Lincoln Christian Seminary
Emerging for the Rest of Us.
A Thesis Proposal
Presented in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the
Master of Arts Degree
I embrace the need to keep painting, to keep reforming. By this I do not mean cosmetic,
superficial, changes like better lights and music, sharper graphics, and new methods with
easy to follow steps. I mean theology: the beliefs that about God, Jesus, the Bible,
Salvation, the future. We must keep reforming the way the Christian faith is defined,
lived, and explained
-- Rob Bell, Velvet
What happens when the larger culture changes and the local church fails to act proactively or react responsibly? The local church reinforces stereotypes of being isolated, trite, and a bygone of a different era. It may appear that this seismic shift in culture is only occurring in certain areas, when in fact these are only examples of the complete change that is under way. In the midst of this transition there are many leaders of local churches that find themselves currently unaffected by a culture moving from modernism to postmodernism, yet are coming to the realization that this change is rapidly approaching. It is my hope that this work will help those leaders begin healthy conversations about change while faithfully serving their current congregations. By intentionally attempting to understand and integrate principals of the
emerging church movement, leaders of modern congregations can practically navigate the challenges of emerging postmoderns, while concurrently preserving congregational identity.
Over the past few years it has become clear that the western church is attempting to reconcile the implications of this gradual, yet complete, cultural shift from modernism to postmodernism. Perhaps the most well-known articulation of this paradigm change is referred to as the emerging church. Those within this movement have at times self-identified themselves
1as participants in a “conversation” which is indicative of the intentionally vague nature of those who are connected with the emerging church. For all the supporters and detractors of this new adaptation of the local church, it is hard to deny the fact that a large number of the church going populace has found resonance with these communities. These new expressions are often so distinct from the dominant church culture that they result in the formation of new and separate communities. Regrettably this shift does not always result in a manner that unites moderns and postmoderns, and if anything contributes to a fractioning within our communities of faith.
Beyond a Generation Gap
“I wrote the book for disaffected evangelicals in their twenties or early thirties
(Generation Xers), whose general outlook and attitudes were significantly influenced by
postmodern culture. Yet much of the correspondence came from older and more
culturally conservative people. Even thought they probably looked like „satisfied
customers‟ in their churches, they also clearly harbored a raft of doubts and questions.”
-- Dave Tomlinson, The Post Evangelical
In any church there is, to some degree, an inherent tension between the various generations. The common practice of many churches is to focus on a singular generational group, which may result in growth from the highlighted generation but also results in other
1 D. A. Carson, Becoming conversant with the emerging church (Zondervan, 2005), 12.
2generations being ignored and the inherent tension to escalate. This tension is natural and
understandable as the ministry needs of the various generations are vastly different. A common response to the emerging church, from those outside the movement is that it is simply a context designed for younger generations in response to their personal experiences of this generational tension. A cursory look at many emerging church communities will show that many young people do indeed become involved with these new communities; however a deeper look will
3reveal that those identifying with emerging communities are not exclusive to one generation.
Although what would become the emerging church had it‟s genesis in enclave conversations between promising up and coming leaders of evangelical churches who were often leading ministries targeting teenagers and young adults; however to say that the movement is only a byproduct of youthful angst or a simple difference in preference would be misguided.
At one of those early meetings of young leaders, in the midst of some confusion about the
4underpinnings of these changes Brad Cecil exclaimed “It‟s about theology!” In a 2004
interview Rob Bell described this same difference: "People don't get it. They think it's about style.
5But the real question is: What is the gospel?" What we are experiencing, or will experience, in
our churches and in the greater society transcends a mere generational shift; but a complete change of understanding. Therefore to rely only on a new methodology of ministry would be foolish, this change of understanding is requiring an entirely new approach. Thankfully there are many communities that have taken a pioneering spirit in engaging this change and have provided conversation starters for those who have yet to have an opportunity to interact with the
2 Gary McIntosh, One Church, Four Generations: Understanding and Reaching All Ages in Your Church (Grand
Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), 13. 3 Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations (Zondervan/Youth Specialties,
2003), 62-63. 4 Tony Jones, The New Christians (John Wiley and Sons, 2009), 47. 5 Andy Crouch, The Emergent Mystique.” Christianity Today vol. 48, no. 11 (November 2004).
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/november/12.36.html (accessed November 13, 2009).
shift to a more postmodern culture. While it is difficult at best to characterize the modern or the post modern church, through the examination of some core principles hopefully a contrasting picture is painted.
The Established Modern Church and the Emerging Post Modern Church
"Religion, by its very nature, tends to be conservative. Not just in the political or
theological sense, but in the truest sense of the word--to conserve something."
-- Doug Pagitt, A Christianity Worth Believing
"It's simply not true that our culture has somehow left modernity behind, even in the way
that you can leave downtown Orlando behind but still have miles to go within its limits"
Andy Crouch, The Church in Emerging Culture --
To think that a switch from modernism to postmodernism would be as simple and clean as flipping a switch would be extremely misguided. Proponents of modernism believe in it and are usually very resistant to change, especially in light of their postmodern counterparts calling
6for a complete rethinking of everything they have come to associate with church. Pinpointing
the exact date that modernism began to wane or cease to exist produces a plethora of opinions. Some place this shift as having its origin with the advent of the printing press as this removed
7authority from the privileged few who could afford books. Others looked to the world wide
thconflicts of the 20 century. World War I and II were seen by some at the time as a venue to display advances in technology that would render war obsolete, a public test of all the progress of the Enlightenment. When all that was accomplished was a demonstration of our
6 Carson, Becoming conversant with the emerging church, 40-41. 7 Shane Hipps, The hidden power of electronic culture (Zondervan, 2006), 51.
effectiveness in destruction. The more helpful question may be “what” as opposed to “when”. Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger in their book Emerging Churches highlight the core values of
modernity as: “pursuit of order, the loss of tradition, and the separation of different spheres of
Modernity‟s biggest gift to society may be the Enlightenment, and its ultimate pursuit of
order. This period of intellectual growth produced countless advances that increased our understanding of the world around us and lead to vastly improved quality of life. However the great drawback of the Enlightenment occurred when it was over extended. It was widely held that the continued advancement of technology was only a positive for humanity; this was shockingly refuted as this technology was used in warfare. Within faith the ideals of the Enlightenment lead to more individuals positioned themselves as deists and pursued ethical
9behavior, as this ultimately became overextended it produced apathy and disillusionment.
While modern expressions of Christianity embraced this pursuit of order and subsequently helped people better understand deep truths of faith, this order was extended into an oversimplification that removed mystery and nuance; exactly what many post moderns look to
10embrace. As Tony Jones puts it “Emergents . . . look forward to a more complex reality.”
To a postmodern some aspect of chaos is expected and almost reassuring, as opposed to moderns who find comfort in assurance of absolutes. It would be easy to assume this means that all post moderns are relativistic. While some may indeed be more nihilistic than others, the more common reality is that post moderns are looking for a holistic absolute Truth. Robert Weber agrees when he states:
8 Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger, Emerging churches (SPCK, 2006), 18. 9 Stanley James Grenz, A primer on postmodernism (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996), 72. 10 Jones, The New Christians, 20.
“If anything younger evangelicals are attracted to absolutes. But they don‟t want to
arrive at absolutes through evidence and logic. They are . . . attracted to the kind of
absolute that Pascal referred to in his Pensees. They want a truth that is a matter of
„heart as well as mind‟. . . The importance of truth is not so much that it is understood but
11that it is loved and lived”.
One of the defining characteristics of the mega church movement is the discarding of tradition. The icons and symbols once synonymous with church were discarded and replaced
12with the décor of a Fortune 500 company and strived for functionality as opposed to meaning.
Music that was once typified by an organ and a choir was being replaced by a talented guitar driven band with a team of singers that resembled a professional performance. Other traditional expressions of church were replaced with modern church growth principles such as; theater style seating instead of pews, a broad stage as opposed to an elevated pulpit, and a sharp move away from denominational ties. This loss of tradition has left many in emerging generations to feel disconnected and isolated from a larger historical community of faith. As postmoderns look for the absolutes that Weber describes, there is a desire to grasp their proper place in the global and historical Church.
One of the more visible ways in which those in emerging communities attempt to connect with the historical Church is through worship. The modern era was typified by a worship experience influenced by popular music, essentially creating Christian alternatives to popular music choices. While the emerging church is using modern technology such as projection screens, blogs, and social networking to facilitate a worship experience that is more
11 Robert Webber, The younger evangelicals (Baker Books, 2002), 52. 12 Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger, Emerging churches (SPCK, 2006), 21.
contemplative and participatory. Through the use of liturgy, common prayer, confessions, and a focus on community postmoderns are able to connect with something they find to be deeper
13and more meaningful than other worship alternatives. A similar situation is occurring in the
area of discipleship and formation with the resurgence of the practice of lectio divina. This practice is a non-linear way of digesting Scripture that involves reading, meditating, praying, and
14living the text. Postmoderns connect with this process because it presents a holistic approach to living with the Scriptures as opposed to the modern tendency to reduce certain portions of Scripture to propositional statements.
As Gibbs and Bolger pointed out one of the main values of modernity is the separation of reality into different spheres. This has lead to the creation of a sacred and secular world that are diametrically opposed. However postmoderns have approached the world around them in a more holistic manner as noted by Madeleine L'Engle when she states: “There is nothing so
15secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation.”
Those who find resonance with the emerging church movement are finding that Jesus did not come to establish something separate, but something integrated. A postmodern sees no beginning or end to the divine.
One of the more popular figures within the emerging church movement is Pastor Rob
16Bell, who titled a speaking tour Everything is Spiritual. This statement sums up many of the
feelings among postmoderns. One of the great benefits and curses of the modern era was the professionalization of ministry. While church leaders were being further trained in theology, homiletics, pastoral care, evangelism, etc. they were reinforcing the idea of different spheres of
13 David A Butzu and Bruce E. Shields, Generations of Praise (College Press, 2007), 347. 14 Eugene H. Peterson, Eat this book (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2006), 92. 15 Madeleine L'Engle, Walking on Water (Macmillan, 1995), 50. 16 Rob Bell, Everything Is Spiritual, DVD (Zondervan).
life; communicating to congregants that ministry was not their responsibility. Postmodern leaders of churches are able to use principles such as the “priesthood of all believers” to develop a more balanced approach that helps individuals recognize and embrace their specific spiritual gifts. The combined effects of the professionalization of ministry and the segregation of different spheres of life elevated ministry above all other professions, which lead some to pursue professional ministry despite being better suited for another profession. As this idea was overextended churches embraced a separatist mentality that lead to the creation of “Christian” alternatives. For instance a modern church would look at a struggling public school system and decide to create their own Christian school, while a more postmodern emerging community may attempt to come alongside that struggling public school system and offer assistance through volunteerism and by collecting needed supplies. The shift from modernism to postmodernism is distinct and at times harsh.
This change of thought or perception often manifests itself in an extremely destabilizing fashion, especially in faith communities. Such an earth-shattering experience has lead some to completely walk away from their faith, or to frame this exodus in a more constructive manner, the modern version of faith they were engaged in. Perhaps the reasonable result for some has been to leave these modern congregations and communities and set out to begin something fresh and new. This pioneering spirit has bonded together those within the emerging church conversation, even when they may not fully agree with the specific ways others are living this more postmodern expression of faith. Understandably these new communities have sought out contexts and cultures that have already found themselves to be more postmodern than modern. This could contribute to why many of these new ministry communities are found in urban or cosmopolitan areas often in large cities, on the east or west coast, or in university settings.
Such settings, specifically in America, usually reflect cultural changes before other areas of the country. Coupled with the emerging church‟s embrace of community among other things, the
17physical location of many of these new communities is not a coincidence.
While it would be irresponsible to characterize every emerging church leader with generalities, many of these individuals lived or ministered in modern contexts in the suburbs and
18the accompanying mega churches before beginning these new ventures. In many ways this
shift is a reactionary protest against the modern church. Critic of the emerging church, D.A. Carson sees the emerging church as a protest on multiple fronts: "the emerging church movement is characterized by a fair bit of protest against traditional evangelicalism and, more broadly, against all that it understands by modernism. But some of its proponents add another
19front of protest-- namely, the seeker-sensitive church, the mega church." These leaders are
keenly aware of the established modern church, often because they have spent a considerable amount of time within them, and have opted for an alternative in the emerging church movement that is loosely centered in various tenets of postmodernism.
Perhaps what is contributing to the increasing divide more than anything else is the postmodern practice of deconstruction. Deconstruction is a tool of literary analysis to reveal hidden assumptions that influence the interpreter; it has been taken and applied heavily in the
20field of theology by postmoderns. Essentially deconstruction asserts that it is impossible to
achieve a pure level of objectivity; therefore words are a construct of an inherent bias, and should be deconstructed in order to understand this bias and therefore the true meaning behind the words or statements. Critics of deconstruction have found it to be a dangerous step towards
17 Gibbs and Bolger, Emerging churches, 45. 18 Tim Keel, Intuitive Leadership: Embracing a Paradigm of Narrative, Metaphor, and Chaos (Grand Rapids: Baker
Books, 2007), 61. 19 Carson, Becoming conversant with the emerging church, 36. 20 Jones, The New Christians, 40.