Sinners in the Hands of the Emergent Church

I simply just HAD to use that title for this post – he he he – I took it from an excellent PDF by Bill Hernard, offered up with permission by Ed Stetzer. Its called “Sinners in the Hand of the Emergent Church: Jonathan Edwards Join the Conversation.” [PDF], presented at the Academy for Evangelism in Theological Education. I agree with Hernard’s conclusions, that there are things Edwards would both affirm and dismiss from our present emergent church movement.

High point: A number of interesting parallels between Jonathan Edwards and the emerging church of today. Bill has done some decent research here. For example, Edwards engaged the local culture and used innovative methods to reach people, including hymn singing in worship. He also took a big risk by supporting the itinerant evangelists.

Low Point: I was kinda hoping this Baptist pastor would use some Baptist emerging church examples. Its a little disappointing that, while the Southern Baptist Convention boasts some of the earliest and best examples of emergent churches and emergent church leaders in America over the past 15 years, none of them make it into Bill’s paper. Or is it just a matter of convenience that we give our critique to churches on the other side of the denominational fence?

EdwardsFurther study: I wonder if the parallels from Edwards experience as a missionary preacher among the Native Americans (not tackled in Hernard’s paper) might be even more applicable to a missional approach to the emerging culture than his experience with the settlers. Did Edwards demand the Native Americans convert to English language culture [and American value system] and a non-indigenous worship style or did he apply Biblical principles of cross cultural apostolic ministry in the way many emerging church apostles are now employing as they take the gospel into other cultures?

Hello, seminary students?????

Update: I have a new post that mentions Edward’s relation to the “emergent church” phrase from 1622. Its called Emergent Church Difficulties and Differences.

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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.


  • Matt says:

    The real question, Andrew, is, “Was Jonathan Edwards missional?” And I think it’s safe to say, “Yes!” I think it’s interesting that you equate missional thinking with the emerging mindset. From my observation (speaking as an insider), being missional is one of the key characteristics of the emerging church; however, many non-emerging churches are missional and many emerging churches, I would argue, are not, or at least are not primarily defined by the missional agenda. The latter seem to have much more of a philosophical, theological, agenda, and usually a predominant social agenda separated from true Kingdom advancement. The key theological issue here is the definition of the missio Dei. Evangelicals, by and large (myself included), would argue that the mission is, broadly speaking, Redemption– redemption that justifies and sanctifies in the here and now and looks forward to glorification. At Consummation God will make all things new in the blink of an eye. It’s not up to us to “transform the world”, ecologically, socially, or politically. Steward it, care for it, shine light into it, spread love and truth throughout it, yes.
    On a different note, I too would like to see more light shed upon Southern Baptists in the early and current stages of the emerging movement. Despite Mosaic’s megachurchness, I think Erwin McManus deserves a fair bit of credit for stimulating big-vision, radical-discipleship, missional ecclesiology throughout the U.S., particularly among people in their mid-20s early 30s.

  • andrew jones says:

    yeah – erwin has done a lot. i was there when erwin had his first youth service at the church on brady (must have been 1994) – that service later became mosaic.
    but i was thinking more of the house church/intentional community/alt. worship side of the emerging church more than the traditional stage driven sunday service churches.
    as for missio dei, i agree.
    i have some thoughts on missio dei here
    thoughts on missio dei

  • church says:

    I think yes, Edwards demand the Native Americans convert to English language culture and a non-indigenous worship style.

  • I think Edwards, like most missionaries of his time, took aspects of the indigenous religions that fit with the Church’s beliefs and blended them together. This happened all over North America and to most other indigenous peoples that have been subject to imperialism.

  • Look to David Brainerd and you’ll probably find some further explanation of Edwards’ views toward indigenous culture… Brainerd having actually been a missionary to the North American Indians. Edwards actually convinced Brainerd on his death bed (in Edwards’ house) to allow portions of his diary to be published. The parts I’ve read admittedly don’t provide a ton of insight, but on the whole my impression would have been that both men attempted to enforce less adoption of their own culture than was the case in most colonial missionary endeavours.

  • Dan Lowe says:

    Great question in regard to Edwards, Native Americans, and emerging churches. Like the last two posts have stated, it’s a pretty fair bet that Edwards was involved in the mindset of colonialism, having been a man of his times.
    In your post, you mention emergent churches taking the gospel into other cultures. Forgive me for being a stickler here, but isn’t that part of the mindset that folks like Edwards would have had in converting the “heathen tribes on this continent” (Kane, 1982; 87)? I’m not trying to attack you here, but doesn’t that question assume that those cultures don’t have the gospel already? Which raises my next question.
    How are emergent (and missional) leaders in contact with those in other cultures who are already reaching their people, in a culturally affirming way, in places like New Zealand, Australia, and the U.S.? There are Maori leaders in New Zealand, Aboriginal leaders in Australia, and Native American and First Nation leaders in the U.S. and Canada whose voices would contribute to these current (emergent and missional) conversations.
    So, we ask what Edward’s perception regarding the Native Americans was; what is our perception in Western church culture regarding the same people as well as the indigenous people of other countries around the world?

  • Andrew Jones says:

    good question. many EC leaders are involved in first nations – check out EmergentKiwi (Steve Taylor) and his Maori connections and google Richard Twiss who writes on both subjects.
    also see what i wrote here on Christianity Today
    There is a special place for the host peoples of any land.

  • Dan Lowe says:

    Andrew, et. al.,
    Thanks for the links and the info. Out of curiosity, where is that special place? As it seems that much of the face of both emergence and missional is pretty white, a question it would seem other minorities are asking, not just the host peoples. Seeing as the connections exist, how do the indigenous voices influence the conversation? How do they challenge it?

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