The Emerging Church

Howdy folks. Hope you had a good Sunday, spent it worshiping God and are juiced to start your work week.
I just finished up listening to a pair of sermons/lectures from Mark Driscoll, the Gen X Billy Graham--think reformed theology and fundamentalism wrapped in a black T-shirt and with Snoop Dogg on the iPod. If you've read this blog for any length of time--or keep abreast of what's going on in the 21st century church as emerging generations take increasingly prominent roles in its adminstration and theological focus--then you know who Mark Driscoll is.
(You can read about him here, here, here and here, or visit his church's website here. And, yes, that's his picture right there.)
Now, Driscoll has steered away from the emerging church conversation in recent years, and I think a big reason for that is simple: he's too busy telling people about Jesus to spend his time wondering how others label his brand of Christian spirituality. After all, make no mistake about: Driscoll is a Jesus guy, through and through. Don't belive me? Watch his welcome video here.
His reluctance comes from another source, though: his personal friendships with some of the more radical voices in the emerging church movement...guys like Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt. He was involved with those guys a few years back, when the emerging church "conversation" really started picking up steam. He stepped away when certain of those guys got a little too radical. (McLaren, for instance, reportedly denies the existence of a literal hell, and downplays substitutionary atonement.)
At issue is the depth to which emerging church leaders are re-evaluating what it means to be a Christian in light of an increasingly post-Christian society. The Church, the clergy, lay Christians...none of these institutions or people, for whatever reasons (and the theories on those reasons are wide-ranging and diverse), engender the same amount of respect from mainstream society as they once did. Now, you combine that with a culture that has transitioned from modernism (a worldview that argues that man has the ability and responsibility to shape his own environment based on radical advances in science, technology, industry, art, etc.) to post-modernism (a worldview that takes into account a perceived collective disillusionment of in post-World War II society; thus, culture is devoid of any central structure and the result is collective ambiguity, a lack of truth, etc.), and throw in emerging generations that are bombarded with information, are savvy, are jaded...well, you can understand how muddy culture's waters have become. How else can you explain the fact that, among emerging generations (those in their mid-30s to twentysomethings and teens), Christians are generally regarded as ignorant, opinionated and narrow-minded rubes while Jesus Christ is upheld as a symbol of virtue and revered as a great man. Ashton Kutcher, after all, has a "Jesus is my Homeboy" shirt in his closet.
So, where does Jesus Himself fit into all of this mumbo-jumbo? That's the question emerging church leaders are asking in what is being defined as a "conversation" rather than a "movement." And the conclusions that are being reached are as varied as the culture in which we live.
Guys like Driscoll get it right: they understand that we simply can't rely on the same evangelical paradigms to get our message out. Sometimes it's as simple as having a worship band with a tattooed lead singer rocking out with a guitar instead of a robed choir operatically belting out "How Great Thou Art." Sometimes it's showing mainstream movies on a Friday night, then having a pastor give a review while pointing out the theological themes from, say, "Juno." (And, yes, there are theological themes in that movie.) Understanding and embracing (but not idolizing) popular culture is a means to an end, a pathway to conversation. If I can't speak with some comfort and knowledge about, say, which movie should have won the Oscar (and, yes, it should have been Juno, doggone it), then my ability to relate to society is greatly diminished. If all I know is MercyMe and Casting Crowns, but my non-believing friend is wearing a Nirvana T-shirt, how do I have any credibility? This is where the emerging church movement gets it right.
Look, guys like Driscoll aren't capitulating on core doctrine. Heck, he--and many, many other emerging church leaders--are as theologically conservative as Charles Stanley. It's just that Driscoll wears T-shirts in the pulpit, stands next to a power-point presentation, compares Jesus to UFC fighters and preaches in a sanctuary that looks like this instead of this.
A lot of good has come from the emerging church movement, and it's not just a matter of style. For instance, there is a renewed emphasis on being missional, on really putting your money where your mouth is. It's not enough to go to church on Sundays, guys like Driscoll are saying. It's time to get calluses on your hands for Jesus.
But, conversely, McLaren and the Emergent Village crowd are re-thinking everything, and that's where you start getting into trouble. Or, as Driscoll puts it,
"There is a strong drift toward the hard theological left. Some emergent types [want] to recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair, who drank decaf and made pithy Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes. In Revelation, Jesus is a Pride fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up. I fear some are becoming more cultural than Christian, and without a big Jesus who has authority and hates sin as revealed in the Bible, we will have less and less Christians, and more and more confused, spiritually self-righteous blogger critics of Christianity."
So, rather than try, with my meager intellect and/or understanding, to point out the fallacies and problems of the more radical fringe of the emerging church, I'll let my boy Driscoll do it. You can watch his sermon on the emerging church, given to his congregation, by clicking here. Or, on that same page, you can download either the video or the audio, and listen at your leisure.
Want more? Download a lecture Driscoll gave to the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary as part of its Convergent Conference last September (which I actually liked better than his sermon, mostly because he goes into greater detail into his involvement and subsequent withdrawal from his formal association with prominent emerging church leaders). You can hear/download that lecture by clicking here.
Read more about the emerging church movement by clicking here and especially here.