Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches. Part One.

An early release copy just arrived and I read it straight away. Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches, edited by Robert Webber. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did! Fantastic book! Really. And this means i have to make room on my top ten Emerging Church books.

0310271355.01. Aa240 Sclzzzzzzz Dr. Robert Webber has done a great job in creating a snapshot of 5 emerging church leaders and pushing them to bring their theological leanings out of the closet. Not the widest scope – more a focus on the evangelical. non-Pentecostal, protestant, non-house church seminary-trained leader with a more traditional church structure and leadership hierarchy. But the book is about theology, not methodology, so I will cut some slack and give it the kudos it deserves.

If you have read “The Church in Emerging Culture” edited by Len Sweet, then you might think you’re looking at its sequel. Robert Webber is the editor, and like Len, does a superb job in framing the conversation. Len Sweet’s four categories (Garden/Park/Glen/Meadow), which I said were worth the price of the book, are replaced by four cultural stages that Webber takes from sociologists Strauss and Howe. They are four cultural turnings in a cycle that is finding completion in this present dispensation of emerging church.

1. High Evangelicals (1946-1964)

2. Awakening Evangelicals (1964- 1984)

3. Evangelical Unravelling (1984- 2004)

4. The Emerging Church and Younger Evangelical Leaders (2004 – )

The grid offers some good insight into where we have come and its a superb read, as was Sweet’s intro. Both are worthy contributions on their own standing. Although, as in Webber’s book on Younger Evangelicals, i would argue an emerging church that is older, more integrated, more invisible, less institutional, more international and more influenced by the charasmatic and post-charasmatic movement than Webber is willing to acknowledge.

Four of the five characters in Sweets book have their counterparts in Webber’s. Reformer Michael Horton now becomes Mark Driscoll, the joker figure Brian McLaren is played by Doug Pagitt, the token female main-liner Fredrica Matthews-Green is replaced by Anglo-Lutheran Karen Ward, and the role of emerging church beyond the seeker sensitive model shifts from Erwin McManus to John Burke.

But there is a difference between these books. Rather than dealing with culture, Robert Webber tackles theology and focuses on the differences between them. This gives the book more EDGE than Sweet’s book. And what allows Webber’s authors to engage with vigor in this theological pillow-fight is the fact that they are all on friendly terms with each other, giving them freedom to be harsh and forthright in their critiques without getting nasty or personal.

These are five great people and over the years I have met all of them.

Mark Driscoll (Biblicist Theology) is the elephant in the room, the crabby schoolteacher, and one continually wonders whether he is on the defensive to protect his own reputation from participation in this book project or if he considers it his ministry to bring the others back to Calvin. Or, as a pastor, he is worried about his flock going into spaces where there be dragons. Maybe all of those. Reformed folk will be cheering him on as he chastises the others for treating theology as if dynamic rather than static. But his comments open up so many questions that the book almost needs a place for the other authors to respond to Driscoll’s comments on them

“No, Mark, that was not a sly reference to homosexuality . . ”

Mark’s defensive posture prevents him from taking the conversation forward and he defers to a restating of what we have already heard, interspersed with a thousand Scriptural references. He is usually better than this, as you may know. When in his element, he is genius. But Driscoll’s presence in the book, awkward as it is, acts as a reminder that a portion of the emerging church hails from reformed and fundamentalist corners of the room and they also need a place at the table. Mark’s presence here is an entry ticket for those people to enter mission in the emerging culture. And for that, I am thankful.

Doug Pagitt (Embodied Theology) is brilliant. I have said this before but The Pagitt has not been able to display it in such a way as to prove I am right. His two books are OK . . but not great. Not as great as I know Doug is. But this chapter gives me hope that Doug is finding some space to shine in the literary world. At last.

In his chapter, he is Driscoll’s nemesis – “We are called to be communities that are cauldrons of theological imagination, not “authorized re-staters” of past ideas.”

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Dan Kimball (Missional Theology) plays my usual role in conversations like these- the bridge builder and spokesperson for the marginalized. Dan plays the “missional” card and he writes a good chapter. But I don’t feel he made it clear that the missional focus is the primary undergirding apparatus for the emerging church as well as providing an ecumenical space for conversation such as this book. We do not meet together on the grounds of theological compromise (and Dan does not suggest we do) but rather because of mutual participation in God’s mission among the emerging culture. It may be that Webber let it slide because, being more attuned to theology and worship, he does not see the missional basis for much of this current thinking or its roots in missiological thinking over the past 50 years. But then again, maybe that is just my horse and i should stop whipping it here.

Having said that, Dan is a star and he carries many things that are dear to me. Dan is a spokesman and peace-maker and ambassador for the emerging church and his writings are widely accessible. Great to have his voice in this book.

John Burke (Incarnational Theology) offers a gateway for those feeling stifled in the World of WillowBack and are pilgrimaging forward into emergent territory, but he also speaks out for global issues (also my role in conversations like these) and the good news for new age and neo-paganism.

Karen Ward (Communal Theology) also does exceedingly well, perhaps better than anyone. With great flair and skill she weaves ideas of cooking and theology and art into her chapter and allows others in her community to add their voices. Those on the creative fringe of the emerging church will warm immediately to Karen’s chapter. There will also be much appeal to mainliners, artists and those seeking the rhythms of nu-monastisticism. Brits already love her and she is becoming a regular at Greenbelt Festival.

Critics who say the emerging church leaders are not clear on their theology should shut the heck up and buy this book. They are very clear. But outdated terms and categories often fail to communicate theological belief among ourselves, creating suspicion and confusion. What is also clear is this: there is a lot of scope for different takes on theology within the emerging church, because, I would add, of our common missional purpose. And thats good because it means more people can play.

This book needs a sequel with some new players. If we are keeping it on American soil, I would suggest these five:

1. Earl Creps to bring some Pentecostal theology to the mix.

2. Some emerging church practitioner from the Catholic or Orthodox tradition.

3. An emerging house church practitioner like Neil Cole . . no wait . . Neil is too nice. Jonathan Campbell would be edgier.

4. A post-charasmatic to lead Vineyard exiles into emerging pasture. Although Brian McLaren seems to be playing that role and might be a good choice.

5. A cyberchurch geek like e-church pastor Tim Bedner.

And for a wild card, why not throw in a full-throttle fundamentalist anti-emergent in the mix to make things really interesting. Someone like, say . . . Ken Silva?

For more on Listening to the Belief’s of Emerging Churches, read what the authors say about their own chapters:

Doug Pagitt who also lists the exact questions they were asked.

Dan Kimball who also links to the statements of faith from these author’s churches

Mark Driscoll who links to a sample PDF of his own chapter.

Others commenting on the book include Scot McKnight,

Or you can attend a session with these authors. A number of events related to this book and the release of Emergent Manifesto of Hope will happen around the country (Austin, Seattle, Minneapolis). Scott McKnight will moderate the Austin session. I will be moderating the Minneapolis session with some of these authors, which is why i am so interested in the book. May 17-18. Details later.

[UPDATE, March 20: Seattle is still on but the other two events are postponed until later this year.]

[UPDATE: Dan Kimball has reminded me that the contributors were asked to clearly state their beliefs on key doctrines. Taking that into consideration, I may have been too harsh on Driscoll and Kimball and a Part Two is called for.]

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name "Precious" :-)

23 Comments

  • Is Karen really ‘token’?
    Be interested in you going further on this… You think the editors put her in as token, you think she is?…
    Sounds like she’s way up there on merit to me…

  • I am interested to read it for myself. I likewise am unsure, but thankful for the inclusion of Driscoll into the conversation. He seems to distance himself further and further from any reference to the emerging church.
    You take on his chapter seems very harsh though. Whether he wants to accept it or not, Driscoll has opened the eyes of many evangelicals to the possibility of things outside of their comfortable, little box.
    Your criticisms of him are reminiscent of what many other people have written about the Reformed/Conservative strands of the EC. It is as if these people are welcome to sit at the table with the rest of us as long as they don’t talk. They are visitors and not conversational partners. I’m uncomfortable with that attitude since they are one of the fastest growing strands of the EC at large. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s intentional, but this strand do seem to think that none of us have read Calvin or considered reformed theology, or that even some of us are basically reformed in our theologies.
    On another note, I’m so thankful for the inclusion of Karen Ward. She offers so much, but outside of a relatively small crowd it seems like much of what she says goes unheard. I’m thankful that the big names on this book (i.e. Kimball, Driscoll and Pagitt) will let more people see what wonderful things she has to offer.

  • On a more random note, did you know that if you try to access your site with Safari or Firefox from China that the great firewall of China won’t let you, but if you access it via NetNewsWire everything works just fine.

  • Andrew…as one who falls in the category of “post-charismatic to lead Vineyard exiles into emerging pasture”, I think Todd Hunter would be a better choice than McLaren. Although, McLaren has had influence among us, his name is already mud in a lot of Vineyard circles. Todd’s voice needs to be heard and I think Vineyard folks will listen to what he has to say.

  • Kester – no insult meant by “token”. “representative” might have been a better choice.
    Kyle – yes, I have watched Mark open up eyes myself on many occasion. But i dont believe he is trying to do so in this book. Read his chapter and tell me if i am wrong.
    Mike – I have only heard positive things from Vineyard people regarding Brian. But yes, Todd has a lot to say. In fact, Todd joined our “Young Leaders” (pre-emergent) team before his switch to Alpha and was able to speak well on these issues.

  • Andrew, thanks for such a well-thought-out review of this book. It has me interested and I may just find myself running somewhere to check it out.
    I had a chance to help host an EC Learning Party that Karen and 2 of her compadres threw in our Diocese this past fall. I really loved what she had to say AND how she went about saying it.

  • Hello Andrew,
    Why thank you for thinking of me. I’d better ready to play nice if a book like that ever happened, eh. 😉
    I did receive the book as well. Thank you for sending it. I appreciate it, and perhaps this is a sign of the impending apocalypse…but I appreciate you.

  • Ken, if a book like that came about then you would be expected to say exactly what and how you want to say – which is why your contribution would be valued.
    there are many critics out there, Ken, and many who think the emerging church movement is leading us all down the toilet but you seem to be the only one who keeps up contact with us.
    and so we appreciate you too.
    Love to hear your thoughts on the book. Surely you cant think it as heretical after reading this book?

  • Couple of thoughts from what you have written.
    1. You say “the missional focus is the primary undergirding apparatus for the emerging church”. Says who? I think there are other more hidden apparatus involved then just mission. In fact my experiance tells me so far that most of us are trumpeting being ‘missional’ while prehaps really acting out of primary desires such as disillusionment with church as it was, rejection, bordem with faith as we know it, tiredness of being a busy Christian and the desire to become simpler, are the big driving forces I see around me.
    2. Driscoll is a great writer and thinker but does he really live out in his church what he has written now? Would Driscoll consider his Pastoral ministry fitting in to the ’emergent church’ box now?

  • Andrew,
    I think I would be able to do that. Well, we can thank the Lord for the chance to keep in touch with each other indeed. Anytime.
    Now that the website Christian Research Net is mine underneath the umbrealla of Apprising Ministries time constraints really limit dialogue. However, for a project like you suggest I wcould gladly change things up for a bit.
    When I get a chance I’ll write some about “Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches” as I’m still going through it. In fact just before I write this I was reading some of Ward’s chapter on community.

  • philip – maybe i am speaking for myself and the emerging church projects i have been a part of but certainly in the early days it was the inspiration of missio dei that fueled us on.
    interestingly, it was mark driscoll who helped introduce me to some key mission thinkers.
    ken – your thoughts are always welcome and i expect one day there will be projects as suggesd – but getting to know some of us in person will be a big plus.
    how about attending one of our events in 2008 or having some coffee with us?

  • hey andrew –
    we didn’t name the chapters, i think bob did that. so the chapter catagories and titles were determined after all the chapters were turned in. i wouldn’t have necessarily called it “Missional Theology” or if i did, i would have focused more on that when i wrote it.
    the other thing we were told was to specifically talk about our views on the atonement, Scripture, the trinity and lay out what we each believe about those. I think some chapters reflect that stronger than others.
    anyway ——- glad you are the moderator at the Minneapolis event and shall see you there!
    Dan

  • ahhh . . thanks Dan. That makes sense and it makes my criticism of your chapter a little inappropriate. Seen in that light, you and Driscoll did well in laying out what you believe.
    Look forward to a chat and a drink in Minneapolis . . and I promise not to touch The Hair.

  • I didn’t read the book yet but I too would like to hear from the likes of Earl Crepps. So much of the emergent coversation in non- charismatic/penecostel. I would love to hear commentary on or from the One Thing young adult movement out of the Kansas City House of Prayer.

  • Just a question here, I saw a mention of conferences with the five authors discussing these issues. Is there a link to something like that we can follow? It’d be good to have an eye on living blogging during it.
    Another question I had picking up on something Kimball said, for those who’s chapters weren’t as strong on the three foci; what is the conference discussion going to center on? theological gab or praxis gab…?

  • tony – doug pagitt has some info on his blog (link above) but i dont think it is official yet. maybe emergent will put up the details?
    you will hear soon i am sure.

  • wow, i cant wait to read this book. its what i have been waiting for. i think its great that mark d. is in it. i think he is a valuable person in the emergent conversation. i agree mostly where is coming from… so he gives me a voice. its also great that webber edited the book. hes such a stud.

  • My issue with Pagitt and company is that they never stop using meaningful words and sentences to explain to me why words and sentences can have no universal meaning because of my personal bias.

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