in two calls: to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments. I think this would produce a helpful corrective to the Emergent Church’s confusion. For instance, what business does Ecclesia in Houston have running a coffee shop and an art gallery? A dose of Reformation Ecclesiology would focus the energies and work of contemporary churches by urging them to focus on their proper rolls which Christ, the head of the church, instituted.
    Those are a few of the ways I think that the Reformation could help the Emerging Church, and, for that matter, any contemporary church. There is a great ministry of some Baptists in Washington, DC who are attempting to apply and live the Christian faith and ecclesiology as understood by the Reformers: http://www.9marks.org/

  6. Hi. Short intro first: I started out at Daniel B. Clendenin’s site and got a link to Zoecarnate Link Portal, then looked in the section for Writer’s Resources and found this blog. After looking at your list of posts and books on the right, I realized that I needed to bookmark you and keep coming back. I too am a writer and since I live in America, it behooves me to figure out how to “earn a living” being thus. I need all the help I can get, ‘specially if I want to survive writing about what I love and understand.
    SO! I am an emerger. I converse with other emergers. I’m a regular poster over at Jason Clark’s blog who is just a great guy and Pastor and Brit and emerging mover and shaker. I am exposed to most of the inside stuff when I read him and use his links. With this background, I feel okay conversing on this issue. I know that I can speak for many (not all!) when I say that:
    Kyle,
    The choir you’re preaching to has left the building. Many of the post-reformation, post-evangelicals that inhabit the emerging church have already been there and done that for longer than you or I have. Some for longer than you may have been alive (I’m 42, so I can’t say if they were there THAT long!).
    For some who didn’t grow up with the Reformation, you have something important to add and the conversation is such that it’s already being done. But for many, what you’re offering has been a ball and chain to them and they’ve already suffered much to get free. The corrective measures that you’re suggesting used to be their main coordinates too, but since those coordinates didn’t get the ships to the right planet, they have decided to make some drastic course corrections. Don’t mistake their course corrections for mistaken coordinates.
    What many people don’t realize is that most emergers are retaining most of their essential, core doctrinal beliefs but are rejecting alot of unessential and extraneous stuff. People who are used to being loyal to denominations don’t realize how much stuff is extra. Luther, one of the earliest Captains of the Starship “Reformation”, was good about keeping that idea in mind as he boldly went… In this sense, we are very, very much in the spirit of the Reformation and indebted to him.
    Also like Luther, we are attempting as much as possible – even when threatened – to remain within the expressions which have nurtured us over our lives, while trying to make a space for some changes.
    We are so incredibly Reformation-like, in fact, that the Orthodox have basically dismissed us as a flash in their very, very, very old pan and don’t see the difference between what we’re doing and what all the denominational splitters have done throughout the ages since Luther. This is particularly sad since more than nearly any other ecclisiastical expression ever, emergers appreciate the Eastern Orthodox expression deeply and want to gain from their experience and tradition.
    Which brings me to the next point. While we are burning off much unnecessary extra stuff, we are also adding on alot of stuff. Even unnecessary extra stuff! This commonly confuses people. If we’re not trying to become the denominational converts of others, then we must be nibbling and treating the borrowed stuff as trivial and only for show. Neither is true.
    We are not adding in the spirit of “this should now be the correct and sure expression of the orriginal and transcendent Christianity of Jesus”. The adding is more about respecing the other half of the transaction of Faith. Our side. The human side. The God side is transcendent and solid and unchanging and eternal and all that neat stuff. But there IS also a human side and it is not transcendent or stable or unchanging or any of those other things that we are SO GLAD that GOD is. The human element is always changing, AND the human element is unchangingly important.
    We dumped stuff which was being used in the spirit of trying to make humans transcendent like God, and picked stuff up that could be valued without that extra “Job’s friends” attitude. Everyone’s favorite extra doctrines have been abused and used as tools to try and make humans unchanging and permanently correct. Everyone’s. No one is exempt. The idea of certainty is so alluring. We so love control and hate it when we can’t predict or understand what God is doing. But emergers are heroically trying to keep the value of various doctrines while not abusing them. Pray for us.
    I began to read the Westminster Confession on the Bible and immediately ran into what has become, trouble. If you want I could elaborate.
    http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=westminster_conf_of_faith.html

  7. Whitewave (is that the name I should use?),
    As you might suspect, what I’m interested in is not so much embodying “the spirit” of the Reformation or of the Reformers. If I were advocating that, then I could probably find bits of the Reformation under every revolutionary stone. Though I certainly respect and want to cultivate the attitude of courage and commitment to the truth, what I am more concerned to promote, at least here, are the theological and ecclesiological doctrines proclaimed by the Reformers, specifically the Calvinist (as opposed to the Lutheran) strand of the Reformation.
    I assume that you are correct in your observation that many emerging church folks have had some exposure to Reformed doctrines and have found it unsatistfactory for one reason or another. But that doesn’t deter me very much. I’d would like to know why they thought it was wrong and why they sought the truth elsewhere. I’d like to know what they understood “Reformed” to mean.
    You made this observation: “What many people don’t realize is that most emergers are retaining most of their essential, core doctrinal beliefs but are rejecting alot of unessential and extraneous stuff. People who are used to being loyal to denominations don’t realize how much stuff is extra.”
    What is the “extraneous stuff” of which you speak? I think this might be a critical issue. American Evangelicals are now part of an ingrained tradition of thought which says the way you do church is “extraneous” to the Scriptures. This means that the church can be marketed and grown like a business. From what I see, the emerging church hasn’t really broken from this tradition at all. They may not be trying to build the mega-church, but the basic mindset seems very similar.
    For example, in my hometown of Houston, Texas there are several famous churches. Two well-known ones are Second Baptist (a Southern Baptist Megachurch) and Ecclesia (which I believe is a key player in the emergent movement). I imagine that Second Baptist and Ecclesia see themselves as worlds apart from each other. But there are some similarities. They both seem to have a certain group targeted for ministry. Second has the white, upper-middle class, SUV-driving family in its sites. Ecclesia is trying to reach the pomo generation, the artists, and the alternative crowd. Both have taken great ecclesiological liberties to do so. Second Baptist has a health club, a lunch cafe and three different campuses accross the city. Ecclesia runs a coffee shop and an art gallery. Though they may look completely different, the similarities are actually rather startling. What drives the differences is that they have different demographic concerns, not different philosophies of ministry or doctrines of the church.
    The Reformed corrective is that the doctrine of the church is not extraneous. It is prescribed. The Church is a spiritual institution. It is to have pastors and elders and exercise church disipline. It is to administer the sacraments. Most of all, it is to preach the gospel. The church is not to print political fliers, run coffee shops, or health clubs. I would even argue against church-run schools. The church is an congregation of the faithful, placed by God on earth to spread the message of redemption.
    So whether folks in the emergent movement are acquainted with the Reformation or not, my message doesn’t change much. For the uninformed, I want to be the picketer out front with a provocative sign. And for those who are running away from the Reformation, I want to be the annoying pebble in their shoe. The Reformation is worth at least a second look.

  8. Kyle,
    Yeah, Whitewave’s my name. Actually it’s the meaning of my “name”. I like meaning.
    I’m already assuming that you think we’ve rejected doctrine that you think is essential. I’m offering you the opportunity to agree to disagree about which doctrine is essential and which isn’t. We’re gonna disagree. Not just me and you. But all sorts of emergers and you.
    Have you asked your questions of those involved in Ecclesia? It sounds like you won’t have far to travel to do so? If I were you, I would be straight with them and let them know exactly why you think that they are doing something Unbiblical or something the church isn’t supposed to do, and then converse with them about it. I think I know what’s going on, because yeah, I have heard about them, but you would be far better served if you go straight to the source.
    I’m thinking Calvin was a behemoth of a cultural force in his day. Didn’t he basically single handedly govern the town of Geneva for a long time? Do I have that right? It seems to me that he was going against some very entrenched and dominant forces there to protect women from physically abusive situations. That takes the kind of willpower that is rarely ascribed to one man alone. It’s hard to change the world.
    He was a very strong, controling, catagorizing and organizing force. He was not a Gary-grey-area. His life seemed to have been given to him to swallow up all fuzzies and relatives and situationals “in victory”, and his aristocratic upbringing and privaleged education focussed that force. Much of what he was reacting against was not documented or preserved because of danger to his person, so we are not able to see how he arived at many of his ideas. We only see the end results. That’s all that mattered in that day. Argument and law were all about defensible positions of power – even though Jesus didn’t operate that way. It makes sense that he would think all of his ideas (many of which had not been necessary to distinguish in Jesus’ day for some reason) were vital. And it makes sense that others who were surfing the same cultural waves would see it that way too.
    The purest Gospel (GOOD news) is plain to a child. But TULIP is not. A child will not be able to grasp why those ideas are okay. Similar to the concept of abortion; it cannot be explained to an 8 year old boy that if he doesn’t decide to acceptjesuschristashispersonallordandsavior that not only will he not go to heaven, but he was never meant to go to heaven – actually created to go to hell instead. No matter how many already saved, grown up and educated heads offer excuses as to why that makes sense – it could never be convincingly argued that Jesus would think or say such a thing. Never. It is an abomination.
    But it is a necessary piece in Calvin’s economy of salvation, and so a part of what might be essential for you. I’m glad that it will all make sense for you. But pure Calvinism, like Pharaseeism, will create orphans like the woman at the well and so many others, and someone has to scoop them up and take care of them. I stand with the orphans. And I think Jesus would too.
    “For the uninformed, I want to be the picketer out front with a provocative sign. And for those who are running away from the Reformation, I want to be the annoying pebble in their shoe.”
    You have just made the next statement completely untrue for emergers.
    “The Reformation is worth at least a second look.”
    For the most of us, we have absolutely no desire to associate with anything that makes us picketers, provocative or annoying. Is that what the Reformation turned you into, or were you that way before you met the Reformation and you just haven’t been transformed yet?

  9. Whitewave,
    I thought those metaphors might come off a little harsh. I’m not trying to be grumpy for the sake of being grumpy. But I think we would all recognize that there is a time for picketing (e.g., when the weak are being abused) and even a stone in the shoe can be an opportunity to stop and see something beautiful.
    By bringing up the Reformation and Calvin, it wasn’t my intention to get into a discusion of Reformed soteriology (though I do believe in those doctrines). My goal is actually to point up the ecclesiology of the Reformers. Their doctrine of the church I believe is one that American Christians have forgotten. We began to first leave it when we embraced revivalism in the 18th and 19th centuries, and in the twentieth century we forgot it altogether.
    The reason I think this is so important is because it highlights the ministry of the Word as that which sustains the believer, comforts the suffereing, and gives strength to the weak. There are a million different social needs which the church could spend its time addressing. And I certainly believe that Christians (though not necessarily the Church – an important distinction) should be on the cutting edge of addressing those needs. But the church’s mission is a spiritual one.
    This doctrine of the church was born out of the turmoil of the British Reformation of the 17th century, and this is what I am trying to highlight. This is not because I think that 21st century people are exactly the same as those who inhabited 17th century. I understand that we must minister the gospel in the historical moment in which God has placed us. But I believe that the most effective way of doing this, and more importantly, the most biblical way, is for the church to focus on its unique calling to preach the word of God and administer the sacraments. No other organization on earth has this responsibility. Homeless shelters and city governments aren’t supposed to preach. That’s the church’s job. And vice versa, the church’s role is not to provide affordable housing or run a soup kitchen. Groups of Christians may decide to do those things, which is great, but it’s not the church’s role.
    So these are the lost doctrines I would like to see the emerging church, and the evangelical megachurches, and all other churches grapple with. There needs to be some serious thought put into what the Scriptures prescribe for the church.
    You raise many other issues, which I’m happy to discuss further, but they would take us in a different direction. The Reformation has not turned me into a harsh, modernist meanie, though perhaps I have come across that way. As a matter of fact, the truth of Reformed theology humbles me every day with the immensity of God’s love for me and his church.
    To bring us back to the point though, this issue of ecclesiology is something we grapple with every day. I read on your blog about the turmoil you went through regarding your son’s recent baptism. That is an ecclesiological question. And it is one that has a long tradition of Protestant history. These are the kinds of areas where our tradition can help us along. Whether you end up siding with the Baptists or Presbyterians, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Church history gives us the opportunity to peer into the hearts and minds of godly Christians as they meditate on the thorny issues of practical Christianity. I find this a great blessing, and I think the church at large would benefit greatly by recovering these historical and theological moorings.

  10. Hi, sorry it took so long to get back. Too hard to concentrate when my kids are here.
    Thanks for coming down of the horse. I don’t like gettin’ all riled up. Let’s be humans. And yes, there is a place and time for drawing swords, but this ain’t it. And the FIGHT CLUB method has its place too, but only when one of the participants refuses to stop taking pot-shots. Then they need to be taken down quick before they ruin the whole exchange. Drawn out boxing matches are not for Christians.
    Okay. One of your first points in your second post was this:
    “Referring back to the ancient creeds is great, but why stop there when you can utlize Protestantism’s rich history of salvation of grace alone?”
    Emergent Church is not trying to completely pull away from other expressions or deny the truth of all those other expressions. It is not trying to become a new denomination. If you know the story of St. Francis at all (and I’m sure there are other stories like his), you know that he didn’t want to start a new sect, he just wanted to do things differently. The idea of marrying Lady Poverty was not in the lexicon. He was scrutinized. But in the end, he was left to do his thing in peace because it didn’t really threaten anyone else, it only added another language for the expression of God and it attracted and encouraged those who had become disenchanted with the constant cultural pressure of wealth and position. The Pope saw God working in this pathetic wretch of a man even though he was despised by the folk who had become all caught up with the idea of God blessing the “faithful” with wealth (or actually the wealthy with faith…). All the Church’s highest positions were filled with the wealthy and they hated Francis because his mere existence exposed their sickness. But the Pope loved him for that very quality.
    This kind of purging must happen in the Church from time to time. It’s time for another round. It’s not a threat to denominations that are really moving God through to the people. But it will expose the sickness where it hides. It behooves the truly faithful to let God do His surgery.
    What you call a “rich history” is being packaged and sold to you as a product right now. Who is paying for your education? Whoever it is, they are literally “buying” this pretty package. If it weren’t pretty, it wouldn’t be as competitive in the religious education market. Folks want more glorious and victorious Faith for their dollar. And the schools must provide. Academia is sick with the sickness.
    I’m not saying this to accuse them of lying to you. I’m pointing this out to let you know that emergers are not as sold out to the American marketing system as you think, and you yourself may be more involved than you know. Part of the reason emergers emerged out from the mega-church thing is because we began to smell it. We caught the odor wafting through the gi-nourmous structures like the smell of the roasting flesh of unclean animals – and it followed us to our safe and secure houses in our SUV’S and hung about our expensive clothes as we went to work at our omni-consuming-product-producing jobs. The smell is everywhere. And like a smell, if you never smell anything else – after a while, you don’t notice it anymore. Just like Francis’ Parents and friends.
    We’ve stripped naked in the village square and given back all the stuff that is constantly being packaged and traded and said, “The Creed is all we need. God will provide the rest. Thank you. We’ll be fine.”
    Francis remained a Catholic and answered to the Roman hierarchy. That didn’t change. But his time and energy were radically freed to do other things besides perpetuate the surrounding economic sickness of his culture and times. There is only a partial division, not a full division. And likewise there is only partial conformity, not full conformity.
    The more I think about it, the more I think it’s really best to view the movement as an Order and its statements as a Rule in the monastic sense. Have you read this thing here?:
    http://www.emergentvillage.com/Site/Belong/Order/index.htm
    It’s really quite clean and sweet. Short. It’s no Westminster Confession. If this doesn’t conflict with your own denomination’s stuff, then even you could be an emerger. Heck, you might have emergers hiding in your pews right now.

  11. Thanks for posting the link. It was helpful to get a grasp of your core principles. However, after reading it I’m coming to the conclusion that I am not fluent in emergent-ese. For instance, the term “deep ecclesiology” is meaningless to me. This is how the Order puts it:
    “We are committed to honor and serve the church in all its forms – Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal. We practice “deep ecclesiology” – rather than favoring some forms of the church and critiquing or rejecting others, we see that every form of the church has both weaknesses and strengths, both liabilities and potential.”
    From what I can gather, this “deep ecclesiology” consists of two doctrines: (1) Be inolved in some way with a local congregation of Christians. (2) Have an irenic spirit.
    I certainly agree with those doctrines, but they leave a lot of questions unanswered. Are we to prefer a church government with a heirarchical authority or a more democratic system? Should women be elders and pastors? Should infants be baptized? Should we baptize at all? What should churches do? Should they meet on Sundays and sing songs and have a sermon, or should church be more like a book club?
    I’m guessing that the emergent answer to these questions is that they don’t intend to answer them. They are not a denomination. So is the ideal emergent Christian one who is not a member of an emergent church, but rather a member of a Roman Catholic church or a Presbyterian church? Working with whichever system they find themselves? I’m very confused at this point.
    At the very least, it does concern me that any Christian movement would devalue ecclesiology to the point of making it irrelevant. I don’t know how else to describe the emergent movement’s positoin on this. The Order makes it clear that there is not one right way to “do church.” The implication is that the Scriptures don’t speak to these issues, and emergent Christians shouldn’t concern themselves with such trivialities. The “deep ecclesiology” of the Order seems to amount to a non-ecclesiology.
    I think my feeling on this is similar to the one expressed by Walter toward the Nihilists in the Coen brothers’ “The Big Labowski,” “Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism, but at least it’s an ethos.”

  12. I told them that they needed to do something about those dang e-terms! I wrote a long critique on the Rule back in January:
    http://emergent.typepad.com/jasonclark/2005/01/emergent_rule.html#comments
    I’m confused about why you’re confused. Why is it difficult to understand why they are not picking doctrines out of a line? They are not interested in building a strong team and joining the league so they can play ball with other christians. They are not interested in impressing you or any other champion of denominational purity. Jesus wasn’t either. Why is this so hard to understand? Don’t you see how much of the Church’s time and energy this wastes? The Devil just lays around and sucks on this and nourishes himself with it like a giant tit – and we are the ever-full, lactating provider.
    If you, being a champion, feel the need to pronounce that we don’t have an ecclesiology (which as an Order, wouldn’t be our place to begin with) and dismiss us, then have at it. But you would be wrong. You would be building a straw man and knocking him down and ignorance would rule the day. Shallow treatments do not make us smarter.
    The Identity of this group is not like the Identity of a Denomination. That’s not how the boundaries lie. Think outside the box. If you just can’t or won’t do that, then I hope God moves through you and into the hearts of the lost, in Jesus’ Name.

  13. The specific confusion I was referring to is whether the ideal emergent church member is a member of an “emergent church” or is a member of any old church. The existence of “emergent churches” like Cedar Ridge and Ecclesia seems to indicate the former is the ideal, but the Order makes me think its the latter. The answer to this question has some big implications, because if the goal is that emergent people organize in their own specific “emergent church” congregations, then you have to come to some decision about how these churches should be ordered and so on. You just can’t get away from it. (And you may have inadvertently created a new denomination).
    I don’t really see how it is very helpful or insightful to say that Jesus was not concerned about denominational purity or impressing me. Jesus wasn’t concerned about postmodernism either, but that hardly amounts to a reason for Christians to ignore it today.
    Jesus was concerned about the purity of individual churches, at least. Remember the instructions he gives in Matthew 18 about what you should do if a brother sins against you? As Christians get together in churches and try to figure out how they will order themselves, I assume that they would look to this passage and others like it to determine what kinds of things the church should do. And that is what they have done in the past: The doctrine of church discipline holds that the church as a whole should challenge unrepentant sin in the hope that a loving rebuke will bring the fallen saint back to Christ.
    So this is one example of a doctrine within ecclesiology that I believe is important, and I believe that Jesus thought it was important. What does the emergent movement do with this? I can think of a few possible answers, but I’m not sure which one is closest to the emergent position.
    1. We are an Order, not a church, if churches want to practice church discipline then that is fine, but it is not in our purview.
    2. In emergent congregations we practice church discipline because we see that Jesus taught it.
    3. In emergent congregations we do not choose to practice church discipline because we are all fallen and broken people and we do not believe it is our place to exclude anyone from the communion of God.
    Maybe none of those are right. Does this make sense?

  14. Sorry. I’m trying to calm down now. I have emailed “Emergent Village” and asked them to put a glossary onto that document and at least consider some of the advice that I had suggested back in January. I don’t see how using esoteric terminology is going to do anything but generate more heat and less light in the coming clash.
    I can’t offer you the original definition of the term “deep ecclesiology”. All I can tell you is that I “get” what they’re doing, I fully recognise its value, I agree with it and I wanna do it too with some intentionality. So I will attend to your last query as best I can.
    The word “Church” has several meanings
    1. A building where Christians gather to worship God on their designated days and times and with designated rituals and ceremonies.
    2. People who believe that Jesus is God and rescues them from their destruction and the other stuff in the Creeds.
    3. Christians who Identify with one particular brand of Christianity and gather with others of their own brand to worship God in buildings. The question “Where do you go to Church?” or “Which Church do you go to?” usually means this one.
    If emerging church is an Order, then it is most likely begining by Identifying with #2. It is generic and stripped down, but it leaves the choices about things such as Church discipline up to the individual emerger.
    An emerger may take up added doctrine in their expression of #3 Church while keeping the emergent value in mind that this distinctive must not be abused or used to control the non-essential ideals of people. Because abuse of power is a big problem and can easily cause more problems than it solves. So he will be careful about it. Is there any way that this could be a threat to all that is good and true? No.
    But it might be a problem if a “church” requires an elder to discipline a family for refusing to have their infant baptized or refusing to punish their teenaged daughter for dying her hair cranberry red. If that is what is required from an emerger elder, he will most likely pull out of eldership at that point. I’m not telling you that’s a rule that we follow, it’s a judgment call that might come up for an emerger and I’m making an educated guess as to what he might do.
    Church discipline is really important, but also has been really abused historically. We are making corrective moves on anything that could be used as a power play to enforce non-essentials like that.
    Matthew 18’s simple outline has never been used by any “church” that I have ever attended, but if it had, I might still be happily married. There are plenty of denominations that are happy to crack the whip, but they do so about the wrong issues. For them it’s about dominating the weak. When it comes to bringing real resolution to real problems within marital conflict, then no one knows what they’re doing and few will know when and where to apply the pressure. In the absense of intelligence, bumbling ruled the day and we became a statistic.
    when you put your question in terms of looking for the ideal that is helpful for me. I understand that quest real well.
    In my early years of being a christian, I knew that Jesus and the Church were not the same thing and that alot of what was happening in Churches would offend Him. I was an idealist about Jesus and wanted to practice Early Church Christianity, but never heard of any reliable Bible-teaching denominations that had that same ideal. I languished alone and read my Bible and listened to the radio.
    As the years passed and I became involved with attending church, so I was submerged in all the marketing and advertizing for doctrines and ideal images. It was all swirling around me and there was really little else being traded in conversation besides “How’s work?” and “Whatcha been up to?” Because I was starving so badly I started to eat the dirt – just like a starving african. Soon, I too was piling more and more doctrine on top of my Core Faith.
    My personality doesn’t aim the gun out at others, it aims it back towards me. So instead of looking at others and determining whether they were True Believers or not, all the demands that all that extra stuff put on the christian person started to weigh ME down and I became worth less and less.
    When I read the stories of how Jesus responded to the common people who were weighed down by all the super-religious demands that the Temple gate-keepers put on them, I saw myself and I longed to be free as He set them free. But there was no church that I could find that would preach this message and still teach the Bible. I had to choose. Be free or learn the Bible. So I had to try and erect an inner fire-wall to shield myself from the doctrinal advertizing while still learning the Bible.
    You did not live this story (in fact your story hasn’t yet reached its climax). But many, many other people have lived this or a similar story which made it necessary to strip off extra stuff – such as 3rd world or foreign cultures that received the “Gospel” from the White West but they also got all our White West spin along with it. In the European West we focus alot on post-modernity. In the farther off places, they focus alot on post-colonialism. Same effect.
    We are no longer responsive to advertisements. No sexy list of new features, no new packaging, no rearranging, no coming in 8 new flavors or colors, no trickery, no bribing, no guilt-tripping, no blackmailing, no tempting, no taunting will lure us in. We know all the tricks and have little trust for people who sound like walking bill-boards. People all over the world are like me. We’re just not buying it anymore. And finally we’ve realized that we are a sizeable demographic and we think we come up with some solutions.
    My point about denominational purity is that Jesus is obviously interested in whether each individual has submitted to His idea of a disciple.
    NOT
    ..whether each individual has submitted to a denomination’s ideas about who, where and when to administer the Sacraments. When we are all called up, that question is not going to be on the agenda.
    The question on the agenda will be two-fold:
    Did you love God more than anything and with all of yourself?
    Did you love your neighbor as yourself?
    Then the film will role.
    Can’t you see the difference?
    _______
    Neither is it helpful to say this:
    “At the very least, it does concern me that any Christian movement would devalue ecclesiology to the point of making it irrelevant. I don’t know how else to describe the emergent movement’s position on this. The Order makes it clear that there is not one right way to “do church.” The implication is that the Scriptures don’t speak to these issues, and emergent Christians shouldn’t concern themselves with such trivialities.”
    We are not implying any such thing. YOUR demand that we form one single system of ecclesiology is creating and sustaining this implication for you. It is your shadow and your story and your fixation that is generating this monster image and you are projecting it onto us.
    What is your story that makes this issue so important for you?

  15. As we go further into this discussion, I’m coming to the following conclusions:
    1. The emergent church is not a church. It is a group of Christians who have some ideas. But it isn’t (a) a single, visible local church; (b) It isn’t a collection of visible churches unified through some association or ecclesiastical body. Now I certainly believe that all Christian people are part of the body of Christ, and therefore members of the invisible church (to use the terminology of my ecclesiological tradition). But even you wouldn’t say that the emergent church = the invisible church because that would necessarily exclude all non-emergent folk from being Christians. So to the extent that the emergent movement is a group of true disciples it is part of THE church, but not A church.
    2. Thus for the emergent “church” to talk about ecclesiology means that they aren’t referring to the internal structure or organization of their own movement, but rather a way of viewing other churches and Christians based upon their values of peace and acceptance. If we want to give a fancy sounding name to the organization of the emergent movement, then I suppose we should have to call it Order-ology, but certainly not ecclesiology.
    To me these are not negatives. I’m not trying to denegrate the emergent movement by saying this. I’m just trying to classify it accurately. Given this, it is wrong for me to expect that the emergent movement will necessarily have any views on church government or the role of the church in society. Organizing or planting visible churches is not their aim or purpose.
    That still leaves me with some questions about what their purpose is. Even in light of the “Rule,” I’m still a little fuzzy on this.
    All that being said, I still think it would be helpful for all Christians, both emergent and not, to be exposed to the ecclesiology of Reformed orthodoxy. I think here you find a beautiful expression of what it means to be the church, a very helpful guide for how Christians should view their local churches and fellow church members, as well as insightful instruction about the nature of true Christian piety. I don’t think all of these doctrines are simply advertisements or power games on the part of church leaders. Certainly they can become that because we are all sinners, but there are plenty of examples of Reformed churches that are thriving and healthy. Obviously, I can’t right the wrongs you have experienced in your life with the church. But I think we must self-consciously fight against the temptation to make our experiences normative. Certainly they unavoidably shape who we are, but as Christians we should constantly be shaped by the grace of our Savior.
    I’m sincere when I say that I am not saying this to slam the emergent movement, but I make this observation for the sake of accuracy. I don’t expect the Rotary Club to have an ecclesiology, nor do I expect the church to have an doctrine of foreign policy in their confession of faith. In a similar way, it seems obvious to me now that I shouldn’t expect this movement to have an ecclesiology in the traditional sense of that term.
    I’m not trying to avoid your question of my story, but I think it would be a boring one. I believe these things are important because I believe that Scripture teaches them and that Christians should follow Scripture as God’s authoritative Word. That is what I was raised to believe by my parents. And as I survey the world and the church as an adult, I’m even more convinced that if we are to be faithful to the calling of our Savior, then a key part of that faithfulness will mean understanding and applying the teachings of Scripture about the church to the church.

  16. WOOT!
    Now you’re hittin’ closer to the mark. You’re not totally there, yet, but because you’ve taken it out of the realm of what you already know, you’re closer to understanding. This is the first step toward learning something new – and it is the most difficult!
    I just ran accross this today:
    http://www.nextreformation.com/2005/04/beyond-hierarchy-ecclesiology.html
    At the risk of confusing things way worse, this is worth a read because it points out one of the biggest reasons that emergers are refusing to come down on one side of the line or another on some of these issues. Power! Hierarchy structures screw up the Church really bad. And while I believe Jesus solves the problem, I also believe that due to the intensely power-structure populated history of the Church, we haven’t really come to a functional understanding of just how He did that yet. I’m sure it was plain in the very beginning, but so much has happened to mess up that memory that we scarcely know what the Holy Spirit is for anymore. We have to do alot of unlearning. That is one of the reasons why it’s called a conversation. it takes alot of talking to figure out what’s stuck in our craw and hack it up so we can move forward, and then only progressively after more trial and error and discussion.
    Emergers do plant and organize Church bodies because we naturally like to congregate and we’re called to do that and it’s fun to see what God will do with people who are unencumbered by unnecessary commitments. But they don’t much care for erecting structures; either Authority structures or physical ones. In that respect, you’re right. We’re not into it.
    We, like so many other Christians, are part of what some call the “invisible” church. The Orthodox like to complain about that word because they see it as meaning Jesus’ work of establishing His Power and Authority on Earth was ineffective. They prefer to show the effectiveness of God’s Work by having the structures and rites and exclusivities associated with perfection or completion. This is a sad point of contention between us because we really value the idea of Christ’s work being more effective than an “invisible” Church suggests.
    If Reformed Theology has something to offer to this discussion that would help solve some of the problems that we are going to resolutely point out, then by all means, put them out there! But please try not to think of it as converting us to the “Reformed” establishment or structure. That won’t work. Most likely, emergers will listen to ideas, but not because they are connected to a brand. And they will prolly pick and choose which ones serve them at the points they are wrestling with because, we believe, a higher organizing principle is at work. This isn’t meant to be elitist, or exclusive, but inclusive at the extreme. We are seeking to include and use all elements that serve the Church and Jesus’ Work.
    We’re just trying not to get it backwards and serve the elements or require God to serve them.
    Check out the link and comments I made. I’m hoping len will come talk to us. He’s pretty cool.

  17. Okay now I’m getting confused again. So we can agree that the emergent movement is not a church. And as such, it doesn’t have a specific ecclesiology. BUT it is obvious from your last post and from the link that you included that the emergent movement does care a great deal about ecclesiology. And it seems that there might even be a general concensus that heirarchical policies are bad.
    Now actually, because I’m a Baptist, I sort of agree that top-down, connectional ecclesiologies are unscriptural often lead to bad results. But, my reasons are doing so are not only because I have a fear of power. I think that the Baptist, congregationalist form of church government is more scriptural, and thus ultimately more practical.
    However, when I was talking about how Reformed ecclesiology can contribute and provide a corrective influence, I didn’t have in mind church government specifically, but rather the Reformed position on the role of the church in society. The idea that the church is uniquely and primarily called to proclaim the gospel and administer the sacraments is something that has been lost by the contemporary church.
    Now a couple of statements you made that seem a bit odd:
    “We, like so many other Christians, are part of what some call the ‘invisible’ church.”
    Aren’t all Christians part of the invisible church? That is my understanding of the doctrine. Secondly, if emergent folk do like to congregate and you feel called to do that, then emergers are part of visible churches as well. And would you agree that talking about the invisible church means that you have started to form some sort of an ecclesiological position?
    Emergers do plant and organize Church bodies because we naturally like to congregate and we’re called to do that and it’s fun to see what God will do with people who are unencumbered by unnecessary commitments. But they don’t much care for erecting structures; either Authority structures or physical ones. In that respect, you’re right. We’re not into it.
    Given the link and this statement, should I infer that having a person who regularly preaches or teaches is looked down upon in an emergent congregation? Is it sort of like the position of the Plymouth Brethren who don’t believe in having a pastor or teacher? Or, am I misinterpreting what you’re saying?

  18. Hi. I’m sorry this took so long. I feel stretched too thin. Oh, well.
    This seems to be the issue that you care deeply about:
    “The idea that the church is uniquely and primarily called to proclaim the gospel and administer the sacraments is something that has been lost by the contemporary church.”
    I’m afraid that the only way I can come down either way on this issue is if I climb back into the box that you’ve labled “Church”. If I do that then I loose the elasticity that I have as an individual believer, esp. that of a non-ordained average-joan walking down the street.
    If I am approached by a mentally ill homeless person while I am coming out of the grocery store (common occurance), and I am living in that box, then I have to look on the prescribed agenda and see if there’s anything on it that might effectively help this man. Preaching the Gospel? Nope, he’s a paranoid schidzophrenic and he’s convinced that the church is a plot to entice all the homeless people off the street and kill them in secret gas chambers. Administer the sacraments? Nope, what he needs is a drink of clean water and a sandwitch. And prolly dressing on that wound he got from a fight. Besides, I’m a woman and women are prolly not allowed to do that stuff inside *this* box. Oh, well. And I pass him by just like one of those people who passed by the wounded man in the story of “The Good Transvestite”. Or was that “The Good Muslim”? Oh, no, I mean “The Good Samaritan”.
    I know that I’m exagerating.
    emergers preach the gospel and do communion and baptize too. We’re not NOT doing that. But we’re also doing other stuff that isn’t on the official agenda. We do it when we leave the church building anyway, doing something else is inescapable. If I sleep, or bathe, or eat or have sex with my spouse am I violating the rule of the agenda? Of course not! Why not figure out what the best thing to do is (This is why WWJD was a helpful tool), make it an expression of the Kingdom of Heaven and do it in Jesus’ Name? What harm could there possibly be?
    “Aren’t all Christians part of the invisible church?”
    Yes, but remember what the important part of the phrase means: “invisible”. That doesn’t mean that they are transparent and we can’t see them even though they are standing right in front of us. That means that we cannot always tell where the Christians end and where the non-christians begin. Even though we have performed alot of really super-spiritual and officially sanctioned activities, we missed something along the way.
    “21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”
    If staying in the box prevents us from checking to see what we’ve missed, then the box has to go. It can be a really scary thing for alot of folks who are watching the exodus, but they’ve got to let us go. There’s stuff we’ve got to fix. It is not going to hurt God’s movement in the World, it will only help it. We are not demanding that you get out of the box, only that you let us do it and not accuse us of some sort of heresy or blasphemy or whatever. What we are doing is PART OF God’s plan. Not all of it, not none of it. But part of it. Relax.
    The Preaching thing actually has come into question precisely because of what I said above, but we don’t waste precious time and energy looking down on people who preach. That is not how it works. Many emergers preach. One of my favorite guys, Jason Clark, did the most beautiful thing. I listened to this and I so wish I had someone like Jason in my town.
    http://sutton.vineyardchurch.org/mp3.htm
    Check out “Lessons from the Life of Jonny DeVial”. It’ll take the same amount of time to hear as a long sermon, so carve out some time if you can. I know students are busy. But this is the kind of thing that needs to happen with “preaching”. The Scripture is sacred, and so is human life. Both speak volumes to us of God’s love and care and of our vulnerable and exposed place before Him.
    But Preaching, in the form we naturally think of it, isn’t law. It’s a style of discourse that has been handed down to us from when the greek form of public conversation met with the rhetoric of academia in the Roman Catholic world during the Modern age. When Paul was talking to a bunch of Christians in someone’s house late at night for so long that someone fell asleep and fell out of the window, I doubt he was abiding by the rules of modern homiletics. God figured out how to get His message across without the use of qualified public speakers from day one. Preaching CAN be great. But it’s not the ONLY great thing. Remember Francis… “if necessary, use words.”

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