Emerging Church / conversation… Is the Church dying or just changing?

It’s been a while since I’ve commented on the conversation. There’s a lot of rubbish rhetorical critique on this subject which is boring and tiring. Usually, it’s rehashing straw man arguments and ignores what’s going on beyond the USA (whether we call it emergent/emerging church or not) .

Dion Forster is one voice from South Africa who is worth the time and has insights with global implications.   Listen carefully to what he has to say. It’s not only better, more informed (inclusive of what one sees in the USA), more importantly, it’s forward looking and energizing!

The emergent movement has sought to encounter this misshapen popular ecclesiology through placing a strong emphasis on ‘missional living’.

Participants in this movement assert that the incarnation of Christ informs their theology, believing that as God entered the world in human form, adherents enter (individually and communally) into the context around them, aiming to transform that culture through local involvement in it. This holistic involvement may take many forms, including social activism, hospitality, and acts of kindness.[1]

This emphasis has often led to criticism from evangelical Christians since it shifts the emphasis of the gospel towards social and temporal issues rather than ‘eternal salvation’. Many emergent Christians, such as myself, consider themselves evangelical, but not in the narrow sense of the term as it has been used in contemporary North American Christianity. These emergent Christians are fundamentally committed to the transformation of individuals AND society by bringing the Gospel of Christ to bear on the sin that enslaves individuals, as well as the structural sins that enslave groups, nations and the world. As a result of the influences of post-modernism on the emergent conversation non-propositional approaches to evangelism are preferred. These include acts of mercy and justice, addressing the felt needs and social concerns of communities and individuals before attempting to proclaim the propositional truths of the Gospel[2]. Among these groupings are the so-called ‘red letter Christians’, such as Jim Wallace and Tony Campolo. The name, red letter Christian, comes from the fact that they place a strong emphasis on living the direct teaching of Jesus (which was always printed in red letters in older printings of the Christian Bible). It is remarkable to see that when one studies the so-called ‘red letter’ sections of the New Testament they focus heavily on issues of social justice, structural and societal transformation, and the establishment of the Kingdom of God.

As such emergent faith groupings frequently encourage their members to enter into politics, the economic realm, and education – seeing such work as a vocation that can transform and renew society and the structures of society. I have recently encountered a number of business persons who believe themselves to be ‘ordained’ for societal transformation through using their business as a ministry to establish God’s Kingdom and transform society. Some go so far as to consider themselves ordained as ‘marketplace ministers’.

The end result of mission and evangelism for the emergent Christian is to restore all of existence (the whole of the cosmos, including human persons and the environment) to state of harmony with God[3]. One can thus see that the missional emphasis is not upon building up the numerical adherence of the Christian faith, or bringing persons into Church communities, but rather to seek to infiltrate all spheres of society in order to establish the values and aims of God’s Kingdom throughout the whole of the structure of society.

Emerging Church / conversation… Is the Church dying or just changing?

[1] Griffiths, S. An Incarnational Missiology for the Emerging Church, in Rev Dr. Steve Griffiths speaks about the Emerging Church and how they view and approach missions. http://www.opensourcetheology.net/node/1116. Retrieved on 5 April 2009, 14.43.

[2] A superb example of this approach is to be found in the Luke-10-Transformation approach to evangelism that is currently gaining a great deal of support in Southern African Churches and Christian groupings.

[3] See Brian Mclaren’s book, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope (Thomas Nelson, 2007).

About Sivin Kit

man of one wife, father of four kids
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