Considering the nature and expression of church was one of the primary reasons I started this blog, and started reading some of the emergent voices. It’s also the reason I dusted off whatever my personal library would yield on ecclesiology. And this morning, my 6-1/2-year-old daughter told me she liked talking about church with me on the way to school, so I’ll discuss this question with pretty much anyone as long as it’s stimulating and helpful.

btw, a note or two on semantics: please, don’t read into whether I say “Church” or “church” as you’ll probably have to figure it out from context if I’m talking about the worldwide body of Christ or if I’m referring to some local organization or expression of it. Same thing with “emergent” or “Emergent” where I am not typically referring to the group by that name but to the worldwide number of people in favorable conversation about the emerging church (whether or not they’ve paid to become friends of the people at Emergent — see, you can also figure that out by context).

So in the past day or two, my head may be starting to spin just a little. Here’s what we have:

  • Bill Arnold: Emergent is… (revisited) (the fuzzy-church post)
    Last night my father asked me to explain what the emerging church is all about. He had been reading various things on the net and still couldn’t figure it out. In some ways, I still can’t either. I tried my best to explain, but found it very difficult. That’s not to say that there are no answers, it’s just hard to get right to the point — right to the heart of the issues involved.

    This frustrated me. I’m thinking particularly of the American entity called Emergent, who’s goals I have wished were more clearly defined. But then it suddenly hit me why Emergent has been reluctant to un-fuzzify its boundaries. Partly, this realization was spurred on by…

  • Jonny Baker: emerging church conversation elsewhere
    i have had a few conversations with people from emergent recently about emergent and how it interfaces with the rest of the world. at heart the guys in emergent want to build a friendship but here’s the problem – emergent is a global american brand publishing and marketing resources as well as the friendship. this makes it highly problematic because whatever anyone says it isn’t just about a friendship – that is naive. …[They should] encourage people in their regions to network but to develop their own names and local take on the conversation. that is why i am delighted to see that the canadians have done that. then there can be a genuine relationship/friendship with the americans and anyone else in the world without any complications of brand tie ins and all that s**t. part of the old world that is passing (and we brits sure led the way big style) was about empire. but that world is gone. …i love what kester says in the complex christ – that the economy of gift should characterise the emerging church. …resist the temptation to push your brand on the rest of the world and make friends instead.

Now, just last night I was saying to a friend in a private email that I too had just read the Emergent Rule and I find it to be a helpful clarification and challenge. (Read more here) Unfortunately if I want to sign it or issue non-financial support for it, I have to pay to become a friend. There’s an exceptionally bad example of terminology gone awry here; too bad there’s no category for the rest of us. There, see all the confusion that happens when Emergent relaunches a website? (The site is nicely done, btw, and one can find things with relative ease… including the new things or at least things we’d never seen before.) I might suggest that calling the emerging church ‘conversation’ an American phenomenon (or tainting it with that attitude) would be like calling the reformation a German phenomenon. I hope the parallel becomes that strong, anyhow. Meanwhile,

  • the Resonate Yahoo Group is discussing an article in CT by Tim Stafford titled “The Church—Why Bother?” which, cutting to the chase, concludes:
    The church is the body of Christ, and it carries his wounds. To know Christ is to share in the fellowship of his sufferings—even if the suffering comes at the hands of the sinners who sit in the pews or preach from the pulpit.

    How can we communicate this to unchurched Christians? The only way I know is to preach it. We need to tell them, even if it goes against the grain of our culture. We need to tell them, even if talking so frankly goes against our philosophy of outreach.

    If people commit themselves to the church, they will undoubtedly suffer. The church will fail them and frustrate them, because it is a human institution. Yet it will also bless them, even as it fails. A living, breathing congregation is the only place to live in a healthy relationship to God. That is because it is the only place on earth where Jesus has chosen to dwell. How can you enjoy the benefits of Christ if you detach yourself from the living Christ?

Okay, this gets my hackles up. Fortunately Len Hjalmarson responds to try and set things straight. Seriously, my 6-year-old understands things about church that Stafford doesn’t seem to fathom. His version sounds like the start of a bad light-bulb joke: “How many conservative evangelicals does it take to make a church?” Gee, I dunno, but evidently more than a living-room full, and certainly more than a coffeeshop could accommodate. Another email on the list just cited talks about Bono’s ecclesiology “Bono: ‘I generally think religion gets in the way of God.’ Yup.” (sound familiar?) which apparently CT didn’t like either.

Alright, so over in another room, we have

  • Brad Hightower: The Emergent Discussion – An Open Letter to Brian McLaren (Derek Melleby) where he comments
    I think it will be almost impossible for McLaren and the emergent folk to embrace Neo-Calvinism as a priority as they have a view of church as a “prophetic people”. I think their paradigm is more of church as a light that the world sees. The emergent church, as I see it’s evangelical side, tends to picture people, first, seeing the church (the missional, monastic community) and, then, leaving the world community and entering the kingdom community. They see church as “witness” to the world and not “redeemer” of the world…. [And secondly…] One of my main points is that “post-modernism” and biblical Christianity are incompatible worldviews. The emergent leaders need to see themselves as recovering a biblical worldview. The embracing of post-modern ideas can only cause harm and not good.

I like Brad, I think we’re pulling in the same general direction, so I want to be careful not to get tripped up on the small stuff. However, I don’t think his view of Emergent Ecclesiology is true for all of the emerging church — whether or not it’s true for Brian Mclaren. On the second point, I’ll wrap up below. As a side-note, I never knew Neo was a Calvinist… but I do want to consider this along with predestination in light of the scene in the original movie where he visits the prophet. In any event, Brad is responding here to

  • Derek Melleby: A Response to Brian McLaren who would be done a disservice if I quoted only a small portion of his open letter to Brian McLaren… he has a few criticisms or things he would urge, but it’s genuinely put forth in the manner of helpful dialogue. It’s worth noting that his immediately prior blog post is titled “A Day Apart with Brian McLaren” and describes a one-day seminar he’d just attended.

Okay, so back to

  • Brad Hightower: The Wittenberg Gate Debate – My Challenge:
    Wittenberg Gate has asked for debate topics. I have thought for awhile about this and here is my response.

    I have thought about a provocative topic. The question in my mind is, “what is something that is as pressing as indulgences in Luther’s day?” “What is a worldview shaker?” Here is my topic.

    Does the church need radical change?

    Similar to the three areas of our life depicted below, I have seperated the question into three parts:

    First, I contend the lifestyle of the church needs to completely change toward following a pattern similar to the first century church in terms of mission and community.

    Second, I contend that the pastoral role and the definition of the pastor’s role needs to be completely redefined in terms of discipleship and the rabbinic method of mentoring.

    Third, the church needs to develop a method of sanctification that works.

    These three levels of radical change are both vital and urgent in the church. So, I am siding on the “yes to radical change” side of the question.

Elsewhere,

Well, I agree with Brad, something’s got to change. (I’m hearing “How Long?” running through my mind.) There’s a lot of conversation about the church here and I really haven’t begun to process all of it very thoroughly — but it is one conversation thudding around in my brain, however disjointed it may be at the moment. Unfortunately what I’ve summed up here is just two days of conversation, and only the excerpts that floated across my screen — I wonder what we’ll have to add tomorrow (I love it, really).

I do need to toss in one further question though, and that is whether culture is moral or amoral. Pause for thought. You see, I suspect that Tim Stafford over at CT may have his church (sub)culture a bit confused with the gospel… and this is the point where I think I may disagree with Brad (and probably Derek). Postmodernity is like any type of culture, it just is. Like it or not, you have to deal with it and present (or live) the gospel within it. Converts will need to cease practising whatever is morally evil within the culture, but may retain whatever is good or at least amoral. Postmodernity then, like any culture, has good stuff and bad stuff within it, and a whole bunch of amoral stuff in the middle. The question then, is contextualizing. If we’re living in a postmodern world, we can’t very well go back in time and convert everyone within a culture “more conducive to the gospel” — we’re stuck in time where we are (maybe that’ll change in the 22nd century, but I rather doubt it). So the point is that we need to stop saying “Oh heavens, the pomo’s are coming, hold onto your theology before it’s ravaged!” (not that Brad or anyone I’ve cited is saying this, but these sentiments are found in some other alarmist books) and simply discuss a) how the gospel is contextualized for a postmodern society; b) how living in a postmodern society affects how we practice the gospel; and c) what facets of postmodern society do we reject on moral grounds and what to we embrace? Here we may be turning to the thoughts and writings of missiologists instead of your typical theologs; along the way we’ll probably learn something about being more post-colonial as well.

So as for the nature of the church, this much we do know — actually forget it, maybe we don’t know all that much after all.

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