A few years ago it become apparent to me “postmodernism” and “the Emergent church” were getting some pretty loud, bad raps among evangelicals. Since I hadn’t seen much to be unhappy about from a Wesleyan perspective, I spent a month-long sabbatical and the following year reading 50 of the primary books written by emergent authors, and then writing my own book-length summary and analysis. I called it “40 Good things About Emerging, Postmodern Christian Faith.” The publisher who had encouraged me to write the book and I came to a disagreement regarding the publishing details, so it never saw the light of day. Here’s a chapter One (the chapters are SHORT):
Bridges aren’t something I usually spend much time thinking about, until there isn’t one.
I am interested in building bridges between the postmodern emerging/emergent churches and Christians and the modern Christians and churches. It makes sense to work together, learn from one another and partner, since we are all trying to spread the message and way of Jesus in the world. Friendship is a posture in which fruitful discussions can take place. Standing at a distance and calling out ‘heresy’ over microphones or in print is not an effective way to discuss theology with someone.
Have you ever noticed that virtually every time in the history of the Christian faith that a new expression, movement, or kind of church is born, the established church(es) attempt to abort it while it is birthing? Almost every denomination I can think of has experienced attempted infanticide by the established church while it was being born. Chances are high that this is the experience your denomination had when it started. It seems that we don’t learn from history very well. Once again, here is a new expression of Christian faith and established churches (specifically, their leaders) are working hard to crush it out of existence before it can really get going.
We might do well to ask ourselves, what does the widespread appeal of titles like A New Kind of Christian mean? Some rush to say the appeal is that people today don’t want to hear the good, old, hard truth of the Gospel. While there are certainly people to whom that would apply to, let’s ask ourselves: is it possible there is something else going on? Is it possible that the modern church and modern Christianity we have handed our children isn’t quite as satisfying as we think it is? Is it possible that the modern form of the Christian faith isn’t all we’ve cracked it up to be to someone who isn’t living with a modern mindset? Are people today longing for an experience of the Gospel that we haven’t handed them?
Have you ever noticed that churches largely fixate on things that were issues when they were founded, even if those issues are hundreds of years ago? A character in Brian McLaren’s novel A New Kind of Christian says at one point “…most Protestant seminaries fight with vigor the battles of yesterday, largely oblivious to the issues of today, hardly thinking of the issues of tomorrow. They still preoccupy themselves with fighting the Protestant Reformation and the liberal-fundamentalist debates.” (McLaren, A New Kind of Christian, 145).
When evaluating the postmodern/emergent/emerging expressions of Christianity, I believe a better question than “do they believe what my denomination believes?” is this three-part question:
1) Are people coming to faith/ coming to believe that Jesus is the Savior and Son of God and are they repenting?
2) are people being Christ-shaped more and more into the kind of person they are called to be by God, and
3) are people inspired to be the kind of people that God uses to bring about his redeeming, reconciling, restorative grace in the world?
I think the answer to all three of these questions is yes. Drawing from their written testimonies and conversations with postmodern Christians, I see this occurring in postmodern Christianity at least to the degree that it is occurring in our modern churches. If modern churches are not doing better than postmodern churches in ratio of people being conformed to the image and mission of Jesus, then how much room do we have to critique them? And, I would contend that the ‘yes’ to these questions is occurring among postmodern people far more in postmodern churches than it is in modern churches.
Dan Kimball, a conservative voice in the emerging movement, says this: “Hudson Taylor, a missionary to China in the late 1800’s, had problems explaining to his board in England why he wanted to ministry differently than the “English way.” He wanted to change everything, from his haircut and clothing to how he spent his time to his approach to missionary work. But his board did not understand or approve of the changes. Eventually, he had to start his own missionary board. Hudson Taylor understood that he was engaging in ministry to a different culture and mindset, and God used him in incredible ways. I believe we must view the emerging culture in the same ways, taking whatever costly steps are necessary to build the emerging church.” (Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church, 65)