Theology of Ministry - Lesson 14

Emergent Church Movement

The emergent church movement emphasizes engaging the culture, authenticity, being sensitive to our hermeneutical “blind spots,” reaching out to “postmodern” people, and an unwillingness to be bound by tradition. When people begin a new movement, it can create an opportunity for you to re-evaluate your theology and practice to determine if your ideas are biblical or based solely on tradition.

John  Johnson
Theology of Ministry
Lesson 14
Watching Now
Emergent Church Movement

Emergent Church Movement

I. Strengths of the emergent church movement

A. It gives serious attention to culture

B. Authenticity is emphasized

C. We often have hermeneutical "blind spots"

D. Intention to reach people who don't often respond to traditional churches

E. Unwilling to be bound by tradition while desiring to link with historic Christianity

II. Weaknesses of the emergent church movement

  • Theology is the clarification of convictions by which we engage in ministry.

  • During the Renaissance, some people began making a distinction between academic theology and practical theology.

  • The incarnation is the prism through which we view our entire missional task.

  • Christ embodied the OT offices of prophet, priest and king.

  • Ministry is a paradox of leading by serving.

  • We need to hear what God is saying through his word and proclaim it. A ministry of grace is characterized by a heart of forgiveness and reconciliation.

  • Ministry is participation in God’s work of transforming the community of faith until it is blameless at the coming of Christ.

  • There is no ministry without church and no church without ministry.

  • Our ministry is to be done in the context of community. We can't avoid institutions, but we can avoid institutionalism.

  • Each of us is called to God, then to serve the body with the gifts we receive from the Spirit. Some have a special call to leadership.

  • Character is what validates our ministry. We earn integrity by having a rigorous devotion to the truth.

  • Giftedness should reflect in your passion for ministry, what God is blessing in your life and what other people are affirming.

  • Our mission is to advance the kingdom of God, so we are in conflict with Satan trying to advance his kingdom. God has given us authority. We need to exercise it and stand against sin.

  • When people begin a new movement, it can create an opportunity for you to re-evaluate your theology and practice to determine if your ideas are biblical or based solely on tradition.
  • It’s important to have a theological basis for evaluating the effectiveness of your ministry.

  • Much of the daily work of ministry involves menial and mundane tasks. The glorious side of ministry overshadows the inglorious.

  • It’s important for your theology to inform your ministry and for your ministry to apply your theology.

Ministry is built upon sound biblical, theological and cultural foundations. Each generation of the Church must understand and build on these foundations, as well as discover relevant contemporary innovations and applications. This course intends to help you integrate an understanding of the Word and the world with the development of a personal philosophy of ministry.

At the end, it's a good exercise to write out you own theology of ministry that you could present to a board and/or articulate as situations in your ministry come up.


Dr. John Johnson

Theology of Ministry


Emergent Church Movement

Lesson Transcript

We're thinking theologically about ministry and part of the task in this course is to say OK, well let's look at, maybe, some contemporary ministry and think theologically about it. So, I chose [phonetic]Carson's book, it's not the perfect model. There's no perfect model, but yet someone who attempts to say let's look at a movement, a dialogue, whatever you wanna call it. And let's think it through theologically.

[00:44] So, we're focusing here on, how did we do that, how does he do that, what does he show us. We said, last week, one of the things he shows us is that, first of all, he has spent time understanding the movement. Which is important for us to make sure, theologically, we do that work. We do that work of, before we're gonna critique anything, make sure we understand its voices.

[01:12] Now there's some that would say, critical of Carson, well he didn't become near as familiar as he could. How many emergent pastor's has he really engaged in emergent dialogue with. So I've read some of those critiques of Carson. But, nonetheless we get the point. If you're gonna critique something, analyze something, the first thing is read what it is saying, and don't just read what someone was saying about it.

[01:38] That's the easy way out. It's easy for us in ministry, and I certainly confess my tendencies, sometimes, to do that. I'll read what someone says about it, and then embrace it as my scholarship. Well no, if I really want to critique something, I need to go back to the source. So, whether it's [phonetic]Mclaren, [phonetic]Yakinelli, different people, Carson at least attempted to do that.

[02:08] And then he starts anyway, which is a good start point for us, and this is another piece of thinking theologically through. It's always easy to look at the negative, let's start with the positive. That's probably always a good start point, because our tendency is to be critical. It's more work to be charitable, charitable certainly includes, also, being fair.

[02:35] But being charitable, nonetheless. So what I think he does in this second chapter, I think in a charitable way, say OK, what are the strengths of this. This is his analysis. So, some of the strengths. First of all he looks at the emergent church and says it gives serious attention to culture and what the implications for ministry are. That's a real strong part.

[02:59] As opposed to some churches, some ministries, that might cocoon, hide themselves, the world's going to hell, let's just kinda circle the wagons and ride it out. Here's a very serious intention to engage with culture, to read, look at what culture is saying, and that's a really good thing. And it's a really good thing all of us need to do, don't get too holed up in your study, so to speak, and just read theology, that would be really bad for ministry.

[[03:34] A second thing he notes here, that's really good, is that those in the emergent have as one of their really key words, authenticity. And they settle for nothing less than that. Carson steps back and says that's a really good thing. Cause a lot of churches that have drifted into status quo and stagnancy, are going through the motions, and there's nothing authentic about that.

[04:02] When you're just saying phrases that are nice phrases, they're what people expect, but they're tinny. They don't have a solid tone. Thirdly, it recognizes our limitations, that we interpret things out of our own framework, that creates our own hermeneutical blind spots. And Carson says, OK, there's something good about that, and those in the emergent recognize that we're all, to a certain extent, culturally bound.

[[04:39] Number four, an intention to reach out to those overlooked, those shaped by post-modern assumptions. Here's a fourth really good thing, is a willingness to go out to the perimeters and reach those that a lot of churches aren't interested in reaching. Sorta like a, when I was in high school, you know, there was always the quad, kind of where everybody had lunch, and the cafeteria.

[05:07] And then there was the outer perimeter, where you know, certain kids, outsiders, sat often by themselves. And nobody really went out to their neighborhood, so to speak. So one of the strengths of those in emergent is this desire to go out to the perimeter. And then, unwilling to be bound by tradition while aiming to link with historic Christianity.

[05:34] He mentions as a fifth strength, we don't do it just because that's the way it's been done. But on the other hand, aiming to go back and say what was the apostolic church all about. What was it doing. What have we missed. What about church practice before the reformation. That also had legitimacy, instead of just post-reformation.

[06:00] OK, so, some of the strengths, huh? Is that how you read it? Any one wanna add to that, make comments? Heather?

Woman: [06:12] [inaudible]

[06:18] Would that indicate anything? It certainly indicates that he's gonna be much more critical of the movement than positive. But even with his persuasion, he's teaching us something, nonetheless. And, and that is this is always a good start point. Because it can also soften, maybe what we're going to say on the other side, I don't know. It may not be fair to say it softened what he did on the other side.

[06:49] What strengths did he miss, as you understand the emergent movement. Anything he missed, that needs to be said, as well, that are not reflected in these five?

Man: [07:03] [inaudible]

[07:21] Yes, particularly on issues of justice. Diana, you were gonna say something?

Diana: [07:27] [inaudible]

[07:32] You mean more than just saying there's a heart there for that, but this is happening.

Diana: [07:37] [inaudible]

[07:50] Let's move to the other side. When you look at the other said. As Carson, I should say, looks at the other side. What stands out as some of the key, not strengths, but weaknesses, of this emergent movement, dialogue, whatever you wanna call it.

Woman: [08:13] [inaudible]

[08:38] So, be more psychological than theological. More therapeutic in orientation.

Woman: [08:46] [inaudible]

[08:50] OK. Anyone wanna take issue with that, or would you say yeah, that's one.

Man: [08:55] I don't know that that's really a emergent church issue. Is that more emergent, or is that more [09:01] [inaudible]

[09:03] I think, Diana, what you're saying is that you understand Carson, he's applying that to the emergent. Which, yeah, it certainly isn't just exclusively there, for sure. Paul, you were gonna say something?

Paul: [09:21] It's hard to say the emergent church is, because there's so many fractions in the emergent church.

[09:26] Right, right. Some people in the emergent love [phonetic]Brian Mclaren, and some hate him, so, yeah.

Paul: [09:34] Right, so I don't think that what Brian Mclaren says. I don't think [inaudible][09:38] is a good representation of the whole emergent church. [crosstalk] I don't think what one person says is a good representation anymore.

[09:45] Yes, right. Yes, sure.

Paul: [09:48] I think it's a movement that goes beyond that. What I see in the emergent church is more, is more, it seems that they're, at least a healthy representation are more centered on a mission, and they turn to the gospel, you know?

[10:05] Right, right. So, again, let's keep the point of our exercise in front of us, here. As we then do a theological assessment, and we're dealing with something that is a, when we say a movement, but it's very diverse. What does that require of us when we assess something theological. We have to, we have to work really hard to see if there are common denominators, is that a fair way to put it?

[10:32] OK, let's ask this question. Does Carson do that, and if he does, does he do it very well, does he not do that.

Man: [10:42] [inaudible]

[10:45] He tries to look at, here's the aspects that I think are good. But what's taking place, I don't think he ventures very far from, even in his critique. This is a good movement, but it's either taken to the extreme, or it's not taken far enough. For example, he speaks of the rejection of the modern church, and a lot of, and now I'm looking at the fact that they have done a lot of what the post-modern church is doing.

[11:13] A lot of good at that. He also, I think, shows, when he goes to the next chapter, he begins to look at. What's the epistemology of pre-modern, modern, post-modern, and he shows the great level of what leads to central, uh diverse areas where they overlap. He shows similarities between, I think what he's trying to find is those bridging ideas.

[11:35] And then try to show the divergence. And I think one of his bigger critiques is like what he said on page, basically 71 and 72, [inaudible][11:46]. It's the absolute, the emergent church is sometimes absolutist about being non-absolute. And that there is kind of an intellectual discontinuity.

[12:06] Or intellectual incoherency. Saying that, basically, the issue is not anti-absolutism, or not having absolutists. But it's, what is the source, and the origin, of that absolutism. And that's where he kind of nuances in, he did speak to Mclaren quite a bit in that topic.

[12:29] He also mentioned about rejection of the modern church, that there's this kind of taking of extreme instances and then dismissing of the whole based off the one. I think he tries not to do that, he also says these individuals, given Mclaren's inspection, have been carrying a lot of, they have a very large voice. So they may not be representative of the whole, [crosstalk] but they carry a weight that needs to be addressed.

[12:49] Sure. OK, so let's go back again, and think through then. In this diverse movement, as Carson looks at it. What are things that pretty well cross all the boundaries within the movement, that it's fair to critique. For example, when he assesses it, he says here's a word I think that everyone can fit in the emergent under that umbrella.

[13:14] So, Paul, I'll come back to you. Would that be a fair statement. That protest wither you're more over here where, say Mclaren is, or [phonetic]Driscol, or whatever. Would protest be.

Man: [13:29] What about reform.

[13:30] OK, yeah. Well, and I think they kinda go together, right. But, now let's look at, again on this critiquing side of some of the negative things that fit under this broad umbrella. Can we find some that pretty much.

[13:50] Here's the weakness that goes across all the diverse.

Man: [13:54] Trying to become relevant when we lost the counter-cultural element.

[14:00] You'd say, maybe one of the weaknesses is, maybe too much accommodation to culture. Heather.

Heather: [14:08] [inaudible]

[14:10] Yes, it can. OK. What else does Carson, in a critical way, say about emergent, here. [phonetic]Phil.

Phil: [14:19] The emergent church is pretty universally condemning of the modern church and conventional Christianity, in a way that, it just sees this big disaster, and nothing good came out of it.

[14:32] Is that they're over-critical of traditional church. [crosstalk] Yes.

Phil: [14:36] That's what I think, [inaudible][14:38]

[writing on chalkboard]

Man: [14:49] One other thing, John. I think in that same polar, maybe they overgeneralize.

Man: [14:56] I think one of the questions is what is the basis for which traditions are held on to and which ones are rejected. Is there a [phonetic]rubric for doing it, or are we just picking our preferences. [crosstalk] Subjective, maybe.

[15:08] So, subjective? We're not here to critique whether this Carson's right or wrong. We're just simply trying to understand, what does he see as the major weaknesses. So, what you said so far is a rejection of absolutes, accommodation of culture, overly-critical of the traditional church, and maybe even modernity. Generalizes, and is subjective.

[15:39] Are we getting at Carson's criticisms?

Man: [15:42] Something that I saw in there. Was he's mainly focusing on some of the outspoken leaders of it, such as Mclaren. What he says is, they're too busy telling people how things have changed, they're neglecting to find a resolution to the problem.

[15:55] More deconstructionist than constructionist.

Man: [16:00] They're just busy saying how things are done wrong, and this is how culture is, [inaudible][16:03]

[16:05] It's easy to say, here's what's wrong with the traditional church. It's harder to say, here's what needs to change. Some might read, in Carson, that that's one of his criticisms of the emergent. Yes.

Man: [16:23] But Mclaren has kinda turned the corner. Cause when he first gained popularity, he was very much deconstructionist, and now with his book A Generous Orthodoxy, he's reconstructive.

[16:32] Keep in mind, we're not here to try to debate whether Carson's right or wrong, as just to say, let's look at his method, what he's doing here. And what he's doing is, he's critiquing, and he's coming up with these criticisms. Whether they're legitimate or illegitimate.

Man: [16:55] What do they stand for. Because there's so many things that get crouped under this title of post-modern, that, and slash, thereby emergent, that you really can't even say that they stand for anything. Or identify by simply [inaudible][17:08], there's no distinction.

[17:10] Well, that puts Carson on kind of perilous ground, doesn't it. In a way, because he's trying to analyze something in that is diverse and is fluid, that makes it a challenge, doesn't it. It feels a little bit, sometimes, any of you that have done a sermon. If I look at my sermon on Tuesday, versus Saturday. Tuesday I'm putting rough ideas out, most of 'em are bad, but I'm testing 'em.

[17:40] Kinda throwing stuff out on paper, I'm thinking, I'm processing. And if somebody came along and pounced on my notes, and said, oh man look at this is really screwed up. I dunno if that's a very good analogy, here, but sometimes when I look at the emergent movement, that's kind of in process, and we're doing a lot of critiquing and assessing.

[18:05] There can be a little bit of danger in that. Now, that's not to say that the emergent, then, is completely innocent, because some of the criticisms starts with their approach to begin with. It would be like if I start my sermon prep with an assumption that the word of god is not this. Someone can fairly criticize.

Man: [18:27] One of the things that I thought was interesting was when we talked about how long has this movement been going on. And kind of where we are in the process. And there's a danger, even though as you're approaching this, of being negated, even writing this book. Because he gives this over two decades' worth of history behind even the concepts, right?

[18:48] And, so, at least he acknowledges. [inaudible][18:49] moving target there. That's when I hear some of the selections that don't directly deal with what he's written in the book that begins to deal with what Mclaren stands now, not where he stood when he wrote the book. And how some of the churches don't want to use the term protest, or maybe reform. That even this concept of terminology, and how that's changing dialogue, even.

[19:15] Yes. What is this telling us about, i use this term, ministerial theologians, OK. We read Carson, we look at his positives, his critiques, his criticisms, his definitions. We step back, and he's looking at something that's contemporary and important. What did we learn from this, then?

Man: [19:35] One of the things it's about is. More of the argument, that one of his concerns about their belonging or believing.

[19:44] One of the real benefits, sometimes, about movements, is they emerge and often they emerge. And they, you know, emergent is one of thousands of movements right over the course of history, that have often emerged as correctives to a certain degree. What is a really valuable thing, at least I find, is they force you to re-think a lot of things.

[20:07] Sometimes, things you just assumed. Let's say, like Communion. I think when [phonetic]Michael Frost was here, he was talking about how he's actually starting a church in an art gallery. That, almost all pagans. But they're interested, and they actually are very intrigued with the Lord's supper. I asked Frost, I said what'cha gonna do, and he said, well, he says, I'm gonna do it.

[20:34] And I asked him why, and he said, because there's the fascination in them, and it that one moment I have this powerful opportunity to declare what this remembrance is about. In other words, I have a clear entryway into the gospel. As opposed to saying, well no, that's only for believers, so I can't do it. Is he right? Is he wrong? Well, you stop, and you go, I'm not sure.

[21:03] Right? I gotta think through my theology. Does first Corinthians 11 give room for that? I remember a guy from India that came to my church in Europe, that I met on a tennis court, invited him to church and to my surprise he came. And he started coming every week, and he'd take communion. And my elders would go ballistic.

[21:29] First of all, I'd wonder, well how did you know. I mean, at that moment I'm pretty well, you know, I'm taking first Corinthians 10, this is the [inaudible][21:36] of the body and the blood. It's, I understand communion to be in part, and truly a fellowship with god that's unlike any other experience of fellowship.

[21:50] At that moment I'm pretty oblivious to almost anybody else. I mean I think I should be, I'm not lookin' around goin', so, you know, did she drink it all in one gulp, or sip it, or, you know. This guy, of course then they quote first Corinthians 11. Well look at Paul, you know, he's drinking to his judgment, right? But in the context, who's Paul referring to? He's referring to believers, right? And what were they doing?

[22:19] They turned the lord's supper into a party. It not only turned into a party, but they were completely heartless about those part of the fellowship who were really hurting, while they were eating all the food over here. I think that's all part of it. The point is this, here, Paul wasn't addressing the issue of a non-believer. And I remember when that discussion came up it was very hot at the elder meeting. They were ready to take me to task for not going right over to his house and dealing with him.

[22:51] And I thought, are you kidding. I mean, if I go over and do something like that he'll never come back to church again. Well, so what are we going to do, and I thought, well, what if he does. I mean, if it really is such a judgment of god, god can handle that. But theologically, scripturally, can I find anywhere where he's drinking judgment to himself. Well I couldn't, so I figured, you know what, if he's here at that moment.

[23:20] And I try to, in a sense, preach gospel when people are partaking of the bread. If he hears gospel every time that happens, and if he takes the elements, that's great. Does my theology support that, I don't know. Well, anyway, that's just, I'm getting off on a tangent. But to make a point that these are the kind of things that force you to go back and rethink through, instead of just hiding behind tradition.

[23:44] And that's a good thing. Let's see if we can sum it up in about two minutes, here. We look at a book that's trying to assess something that's sort of a moving target, in a way. That's a little bit like Jello, but also nonetheless saying here's some real concerns. And I think there's some real concerns with this whole issue of foundationalism and I think there's some real legitimate concern.

[24:11] But, we also weighed that with a lot of really good things, that I think are being said. And you also weigh it, that it's easy to make assumptions of where people are at. Like Mclaren I've invited here, and he's taught one of my doctor of ministry courses. And it made people nervous.

[24:31] And some legitimate nervousness. But I see a guy that's in process. And it is kinda hard to pin him down, in a way, because he's ever-shifting and changeable. He's like all the rest of us, he's moving. And he doesn't have it all together. Now I'm not saying that therefore he shouldn't be criticized. I'm saying he should be, but I think sometimes we can be too quick to rush to judgment.

[24:57] Instead of saying, well first of all this guy isn't a theologian. And secondly, he's actually just asking some really basic questions a lot of us never thought to ask. And that's OK. The important thing that we all have to do, here, is make sure we keep growing deep. I'll tell you what all this does, and I hope this does for you. You see all these movements, you see a lot, and you say, man, I have to just keep going deeper and deeper and deeper in my theology.

[25:26] At the same time, I'm paying more and more attention to culture, I think emergent movement can teach us that. But what it teaches me is that at the same time, I gotta get deeper and deeper, and more and more grounded, and really know my convictions. I think ff both those things are happening, don't you agree. They're both happening.

[25:47] We're more and more, understanding culture. We're more and more, growing deeper in our theology. I think, hopefully, we'll end somewhere at the right point at the end of all of it. I like how [phonetic]Os Guinness put it in one of his books, we can become so relevant, that we become irrelevant.

[26:10] That's a good warning. OK, so next week, you have one more week, and then the big week, right. So, next week we'll talk about glory of ministry.