Listening to…Emerging Churches, Part Deux
So, now that I have some distance from the emotions I experienced while reading Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches, I’m looking back at it and trying to gather some more insight about what it means to me, what it means for the church, and what it says about the postmodern generation. Adam at Pomomusings has a series of posts, reviewing each chapter(parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). I disagree with him in most places, but it’s worth reading.
One of the major implications for the whole postmodern generation is that it may not be all it’s cracked up to be. It seems that there aren’t nearly as many people out there who want a soft, pliable, alterable faith as opposed to a firm, unchanging faith. For example, look at Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church and Karen Ward’s Church of the Apostles.
While Driscoll is clearly the most conservative of the group(teetering on the edge of reactionary), Ward is the most progressive, doing things like allowing members to define concepts such as “atonement” with little regard for the actual meaning. Progressives will take issue with Driscoll’s strict reformed theology, and his position on issues like women in church leadership. Conservatives will be put off by Ward’s willingness to give authority to writings other than Scripture (and I don’t just mean the Gospel of Thomas), and her disdain for what she calls “didactic teaching”.
Theologically, he is a throwback to the era that has been declared dead or dying by most proponents of the emerging/-ent movement; she is as new-school as it gets: a woman leading a church that believes, essentially, that theology should adapt and change to suit the people. But what are their churches doing?
Mars Hill has recently expanded again, and is now running seven services at 3 campuses, with an average weekly attendance of 6,000. CotA has approximately 80 regular attendees, according to the ELCA. I don’t mean this to be a judgment call, because there are plenty of pastors with terrible theology who lead huge churches (Osteen, Jakes, Dollar, Long…Bell?), but there’s something important here.
Emergent leaders like Ward and Doug Pagitt have been telling us that we have to change our theology (or at least make it open to change) because the “old way” won’t work in the postmodern society. No one wants modern systems of thought, established answers, or 16th century faith. They want something they can be a part of making something new, fresh, ancient-future.
But the opposite seems to be true. In Seattle, which Driscoll refers to as the “least churched city” in the nation, Mars Hill is thriving with it’s unflinching reformed theology, while CotA is alive (and kicking, I’m sure), but with 1.3% of the attendance. Of course, I don’t know how many of Mars Hill’s 6000 are the type that Matt Chandler wants to run off from the similarly thriving (and Acts 29 affiliated) Village Church in Highland Village, Tx. But I’d say there’s a good bet that the percentage of these two congregations (MH and CotA) that could be called “faithful” is about the same. What do we do with this in light of the admonitions from progressives and Emergents that traditional theology doesn’t/won’t work any more?
Pastors like Driscoll and Chandler have done an amazing job making their church practice meaningful, personal, relevant, and effective without watering down the theology. They hold firm positions on the Bible, they preach the whole Gospel, and they love their people. They’re showing that the way forward for the Western church is not found in “potluck theology” or a new faith, but in the power of God and the faith that’s been handed down from the Apostles.