Its not everyday that you hear a gracious and honorable critique of the emerging church by a thinking person. But I found one. I just heard Michael Horton give a good critique on the emerging church on a Lutheran radio show. (A hat tip to the lovely ladies at EmergentNo.blogspot.com for posting links to Michael’s thoughts). I dont agree with all that Michael says, but there are some good points that should be taken seriously.
Michael Who? Michael Horton, whose White Horse Inn program goes live tonight for the first time 6pm Pacific/ 9pm EST – CHECK IT OUT!), has has got his own share of criticism from rapidnet.com Michael is one of the voices in “The Church in Emerging Culture (ed. by Len Sweet) which is one of the better books on my shelf. He is a thoughtful guy from the Reformed Tradition. I like the guy and am glad he was chosen to give the critque. Heres the Skinny . . . for those who are interested. If not, move on to another post. (Really, the following conversation is TERRIBLY BORING!! – enter at your own risk!)
Michael is interviewed by Todd Wilken, who appears to be a controversialist radio talk show host, looking for the juciest emerging church gossip that will boost ratings. If that is not true, then my apologies to Todd. I do find it strange that he doesn’t deal with any emerging churches in the Lutheran scene but heads straight over to Brian McLaren. To give Todd the benefit of the doubt, he may not realize the great advances for the gospel in the emerging culture that the Lutherans have been achieving over the past 6 years. (I visited Spirit Garage in Minn. back in 1999). Why don’t the Lutherans start with their own house? Surely Todd cant be that ignorant???
BTW – Todd Wilken’s introduction of e-church is confusing. He doesn’t differentiate between emerging church (Em. Church) and electronic/ internet church (e-church) but the two are very different.
I haven’t listened to Program 1 yet. Maybe one of you will do that and give me the skinny.
Program 2 is well worth listening to. Like many recent critiques, it turns out to be more about Brian McLaren, but Michael seems fair and one who is open to listening. In fact, the radio host was egging him on to blast the heck out of emerging church but Michael spoke truthfully and didn’t bite the bait. I would even say that Michael found himself defending the broad and varied aspects of the emerging church that don’t easily give way to a reductionist dismissal. Well done Michael!!
But Michael does hand out a few worthy spankings to the emerging church as he has experienced it (The New American Standard Emergent Church). Here they are (but not in order):
Michael’s Worthy Spankings
1. He says the emerging church has catered to a sloppy pop-postmodern philosophy – and he has a point. Which is why many of us, having read that stuff in the mid to late 90’s, moved on to other ways of framing the conversation. But I also, on occasion, come across a juvenile fascination with pop-philosophers from a few decades back – and I am equally embarrassed.
By the way, many French thinkers are tackling the gift economy and issues of generosity – but are being ignored by MSM because of their lack of appeal (not sloppy-poppy enough).
Note To Self: I need to rigorously deal with thoughtful philosophers (dangitt – i thought i already was!!!) so that I can speak prophetically into my world, and communicate well so that people don’t think i am “catering” to the philosophies of our age.
2. They are really young and too demographically separated -There are no old people and the oldest leader of one emerging church was only 28 years old.
This can be true and unfortunate. I can pull out personal examples of intergenerational worship inside the emerging church but these might be the exceptions. Its possible that emerging church people are not very good at winning elderly people into the Kingdom – the minds of older people are more settled than young people, who are still making life decisions. But then, to be honest, I dont see the traditional church doing very well with the older people either, except for some death bed conversions in nursing homes. For both traditional and emerging churches, younger people are more responsive to the call of Jesus and church starting efforts that are not focused on stealing sheep, will inevitably be populated with lots of young people. Jesus disciples were also young, but were not exclusive.
Note To Self: Lets not be churches FOR youth but be churches BY youth FOR everyone! I should do a better job of mentioning and including the older people who mentor me and speak into my life, like Thom Wolf.
3. The Emerging Church can seem to be anti-Seminary. Well . . . I have been a little skeptical about Seminaries. but I have also had great learning experiences at American seminaries – Fuller School of World Mission, Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Western Conservative Baptist Seminary. But I found the cost of ministry training in the seminaries to be prohibitive. I made it through by selling my house but it wasnt enough to help me finish off my degree. Also, I feel that basic Seminary education is insufficient for ministry in the emerging culture. Watchman Nee, on a trip from China to England, criticized the English theological education by saying that after all those years of “training”, the graduates still could not cast out a demon. Decades later, there are still seminary graduates who dont know how to cast out a demon, or start a church without money, or even throw a good party. I agree with my Baptist missionary friend, David Garrison (Church Planting Movements) when he notes that, historically, heresy usually stems from higher education and foreign elements. I also acknowledge the significant research of Christian Schwartz (Natural Church Development) who discovered that higher amounts of seminary education led to less success in church growth.
Note To Self: We may think the Seminaries need a lot of help, but lets be part of the solution. BTW – Fuller Seminary was host to a significant gathering of Emerging Church leaders, including myself, last week. Biola hosts an emerging church gathering either this week or next. We should embrace these new partnerships.
4. The Emerging Church seems to be Vague and Avoids Certainty. “Even the best stuff i have come across is very vague” Well, sometimes we do seem vague. Brian McLaren’s appeal to Jesus and the Kingdom parables is a valid one – Using parable and narrative is sometimes the best way to approach Pharisees, but it can frustrate people and can give the appearance of hiding truth rather than explaining it.
And sometimes I am not really sure on things, I have to admit.
My theology? No.
My interpretation of it? Not really. But sure enough to take a step of faith out into my world. How sure do you have to be? If I was absolutely certain of everything, why would I need faith.
Am I certain of the Biblical meaning of the 4th head of the second beast in the Book of Revelation? Yes! . . . i mean . . No!
Do I believe the Book of Revelation? Yes
Job’s friends were certain of their truth, but they were certainly wrong. Job himself was not certain of why God was allowing his scabs to grow unchecked on his body but he was certain of the One in whom he believed.
For what is it worth, and if anybody is listening (this will probably be dismissed and forgotten) but I am absolutely convinced, beyond doubt, in the One True God and his Son Jesus Christ. He is true and his word is truth. He died for sinners and died for me. He is my Saviour. That truth is both propositional and narrative and I believe it both ways, sideways and upwards and downwards and i am living out my life in accordance with that Truth. Dannggittt!!!! Why cant you people hear me??? Are your ears closed???? Or will you only listen to what you want to hear???
Jesus loves me this i know
for the bible tells me so
I believe in truth. However, I am not completely sure that my last sermon is the absolute truth. Nor do I think that these words I am writing are absolutely true, and to say that my words, or any other human construct born in the minds of men and women, are true on the same level as the Personhood of God . . . is an insult to God is who far more TRUER than anything i can come up with down here on this side of eternity where i see dimly, as if through a glass.
[But you didn’t hear me say that. What you heard is; “Blah Blah blahBlah”]
So you could say that my view of Truth is HIGHER than my fundamentalist friends, because I am not willing to place my theological constructs, sermons, blog posts and articles on the same level as Jesus who IS the Truth and the most accurate representation of the Father, certainly more accurate than my thoughts on Chardin’s Noosphere, which, although interesting and perhaps enlightening (and somewhat FADDISH) are open to critique and accountability because I AM SUSPICIOUS of everything I think up with my mind which is stained by sin and encultured by my unique background. Therefore I do not trust the sweetest frame but only lean on Jesus name – all other ground is sinking sand – and that simply means that my sweet frames may help but they will never take the place of God’s truth.
. . and partly because of my suspicion of my sweet frames and the sweet frames of others, I am more open to dialogue with those who hold different beliefs than me – and this is what gets me and us in trouble.Because some people are not able to believe that we can hold a conversation with others of a different opinion without totally abandoning our belief system.
Note To Self: I need to be clear that my hold on the One True God and his True Message is strong and even stronger than before. Otherwise I will give the impression of being vague and open to anything . . . which is not true.I also need to be more clearer on the things I think are FALSE, even though i will be criticized for being divisive.
5. Emerging Church is Faddish. Yes . . sometimes immature emerging churches get over excited about connecting with culture, unlike their fathers church. I have seen this also.
But not always. Some of us reject current trends and get persecuted for it. When fads catch up to what i am doing, (it occasionally happens) i often think about getting out. Blogging is now a fad and believe me, I am very tempted to quit because of that. I hate fads and anything faddish. I am soooooo insulted to be accused of being faddish.
I am currently starting a monastery in Orkney. Is that really a FAD??
I personally think that we are going back to non-faddish traditions that were neglected by the faddish contemporary church. However, much of our conversation does revolve around technology, fashion, culture and that gives the impression that we are shaped by what we talk about rather than finding redemptive analogies within our culture, like Paul in Athens.
Note To Self: I have to shout it out much louder . . . that I am trying to be missional and i don’t care whether my stuff is part of the newest fad or not.
Also, despite what Michael said, I dont think that books are the staple for this movement and only academics like Michael say things like that.
Much more to say . . . There are more things there . . . but i have to make some pizza for my family and enjoy my Friday night. God forbid we all get bogged down in this stuff and don’t get to eat pizza!!!!
VIVA LA PIZZA!!!!!!!!!!
And let me say, in parting – Michael Horton did a great job in critiquing us – I wish all our critics were as kind, considerate, thoughtful, and relational as he was.
I hope he becomes an example of how to do it right
And Michael (i know you will read this) thanks for a few good thoughts to get us repenting and moving forward into the kind of church we need to be if we are to represent Jesus in this wild and crazy world of ours.