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Monday, 13 February 2012

Emerging Church (1) What is Emerging Church?

The next few blogs....
In the next few blogs I plan to highlight  the direction (and in some cases, final destination) of the loosely called Emerging Churches. The reasons for these blogs are: First, many emerging church leaders have come from evangelical backgrounds - I want to explain why. Second, the signs are that many in emerging churches are fast departing from the Gospel; we need to be warned. Third, no question, there are things we can learn from the movement.

What is emerging church (EC?)
Emerging Church is a loose affiliation of western church leaders who believe that the way church has been done in the last few centuries needs a radical overhaul. Why? Because, they argue, we live in a very different world: a postmodern world. The old ways of doing church were formulated, so goes the argument, under modernism which was the dominant (western) world-view back then. We have to re-do church under the new dominant (western) world-view which is postmodernism.

At first sight this all sounds good - we are called to be all things to all men; we are called to preach the timeless Gospel to an ever-changing world. We are convinced that the church that weds itself to any world-view will become a widow when that worldview dies.

We have no problem "re-doing church" every ten years, or as often as the changing culture demands....

....if only that was what EC was about.

But tragically there are many in the EC movement who have gone much further than merely contextualising the gospel for a postmodern age - they have capitulated to the postmodern age and become for all practical purposes postmodernists: that will be my claim. 

What is Modernism? What is Postmodernism?
Tons of debates on descriptions of both, but the essences of neither are disputed. The history of the Western world (or at least western philosophy) can be divided into three eras, or so the story goes.....

First, we have the Pre-modern which is from day zero to lets say 1700. The poor old pre-moderns: irrational, emotional and willing to believe every Tom, Dick and Harry! Poor pre-moderns thought that they could find truth by divine revelation.

The Enlightenment (1500-1800) becomes the marker for the next era called Modernism. (In some of my previous blogs I describe The Enlightenment and suggest that it should be called The Darkening, because that is what it did to human thinking). In modernism the Mind is King. Reason is everything. Unless something can be proven with human logic it isn't true or worth talking about. Out goes emotion, poetry, stories; in comes objective reasoning and cold ruthless logic.  The idea is born that human beings, (now so confident of their minds) can arrive at timeless truth The (only) surviving child of the Enlightenment is science.

And then, as is always the case, there was a great revolt against the previous thought system and in came Postmodernism, dated somewhere in the 1970s.  PoMo, a rebellion not against human reason but against the confidence placed in human reason and the imprisonment of human beings in a box of human rationality, began to question the proud claims of modernists: can you really find capital T truth using your fancy methods? Isn't truth more subjective than that, your truth versus their truth, especially since there are so many competing truth claims? Haven't  many wars been fought because one camp saying they have "The Truth" have gone to war against another camp who didn't? If you tell me you have capital T truth, you are just playing power games with me: one-upmanship.

Good and bad things about all worldviews
No worldview is 100% right, none 100% wrong. Being constructed by flawed human beings they all have their minuses as well as their pluses. The good thing about modernism is that it insists on the use of our God-given minds and says that truth can be found. The bad side of modernism is that it puts too much confidence in the ability of the mind and ignores all other routes to truth. For example, one reason people come to faith in Christ is that they see God's love at work in a community and know this must be from above. Then the Holy Spirit convicts them of sin inwardly. If you were to ask them how they came to Christ, how they knew Christ was the Way, Truth and Life, they would mention the mind as one way of knowing, but not the only way of being convinced. They would say they felt God's love from his people and experienced the powerful work of God's Spirit. Modernism's insistence on the mind as the only way of knowing, is reductionist - and dangerous. A church unduly infected with modernism will be all reason and no emotion.

And the same is true about postmodernism. It rightly insists that truth is at least in part shaped by communities (just consider the different emphases found in Christian denominations such as pentecostalists and reformed). It rightly suspects powerplays behind claims to Truth. It rightly doubts the human mind's ability to arrive at Truth. Where it goes wrong is to argue that because so often truth is shaped by community, it is always shaped by community. Just because so much of what passes for Truth is just truth, it doesn't follow that all of it is truth.

Both systems are flawed: it is fatal to buy into any world system.

Perhaps many churches did buy into modernism. For sure, today, many churches are buying into postmodernism. But that's a story for another blogging day.....

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