The Skinny on the Emerging Church Forum at WTS

I wasn’t there at the Emerging Church Forum at Westminster Theological Seminary but I thought it worth keeping an eye on and i had a few good chats with students and participants. If you took notes or have access to more links [especially audio] then please let me know.

Tony at Sets ‘n’ Service has the SKINNY [here] and the biggest collection of links to the many lectures. Here are the talks that caught my attention:

– Missiological Trajectories on the Emerging Church, by Dr John Leonard [Art]
– Why God did not spare his Son, Dan McCartney, [Foolish Sage]
– Theology as Mission: Envisioning Christian Faith in a Pluralistic Culture [Foolish Sage]
– How Should Reformed Theology Respond to the Cultural Challenges of the 21st Century? by Dr. Michael Scott Horton []
– What is the Emerging Church? by Dr Scot McKnight [TSK here and here]

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Why did I appreciate this Forum so much?

They let the emerging church speak with its own voice. They allowed both sides of the debate. And they showed why their particular angle on the gospel and church history was, in their minds, superior. And thats cool. Every denomination or stream of the church should know how their own history has equipped them to function and succeed in today’s cultural environment, as well as the eye-planks that could cause blindspots.

It was a brave attempt and judging by the professors who chose NOT to attend, it may have been a stretch. But they pulled it off made a benchmark for other Seminaries.

How do they compare with other North American Seminaries who tackled the Emerging Church?

Possibly the best yet, from what i have seen, and certainly better than these:

Dallas Theological Seminary (audio available) was not as extensive as Westminster but the attitude and content was very good.

-. Biola got bogged down in the philosophical but gave it a good shot.

A talk at Western Seminary should register on this list but a full blown conference or forum is yet to come.

Masters Seminary did a very poor job IMHO. Insular and cul-de-sac, defensive and misdirected.


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Tim Keller says:

    Andrew–Virtually all features and emphases of the ‘missional/emerging church’ movement were being taught by Harvie Conn 25 years ago at Westminster Seminary, with (IMO) more theological depth and nuanced-ness than the current voices. He was a ‘voice crying the the wilderness’ though, largely ignored across the board, both inside and outside Reformed circles.

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  • Overview of the Emerging Church Forum at Westminster Theological Seminary

    Tall Skinny Kiwi does a great job of pointing you to all the right places to go for information from this event, so I suggest you do so if youre at all interested.
    Understanding the dialogue allows us to define it, unfortunately folks with agend…

  • david rudd says:

    grand rapids theological seminary handled the emerging church discussion back in ’05.
    not great depth, but mclaren was there. highlights included dr. mike wittmer (heaven is a place on earth) singing a gnostic tribute to american hymnology…

  • andrew jones says:

    tim – i have to confess that i have not really read Harvey Conn, apart from chunks and paragraphs. I will make an investment and sit with him, at your suggestion.
    and David – thanks – exactly what i wanted to hear. appreciate the link.

  • Tim Keller says:

    Andrew–Harvie is hard to learn from, especially now that he is gone, because his material is spread out through so many different volumes. A couple of us would like to create some kind of compendium that would introduce his thought to others. Also, he is not the easiest guy to read. But I’d recommend “Eternal Word and Changing Worlds”. I think you’ll be surprised at what you find there, especially considering it’s over 20 years old. For five years I taught in the department of which he was head. At weekly department meetings, the two of us would usually be the first ones there and each time I had about 15 minutes alone with him, talking informally about everything under the sun. (I was in my mid-30s at the time.) He’ll never know but those 15 minutes a week changed my whole view of mission (namely, that theology arises out of mission) and of the city (namely, that the city is central for the purposes of God) and of contextualization (namely, that it has to be done but with the utmost care.) Changed my life, really. I’d have never come to New York City if I hadn’t met him.

  • rick says:

    Thats an awesome testament to his life and work. Thanks Dr. Keller.
    A smaller work of Conn’s that is worth checking out is, “Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace.”

  • Most of the WTS profs who showed up at the conference and supported it are also people who see themselves as living and teaching in the legacy of Harvie Conn. No surprise there.

  • An Emerging Church Evaluation of the WTS Emerging Church Forum

    Andrew Jones (TallSkinnyKiwi), perhaps the best known Emerging Church blogger in the world, posted his evaluation of our conference this past weekend after reading the lecture notes and transcripts posted on this blog and several others. Were st…

  • Tim,
    Thanks for this personal note about Harvie Conn. My recollections of Harvie are thin, but what I recall is that he was controversial and not always taken as seriously (as he might be today).
    Second thought: I don’t think anyone is really saying the emerging folks “discovered” something new. Sure, some have personal discoveries that sound like they found something. But, by and large, I think most have “found” what they have found in Newbigin, Bosch, and perhaps some Yoder.
    Third, I would say that what I’m seeing in emerging holistic missional focus is what I have read for a long time in Ronald Sider — who is not mentioned often enough in these conversations. And I think he’s got most of the balance properly addressed.
    Now, back at you: there seems to be a tendency to say “there’s nothing new here.” I think one distinctive emphasis of emerging is its concern to be holistic about the gospel — not for the first time — but to get it right.

  • If I can add 2 more cents, other minority theologians have been saying some of this stuff probably even longer actually with particular emphasis on the importance of one’s (socio-historical) context. Unfortunately, most folks didn’t listen to the likes of C. Eric Lincoln, James Cone and etc. Perhaps, that will change with a new vision for a more robust and beautiful conversation with many different partners.

  • andrew jones says:

    These are great suggestions. And I will look out for those writings.
    Like Scot, I am not sure who is saying that these thoughts are new. Not me! Not my friends, I hope. I have been greatly encouraged by writings over the last century and recently ploughed my way through all the lectures of the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh – in which Reformed voices like Robert E. Speer were insisting it is “God’s mission” and not ours. And certainly in the 1950’s this emphasis was carried forward by Princeton’s John Mackay and others.
    Much to read on this over the past 100 years, especially the last 50, and much of it from Reformed voices.
    Newbigin was a latecomer to this – although present at Willingen (1952) he doesnt seem to catch on to the full extent of missio dei until his writings in the 70’s but he was English, rather than German, so he was more widely accepted and read. He still is.

  • Brad Winslow says:

    I don’t want to be stodgy or judgmental and I hope that my inclination to think that the EM places the Kingdom of God as the main organizing principle for the gospel is wrong headed or a simplistic evaluation. Indeed, I think some of the lectures could have been more controversial based on my extrapolation on what the content pointed toward. I would like to hear a lecture entitled: A Reappropriation of Political Correctness by Christ’s Church or something to that effect. And I would like to see more biblically inclusive literary devices towards that aim so Christian hearers and the world would be better able to discern the endless chiastic structure of law and grace as interposed in debates. I can understand a gospels only approach as a method of affirmation to hearers so far as dicipleship is concerned. But again the mystery of peoples being able to put Christ like ideas in proper perspective is not possible when only the kingdom is in view. We need to relate in a parabolic manner at times to the nebuchadnezzarian powers of this world that oppress while still retaining Paul’s emphasis in Rom 13.

  • andrew says:

    Makes me wonder which side has the skinny on political correctness, or which country . . . and makes me wonder what happens when the church is oppressing people instead of the world.
    I do think we need to hear non-western voices in this conversation to get some balance.

  • Brad Winslow says:

    -Appreciated, thanks…
    As mentioned above Conn’s Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace a good read.
    Models of Contextual Theology by Bevans thought provoking too…

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