Revolution or Humility? – A Response

September 20, 2008

Hi Nick,

Thank you for your thoughtful post. I appreciate the honest criticism and would like to take a moment to respond to some of the points that you have raised. But first, let me say that I struggle with the term “emerging church,” and that I am not one hundred percent certain that this is the best label to describe our group. I would also point out that there is an important distinction to be made between “emerging” and “emergent,” with “emergent” being the more liberal wing of the broader movement, associated particularly with Brian McLaren’s Emergent Village.

“I am quite surprised that I am to be included in this amalgam of conversation. Yet it is a privilege I will not delay in shrewdly abusing.”

You need not be surprised; this is a conversation for Christians from all walks of life. You are more than welcome to share your thoughts, even if they run contrary to my own or those of another group member. We all need to be challenged so that we stay sharp and remain accountable to God’s Word 🙂

“Dogma number one: There is to be no Dogma. The first delicious contradiction is of course nearly identical to the elitist double speak which has become a tactic of non-debate for the masses.”

This is simply incorrect. I have never stated that there is to be “no dogma.” We all come to the table with our own dogmatic presuppositions, and those need to be compared against Scripture. If you visit our website, you will see (on the “about”) page that we are developing a confessional statement describing the key truths of Christianity that we hold to be common to all orthodox Christians. Belief, doctrine, and teaching are all important. I do not deny that. What I maintain, however, is that right doctrine leads to right living. Unless our beliefs compel us to take up our cross and follow after Christ – day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute – they will avail us nothing. That is why I place so much emphasis on active discipleship over passive intellectual belief. It is not that the latter is unimportant; it is simply that I see a need in our churches to re-emphasize what it means to proactively “be” the community of Christ. For a Biblical and historical model of this emphasis, see the Book of James and the writings of John Wesley.

“It goes something like this: you are old fashioned, and fearfully cling to your dogma whilst we ethereally float above such definitions in an unbound theoretical conversation. For the moment the securing of such a utopia, requires this squelching of all debate for our ideas are simply superior. Yet in time, when all are assimilated true peace and unity will be achieved.”

I don’t recall ever having said anything remotely like this, nor have I heard any statements to this effect advanced in our meetings. I think the closest I have come to making a statement like that given above is in my response to John MacArthur’s “The Truth War,” which was equally unfair in its treatment of the emerging church. I do not see how an interdenominational ministry built on open discussion could “squelch all debate.” If this were true, then your post would not be on our blog, would it?

“We as Christians certainly don’t want to be viewed as ‘dogmatic’ or ‘unloving’ or ‘intolerant’ or whatever other names they might hurl at us. So, we put on a pensive face and attempt to sell out our ideals until common ground is reached, until we are again welcomed declawed into their ‘conversation.'”

I would agree that Christians should not be “unloving” in any sense of the word. “Intolerant” and “dogmatic” are words that raise more questions than answers. Tolerant of what? Dogmatic about what? There are things that we should be dogmatic about and things that we should be intolerant of, just as there are areas where we can be charitable in our approach.

“The call away from dogma is, of course, played out in the way we form our public worship. It is no call away from liturgy it is simply a call to a chaotic liturgy. We present a God of spontaneous chaos as if he were the God of scripture.”

Or spotaneous joy, at least. Since we have not organized a worship service yet, I really cannot comment on this area, except to emphasize that we have discussed and intend to create an order of worship that will include the best of traditional worship alongside opportunities (before and after the service) for orderly private worship.

“It is almost as if we expect God to each day present us with a different sun. Or perhaps a different Son based on whatever, whim happens to be taking Him in that moment.”

Not at all. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But I am not. I expect (or, I should say, hope and pray) that God will continue to reveal new facets of our Savior’s life and teaching to me as I walk beside Him each day, and He works in me, by His grace, to conform me to the image of the Son. The ‘journey’ we speak of is not about Christ becoming more like us or our culture, but about us becoming more like Christ.

“This of course is nothing new, ‘a return to the early church’–that generic club with which most recent ‘new’ movements fein to beat back whatever issue they happen to dislike–address the same problem. “

Yes, and I am honestly wary of anything claiming to be a ‘return to the early church,’ as many cults make this claim. This is the reason why I do not say that we are ‘returning to the early church,’ although we are certainly making an effort to learn from the practices of early Christianity. Personally, I don’t believe that we are necessarily obligated to emulate every aspect of the early church. Early Christianity was as much a response to the culture of its time as the so-called ’emerging church’ is a response to contemporary postmodernism.

“Dogma number two: Sectarianism is bad so we are starting our own, whatever: A call to unity whilst we readily hop onto the newest ride ‘Emergent’ and attempt to leave the denominations in our dust, simply another split. Yet this time, we will refrain from using such a term and instead blame the establishment for forcing us out.”

This is actually the opposite of what we are trying to accomplish. We are an “interdenominational,” rather than “nondenominational” ministry. We do not ask people to leave their churches or abandon their denominational distinctives. In fact, we encourage all of our members to get involved with a local congregation of their choosing. Our group is intentionally structured so as not to compete with area churches. Our message is not “abandon your Baptist/Presbyterian/Catholic/etc. church,” but “be a better Baptist/Presbyterian/Catholic/etc.”

“This is simply a lack of respect for the recent historical way in which the Holy Spirit directs the Church. Do we think the purest ideal of what the Church is supposed to be was given only to us at this moment?”

I’m not sure that I would agree that every trend of the church is necessarily the work of the Holy Spirit. And, no, I do not suggest that the “purest ideal of what the church is supposed to be” is a recent innovation at all. God has been at work in His church throughout the centuries, and he will continue to be at work in his church long after we’re gone and Trailblazer is a forgotten memory. However, the question remains – is it not possible the so-called ’emerging church’ is the way in which the Holy Spirit is currently directing the Church? Why do you assume that the forms of church we are presently familiar with are the result of the Holy Spirit’s leading, but that any change to that structure cannot also be the “recent (or present) historical way” in which the Holy Spirit is directing the church?

“The elderly establishment, faithfully taking their pews each week, deserve our respect. Many of these church bodies are also faithfully pursuing huge missionary efforts in this country and abroad.”

Of course – where did I say otherwise? I have repeatedly said (both on this blog and in our meetings) that we should learn from the ‘established’ churches and the so-called ‘elderly establishment,’ as they are a treasurehouse of wisdom and learning. It appears that you are the one relying on stereotypes in this case.

“Whilst we sit and ‘debate’ on how we can stop offending the post-church fools amongst us.”

When did this discussion take place? I wasn’t a part of it.

“Or, perhaps we think that our times are so much different that we need something drastically new to meet these times. The arrogance of novelty seems contained within the term ’emergent’ itself. While there is of course nothing new under the sun, the embracing of this ’emerge’ exemplifies a dangerous trend of our time, our unwillingness to fight for what we believe in.”

I beg to differ. I see a lot of emerging-oriented Christians fighting tooth and nail for what they believe in, even in cases where brothers and sisters in Christ have approached them with negativity. It baffles me why, when it comes “fighting for our convictions,” emerging Christians and their convictions about the Church don’t seem to count.

“What of holding on to beliefs to the point of death? I can think of nothing more characteristic of the early church. Yet today the enemy convinces us to question ourselves to the point that no fight is necessary. We find a happy medium and float along in our lukewarmness.”

I think “lukewarmness” is a problem we all face. I’ve seen my share of it in “respectable” denominations, and I’m sure the emerging conversation is just as prone to it. But, again, if fighting for your beliefs is a good thing (and I’m convinced that it is), why is it that when I take up the challenge advanced by a book like “The Truth War,” my willingness to stand firm in my convictions is discounted as “arrogant” or “rebellious?”

“I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars.” -Rev. 2:2

But why do you assume that you are on the side of the church being commended, while the emerging church is on the side of the “lukewarm” Laodiceans? It seems to me that many emerging Christians could advance a similar criticism against the more traditional churches.

“What is it that fuels us to feel so left out of the ‘establishment’ churches of our time?”

I really don’t know. Different people have different experiences. My experience with the so-called “establishment” has been mostly positive, and I aim for our group to make a positive (rather than simply polemical) contribution to the Church as a whole.

“With the creation of every maxim and the presentation of every truth, our evil hearts are at work insidiously corrupting and seeking self glory. There was a time when Christ’s call to self sacrifice was a potent weapon against the arrogance of the Pharisee. Yet today we turn our little martyrdoms into a badge of honor, just as they did their prayers and offerings. We have each become a slighted minority of one. Little Hitler, whine about Mein Kampf. Bill Clinton, feel my pain. Obama, down with the struggle? Politicians use their relation to our selfishness to promote their false gospels, we need to be careful lest we do the same.”

I agree, but doesn’t “fighting for your convictions” necessarily entail a degree of struggle and personal sacrifice? I’m still scratching my head and trying to figure out why standing firm in one’s beliefs and convictions is a “bad” thing when emerging Christians do it….

“Thought the false churches may provide many social services, food, water and shelter, these are not the answers to the ultimate problem here on earth. The only thing that really matter is our hearts and the hearts of those we minister to.”

Please define a ‘false church.’ Do you mean a church that is embracing unbiblical teachings?

I completely agree that external elements are not the answer to humanity’s problems. If you ever catch me teaching that the “social gospel” will save humanity, please smack me over the head with the nearest blunt object. My goal in all of this is to teach the gospel of transformation, which is what being “born again” is really all about – becoming a “new creation” in Christ. External changes – whether personal or social – are simply the outworking of the “new heart” that God creates in us at the moment of salvation.

“For not only do these contradictions point out your association with the tenants of ‘revolution’ you have used the very term. A term which, given the mass killings and chaos of Robespierre and Lenin, I will have no part of. Now this is no mere criticism of a few sets of circumstances in which a beautiful ideal failed to be adequately realized. Instead the failure of the revolutionary philosophy is ultimate and fatal. The French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars it ushered in were responsible for the deaths of over one million people. The Bolshevik Revolution and the successive USSR is responsible for an estimated twenty million deaths. The thirst for chaos which dwelt in the heart of these men was a novelty which we have yet to get over. Though we wouldn’t claim to want the overthrow of an entire country, our evil hearts want something of a similar nature. We want just enough evil to be titillated, but it is still evil.”

Ok, here is where we get to the heart of the problem. You seem to be responding to one post that I made, titled “Be the Revolution.” I stand by that post, but I think you are stretching my use of the word “revolution” too far. I am not advocating a literal “revolution” (religious or otherwise) of any sort. What I am advocating is a revolution of the heart and mind. This revolution comes about through our encounter with Christ. Christianity is and always has been a revolutionary (in the broad sense) faith. It turns our perception of the world and its structures upside down and challenges us to go beyond our immediate boundaries to share the love of God. Any Christian advocating a literal revolution of any type should consider Christ’s words that those who live by the sword will die by the sword.

“Perhaps the best agent of our sanctification is the humility of taking our place in the churches with which we find fault. The world offers another solution, one which simply ends in death.”

And this is precisely what we are advocating – that our members maintain involvement in a local congregation, and that they use their time in that congregation for the betterment of the Church as a whole and for the glorification of God.

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