Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches
I was reading Mark Driscoll’s blog @ TheResurgnce.com, and he mentioned the chapter he wrote. So, since I can’t get enough of books like this, I snatched it up. What I found was in some ways predictable (I agreed almost completely with Driscoll…almost; if I had a red pen Doug Pagitt’s chapter would look like I had a giant nosebleed), and in some ways unpredictable (I found many points of agreement with Dan Kimball; Pagitt was not the most irritating of the contributors).
All-in-all it seems like a good cross-section of the church as a whole, rather than just the emerging churches. From Driscoll’s “strict biblicism” to Karen Ward’s “potluck” theology-making at Church of the Apostles, it covers a range of beliefs that was really surprising.
If you pay attention at all, you know that the emerging church doesn’t hold any sort of organized theology. But I was quite surprised at how grounded the theological positions of John Burke and Dan Kimball are. And I was continually surprised at how far Pagitt and Ward are from anything resembling the faith of the Apostles.
What I found was that Driscoll, Burke, and Kimball are very clear about their beliefs and their loyalty to the revelation of Christ as told in the Bible. While none believes that the Bible is authoritative on its own, they do believe, in line with tradition, that the written Word gets it’s authority from the Living Word that is revealed in it. They hold to the major tenets of the faith, Burke and Kimball referring to the Nicene Creed as the enumeration of their positions.
These three are not interested in changing their theology, but their practice is evolving with and adapting to the culture in the areas they’re ministering in. They operate on a philosophy Mars hill describes as “closed-hand/open-hand”:
The closed hand hangs onto the non-negotiable tenants of Christian orthodoxy: sin is the problem, Jesus is the answer, the Bible is true, and Hell is hot.
The open hand, however, allows room for differences when it comes to secondary matters; we liberally allow freedom for conscience and wisdom to guide where the Bible is silent.
The Churches of Christ use the phrase “we speak where the Bible speaks, and are silent where the Bible is silent.” They don’t always operate that way, but I think it’s the best approach to Christian theology. As Paul says in Romans 14:
Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
But notice that this freedom comes with restrictions: don’t pass judgment on “disputable matters”; eating everything vs. eating only vegetables, celebrating holidays or not…this is not an admonition against correcting sin, but against condemning someone for something disputable.
Pagitt, Ward and their Emergent brethren, hold the position that everything is disputable. The only thing they really accept is that God is real. Actually, I can’t even say that. Because their chapters, which were supposed to be about theology, ended up being all about practice. And even then, they contributed little, if anything.
Pagitt added nothing to the discussion but skepticism. He was displeased with Driscoll’s chapter because it seems his theology hadn’t changed since they first met a decade ago. How is that a bad thing? When did the only virtue of “postmodern theology” become the willingness to change your mind?
Compromise was once a bad thing – you could compromise your principles, morals, ideals – but now it’s the sole quality desired in members of places like Ward’s Church of the Apostles. They make their “little theologies” together. This of course leads to anarchy, as is wont to happen in a situation where leaders choose not to use their special skills to lead, instead deferring to the “specialness” of everyone around them.
But when statements like, “I’ve seen more harm done by the Bible than good,” go unchecked by church leadership, and even assume an official capacity, bad things happen. I should say, they’re a sign that bad things are already happening: the abandoning of the faith handed down from the Apostles. Not only that, it’s blindness to the point of dishonesty. You have to ignore a whole lot of good things that have happened in the history of Christianity to say that.
Ok, I’ve gone on and on about this enough. Read the book, it’s worth the time.