Why I’m Not Emerging:A Brief Response to the Emergent Church By James MacDonald
Let me begin with a word of personal appreciation for the current leaders of the emerging church movement. I am deeply grateful for your courage in standing against the many shortcomings of the modern western church. Thanks for insisting that authenticity in relationship is the foundation of genuine Christian community. Thanks for standing against the formulaic/instant Gospel which fills our churches with tares and insulates the human heart from a genuine transformational encounter with the living Christ. Thanks also for daring to believe that failure is not final and that Christ yet longs for His bride to function with the health and wholeness He created it to enjoy.
In case you are wondering why my gratitude for the leaders of the emerging church does not translate into enthusiasm for their current emphasis and direction let me take a few words to explain why I am not emerging.
Because observing the bad is not a credential for guiding us to the good
Even if every placard-carrying protestor across from the White House has a legitimate complaint, they will not soon be invited to cross the street and participate in governing our nation. The hippies of the late sixties told us that the choice to “make love, not war” would go a long way toward solving society’s ills. We now know however that free love is a fast track to rampant perversion and escalating victimization of the innocent among us. History is replete with proof that those most articulate about our shortcomings are often least able to bring balanced, objective solutions. I resonate deeply with much of the criticism flowing from the emerging church against current western Christianity, but I am deeply grieved to see the emergent remedies accepted so uncritically by those who feel gratified by the accuracy of their critiques. Knowing the soup is bad does not make one a chef. If successful diagnosis was a license to treat the patient every lab technician would be a surgeon . . . scary.
Because God is looking for obedience to revealed truth, not just sincerity
I have had numerous interactions and time to personally observe several of the key emerging leaders such as Chris Seay, Carol Childress, Dave Travis, Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren and Rob Bell. Some I have only spoken with, others I consider to be dear friends, but each that I have been exposed to give strong evidence that they are sincere and genuinely committed to Jesus Christ. If all that Christ asked of us was a gracious, kind demeanor they would be exemplary indeed; however the Lord is asking for much more. In John 14:21 Jesus taught “he who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.” We are expected to obey our Master and to accept His Word without equivocation. Cavalier questioning of the explicit statements of Scripture regarding the necessity of the new birth, the priority of biblical proclamation or the binding authority and sufficiency of Scripture cannot build a stronger, more Christ- honoring church no matter how sincere the messengers. Critiquing the church is good, disregarding or diminishing the revealed truth of our Founder is not good, no matter how ‘nice’ the people are who do it.
Because Christ’s is a kingdom of substance, not style
Candles and bells, paintings and sculpture, incense and chanting—great! Let’s bring back the best of all those offerings of worship, but let’s not confuse style and substance. According to Jesus, it’s still truth that sets you free—not artistic expression. Wearing suits and ties is certainly not necessary and it can be contrived and unnatural, but wearing jeans and sandals is not a means to the revealed presence of Christ. John 14:21 teaches that obedience to the substance of Christ’s teaching brings His “manifest presence,” not forms—old or new. In most of these discussions we are simply inserting an ancient-dead form in place of a modern-dead one. The former feels new because it’s so ancient, as in “wow, we lit candles and sat in circles at church—that was so powerful.” Or wait, was it the form that was powerful or just the broken routine that allowed my heart to worship with fresh sincerity? The renewed, ancient forms of worship are powerful if they are offered in spirit and truth and will become just as worthless as they become routine. The power of Christ is not experienced in style, but in heart-felt substance and to miss that point is to set the stage for Emerging Church II when our kids get sick of the currently cool. Style is fun and fresh methods can promote sincerity, but the manifest presence of Christ which is the life of the church comes in response to biblical substance from the heart, not surface adjustments which can quickly become an end in themselves.
Because the answer is Jesus, not cultural analysis.
Several times in the past few years we have baptized more than 200 adults in our church in a single weekend. When you listen to so many concurrent stories of conversion to Christ in such a short period of time, you get a clear picture of how it happens. “I was going along thinking I was ‘too sexy for my shirt,’ and God dropped a boulder on my life to break me down and get my attention.” While the label on the boulder may change, the story does not. Bottom line: God uses the painful circumstances of life to soften human hearts and bring people to faith in Christ. In the past few years we have analyzed our culture ad nauseum. Cultures don’t come to Christ, individuals do and the fields are more ripe for harvest than ever before. Our endless discussion of culture has become just an elitist substitute for rolling up our sleeves and getting the Good News to the people who are hurting right now! Baby Boomer, GenX, Postmodern, blah, blah, blah. The discussion itself is modernistic and we’re just talking to ourselves. How about a more compassionate extension of our own life in Christ and please . . . a lot less perpetual babbling about culture, which even when rightly observed is not the answer, duh—Jesus is!
Because Jesus is the purpose for the party, not the surprise hiding in the closet of respectability
If you have not traveled to the places in our world where the Gospel of Christ is spreading like wild-fire, I covet that opportunity for you. What you find there is not careful connoisseurs of some Rodeo Drive Jesus, but flag-waving, flame-throwing, on-fire followers of Christ. The power of God’s Spirit is moving because Jesus is experienced, adored and proclaimed in all of His transcendent glory. Why do so many of the emerging church websites speak of God/Father and less overtly or not at all about Jesus Christ the Lord? Claiming to be post modern we are still marketing Jesus and hiding Him in the closet of respectability until we feel like people are ready to handle Him. Jesus can’t be handled and He doesn’t need spin doctors. I know we’re pretty fussy about music forms, but let’s bring back an old chorus, This Little Light of Mine, and in case we’ve forgotten the answer to “hide it under a bushel?” is NO!
Anyway . . .
I am thankful for the honest and often accurate critiques of current western Christianity flowing from the emerging church movement. I strongly desire to see them show greater promise in the arena of solutions or at least be more open to analysis from outside their community than they have been to date. (Witness the harsh rejection, rather than careful analysis of D.A. Carson’s book, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church on many emergent blogs )
These are some of the factors affecting my decision not to emerge. What I am doing is hoping, praying and spending myself, along with many others, for “revival in the church in America in our lifetime.” The problems in the western church are extreme: legalism or license, dead orthodoxy or compromised consumerism, professional entertainers with pop psychology or angry disregard for the sinful world Jesus weeps for. The western church in our lifetime has become an awful mess, but Jesus is not giving up on her and neither should we. Now hear this: the answer we desperately need is a fresh move of God. We need a renewed vision of God’s exalted, infinite holiness. We need an overwhelming sense of our own pride and personal sinfulness. We need our eyes lifted from the bankruptcy of cultural reflection to the crucified, risen, glorified Christ. There must be a returning to the centrality of the unadorned Gospel and the power of God’s Spirit to redeem, restore and rebuild broken lives. We need men and women on fire with passionate confidence in the power of God’s Word proclaimed; not because pagans say they want it, but because God promises to bless it. In short, what we need, what we desperately need is a renewing work of God that will cut a swath of revival across our land like a tornado across a Kansas wheat field. That’s what we need and nothing else will do. In fact anything else is window dressing. Most urgently I am praying that we will repent and turn from the horizontal, man-centered focus that grieves God’s Spirit and prevents the presence of Christ from emerging more fully in our midst.
::my 2 cents are this - if the current leaders of the church were to remember that the church is NOT about them but rather ALL about God and HIS UNIQUE INTERACTION WITH THOSE WHOM HE HAS "CALLED OUT" OF THIS WORLD, then we would focus far less on commercial advertising (for the record, i don't see the basis of this as bad but it can become a suble form of me, building "my kingdom" and forgetting His) and slick time slotted campaigns and more on loving one another intimatly praying for one-another passionatly and building up each other entirely through GOD'S SACRED WORD. i still go back to the whole purpose of God's leaders/ shephards/ elders/ pastors/priests whatever you want to call them is to just simply be a messanger boy to faithfully, acuratly, teach and communicate HIS WORD, the WHOLE COUNSEL OF GOD! oh, believe me when i say i know that this biblical role is not glamouous. but, until the shephard trades back his armani suit for the dirt stained robe and is flashy silver sword for the wooden staff then god's people will continue looking and searching emerging and re-emerging for someone who can just feed them Jesus.