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Friday, August 3, 2012

Reviewing The Five Streams Of The Emerging Church Part II

A week ago, we wrote Reviewing The Five Streams Of The Emerging Church Part I (review) where we started to review an article by Scot McKnight on 5 themes of the Emerging Church (Emerging).  We started the article by listing 3 criticisms that the Left has levied against the Conservative Church of being an institution of indoctrination, preaching a gospel of "me," and creating a culture of fear that keeps the flock reading the "right" people. The purpose of listing these criticisms was to show that there is a real need to make corrections in the Church.

We then listed 5 themes that McKnight has seen in the Emerging Church and covered 2 of them: the prophetic and Post-modern.

The next theme to be covered is Praxis-oriented. We should note here that the word praxis is the Greek word used to name the Book of Acts in the New Testament. So the term praxis-oriented refers to being centered on what the believer does. Focusing on the believer's actions hits a nerve here because the Conservative Church sees the Gospel as proclaiming that salvation comes by faith, not by works.

McKnight looks at this theme of Praxis in 3 areas, worship, orthopraxy, and missional. With regard to worship, McKnight contrasts the different environments in which the Emerging Church and the traditional Conservative Church worship God. The latter church has taken their cue from some of the Reformers who were reacting against the Roman Catholic Church. These Reformers took down all artwork and most decorations in an effort to focus a congregation's attention on the Word Of God as it was preached. All the extras were seen as distractions at the least and idols at the worst.

McKnight sites the Old Testament and Hebrews to defend the Emerging Church's use of decorative symbols. In addition, different ways of sitting together are being used by the Emerging Church to change how the worshipper sees himself or herself in relation to others, especially the minister. Here, what the Emerging Church seems to be seeking for ways in which people can relate in a more egalitarian and less authoritarian way.

To the Conservative Christian, these new worship practices could be seen as an attempt to change the focus of worship from God to people. Thus, the church service could be used to advance humanism rather than the Gospel. That is a valid concern. But at the same time, shouldn't the Conservative Church also reflect on the wrong messages its worship practices could be communicating as well? In other words, the Conservative Church should not be smug in expressing valid concerns.

Concerning orthopraxy, which is the right way of living, we find that some of the reaction against the Emerging Church is from anticipation in that some Conservatives expect those in the Emerging Church to abandon orthodoxy. This fear is unfounded. What is the case is that the Emerging Church questions the Conservative Church's belief that orthopraxy follows orthodoxy. They question this because of observation. McKnight points out that church scandals can prove their point.

But the presence of doing wrong is not the only evidence that shows the disconnect between orthopraxy and orthodoxy. Those in the Emerging Church believe that the absence of living as Jesus did when he reached out to sinners, healed the sick, and helped the downtrodden also shows the same. It is here that I couldn't agree more with the Emerging Church. This goes back to when the traditional Conservative Church acts as an institution for indoctrination to help maintain the status quo. When the Church does this, it takes the side of those with wealth and power at a time when they are seen as oppressing all others. To add to this, the Conservative Church reduces all right living solely to issues regarding personal righteousness which, having some merit, can be used to excuse the Church from standing up for the oppressed by preaching repentance to those who oppress.

There is good news from McKnight; the Emerging Church sees orthodoxy as being important and he doesn't know of anyone in the movement who believes that one's relationship with God is based on right living. But, McKnight adds that what the Emerging Church does differently can be found in what the Church focuses on and it focuses on the way of Jesus. However, we will see a problem in the Emerging Church's view of orthodoxy later on.

The final part of this Praxis-oriented theme has to do with the Church's mission. This includes being involved with God's redeeming the world, living in the community where God's redemption occurs, and playing a role in God's "holistic" redemption. The last part refers to the physical ministry of Jesus. Here, redemption takes on a broader meaning that what the Conservative Church defines it to be. This could be good if we note that there are multiple levels of redemption and we don't reduce the emphasis on the traditional understanding of Jesus' work on the cross.

The fourth theme McKnight tackles is Post-evangelical. Here is where we come in contact with the most questionable and troublesome part of the Emerging Church. What McKnight calls in-versus-out deals with the exclusiveness of the Gospel where some are saved and some are not. There are some in the Emerging Church who question whether there is such a dividing line between Christian and nonChristian.

McKnight warns the Emerging Church not to minimize or deny the Gospel. I agree with him here. In fact, I wish he would make this point more strongly than he did. We should also look for reasons why some in the Emerging Church would diminish the place of the Gospel in their church. Is the rejection of exclusivity of the Gospel by some partially because of faults found in the traditional Conservative Church? I would answer yes. And one of these faults refers back to the accusations made by the Left against the traditional Conservative Church. The problem here is that the Conservative Church has transformed the Gospel, which includes exclusivity, into a gospel of me where if I am saved, I don't have to care about the problems in the world, I only have to worry about myself. And what Conservative Christians should ask themselves is whether the rejection of exclusivity by some was originally inspired by the embedding of selfishness inside the Gospel message.

The final theme McKnight describes is politics. Not much is said here except that the Emerging Church leans to the left, which is ambiguous, rather than to the Right. The traditional Conservative Church strongly favors the Right though this does not imply that it always agrees with the Republicans. What the traditional Conservative Church favors likes the Right, besides its hollow pro-life stand, is that the Right favors authoritarianism, evidenced by its emphasis on law enforcement and the military, that acts as a plague in the Conservative Church. In addition, the Right, with its emphasis on individual responsibility and its focus on the commandment forbidding stealing, opposes a spirit of collectiveness that moves society to help those in need.

The ambiguity mentioned above is due to the fact that some mistakenly refer to the Democrats as being the Left, I do not think that McKnight makes that mistake. Others think the Left are those who are anti-Capitalists. I myself am an anti-Capitalist and so I prefer to be precise when referring to the Left.

The word on the street is that many in the traditional Conservative Church disparagingly shakes its collective heads at the Emerging Church and say, "They sure don't make churches like they use to." But the problem here is that the traditional Conservative Church has played a significant role in the emergence of the Emerging Church. For in an effort to cling to the antiChristian influences of authoritarianism, patriotism, and Capitalism, the Conservative Christianity has balked at answering the legitimate questions raised by Post-modernism. In lieu of even considering these questions, Conservative Christianity has defiantly entered its own way-back machine and has refused to leave Pre-modern times where religious faith determined all truth and and totalitarianism was in style.

Since many people can think when they read the Bible, they see the vast differences between Conservatism (both religious and political) and what the Bible says. And as people start questioning colonialism and other forms of domination, the Conservative Church tells them only to submit regardless. But was such an answer appropriate for German Christians during when the Nazis were in power? Was such an answer the Biblical response to the institutionalized prejudice that existed in this country not too many decades ago? How did the Old Testament prophets speak to Kings and others in authority when they sinned by practicing injustice?

In addition, what does Conservatism, with its emphasis on the individual, tell them about how to solve the conflict between the needs of a growing population of people versus a world of limited resources? The answers to all of these questions point to some of the failures of the Conservative Church.

The Emerging Church is a Post-modern movement. And as Post-modernism tries to address the gross abuses that have come from the misuse of truth and facts during Pre-Modern and Modern times, the Conservative Church withdraws from the world in an effort to keep itself spiritually pure while enjoying the benefits of those abuses. Unfortunately, Post-modernism's solution also includes throwing out absolute truths as it challenges any group's right to dominate. And the Emerging Church has been given no other option than to closely follow Post-modernism because, as the world has upped the ante by asking new questions, Conservative Christianity has folded by chanting the questions and answers from yesteryear.

If the Conservative Church desires a corrective dialog with the Emerging Church, it has to do more than just shake its finger at and try to shame the Emerging Church for being different; it must carefully enter the Post-modern times. The Conservative Church must move toward Post-modernism because of the valid questions Post-modernism tries to address. But the move must be careful because of the errors being employed as Post-modernism attempts to correct the abuses being propagated from the past. The longer the Conservative Church resists moving to Post-modernism, the more it becomes irrelevant to the masses.

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