Scot McKnight on the Emerging Church

In case you've been missing it, Scot McKnight has very quickly become a leading critical voice in the emerging church movement. He comes into the "emerging conversation" from the outside and from academia, lending fresh insights as he engages this new movement. He entered the fray as a foil to D. A. Carson's critique of Brian McLaren and the Emerging Church. It seems that recently he has been interviewed more on the Emerging Church movement than anybody outside Brian McLaren (check out the 2-part story PBS did on the EC).

After about seven months of deep engagement with the EC, Scot recently offered a four-part explanation of what he understands of the movement. Below is a summary of what was said in those posts. I strongly recommend you follow the links and read the posts in full.

What is the Emerging Church? Praxis

The Emerging Movement is a summons or an invitation for the Church to live like followers of Jesus in everything they say, do, and think. The Emerging Movement seeks to model that in its emphasis on relationships as the core of the work of God in the world today. One of the reasons so many are frustrated with the Emerging Movement’s definition is found here: it is a movement concerned with praxis and not simply theology. If the older fashion was to define others by their theology, the Emerging Movement wants to be defined by its behavior. This is a dramatic challenge to the Church.

What is the Emerging Church? Protest

First, it protests too much tom-fakery in traditional churches.
Second, it denounces the divisions in the Church.
Third, it sees cock-sure certainty as a cancer.
Fourth, it refuses to separate action from articulation. If the older evangelical generation found doctrinal statements the chief way of setting up boundaries, the Emerging Movement wants to see one’s articulation expressed by one’s action.
Fifth, it wants individualism absorbed into incorporation: that is, the Emerging Movement encourages personal redemption but solo-Christianity is not what Jesus wants. He wants to form communities of faith not individual Christians.
Sixth, the Emerging Movement’s mindset is against marketing the gospel.
Seventh, the Emerging Movement despises the idea that Church is what takes place on Sunday Morning...the work of the Church is what occurs during the week as the local community of faith performs the gospel.
Eighth, the Emerging Movement rejects the hierarchy and pyramid structure of many churches. Authority is in God — Father, Son, Spirit — and not in the pastor or the elders or the board of deacons.
Ninth, the social gospel cannot be separated from the spiritual gospel. The Emerging Movement combines the Liberal social gospel with the Evangelical spiritual gospel and comes up with something that is neither Liberal nor Evangelical.
Tenth, the Emerging Movement wants to be Worldly. Not in the Johannine sense or in the Pauline sense, but in the Kingdom sense: it knows that God is working to restore the entire creation into an expression of his glory and so it summons everyone to participate in the grant work of God to restore and redeem.

What is the Emerging Church? Postmodernity
Those in the Emerging Movement who are postmodernists are not radical postmodernists — that is, they are not “hard” postmodernists. (Hard postmodernists deny any truth whatsoever.) Some Emerging Christians are “soft” postmodernists, and some aren’t even that: they may be critical realists or they may be soft foundationalists. I am pleading with the critics of the Emerging Movement to accept that not all Emerging folks are hard or even soft postmodernists. To equate Emerging folk with postmodernism and to say that postmodernists deny truth so therefore the Emerging folk deny truth is unfair, libelous, and scandalous to how Christians ought to operate with one another...
...only God is Absolute Truth and all our articulations of truth partake, to one degree or another, in that Truth but our articulations do not strike home as as full grasp of Absolute Truth. Only God is Absolute Truth and only God can genuinely know Absolute Truth. All our knowledge is tinged. To assign Absolute Truth to God alone does not ruin our confidence, it just means that our confidence is in God.

What is the Emerging Church? Pro-Aplenty
First, the EM is pro-missional in thrust. The term “missional” is a favorite among many in the EM because it goes beyond the older Christian terms like “mission” and “missionary,” and because it is being defined holistically. To be missional means to embrace a holistic gospel – it is for the whole person (heart, soul, mind, and strength), for the whole society (politics, economy, culture, environment), and for the whole world. Missional avoids the constant bantering between Evangelicals and Liberals over social justice and evangelism, and it avoids the 20th Century political theorists regular diatribes against colonialism. Just what that “mission” is also quite clear for the EM if rarely defined in detail: the mission is the Kingdom of God as taught by Jesus...
Second, the EM is pro-Jesus. (Reformational) theology is often abstract, systematic, and rooted in logic and reason. The EM wants to root its theology, which is more practical than it is theoretical, in the incarnate life of Jesus himself. It wants a theology that is shaped by personhood and relationship rather than just rationality and systemic thinking. (Let’s not use simplistic dichotomies; instead, this is an issue of emphasis.)
Third, the EM is pro-Church. It is not ecumenical in the classical sense of the Ecumenical Movement, which was set on a course of finding a doctrinal basis among sets of Christians who could not agree, but in the sense of being missionally focused. Because it is missionally focused, it finds it much easier to cooperate with other Christians with a similar missional focus and to cooperate with other Christians because its own theological agendas are less central...It is also pro-Church in that the Church is designed to be a community. Here again, the EM reminds one of the Anabaptists or the Jesus movement of the 60s and 70s, where Christian communities grew out of a radical commitment to the Church as a community.
Fourth, the EM is pro-culture. The EM tends to celebrate the demise of metanarratives, finding in this demise the opportunity for “micro”narratives of local communities to given a hearing...Some EM thinkers toy with agreeing and not agreeing with this understanding of postmodernity and suggest that the Christian faith is one such “metanarrative” that can’t be proven true. Well, there is something dangerous and something healthy in such a claim. It is dangerous if it means Christian faith is just a preference rather than the truth, but it is healthy if it means (as many Christian theologians think it does) that Christians have to accept their fallenness and their limited grasp of truth and live with less than certainty on many issues.
Finally, the EM is pro-sensory worship. This is perhaps one of the most notable features that many know about. It may be a direct influence of Dan Kimball, in his Emerging Worship, or the influence of Robert Webber, but many in the EM form and shape worship services (“gatherings” to use their term) in order to foster sensory experience in worship...Why? Because it is believed that both the human is a whole (heart, soul, mind, and body) and the postmodern world resonates with full-form experiences. Here again the missional focus is prominent as is the coming into contact with the ancient traditions of the Church.


I offer this synopsis for those who read VanguardChurch but are still unconvinced that the emerging church is a good thing. Again, I strongly encourage everyone to read Scot's posts on the Emerging Church movement at Jesus Creed.

1 comment:

terry said...

bob - thanks for sharing this summary. great info for people to learn more about the emerging movement. i will point some people your way.

grace and peace - terry