If you have been following my blog for a while, you know that I have been talking quite a bit about the “emerging church” and a lot more recently about Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures, of which I’m about 230 pages into.

This book has been very challenging so far, even if I already had my mind made up in certain areas. There are some things that I find myself resonating with, and saying a “yes” to. There are some things that I find myself disagreeing with, and saying a “no” to. And then there are some things that I neither disagree, or agree with, and they just are. Either I have not forumlated my opinion on them, or I don’t consider them to be a critical issue of which I have set the views down in stone.

Here is a brief rundown so far of what I have read, and where I come out:

Resonate with:
the “emerging churches'” view of leadership and empowerment; its view of consumerism in Christianity, especially in how it relates to seeker-driven churches; its willingness to allow for space, doubts, questions, etc., within its community; its emphasis on relationality, rather than efficiency, production and numbers; its emphasis on narrative and storytelling, and not just rationalistic, systematic theology……..

Disagree with:
some of their views on a “leaderless” church; some of their views that focus primarily on the Gospels exclusively (though I think they are quite good with looking at all of Scripture, and more so than some churches, there is a tendency to only look at the Gospels); some of their animosity, or reluctance for seminary trained leadership (not because you need to be seminary trained, but do they see this as a handicap instead, or not a good thing; and this is probably a bias since I am one of them); what I perceive as a hesitancy to maybe developing or discussing theology, in regards to how it relates to the praxis of “emering churches.”

Wrestling with:

how relevant does one need to be to culture? (meaning: what’s informing what? is the culture informing the “good news”, or vice-versa); what role does a community play in interpretation? (this is not saying anything goes and it’s all relative, but what is the function of community in interpretation, in light of the word of God); the role of paid clergy, or the professionalization of clery (of which I am currently)

This is just a write as you go rundown as I am reading this book. Once I finish it, I will have some more time to reflect on what has been said, and how I feel about some of these issues. But for now, the book has succeeded in not allowing me to simply believe I have everything figured out. For some, having everything figured out is a necessity, almost as if winning a Biblical quiz contest allows one to be a part of the right group. But for now, I am conent re-working, wrestling with, and journeying through these things.

One of the most influential figures in my theological development was my Fuller professor, Dr. Ray Anderson whom I have linked on the left column under influential thinkers, etc. He instilled in me my love of Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer specifically. And he taught me how to wed theology and ministry together. I had the privilege of reading a working manuscript of his soon to be released book, “Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches” (Intervarsity 2006). It is going to be a great book, and I believe, one of the most informative and important in addressing these issues. But for now, I will post below the comment that he left on Ryan Bolger’s Blog regarding some of his concerns on the “emerging church”:

Great book Ryan! Congratulations to you and Eddie for your new book, Emerging Churches (Baker). Outstanding piece of sociological research into the emerging church movement. I admire the way that you were able to allow the voices of the persons you interviewed to speak for themselves without intruding your own critical analysis and perspective. This is a must read for all interested in this movement. Having said that, the book, while a good read, begs for response and dialogue. Here goes! The chapter on “Identifying with Jesus” (3) was provocative. I had already been alerted by a reader of my own manuscript on an Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches (InterVarsity, 2006), that my heavy reliance on Paul would not sit well with many in the movement, who preferred Jesus over Paul. In fact one of your participants in the project stated that he had given up on Paul and turned back to Jesus. I guess that Paul has been used to proof text a good bit of systematic theology (e.g. Calvin and Luther!). On the other hand, to turn away from Paul is to turn away from Paul’s Christ. The Christ of Paul is the crucified, resurrected, ascended and present Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. While Paul certainly had first hand reports of the ministry and teaching of Jesus prior to his death on the cross, the Christ that he met on the Damascus Road had already ascended to heaven and was present now through the Holy Spirit. The church that emerged out of Antioch through Paul had spread throughout his world (including Rome), by the time of his death, not by identifying with the Jesus of the synoptic gospels (which had not yet been written!) but by the power of the crucified and risen Christ through the Holy Spirit. The absence of the cross, resurrection, Pentecost and the eschatological imprint of the coming Christ upon the emerging churches as reported in this research project is stunning, to my mind. I came away with the impression (just an impression!) that for many who are active participants in emerging churches, the cross and resurrection were more of an historical accident than a theological necessity. It is as though Jesus could have fulfilled God’s mission in the world through the Kingdom without death and resurrection as a means of overcoming the human dilemma of sin and death. But now I realize that I have introduced theology into the discussion, which, I gather, is to be part of the ‘modern world left behind!’ -maybe a new series? Fascinating book! Ray Anderson

Posted by: Ray Anderson | November 19, 2005 at 08:44 AM