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CAUTION AHEAD: Emerging Emergents
by Rick Carver
Rick Carver is AIIA’s Associate Director. He is also senior pastor of County Road Baptist Church in New Limerick, Maine. He, his wife Cathleen, and their five children live in Houlton – where I-95 ends.
Today we are hearing a lot about a movement known as the Emerging Church. What is it? Is it good or is it something that we should avoid? Is it even possible to avoid it?
The Emerging Church (EC) is difficult to define because of its eclectic nature. It is not a denomination or a particular sect of Christianity. Rather it is largely considered (by its own adherents and proponents) to be an ongoing ‘conversation.’ It is a conversation that is ever probing and seeking to answer the question of ‘how to do church in a post-modern era.’
It may not be inaccurate to acquiesce to calling the EC a conversation, but the conversation is bearing fruit and shaping ministry on a large scale.
It is worth noting that there is a group that calls itself The Emergent Village. This group functions as a catalyst for many of the ideas that are espoused in this emerging brand of ‘Christianity.’ The Emergent Village is distinct in some ways from the overall Emerging Church, but the connections are not too difficult to see. Ideas offered in the circle of contributors at the Emergent Village filter through the EC and influence the thought and method-ology of many churches in America and abroad today.
What are the marks of the Emerging Church today? The characteristics of the EC will vary depending on who is defining what the EC actually means. This is where the investigation can get confusing. For many, the EC is simply a church that has altered its method of conducting church services to better connect with today’s culture at large. Things like modern music, casual dress, and conver-sational structures for learning are commonalities among EC churches. For others the term EC denotes a philosophical departure from modernistic thinking and an embracing of postmodern philosophy with all of its entailments. The latter is where the real problem with the EC begins.
Postmodernism has been called a cultural ‘mood’ and is the term used to describe the guiding philosophy of our era. There is no need to dispute that we are living in a postmodern era, for that is the prevailing mindset of our time. Giving legitimacy to the postmodern world view is quite another matter, however. Postmodernism asserts that truth cannot be known objectively and rests on relativistic experience for determining the source and veracity of ‘truth.’ The bottom line? Propositional truth is out and a new brand of personally experienced truth is in.
To suggest that truth is something that can be experienced is problematic. Truth is something that can be known or understood, but experienced?
A person may have had a profound experience, but that does not mean that he or she has experienced ‘truth.’ Nevertheless, this is where postmodern philosophy takes us, and many in the EC have embraced postmodern philosophy.
Consider the following statement by Dwight Friesen: ‘From quantum phy-sics to medical sciences, from philosophy and religion to social sciences, paradoxes are increasingly being explored with a sense of hope that truth may be best experienced [emphasis is mine] when the tensions between contradictory claims are held rightly.’ Emergent Manifesto of Hope; Pagitt & Jones; ©2008 Baker Books
If we allow Friesen’s premise (that truth is experienced) to stand, then it could be said that truth might be found in the tension between the desire for an illicit relationship and the claim that it is wrong. After all, an extra marital affair may feel right to a person inclined to explore it. Furthermore, who would determine how the tension was to be held ‘rightly’? It should be pressed that ideas have consequences and bad ideas have bad consequences.
Not every aspect of what is called the EC is heretical or even to be avoided. In fact, many in the EC are making great strides in connecting with the younger generation, building relationships within a Christian community, and engaging the culture with mission-minded zeal. These traits are noble and widely regarded as ingredients in a healthy expression of the Christian faith.
But it would not be wise to ignore the philosophical undercurrent within the EC. If the foundations of truth are altered we will lose the basis for discernment and become vulnerable to delusion. Those entertaining involvement within EC circles would do well to heed the words of the Apos-tle, writing in Colossians 2:8 (HCSB):
‘Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world,and not based on Christ.’