Wednesday, January 12, 2005

An Introduction to the "Emerging Church" movement

You’re going to hear about this more and more, so we may as well address it now, at least in brief. In fact, you may have already encountered this movement before, but just didn’t know what to call it. It goes by many names, but the popular name for it today is the “Emerging Church.”

The Emerging Church is “a label that has been used to refer to a particular subset of Christians who are rethinking Christianity against the backdrop of Postmodernism.” This “rethinking” is actually a reaction to the perceived errors of modernity:
During recent centuries, Christianity was influenced significantly by Modernism in the sense that it sought to take the individual narratives of the Bible and drill down towards a set of underlying truths, or meta-narrative, that underpinned them all. This scientific reductionism of underlying truths was then packaged up into a Christian worldview that members of the Church were expected to adopt. These worldviews often contained a lot of cultural baggage as well as theological stances. While disagreements regarding these worldviews were common, this generally resulted in the creation of other denominations with their own distinct but equally modernist Christian worldviews rather than a questioning of modernism itself.
A definition is in order for those of you unfamiliar with these terms. A “meta-narrative” is defined as “a grand overarching account, or all-encompassing story, which is thought [by modernists] to give order to the historical record.” Postmoderns balk at such things. According to one postmodernist, Jean-François Lyotard:
Metanarratives are the distinguishing feature of modernity, which is a period in time that begins with the Enlightenment. Although it is widely recognised that metanarrative thinking has a lineage that stems much further back - to the work of Plato and Aristotle. Their conception of a metaphysical world, as distinct and separate from the world in which we live, has had a lasting effect on the course of European philosophy and the social sciences.

As a result, postmodernists sense a real need to “deconstruct” the modernist worldview, wherever it is found—including, and especially in Christianity. “In the 'postmodern era' metanarratives have lost their power to convince – they are, literally, stories that are told in order to legitimate various versions of ‘the truth’.” The “Emerging Church” movement is so called because it is the collection of postmoderinst “Christians” who are emerging from the process of “deconstructing” their own prior “modernist” Christian worldview, and “reconstructing” it into something that avoids the past errors of the Enlightenment.

Three major characteristics of the Emerging Church include:

1. A flexible approach to theology whereby individual differences in belief and morality are accepted within reason.

2. A holistic approach to the role of the church in society. This can mean anything from greater emphasis on fellowship in the structure of the group to a higher degree of emphasis on social action, community building or Christian outreach.

3. A desire to reanalyize the Bible against the context into which it was written, in search of a reconstructed theology that is free from Modernist baggage.

Now if all this sounds to you incredibly like what’s been coming out of the “reformed Catholic” crowd, you’re not alone. And this will go a long way toward explaining what is driving these men. They have simply adopted the latest woldview trend--and an extremely intellectually liberal one at that.

There is a forthcoming book on this issue by D. A. Carson, titled Becoming Conversant with Emergent, which will be released in April of this year. I plan to pick up a copy.