Thank you for the email that was sent to Emerging Church leaders. It was helpful to hear from you. I am writing this as an open post – not because you need to respond to it [you dont] but because my apology to you should be public and i want to honor those that braved the pigeon-holing of Niebuhr’s Nauseating Culture Questionaire in order to give you a fair answer to your question (i am smiling as i write this).
I just read your paper again. Its really good – balanced, fair and generous. Thanks for your concern for us and for taking a risk to give us a critique. I am sorry for getting so knee-jerk defensive, as I explained in No. 4 and in my email to you. Everyday there are new warnings against us and I tend to lump them all together. Last week there was Satan, The First Postmodernist;
"This is why people like Len Sweet and other Emerging Church teachers are so dangerous. They cater to an evil mindset instead of attempting to change it through education in the Word. This is why we are living in the end times generation. The postmodern paradigm will bring in the reign of the Antichrist, Satan himself. We can only thank the Lord Jesus Christ that it will be short-lived and that the devil, the first postmodernist, will be put down forever."
Another is "Emergent Church is Satan’s Deception" and a host of anti-emerging church sites like Slice of Laodicea (where i found your warning). No wonder Dr Greg Austin was inspired to write his own "Emerging Church – a response to our critics".
But you did NOT accuse us of igniting Armageddon nor the Great Apostacy – far from it. The Baptist Press Warning and its proponents added a further level of angst and agitation that was not there and took your initial critique into territory that you probably never intended.
As I end this series, I am attempting to answer your main concern (cultural captivity) and respond to your question regarding which of Niebuhr’s 5 ways to address culture would represent the approach of the emerging church. You need to know that most people in the emerging culture (call it "postmodern" if you like, but the word "complexity" comes first to my mind) are put off by simplistic, dualistic models of reality (we dare not trust the sweetest FRAME) but this suspicion of models should not be confused with a rejection of truth, or a casual approach to evil.
– Kester, in the comments of No 5, says "Because Niebuhr appears to be putting forward a view of culture that is something we can choose to be a part of, a lifestyle choice. I’d disagree with that. Culture is not something we opt in or out of."
BTW – I hope Kesters book on the emerging church (The Complex Christ) is also on your book list. Kester claims that the leading characteristic of emerging churches is the culture of gift-giving (and not Carson’s "protest" against the traditional church). He also explains emergent theory and its connection to emerging church.
– Reformissionary – a good SBC emerging church discussion related to your paper on why the posture of Christ against culture, [although probably preferred by Moreland??], is under suspicion.
– Emergent Kiwi says that "our models of gospel and culture are now unhelpful, as they so easily slide into either/or; if you are emerging you are culturally accomodating cf if you are non-emerging you are gospel faithful. The dualisms are easy but dead wrong."
And we are not alone. Many others, much smarter than us, also have problems with Niebuhr. They say that Niebuhr’s approach from Christ and Culture (outlined here) is too individualistic (Guder), unpersuasive (Volf), too monolithic in its understanding of culture (Yoder). It is biased towards the transformative (Yoder, Hauerwas, Willimon, Gustafson), it is not historically accurate (Marsden) and it doesn’t answer which Christ? (Jenkins). It is a product of its time [its 50 years old] and near the end of its usefulness (Marsden) It is also unhelpfully "bi-polar" (Hunsberger) rather than a more accurate triangluation of the gospel message, culture and (the third factor) the CHURCH (Newbiggin).
However, I realize that there are many scholars and theologians from a more modern background are asking the question "WHAT IF we were to subject the Emerging Church leaders and proponents to Niebuhr’s categories? How would they fare? It was a lot of ask, and some of my readers may still be angry with me, but a few days ago I asked emerging church leaders to vote on one of Niebuhr’s 5 approaches to culture. 86 emerging churches responded and the results are here (click to enlarge).
You can see that Christ the Transformer of Culture is by far the most popular choice, at 70% and Christ of Culture (accomodation/syncretism – what the emerging church is accused of) is actually the lowest at 3%. I hope that helps you in your research of the emerging church.
You may have hoped, as J.P. Moreland probably does, for more choices to be Christ against culture. Why so few? If I was to guess, I would say:
– Because Christ as Transformer of Culture is a more holistic solution for a complex world, involving a prophetic response against the idols of culture coupled immediately with the redeeming, transforming power of the Gospel.
– Because in our current church scene of culture-wars, angry fundamentalism, and segments of the church defining themselves solely by what they stand against, many of us feel that we should be identified by our transforming efforts, unity, fruit of the spirit and our love (by this will all men know you are my disciples).
Anyway, much thanks, Dr Hammett for taking the time to critique us and to offer a challenge. I look forward to reading your future writings on this topic. Sincerely and respectfully, Andrew Jones.
Related:Bruce Larson and Ralph Osborne, in their classic 1970 book "The Emerging Church", prophesied accurately when they said:
"the word "and" will be an often-used conjunction in the emerging church"