What's bad about the emerging church? Part two

LT adds to my list:

The "modern" church might be overly obsessed with numbers and dollars but the EC is way too concerned with looking smart, creative or cool. There is a big problem with this because the gospel is foolishness to the modern and post-modern mind. Despite this the gospel is to be proclaimed. If we ever re-brand Christianity so it there is no leap of faith in to the seemingly absurd we will have emptied the gospel message of its power. We can deconstruct church and theology forever and sit content because we think we are the vanguard of the church. In the end we are fooling ourselves because we've been tricked in to thinking we are something special because we read more books and have more creative gatherings while we still aren't making any real difference.

He ends with a good golf analogy:

Hitting a golf ball is simple but the mechanics of your swing are complex...In the end you just have to go up and hit the ball. You can only correct one thing at a time. It takes a lot of practice.

I think that is where I’m at these days. I just want to go up and hit the ball. If I worry too much about my swing I’ll just screw things up.

Resonate ECHO With David Fitch: Tuesday, May 16 At 7:00PM

David Fitch will be at FRWY.ca (a Resonate ECHO - free admission) to talk about the challenges of being a church planter and pastor in the cultures of post-modernity. In his book The Great Giveaway, David uses the current critique of modernity to uncover the ways traditional evangelicalism has been captured by the forces of modernity. The modern maladies of individualism, business like efficiency, me-centered gospel, and farmed-out justice are just a few symptoms of the “giveaway.” Fitch believes this captivity has not only made the church ineffectual amidst the breakdown of modernity but also allowed for its mission in Christ to be compromised in society.

How might the church “reclaim her mission in Christ” amidst these challenges? And what challenges does such a task pose for pastors and church planters? Fitch will present just a few insights from his book along with examples out of his own encounters in church planting and ministry.

He will address:

  • The need to recapture community.
  • The need for embodied witness.
  • The need to make justice something we are.

David Fitch is the founding church planter of “Life on the Vine Christian Community” - an emerging church in the NW Suburbs of Chicago IL. He is affiliate professor of ministry, theology and ethics at Northern Seminary. And above all, even though by a freak of nature he was born in the US, he is a Canadian at heart having grown up in Hamilton ON. He has a terrific blog and is also a co-founder of up/rooted - a collaborative friendship of pastors engaging postmodernity in Chicago.

Resonate Echo w/ David Fitch
Tuesday, May 16 at 7:00PM

FRWY.ca (333 King Street East, Hamilton) - Get map
Free admission

A new question: Living in a post-Christendom world

My second column (April 14, 2006) in Christian Week:

A friend phoned on Sunday morning while we were at church. In her voice mail, she guessed we may be sleeping or out for breakfast. She didn’t guess we might be at church.

After I preached one Sunday, a woman told me she learned something new from my sermon: that Jesus and Christ refer to the same person.

These incidents, seemingly minor and unrelated, are symptoms of two major shifts taking place in Canada. First, the rhythms of church life, like weekly worship and common pause days, no longer shape our society. Second, the Christian story is no longer the dominant story within our culture. In many cases, it is not even known.

Some identify these shifts as signs of a larger trend: the end of Christendom. Southern Baptist author Reggie McNeal calls this trend the collapse of church culture. Whatever we call it, and whether or not we like it, there is no doubt it is changing the face of Christianity within Canada.

Winds of change

Until recently, Christendom dominated Canadian culture. Christendom (not to be confused with Christianity) began in 313 when Christianity was recognized as a dominant force within society. Within Christendom, most members of society were considered Christian, at least nominally, and the Church influenced government and society.

Contrast that with Canada today. Between 1991 and 2001, the number of non-Christian Canadians increased by 72 per cent. The percentage of Canadians who attend church every week has slipped from 67 per cent in 1946 to 20 per cent today. Even among those who oppose same-sex marriage, only one in 10 say politicians should let religious leaders direct them. The Church is being pushed to the margins in Canadian culture.

Understandably, many Christians are unhappy about this trend. Christendom had its benefits, and it is easy to slip into longing for its return. One e-mail I received recently said this: “It is said that 86 per cent of Canadians believe in God. Why don’t we just tell the 14 per cent to shut up and sit down?”

Whenever we long for the return of Christian prayers to public schools, or wish for the Church to regain its dominance within culture, we are longing for the return of Christendom.

Although Christendom had its benefits, it was not all positive. Voltaire, speaking of the Holy Roman Empire, quipped that it was neither holy, Roman nor an empire. Some Christians suggested the power, success and wealth the Church enjoyed within Christendom was dangerous—not helpful— for the Church’s mission.

Hope remains

The end of Christendom is also not all negative. Even if the Church has been pushed to the margins, the gospel has not lost its power or relevance. The gospel, not our position within Canadian culture, gives me hope.

I could be wrong, but I doubt the trend toward post-Christendom will be reversed in Canada. The question then becomes: How do we live as the Church of Jesus Christ in a post-Christendom culture? This question defies easy answers, but it is the question that needs to dominate our thinking.

The end of Christendom is an opportunity for the Church to go back to its roots and rediscover what it means to be the Church in a pagan culture.

The pre-Christendom world was different from our own. Yet it was in this period, which some call the golden age of church history, when the gospel flourished, even without the support of Christendom. In the first three centuries, the Church increased from a few hundred to several million by growing at a rate of approximately 40 per cent per decade.

Our call today is to learn how to live, as Peter wrote, as “foreigners and exiles” in a pagan world (1 Peter 2:11). Peter advised his readers to live as believers in the margins of society in a way that would win credibility for the gospel and glorify God—not bad advice for the Church in the margins today.

I’ve stopped wishing for the return of Christendom. Instead, I’m thinking hard about a brand new question for the Church in Canada: How then shall we live in a post-Christendom world?

What's bad about the emerging church?

I have a theory that weaknesses are the flip side of our strengths. I don't know if this theory is true or not, but I think it is true in the case of the emerging church.

Last week I posted about what's good about the emerging church. Here's what I think is bad:

  • Angst - The emerging church correctly reacts to many of the bad things they see in the modern church. It's easy to overreact and to start to see everything as wrong, and to become overly negative and cynical.
  • Doctrine - The emerging church is broad, and one could argue that it defines itself by the center (Jesus) rather than the boundaries (doctrinal distinctives). I generally like this approach, but I wonder if it's worth drawing a few more boundaries while still holding to the center. To switch to a soccer metaphor, without boundaries, the ball is never out of play and the game gets a little silly at times.
  • Gospel - Some say the emerging church is not evangelistic. I don't know about that; I've seen them reach people that the traditional church doesn't. But I am aware that in embracing a holistic Gospel, it's easy to go to the other extreme and forget about the soul.
  • Fear of tackling some issues - The emerging church doesn't mind being provocative when it comes to tackling some issues, but it seems to sometimes back off on issues that would make it look, well, offensive and regressive. I often wish that they could tackle some of the hot button issues with the same insight and grace, even if it makes them look out of step with culture.
  • Critiquing culture - The emerging church is pretty good at critiquing modernism, but could probably be more outspoken in critiquing postmodernism.

I'm painting with a broad brush here. Many of these may be accurate of some but not of others. And, don't forget, I think that when you add this to my other list, there are many things we can learn from the emerging church, and we're making a mistake if we write the whole thing off too quickly.

Let me make a prediction: those who visit here who are sympathetic to the emerging church may disagree with me on some of those points, but they will welcome critique. That shouldn't be missed. I have found that my emerging friends are actually open to admitting where the emerging church still has room to grow, especially if the critiques are offered in a spirit of generosity rather than of attack.

Last week, I was thinking about how easy it is to badmouth those we disagree with. I don't know how much glee we should take in criticizing our brothers and sisters. I would say, "Very little." For better or for worse, we're in this together, and we don't even have the option of not talking constructively and loving each other.

If you are a critic of the emerging church, and don't have any emerging friends, I'd encourage you to get to change that. I bet you'll both learn lots from each other.