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Thread: The "Emergent Church" -- What exactly is it?

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    Quote Originally Posted by OingoBoingo View Post
    The other is called Postconservative Evangelicalism. Reformed and Always Reforming by Roger Olson is a significant work on the subject. I have it, but haven't read it yet, so I don't really know what this movement fully entails. Here's a blog post that talks about it: http://michaeldefazio.wordpress.com/2011/04/04/1007/ I'm not really sure about this one. Some people have lumped it together with the Emergent Church movement, but I don't know if it really goes that far. Maybe someone with more knowledge on both can come along and talk more about them.
    In my opinion Olson's book is a reasonable description of what he calls post-conservative evangelicalism, something that seems pretty close to emergent Christianity. He sees McLaren as a key figure, which links the two.

    However I see some oddities with the book It is primarily about methodology. The only area in which he looks at actual doctrine is the doctrine of God. He is sympathetic with open theism, or with ideas approaching it. He doesn't look at similar reworks of Christology or the atonement. I suspect this is partly because he says he is committed to conservative accounts of those areas, which seems a bit odd in the context of the book. McLaren wouldn't share that commitment.

    However his writing has the same issue I see with McLaren. It writes off "liberal" theology, and ignores mainline Christianity. I think there is a widespread ignorance of the history of liberal Christianity. Part of this is due to Barth. In reaction to events in Germany, he dismisses all of liberal Christianity. Many have followed him. But his dismissal also includes a mischaracterization, that liberal theology was a capitulation to culture. In fact what I would call liberal theology has at least three major streams. I view the early roots in the 19th Cent as a reaction against scholarship influenced by Enlightenment critical thought, though I think we need to be careful in understanding just how Christianity responded to the Enlightenment. Most Christian thinkers, even liberal ones, did not embrace all aspects of the Enlighenment.

    At the risk over oversimplifying, in the 19th Cent I think you can find two reactions to the Enlightenment. Schliermacher, it seems to me, felt that critical scholarship had sufficiently undermined Scriptural authority that one could not build theology on it in detail. While his theology was certainly inspired by Jesus as we meet him in Scripture, it tended to use very general principles such as love and piety. However there was another strand of liberal thought, which I would trace loosely to Ritschl, and in the US to Walter Rauschenbusch (a wonderful writer, whose work is not sufficiently appreciated today, partly because of misunderstanding of what the Social Gospel actually meant). It attempted to build Christianity on Scripture, as understood with the aid of critical scholarship. You can see both approaches in the liberal churches in the US, continuing through to today. However things have changed since Schliermacher's time. While the quest of the historical Jesus has hardly produced perfect results, it also has not produced quite the failure that I think Schliermacher saw. Even those on the left of today's liberal theology, such as Borg, have more detailed dependence upon the Scriptural picture of Jesus than Schliermacher did. And typical liberal churches today are, I think, closer to the Ritschl strand of liberalism, represented today perhaps by N T Wright and others doing detailed NT scholarship.

    The third major strand of liberal theology is, of course, Barth himself.

    In my view, Olson's post conservative evangelicalism / emergent theology, is basically part of the Ritschlian side of liberal theology. While the whole range of liberal theology is present in today's mainline, I think the majority view is similar.
    Last edited by hedrick; 03-01-2014 at 09:10 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Thoughtful Monk View Post
    I've not been a part of one of them. From what I've read, it seems to be an effort to make Christianity relevent to society. Given the scope and number of churches and leaders, I'm not sure how well it could be summarized. One of the few common points that seem to be there is a deemphasis on doctrine.

    My personal vote: I'll go with a fad.
    I think you are mixing up the 'emerging church' with the 'emergent church'.

    RB had a good description of what the 'emergent church' is. A church can be 'emerging' (trying to be relevant within society) without being 'emergent' (holding to postmodern, unorthodox views of Christianity).


    Basically 'emerging' has to do with engaging a culture with Christ, while 'emergent' has to do with doctrinal viewpoints of the church.

    The terms are confusing, I know... ...many people confuse the two, or conflate the terms.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hedrick View Post
    In my opinion Olson's book is a reasonable description of what he calls post-conservative evangelicalism, something that seems pretty close to emergent Christianity. He sees McLaren as a key figure, which links the two.

    However I see some oddities with the book It is primarily about methodology. The only area in which he looks at actual doctrine is the doctrine of God. He is sympathetic with open theism, or with ideas approaching it. He doesn't look at similar reworks of Christology or the atonement. I suspect this is partly because he says he is committed to conservative accounts of those areas, which seems a bit odd in the context of the book. McLaren wouldn't share that commitment.

    However his writing has the same issue I see with McLaren. It writes off "liberal" theology, and ignores mainline Christianity. I think there is a widespread ignorance of the history of liberal Christianity. Part of this is due to Barth. In reaction to events in Germany, he dismisses all of liberal Christianity. Many have followed him. But his dismissal also includes a mischaracterization, that liberal theology was a capitulation to culture. In fact what I would call liberal theology has at least three major streams. I view the early roots in the 19th Cent as a reaction against scholarship influenced by Enlightenment critical thought, though I think we need to be careful in understanding just how Christianity responded to the Enlightenment. Most Christian thinkers, even liberal ones, did not embrace all aspects of the Enlighenment.

    At the risk over oversimplifying, in the 19th Cent I think you can find two reactions to the Enlightenment. Schliermacher, it seems to me, felt that critical scholarship had sufficiently undermined Scriptural authority that one could not build theology on it in detail. While his theology was certainly inspired by Jesus as we meet him in Scripture, it tended to use very general principles such as love and piety. However there was another strand of liberal thought, which I would trace loosely to Ritschl, and in the US to Walter Rauschenbusch (a wonderful writer, whose work is not sufficiently appreciated today, partly because of misunderstanding of what the Social Gospel actually meant). It attempted to build Christianity on Scripture, as understood with the aid of critical scholarship. You can see both approaches in the liberal churches in the US, continuing through to today. However things have changed since Schliermacher's time. While the quest of the historical Jesus has hardly produced perfect results, it also has not produced quite the failure that I think Schliermacher saw. Even those on the left of today's liberal theology, such as Borg, have more detailed dependence upon the Scriptural picture of Jesus than Schliermacher did. And typical liberal churches today are, I think, closer to the Ritschl strand of liberalism, represented today perhaps by N T Wright and others doing detailed NT scholarship.

    The third major strand of liberal theology is, of course, Barth himself.

    In my view, Olson's post conservative evangelicalism / emergent theology, is basically part of the Ritschlian side of liberal theology. While the whole range of liberal theology is present in today's mainline, I think the majority view is similar.
    Thank you for your reply hedrick. Very informative. Would you mind clarifying your thoughts on NT Wright? Do you consider him a liberal Christian?

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    Quote Originally Posted by OingoBoingo View Post
    Thank you for your reply hedrick. Very informative. Would you mind clarifying your thoughts on NT Wright? Do you consider him a liberal Christian?
    He's difficult to tag. Outside the US he is considered conservative. He believe in a literal resurrection, the Virgin Birth, the Tirnity, etc.

    However he's also a modern NT scholar, so he doesn't believe in inerrancy, and he prefers Nt ways of speaking of Jesus to Chalcedon. I'd compromise and say mainline, since liberal to me means something more to the left than he is.

    Interestingly, a wide range of American Christians like him, including some moderately conservative. Still, I place him at the conservative end of the "historical Jesus" movement, with people like Borg and Crosssan being more liberal.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hedrick View Post
    He's difficult to tag. Outside the US he is considered conservative. He believe in a literal resurrection, the Virgin Birth, the Tirnity, etc.

    However he's also a modern NT scholar, so he doesn't believe in inerrancy, and he prefers Nt ways of speaking of Jesus to Chalcedon. I'd compromise and say mainline, since liberal to me means something more to the left than he is.

    Interestingly, a wide range of American Christians like him, including some moderately conservative. Still, I place him at the conservative end of the "historical Jesus" movement, with people like Borg and Crosssan being more liberal.
    Ok, thanks. I don't know too much about Borg outside his affiliation with the Jesus Seminar and some of his work there. I know Crossan considers himself a Catholic, but I don't think he believes in the divinity of Christ, the virgin birth, or a literal resurrection. He believes in a metaphorical resurrection. I remember reading an interview with him where he admitted that he doesn't go to mass because he's concerned they wouldn't allow him to receive communion (I think his concern is justified).

    I always considered Wright to be relatively conservative in his scholarship. I mean, he's right in the mainstream, but compared to Crossan, or even EP Sanders, he's probably more right than left. Where Wright seems liberal (compared to many American Christians) is his social and environmental concerns. But, honestly, I never dug too deep into his theological views.

    When I think of liberal Christianity, I think people like Spong, Crossan, Shori, and Gene Robinson. People who advocate for homosexual unions and leadership, who have an extremely inclusive view of salvation, disbelief in hell or a belief in universalism, often a denial of the divinity of Christ, the sovereignty of God, and some who are even agnostic or atheist about belief in God. Does the emergent church tend to lean in these directions at times? McLaren and Pagitt seem to bend in this direction, others identified with the emergent church like Mark Driscoll do not. So I think that adds to the confusion about what is and isn't the emergent church. Would someone like Jay Bakker be considered a part of the emergent church?
    Last edited by OingoBoingo; 03-07-2014 at 10:58 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by OingoBoingo View Post
    Thank you for your reply hedrick. Very informative. Would you mind clarifying your thoughts on NT Wright? Do you consider him a liberal Christian?
    Wright eschews and abhors the one-dimensional conservative-liberal spectrum, whether it be political or theological.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paprika View Post
    Wright eschews and abhors the one-dimensional conservative-liberal spectrum, whether it be political or theological.
    I did not know that. Would you mind expanding on this? I don't find this surprising, but it'd be nice to hear it from the horses mouth.

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    Here's one good source:
    That is very interesting because, of course, in America, the spectrum of liberal conservative theology tends often to sit rather closely with the spectrum of left and right in politics. In England and in many other parts of the world, that simply isn't the case.
    In England, you will find that people who are very conservative theologically by what we normally mean conservative in other words, believing in Jesus, believing in his death and resurrection, believing in the trinity are often the ones who are in the forefront of passionate and compassionate social concern of a sort which if were you to transport it to America would say, oh, that's a bit left wing.
    I think what I want to do is to uncouple some of the connections which people have routinely made, particularly in America, and to say actually the whole idea of a spectrum, whether it's theological or political, is probably very misleading because there are all sorts of insights that we need. We need to get them from bits of the Bible we don't normally expect and perhaps from people in bits of the church we don't normally expect.
    That is something that a robust faith that is firmly rooted in God, in the trinity, in Jesus, in the holy spirit ought to be able to take on board. Otherwise, what we are doing is substituting our framework and then judging people, according to where they are in our framework, rather than something which is actually the given at the heart of our faith.
    I'll hunt for others.

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    The shallow social and political alternatives bequeathed to contemporary western society by the Enlightenment and its aftermath, in which every issue stands either to left or to the right on some hypothetical spectrum, and every political question can be answered in terms of ‘for’ or ‘against’ – this trivialized world of thought cannot cope with the complexities of real life either in the first or the twenty-first century.
    (PFG, 314.)

    In other cases it has something to do with the fact that America is currently polarized along one particular left/right axis (please note, the rest of the world does not sign up to this particular axis and feels free to embrace some things from your left and other things from your right) and where people who for other reasons vote on the right suppose that the NP is a left-wing movement they feel obliged to reject it, which seems to me a poor substitute for “searching the Scriptures diligently to see whether those things are so.”
    http://criswell.files.wordpress.com/...t(Streett).PDF

    There is a striking, radical polarization between [American] Left and Right that I have to say is really disturbing because it distorts so many issues. This Left-Right polarization forces people to say: We are all on this side now! We must check off every box on this slate! We must keep in line!
    http://www.readthespirit.com/explore...-get-it-wrong/

    As I shall suggest in a minute, part of our problem is that just as the left/right politics of a former generation doesn’t fit today’s confused society, and just as the ‘let’s go and bomb them’ geopolitics doesn’t fit today’s dangerous world, so the ‘let’s get rid of God’ philosophy of Dawkins, and the much cooler suggestion of Stephen Hawking that the final ‘gap’ for God may have disappeared, simply don’t fit the question. As many people have pointed out, Stephen Hawking was still assuming an eighteenth-century god-of-the-gaps theology which no serious Christian or Jew would propose. But the public discussion of such issues shows, I think, that as a society we still lapse back to conceiving of problems in their eighteenth-century guise, whether it be left-right politics or god-of-the-gaps science-versus-religion standoff or gunship diplomacy. All the philosophy of the last two centuries and we still can’t break out of the public mindset that preceded them.
    http://www.heavenlyascents.com/2010/....w4ehH9DM.dpuf

    Just as, in the sixteenth century, western Christians came to the text with certain questions shaped by their culture–and we can now see how much that has caused people to misread him–so now western Christians come to the New Testament with the questions of modern western democracy in our minds, and within that the questions of the “culture wars” of late 20th Century America. Was Paul a Republican or a Democrat? Was he right-wing or left-wing? One of the things we must urgently learn is that our rather shallow polarizations do not at all correspond to the ways in which ancient Jews or Greeks or Romans saw public and civic life.

    We too easily grasp Paul saying “obey the government” and assume he was an unthinking right-winger in our terms. Or we latch on to the fact that he says “Jesus is Lord” and assume he will line up with every neo-Marxist movement, eager to overthrow the present authorities. This is naïve.

    Paul has a great deal to say about power, government and so on–not so much about “political parties” because that’s a fairly modern idea, one particular localized way of “doing democracy”–but we only understand it all when we really dig deep into his cultural, philosophical and political roots. That’s what I’ve tried to do in this book. My hope is that the book will open people’s eyes to the powerfully subversive early Christian vision of Jesus as Lord, and to the shallow and often self-serving ways in which the western world “does politics”, whether to the right or to the left. One thing is sure: follow Paul, and any idea that “theology” or “spirituality” has nothing to do with public life will be gone for ever.

    One of the peculiar things about transatlantic theological debates is that in America people who are right-wing theologically are often right-wing politically, whereas in England theological conservatives are often left-wing politically–though again the “right” and “left” mean different things at different times and places.
    http://staidanskc.org/n-t-wrights-pa...ulness-of-god/

    Wright does use "liberal" and "conservative" but contextualised to a specific society at a specific time. I get the feeling he'd rather use a better shorthand if possible but there isn't one.
    Last edited by Paprika; 03-08-2014 at 06:37 AM.

  10. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by Paprika View Post
    Here's one good source:

    I'll hunt for others.
    Yeah, that sort of sounds like his views in books like Surprised by Hope. I don't know if I really buy the (non)distinction between conservative and liberal that he's trying to sell. As far as I know, he believes in the virgin birth, a historical resurrection, the sovereignty of God, the sanctity of marriage, etc. His liberal views seem to be mainstream European views on things like concern for the environment, social programs for the poor, abolition of the death penalty, stuff like that. Unless I'm missing something, all in all, he appears to be a conservative Christian with views that might set him apart from the religious right in America, but that doesn't really seem like such a big deal.

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