Church and Community or Community and Church? by Ronald Gleason
From the book Reforming or Conforming? Post-Conservative Evangelicals and the Emerging Church
This chapter by Ronald Gleason and Phil Johnson’s chapter, were the best ones in the book for me so I am responding to them before the others, in case I dont get to the whole book. Both men have some history with the emerging church conversation and have done their homework. I have chatted to both by email in the past.
Ron Gleason sees evangelicalism sliding down a slippery slope over the past 4 decades, characterized by these landmarks:
1. A glaring lack of and disdain for the historical Christian tradition
2. A thirst and desire for “tangible” religion
3. A hunger for genuine community and relationship.
The first two are bad, and the third one is both biblical and desirable. The Emerging church, according to Gleason, has strongly advocated the third point but is just as guilty as evangelicalism for displaying the first two. Gleason finds similarities between the Emerging Church and the Ethical Theologians in the Netherlands many years ago. He points to the writings of the Dutchman Herman Bavinck who countered the Ethical Theologians with a theological method that took “account of the place of three indispensable facets of the Christian faith: Scripture, tradition and the Christian consciousness.”
Interesting – the late Stanley Grenz is criticized in Johnson’s Introduction to the book for his three norms for theology – Scripture, tradition and culture.
But back to Gleason. He concludes that unless there is a “genuine and return to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, post evangelical conservatives will have nothing to say because they will have left nothing in terms of a spiritual legacy.
By and large I agree wholeheartedly with Gleason.
1. A glaring lack of and disdain for the historical Christian tradition needs to be address in all aspect of the church. Gleason recommends DH Williams “Retreiving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism” I couldn’t agree any more. In fact, I have blogged about this wonderful book [and also Williams on “Evangelicals and Tradition”] and have even taken it with me on teaching trips to recommend people read it.
And I should add that there are plenty of Emerging Church leaders who are encouraging the reading of the Church Fathers. Kimball comes to mind.
Another really good book and one more tailored to the emerging church movement is Remembering Our Future: Explorations in Deep Church (Andrew Walker and Luke Bretherton) where the authors, influenced by Williams, bring the challenge to the emerging church to “ressource” itself on the Tradition. Deep Church was also a recent lecture series at Westminster Theological Centre in London.
2. Tangible religion was predicted by Johann Baptist Metz in his amazingly prophetic book “The Emergent Church” (1981) where he said the Second Reformation would involve Protestants rediscovering the senses. While Gleason sees this as primarily a negative thing, I see many positives in moving from an overly-cognitive spirituality to one that involves the real world and embracing all the senses. The restoration of the centrality of communion (Mass Communion, by Jonny Baker and Pete Ward) points to this shift. It seems the table and the pulpit find themselves as unwilling sparring partners in the Reformed VS Emerging Church wrestling match.
Yes, we can go too far in embracing sensuality but worship in the Scriptures was often multi-sensual and expressive.
I remember the good old fashioned prayer meetings at my old Baptist church. We all turned up, nodding to each other, listened to a verse from the Bible, and then we closed our eyes and didn’t open them again for two hours. Compare that with the kind of prayer meetings many of us enjoy today [24/7 prayer rooms for example] where we pray with all our senses – drawing, painting, reading, dancing, expressing our prayers in “tangible” and memorable ways.
3. Community. Yes, a big feature of emerging churches is often the intimacy, accountability, personal touch of a small group. But it should not become an idol or sought for its own sake.
As for Herman Bavinck, I confess that I only heard his name last year. I led a gathering of emerging church leaders in Amsterdam and asked them what theologians had influenced them. Bavinck was one of those names. Its a great suggestion for the emerging church to read Bavinck, and when I get some time I will try and do just that.
After Ron Gleason’s chapter, which was really good, I don’t think our worlds are as far apart as I had once suspected.
The Series so far:
Reforming or Conforming? Post-Conservative Evangelicals and the Emerging Church, edited by Gary Johnson and Ronald Gleason.
Introduction by Gary L.W. Johnson.
Chapter 1 – The Doctrine of Scripture: Only a Human Problem, by Paul Wells.
Chapter 7 – Church and Community or Community and Church, by Ronald N. Gleason
Chapter 9 – Joyriding on the Downgrade at Breakneck Speed: The Dark Side of Diversity, by Phil Johnson