Monday, December 03, 2007

Diversity in the Emerging Church

I suppose it should come as no surprise that there's diversity in the emerging church. That term "emerging" has been thrown around a lot, but more and more I understand it in cultural terms. We are moving from modern culture to post-modern culture. Perhaps the best symbol of this is the way we learn and communicate. The printing press revolutionized learning and commmunicating in its day, and its effect is pervasive: many Christians consider personal bible reading a hallmark of Christian discipleship (as do I), when this wasn't even possible for the first millenium and a half of Christianity. We are entering the full-blown information age, one that began with mass communications, but has really hit its full stride with the Internet. So the "emerging church" for me just means the church that is coming into being with the emerging post-modern culture.

It should come as no surprise that emerging congregations aren't any more homogeneous than the church in ages past. Some draw heavily on liturgy and ritual, some find their identity in challenging the doctrinal status quo, some celebrate the arts, some, like the church I've started attending on Sunday mornings, feature mainly music and preaching in a casual atmosphere.

Hey, there are even emerging fundamentalists--that's what I've come to believe about Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Unbeknownst to me until recently, apparently Driscoll called Rob Bell a heretic. Besides it being laughable, it is part of a growing trend from the Seattle pastor, in which he calls into question the fidelity to orthodoxy of other (emerging) church leaders (e.g., Karen Ward, Brian McLaren). While others become apostates, he holds the doctrinal line, so he purports. Some time ago, My younger brother's blog opened a discussion about what fundamentalism is; is it just conservative theology, a literalistic approach to biblical interpretation, a detachment from culture? I came to believe that a defining characteristic of fundamentalists is the way they fail to engage others in theological conversation, because they don't accept that their understanding of the bible is an interpretation, just as everyone else's is. Everything I have read of Driscoll's suggests that he believes that people who disagree with him must just not take scripture seriously, because if they did, they would agree with him.

Some people may question whether Driscoll is really an "emergent" voice, but I believe he is, in that he comes out of, and speaks to the emerging post-modern culture. I heard him speak one time in college (at Seattle Pacific University), and my recollection is that he did very much understand the crisis of identity that many post-moderns face because of relativism. I didn't find his exploration of the text (from Ecclesiastes) very sophisticated or nuanced, essentially a restatement.

This isn't a sentiment I'm proud of: I would feel really good if Driscoll's church failed. I know, it's terrible, but the vindication would feel very satisfying. Someone who preaches the inferiority of women, who mocks and insults those with whom he disagrees, even those who honestly seek dialog--I don't want that person to be fruitful, and so claim that God is with them. I want churches who preach the dignity of all, who show empathy and respect for everyone, who recognize their own limitations and welcome the intellectual refinement of honest dialog--I want those churches to succeed, because I believe deeply that they truly bear witness to God as we understand Him through Jesus.

Somehow, in the mystery of God's working through his church, he continues to call people through churches of all flavors. Somehow, people come to know Jesus at Mark Driscoll's church. I don't get it, probably anymore than Mark Driscoll gets how someone could believe in the bible and believe women can be leaders in church. For whatever reason, God sees fit to work through a diverse collection of congregations. I don't really understand, but that's okay. I have to accept whatever way God wants to save the world, even if it includes emergent fundamentalists.

1 comment:

Darren King said...

Hey Nate,

I enjoy reading your thoughts on various issues. I write and serve as senior editor for a site called Precipice Magazine ( I'm wondering how you'd feel about me re-publishing some of your articles/posts in Precipice? I think your writing style and content fits really well with Precipice. You can contact me at