Published February 2, 2006
While his intent seems to be grounded in a desire for the truths of scripture to maintain integrity in a world where absolutes are vanishing, John Hammett’s assessment of the “emerging” church as recorded in the Jan. 5 issue of The Christian Index, in my opinion, shows some misunderstandings of both the potential dangers of postmodernism and of the nature of emerging church.
Those who have been slapped with the label “emergent” never set out to be a movement. From the beginning, the believers that would come to be described as “emerging” stated that they were not a “movement”, but rather participants in a “conversation.”
This conversation was a place where a new generation could wrestle with how the church that Jesus established, one that is still based on the absolute truths of Scripture, would reach out to the surrounding culture. Brian McClaren seems to have been singled out as the primary voice leading that conversation, but he is only one of many.
To me, McClaren represents some of those voices in the conversation that hold beliefs that would place them outside of traditional SBC orthodoxy, but they still have a right to ask the hard questions. If one were to take the time to examine some other voices in the emergent conversation one would find that there are others that are very conservative, very Biblical, and passionately missional.
Some of those voices are even decidedly Baptist.
It is a fact that the surrounding culture the church finds itself in today is ever increasingly postmodern. It will not turn back. We can pretend it is not. We can look back with longing hearts to a day when modernism ruled and people accepted absolutes readily, but those days are gone.
Once the church comes to terms with this fact, she must position herself as truly counter-cultural in this setting and stand firm on its convictions that God has revealed in His Word that there are absolutes, but she must do so in a way that that world still “knows that we are Christians by our love.” Truth without love is simply legalism, and in a culture that will increasingly reject absolute truth, we had best learn to love more genuinely.
I also disagree with Hammett in his fear that the emergent church is any more vulnerable to the pull of relativism than the institution church is. The reality is that the secular culture around the church (whether that church is emerging or traditional) is already postmodern, and will continue to be so.
Critiquing it will not change that. It like falling into a pool and then critiquing the water. You can critique all you like, but you are still wet. The church finds itself in postmodern waters already. We had best learn to swim.
I’ll close by stating that I serve in a church that is 164 years old and will not be mistaken for being emergent anytime soon, but I am a young SBC missional minister in that setting that recognizes the value that the emergent conversation might have for us.
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