emergent vs. fundamentalist smackdown :: where christians and culture collide

October 18, 2010

Mark Driscoll knows the Emergent Church… or Village… or Emerging…  um, Conversation? …better than almost anyone.  He was there at the start.  Watched it unfold and grow from the inside.  And he left it as it left Christianity to pursue new ideas – a higher evolution of thinking about spirituality and how Jesus might have a role therein.

As I’ve been preparing to write a Seminary paper about the short history and current theology of the Emerging Church, I listened again to Mark Driscoll’s address to the 2007 Convergent Conference, hosted by the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  If you’ve got an hour and a half, it is an OUTSTANDING picture from the inside of the start of the Emerging Church movement and its theological dangers.  I’ve posted it here if you’re interested.

As I listened and learned and thought about the implications for ministry today, Mark focused his attention on an issue that has me by the throat right now…  CONTEXTUALIZATION.  This post is a summary of his thoughts, blended with my own, in the hopes that we would be passionate preachers of the truth RIGHT NOW in this culture – neither bowing our doctrine to the whims of culture, nor stiff-arming culture as if to protect ourselves from it.

In the world… but not of it.  But still in it.  Right?  And not of it.

Basically this:  the local church exists (according to the Great Commission in Matt. 28 and the Greatest Commandments in Matt. 22) to make disciples of Jesus Christ who love God and love people.  We (believers) have been born into this time and this place.  In this cultural context.  For THESE people.  Therefore, we must find a way to take the timeless truth of the Gospel (and the hard truth that we are all depraved sinners who need rescue and resuscitation) and CONTEXTUALIZE it for the culture we have been placed in by God in His perfect wisdom.  We’re here, right now, on purpose.

I see much energy being spent  by by church people in the pursuit of conflict rather than converts.  I see the liberal left wing of the Christian community, as personified by the open theism and narrative “trajectory” theology of the Emerging Church conversation, and the fundamentalist far right wing characterized by zealous dogma and self-righteous condemnation of cultural contamination in the church, as two hostile camps, each with their sights focused on the other.

In the middle ground are contextual cultural missionaries (like me), trying to find ways to communicate in today’s culture the timeless truth that we all need Jesus, and that his gospel message of hope is for us. Right now.  These pastors, teachers, evangelists, writers, and church folk with a burning heart for God and a passion for the lost souls that surround us are getting shot in the crossfire, and the Church (capital “C”) is suffering for it.

We must be people of the middle ground.  As Jesus prayed for us in John 17, not that we would be removed from the world, but that we would be protected from the evil one and united with other believers as we take the gospel to the time and place we have been sent to serve.  Contextualization of the Word of God.

This stands in contrast to the left and right wings engaged in a theological cage match…

In the far left corner we have those emerging theologians who believe that theology, and God Himself, is evolving with culture.  They are the syncretists, blending Christianity with paganism.  They hold a low view of scripture, and they are asking the same basic question that the serpent asked Eve in the garden…  “Did God really say…?”  They have two hands.  In one they hold DOCTRINE and in the other they hold church PRACTICE.  In the far left corner, BOTH hands are open.  Doctrine and practice are both open to change.

In the far right corner we have the cultural separatists and doctrinal purists who are more concerned with being contaminated by the culture than they are in changing it.  They are the sectarians, who see New Testament references to the “world” as synonymous with “culture.”  Ergo, “cultural relevance” = “worldliness.”  They hold a high view of scripture, but practice “sanctification by separation” from sinners and their interests.  They have two hands.  In one they hold DOCTRINE and in the other they hold church PRACTICE.  In the far right corner, BOTH hands are closed.  Neither doctrine nor practice are open to change.

I’m with Mark Driscoll on this one.  I don’t want to be a syncretist.  I don’t want to be a sectarian.  I want to be a SUBVERSIVE, infiltrating culture and speaking their language, with every intention of infusing that culture with the life-giving message of Jesus Christ.  We hold a high view of scripture, and we embrace the culture to the degree that we can identify WITH it and not be identified BY it.  While there are certainly elements of culture that are worldly, there are things we can receive, things we must reject, and things we can REDEEM in culture through the power of the Word of God.

We, the people of the middle ground, have two hands.   In one we hold DOCTRINE and in the other we hold church PRACTICE.  The cultural contextualizers (like me) hold doctrine tightly, like a treasure, with a CLOSED hand…  but our other hand, the one gripping our church practices and the way we’ve always done things, that hand must always be OPEN.

We present timeless truth using timely methods.  We seek to be Biblically faithful and culturally fruitful.  We CONTEND for the faith (Jude vs. 3 — “Defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to His holy people…”) against creeping liberal theology, and at the same time we CONTEXTUALIZE our message for the culture we live in (per 1 Corinthians 9, verse 19  —  I have become all things to all people in order that some may be saved.”)

That’s where I plant my flag.  Next to Pastor Mark’s.  And I stand with the greatest subversive, cultural contextualizer of all time, Jesus Christ, who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself in human likeness and humbled himself to save us from our sin.

If you have the time and want to consider all of this more carefully, please scroll up and listen to Pastor Mark Driscoll’s address to the 2007 Convergent Conference, hosted by the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary…

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Psalm 24:7 & Luke 10:42 >> Like David, and Mary, I'm in pursuit of my one thing. I'm the Pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Montgomery, IL. Pastor, teacher, writer, communicator, designer, and drummer. I definitely got the better deal in my marriage to Amy. And I couldn't be any more proud of my five amazing boys. Deeply grateful.

8 responses to emergent vs. fundamentalist smackdown :: where christians and culture collide

  1. Julie Knollenberg October 18, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    Thank you for this amazing post. I can’t wait to read it again and also listen to Mark Driscoll’s talk. I have been studying about the dangers of the emergent church and have been very saddened by what is happening with this movement. I am so thankful for you post and that you stand firm on your convictions and Biblical truths. I am also thankful there are men like you who are studying to become pastors and aren’t afraid to stand up for Truth. May God continue to use you in mighty ways to impact lives for Christ!!!!!

    • Thanks Julie. I believe that this is the clear stand of our AFLC Seminary, and these men are WISE, HUMBLE, and UNFLINCHING in their high regard for the Word of God. They are awesome teachers. I’m thrilled to be here preparing for what ever God has next for us. Thanks for your friendship and the encouragement! You and Jeff mean the world to us at Living Hope!

  2. Just wanted to let you know I’m grappling with this one. Another Big Topic for our Someday Epic Conversation…!

    I have thoughts banging around in my head – nothing coherent, mostly fragments & words: pharisees, neither hot nor cold, context vs. culture vs. history… “blending Christianity with paganism” – hmmm… Christmas traditions, anyone?

    I’ll keep thinking. If I have time, I’ll listen…

    BTW – speaking of the emergent church, did you know Shane Claiborne is coming to town for the Faith & Life lectures? http://www.faith-and-life.org

    G.

    • Hey Gretch. I think you’d like the clarity of brother Mark. Listen if you get a chance.

      Yes… someday. I expect you and I will hold stubbornly to our viewpoints until we both get to heaven. You will have been wrong about some things. And I will have been wrong about some things, too. Your list will be WAY LONGER, of course, but you’ll still make it in (Thank God for salvation by GRACE alone, right?!) 🙂 And by that time, our “rights and wrongs” won’t so much matter anymore. It’s all good.

      The only point I’ll clarify is the oft-quoted “pagan Christmas Tree/Easter Egg/fill-in-the-blank” problem. That’s not the kind of pagan-Christian blending I’m tlaking about. I love that we as Christians have REDEEMED those SYMBOLS as representations of God’s light and life. We are called to be redeemers of culture after all! Salt and light! No, I was talkiing about the blending of Christian and pagan DOCTRINE, ewhich is very different than symbolism. Right?

      OK, gather your thoughts. You know where to find me. 🙂 Bless you.

  3. Hey Josh –

    Great reading your thoughts, but have a question for you. You say, “The cultural contextualizers (like me) hold doctrine tightly, like a treasure, with a CLOSED hand…” Could you expound a little more?

    Actually, let me get more specific….What is the doctrine you hold with a closed hand? I fully believe in the inerrancy of scripture, just not the inerrancy of our interpretation of scripture. If we hold all doctrine with a closed hand then anything we may have missed the boat on a bit, will stay off course never able to be corrected.

    A few examples may help clarify…Less than 60 years ago, pastors stood in pulpits throughout the south and taught that blacks were inferior to whites. And they used scripture, our innerant Bible, to prove their point. That was part of their doctrine.

    When I grew up in church, our doctrine included no dancing, no drinking, and no jeans in church. All of these included scriptural references to prove these stances were Biblical, and not merely a pastor or congregational opinion / “best practice”.

    Even in my current small group, there are some zealous individuals who believe any Christian who participates in Halloween is indulging in sin. That’s actually how I found your blog, by searching for background and articles on Halloween (great post on that, btw).

    I agree that some doctrine must be held with a closed hand (IE – Nicene Creed), but I believe the rest must be held gently, with an open heart, ready and able to be changed by God if we have misunderstood.

    I wish more in church would follow Augustines statement – In essentials, unity. In doubtful things, liberty. In all things love.

    • Hey there Jay! Thanks for the clarifying question. I really appreciate that you took the time to read and chime in here. You raise a very important point.

      I agree with you in large degree that it is SCRIPTURE in its original language, and in its original meaning, that is inerrant. We human beings have every capoability of messing up the interpretation – or, as in the case of slavery, twisting it to use it for our own purposes.

      I think there are two keys to answering your question, and you actually did half the work on this one with your last sentence. “In essentials, unity. In doubtful things, liberty. In all things love.” While Augustine was a bit of a mixed bag in the world of hermenuetics (just studied him this morning in Seminary, actually), he was right on this… The Bible is exceptionally clear on the essentials. And on MANY MANY matters related to morality and righteous living, He has also been very clear. Where God in His divine wisdom wanted His will to be clear, He makes it clear through plain language and repetition, where scripture informs scripture. So, in matters of DOCTRINE (Truths about God), I believe we must look to the clear sections of scripture that are unambiguous. We do not try to acsertain core doctinal positions from places where scripture is not clear.

      Secondly, we must clarify the difference between DOCTRINE and PRACTICE. Your examples of “no dancing, no drinking, no card playing, no rock and roll music, no fill-in-the-blank” do sound to me like issues of PRACTICE. I understand that your childhood church made them more than that, and used scripture to back up their position… that’s legalism. I think your church was wrong in this area. NOW, I do NOT want to come down hard on them for this. I’m sure they wanted to honor the Lord, and they most likely saw these positions as a safeguard against immoral behavior. They may very well have read scripture in such a way as to believe that’s what the Bible teaches, but my guess is then, that they were applying incomplete hermeneutical principles that led to isogesis (reading something into the text) rather than exegesis (hearing what the text has to say).

      In any case, where scripture IS clear, I believe we must stand with confidence and conviction, but ALWAYS put on love. The Bible tells us to “speak the truth in love.” That means do both… YES, speak the truth… but you must do it in a loving way. Not self-righteously.

      And in those areas where scripoture is less clear and there are varying opinions as to what is the best practice for a community of faith, I think we must then have humility. We must be able to take our position in these areas without proclaiming everybody else to be the bad guys.

      Does that help answer the question? Thanks for the challenge, Jay. God bless.

  4. Great post Josh. I think you’re right on being squarely in the middle. And this is why I love the Acts29 guys. Do you listen to any of them? I **highly** recommend Darrin Patrick and Matt Chandler. Definitely in it but not of it guys.

    • Matt Chandler – woot! Acts29 – woot! Darrin Patrick – I’ll check him out. 🙂 I like finding more in but not of guys. God bless, brother.