Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Why Such Momentum and Where is it Leading?

Before I attempt an evaluation of EC, one question begs to be answered: Why is EC so popular? All these blogs and websites give the impression that EC is taking over the world. Okay, that is alarmist, but it is clear that the movement is gaining momentum. Why is this? Carson writes:

...one rea­son why the movement has mushroomed so quickly is that it is bringing to focus a lot of hazy perceptions already widely circulating in the culture. It is articulating crisply and polemically what many pastors and others were already beginning to think, even though they did not enjoy—until the lead­ers of this movement came along—any champions who put their amor­phous malaise into perspective.

So it is not surprising that many books and articles that do not iden­tify themselves as part of the emerging church movement nevertheless share its core values and thus belong to it without the label.[1]

If Carson is correct (and I think he is) then it is all the more urgent we begin to read and study EC if we are going to effectively shepherd the sheep God has entrusted to us.[2]

Back in 1965, Martin Lloyd Jones preached this during a sermon on Romans 12 in which he identified those falling into error in his own generation:

So in the same lazy way they divide up the Scriptures in a manner that should never be done. Scripture, being the Word of God, is to be read right through, because, of course, it is a whole and we must neither detract from it nor add to it. You can detract from the Scripture by ignoring certain passages, or by saying, ‘This is all that matters in Scripture.’ Many people are teaching that at the present time. Some, for example, simply concentrate on our Lord’s moral teaching, as if the whole of the Bible were just the Sermon on the Mount. But there are others who say, ‘This has nothing to do with us now.’ So they start in certain epistles and just concentrate on bits of them, and that is equally wrong.[3]

In many ways there is nothing new in Emergent. It is clear that McLaren and most Revisionists are heading the way of old liberalism, stressing the moral teachings of Jesus over the rest of the Scripture.[4] His new book spends several chapters explaining the Sermon on the Mount in a way that makes the focus of the Christian life this world, not the next.[5] Like in years gone by, EC is now widening their circle to exclude most evangelicals and include other religions. Talks and summits have been and will continue to take place and one expects the envelope to be pushed with each new round of meetings.

Some who began in the movement are in full reverse out; having come to see where the leading lights are going they are doing all they can to pull up and distance themselves from anything with the word emergent on it. Still others will hear of these things for the first time and think they are the best news since sliced bread.

It can be unfair to judge a movement now based on where you think it is going in the future, but the future is here for EC and makes those predictions more a reality than a guess.

In an old cathedral in London, in a space with no stage and no chairs, a cross-shaped light is projected over the young people lying on the red carpet. A soundscape of soft chants fills the sanctuary, creating a soothing audio wallpaper. A video loop on one of the projection screens shows first a graceful male dancer and then a computer-generated image of a slowly rotating crown of thorns. Poetry appears under the thorns: "God-man, your soul is overwhelmed to the point of death."

Two girls move through the center of the sanctuary -- one slowly, the other running to the cross where she is lifted up by the others and rotated slowly, then lowered to the floor. Both girls turn and invite the worshippers to come forward and receive the communion elements.

This is a safe place, a sanctuary for seekers who will not be "reached" or "got at." It is also a gallery for artists who deem their work too precious to be colonized into a preacher's sermon. It is a holy space, where the experience of God and each other is not preprogrammed but open to the mysterious interruptions of a God who still speaks.

This is what the English call alternative worship, or "alt.worship." Tonight at the Vaux, worship is curated (not led) by Andy Thornton. Next month someone else will be calling the people to hand over fresh art that reflects the ups and downs of the full human experience. This art will be displayed in a way that makes it possible for every participant to experience God at his or her own pace. The curator can plan that journey to a certain point, but there is an element of the mysterious the curator cannot control.

In a way, alt.worship is a return to a simple New Testament pattern of worship, where one offers a song and another a word. And it is a return to the Old Testament worship pattern of multimedia, multisensory worship.

Simplicity and complexity. Premodern and postmodern.[6]

[1] Conversant, 13.

[2] Carson also writes: “From these diverse tendencies I infer that the emerging church move­ment is probably slightly smaller than some of its leaders think, and per­haps also substantially larger than some of its leaders think.” Conversant 13.

[3] Martin Lloyd-Jones, Romans: Volume 12 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2000) 5

[4] A kind of, “I’ll take Jesus over Paul” theology with all sorts of disclaimers to say that is not really what they are doing. For instance: “We retained Jesus as Savior but promoted the apostle Paul (or someone else) to Lord and Teacher. (Even as Savior, though, we limited Jesus to saving us from hell, which explains why we have had comparatively little interest in his saving us from greed, gossip, prejudice, violence, isolation, carelessness about the poor or the planet, hurry, hatred, envy, anger, or pride.)” Orthodoxy, 86. Or in this example: McLaren asks a friend who has just repudiated his defense of the Gospel as being justification by grace through faith as found in places like Romans: “‘Well, then, what would you say the gospel is, if it’s not that?’ I was preparing myself for heresy, not for enlightenment, since I was quite confident in my quotations from Paul. ‘The kingdom of God is at hand. That was Jesus’ message. Don’t you think we should let Jesus tell us what the gospel is?’ His reply confounded me. Of course I had to agree with him. But I could see no connection between the message of the kingdom of God and the gospel as I understood it from Paul. How did I deal with the tension? I didn’t. Somehow, I just put it aside. I sat on it. I ignored it. It was several years later, when I began the quest that led to the writing of this book, that ‘the hot-and-sour soup conversation’ came back to me. Few topics are hotter and more sour than this among theologians today. Some would say that we have exchanged ‘Christianity’ for ‘Paulianity.’ Christianity was about the kingdom of God coming to earth for everyone, they would say. Paulianity is about a select few escaping earth and going to heaven after they die. They would see Paul as the enemy who ruined the good thing begun by Jesus. However, I don’t think Paul is the enemy; I think our misinterpretations of Paul are the enemy. I think Paul is actually a friend of the gospel of the kingdom, perhaps its best friend since Jesus.” Secret Message, 91.

[5] There is actually much in Secret Message that I appreciate, but it is so mixed up with what I consider to be outright error, I would never recommend the book to anyone. It is funny. I have spent nearly 6 years of my preaching ministry in the Gospels, yet when I read it I find he sees a very different Jesus than I do. When I think really hard about this, I come to one of two conclusions: a) One of us is right, or b) Both of us are wrong. How can I know for sure which of those two options is correct? I am afraid my only recourse would be to think epistemologically!

[6] This event carries the following tag line on the author: Andrew Jones, a native New Zealander, is a scout for emerging forms in the global church. He and his family are based in Prague, the Czech Republic.” http://www.faithworks.com/archives/next_new_worship.htm Emphasis mine.


DPT said...

I am not part of the Emerging church, but a couple of things come to mind:

1. A common approach is to mine Brian McLaren's writings for the definitive word on what the Emerging church is. As many articles and blog posts have pointed out, there are distinct currents within the movement (or "conversation", as it's called). People like to generalize from McLaren, but it's not valid. An analogy: Are the most popular evangelical authors necessarily representative of what's evangelical?

2. Being selective in the use of Scripture, in a negative sense, is certainly not limited to McLaren or any other Emerging author or leader. Those who "strain at gnats but swallow camels" while neglecting the weightier matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness (something that's very common, IMO) (Mt. 23:23-24) are guilty of a lack of proportion and balance as well.

And keep in mind that when you focus on a neglected aspect of the faith it's going to look like that's the only thing that matters to you. That's jumping to conclusions. I may, for example, take therapy for atrophied leg muscles after an injury, but that doesn't mean that I don't care about the rest of my body's health. I'm just taking care of something that's become weak.

andrew jones said...

hey - my old article on alt. worship from 2000 is still floating around on the internet

amazing how much things have changed - 6 years on - how we have moved on from technology infatuation to more relational forms of church and worship

thanks for the link - although i am not sure ifyou are mentioning my article in a good or bad light.