Reflections on the Emerging Church - Part 1


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This is part 1 of a presentation that examines the philosophies and teachings of the Emergent Church

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Reflections on the Emerging Church - Part 1

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  2. 2. Is the Emerging Church Worth Discussing…?
  3. 3. Is the Emerging Church Worth Discussing…?
  4. 4. Yes, it is… Released February 2010, Brian McLaren‟s( one of the definitive leaders of the Emerging Church movement) new book showcases how the obituaries proclaiming the end of the Emerging Church‟s influence may be a bit premature…
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  6. 6. A Proposed Definition from one Group… “Emerging churches are not young adult services, Gen-X churches, churches- within-a-church, seeker churches, purpose-driven or new paradigm churches, fundamentalist churches, or even evangelical churches. They are a new expression of church. The three core practices are identifying with the life of Jesus, transforming secular space, and commitment to community as a way of life. These practices are expressed in or lead to the other six: welcoming the stranger, serving with generosity, participating as producers, creating as created beings, leading as a body, and taking part in spiritual activities.” - Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Communities in Postmodern Cultures by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger.
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  8. 8. What the Emerging Church Actually is “Emergence,” or the “Emerging” or “Emergent” Church, is a movement inside and outside the boundaries of Protestant Christianity that has been deeply impacted by the worldview of Postmodernism, and in particular, the Postmodern hermeneutic of Deconstructionism. Although it varies significantly from one group to the next, one of its most common characteristics is a deep distrust of sure doctrinal convictions, which the Church has historically used, in their opinion, to wield authority and oppress the weak. All theological convictions and points of doctrine should be held with “humility” (read: “uncertainty”), and open to ongoing dialogue, in which all opinions and perspectives should be embraced and affirmed. Real Christianity, they claim, is not about believing anything in particular, but rather about doing what Jesus did, eating with and loving sinners and the weak and despised.
  9. 9. What the Emerging Church Actually is In much of the “Emergent Church,” this attitude has led to a downplaying or outright denying of some very vital doctrines: the penal substitutionary atonement has often been denied, as has hell and eternal punishment, it has been suggested that “good” moral people of other faith traditions such as Islam and Hinduism are true members of the Kingdom, there has been an acceptance of homosexuality in a “loving” relationship as a positive and moral thing, and many other similar things have been affirmed. At its heart, in much of the movement, Christianity is no longer about faith in a Christ who saves, but about finding salvation through being a good, loving person, accepting those who have been hurt by the power structures of Christianity (which often means affirming them in their sin as well), taking good care of the earth, and so on. - a/emerging.html
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  11. 11. Some of the More Prominent Leaders… Brian McLaren – BA, MA in English from University of Maryland, honorary Doctor of Divinity from Carey Theological Seminary. Cedar Ridge Community Church pastor until 2006. Author of The Church on the Other Side, A New Kind of Christian, A Generous Orthodoxy, The Secret Message of Jesus, and others. Rob Bell – Bachelors from Wheaton; Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. Founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI. Author of Velvet Elvis, Everything is Spiritual, and others. Tony Jones – AB from Dartmouth, M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary, Ph.D. from Princeton in Practical Theology. Past leader of Emergent Village. Author of The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier , and others.
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  13. 13. Augustine and the Reformation (300‟s-1500‟s) Intellectual thinking dominated by theologians The Renaissance (1300‟s-1600‟s) Elevation of human reason; rejection of either/or to both/and and mysticism The Enlightenment (1600‟s-1800‟s) Continued elevation of human reason; materialist worldview emerges Modernism (1800‟s-1900‟s) Empiricism rules; absolutes are embraced; revelation is rejected Postmodernism (1900‟s-2000‟s) Rejection of modernism and absolutes; affirmation of no absolute truth
  14. 14. What is Postmodernism? The term “Postmodernism” literally means “after Modernism” and is used to philosophically describe the current era which came after the age of Modernism. Postmodernism is a reaction (or perhaps more appropriately, a disillusioned response) to Modernism‟s failed promise of using human reason alone to better mankind and make the world a better place. Because one of Modernism‟s beliefs was that absolutes did indeed exist, Postmodernism seeks to „correct‟ things by first eliminating absolute truth and making everything (including the empirical sciences as well as religion) relative to an individual‟s beliefs and desires.
  15. 15. Postmodernism‟s Spiritual Death Spiral Relative Truth Relative Language Loss of Discernment Philosophical Pluralism
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  17. 17. Augustine – The Reformation Absolute Truth “I believe in order to understand” – Anselm God is the source and giver of truth
  18. 18. The Renaissance - Enlightenment “Since this truth, I think, therefore I am, was so firm and assured that all the most extravagant suppositions of the skeptics were unable to shake it, I judged that I could safely accept it as the first principle of the philosophy I was seeking” -Renee Descartes Descartes knowingly or unknowingly puts the individual at the center of decision making and truth determining.
  19. 19. The Enlightenment Rational, Natural, Skeptical Truth “I believe what I can understand” – Enlightened man
  20. 20. The Enlightenment – Modernity Mind Heart Objective Proof Facts Opinion Faith Values Science Binding Truth Subjective Freedom Religion Immanuel Kant comes on the scene to „rescue‟ truth from the skeptics and publishes his Critique of Pure Reason work, which attempted to fuse the rational and empirical philosophic schools together. But he built an impenetrable wall between what he called the phenomenal and noumenal realms, with the unseen/subjective world including God. He is famous for the line: “I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith”
  21. 21. Postmodernism (1900‟s – Today) Frederick Nietzsche symbolizes the shift from Modernism to Postmodernism. As the patron saint of postmodernist philosophy, Nietzsche held to „perspectivism‟ – that all knowledge is a matter of perspective, interpretation, with all interpretations ultimately ending up as lies. He wrote, “What then is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms … truths are illusions … coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins”
  22. 22. Postmodernism (1900‟s – Today) Another key figure of Postmodernity was Jean-Francois Lyotard. In 1979, Postmodernism became a fixture on the intellectual landscape when Lyotard delivered his work The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, which contained key statements on the topic of truth. Writing a report on knowledge commissioned by the government of Quebec, Lyotard opened his analysis with the statement: “Simplifying to the extreme, I define Postmodernism as incredulity toward metanarratives”. All that is left are les petites histoires, „the little stories‟. This is the heart of the „true for you but not for me‟ way of thinking.
  23. 23. “The great curse of modern philosophy is the almost universal prevailing rebellion against intellectual self-discipline. Where loose thinking obtains, truth cannot possibly be grasped, whence the conclusion naturally follows that there is no truth.” – Philosopher Etienne Gilson
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  25. 25. Augustine – The Reformation Evangelical Christians believe that truth is something that can be communicated via language and the written word, with the Bible being God‟s truth written down in human words. That being the case, a precondition for effective evangelism, they say, is that finite human language must be capable of meaningfully and objectively expressing the nature of the infinite God of Christian theism and His plan of salvation. Further, they hold that language is capable of not only effectively and correctly communicating God‟s special revelation, but His general revelation as well.
  26. 26. Postmodernism‟s Linguistic Objection I. Everyone comes to the world with his own framework of understanding. II. No particular framework of understanding is universally valid. III. But universal validity is precisely what is implied in the notion of objectivity. IV. Therefore no interpreter can be objective in interpretation. V. But if no interpreter can be objective then no interpretation is universally valid. VI. But if no interpretation is universally valid then the concept of a correct interpretation is at best relative or at worst empty. VII.Since there is no such thing as a correct interpretation there is no means of adjudicating between interpretations. VIII.In fact, the very idea of adjudicating between interpretations is at best relative and at worst empty – Thomas Howe
  27. 27. Modernism‟s Attack on Objective Language The Swiss linguist Ferdinand Saussure‟s work Course in General Linguistics was the forerunner of modern conventionalism. His contribution to the theory of language was that the individual author was not seen as the origin or locus of meaning. Such a stance makes Saussure the father of structuralism, which says that an objective, universal cultural system “structures” our mental processes and that this structure is evident in both human language and social institutions. His theory overturned the modern meaning of texts and of knowing itself – the author of the text disappears behind the structures of language with the end result being that there is no single genius behind a work. And if that is true, then the reader suddenly assumes preeminence with respect to what an actual work means – a teaching that was to become front and center in the postmodernist position on language and objectivity.
  28. 28. Modernism‟s Attack on Objective Language Ludwig Wittgenstein built upon Saussure‟s work and helped lay the foundation for what Postmodernism would use for its position on language and objectivity. He believed that all words or linguistic signifiers are embedded in what he called “language games”. A language game is something that contains a system of rules which governs the way words are used within a particular context, much like chess and how the individual game pieces can be moved about the board. Wittgenstein was influential in the rise of logical positivism, a stance that adheres to the belief that if a statement is not a tautology or an empirically verifiable claim, then it is meaningless and should be discarded. Certain matters, said Wittgenstein, defy words and “what we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence”. Hence, religious language is placed in the realm of the inexpressible.
  29. 29. Postmodernism‟s Attack on Objective Language The French philosopher Jacques Derrida attacked language‟s „logocentrism‟ denying that language has a fixed meaning connected to a fixed reality or that it unveils definitive and objective truth or meaning. Derrida mainly concerns himself with the question of meaning and states that in the end language is merely self-referential. Meaning is never static, never given once-for-all; instead it changes over time and with changing contexts. For this reason, mankind must continually defer or postpone its tendency to attribute meaning. With respect to written text, Derrida promotes Deconstruction: a form of interpretation that asserts there is no perfect reference or one-to-one correspondence between words and the meanings they confer. To deconstruct something is to take it apart, but after deconstructing a particular text, Derrida charges the reader with the task of reconstructing the text to make it meaningful to themselves.
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  31. 31. Augustine – The Reformation “It is the task of the philosopher to make distinctions.” - Thomas Aquinas
  32. 32. How Spiritual Discernment is Lost in Postmodernism If objective and absolute truth does not exist… … then everything becomes a matter of personal interpretation. If there is no global, over-arching truth or story… … then nothing is truly binding on mankind as a whole. If language cannot objectively describe spiritual matters… … then no one can be sure what is really real in religion. If the reader determines the real meaning of a work… … then one has no way of solving conflicting opinions. Such a chaotic situation makes it impossible to make meaningful or lasting distinctions between interpretations because there is no standard or benchmark that can be used. This especially applies to matters of faith and religion because the philosophers of the Enlightenment and Modernity had already deposed religion to the compartment of opinion.
  33. 33. There is no way to adjudicate between competing truth claims… … which leads to only one reasonable conclusion.
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  35. 35. “In my most somber moods I sometimes wonder if the ugly face of what I refer to as philosophical pluralism is the most dangerous threat to the gospel since the rise of the Gnostic heresy in the second century, and for some of the same reasons. Part of the danger arises from the fact that the new hermeneutic and its assorted offspring are not entirely wrong: it would be easier to damn an ideology that was wholly and pervasively corrupt” - D. A. Carson
  36. 36. The Types of Pluralism 1. Empirical pluralism - simply refers to the fact that we all live in a diverse society. For example, America is a country of many languages, ethnicities, religions, and worldviews 2. Cherished pluralism - Cherished pluralism takes empirical pluralism and adds an additional ingredient – approval 3. Philosophical pluralism - naturally flows from celebrated pluralism and says that no religion has the right to pronounce itself right or true and the other competing faiths false, or even relatively inferior.
  37. 37. The Underlying Philosophy of Pluralism Pragmatism – “does it work for me?” – is the philosophical theme of pluralism. Objective truth is discarded and replaced with subjective opinion and a review of how something meets the desires of the individual.
  38. 38. “Pluralism is desirable and tolerable only in those areas that are matters of taste rather than matters of truth.” - Mortimer Adler
  39. 39. Postmodernism‟s Spiritual Death Spiral Relative Truth Relative Language Loss of Discernment Philosophical Pluralism
  40. 40. The Last Stop on the Spiritual Death Spiral While some find Postmodernism freeing, others observe another trend – despair. This occurs because no one has anything objective to believe in – no ultimate source of truth to cling to. Postmodernism‟s spiritual seekers, they say, have become convinced there is nothing more to find than a host of conflicting interpretations and an infinity of linguistically created worlds that offer nothing real in the end.
  41. 41. The Emerging Church to the Rescue? The Emerging Church says it understands Postmodernism and the despair that its generation feels. It wants to offer something real to those suffering from the bad philosophy that has marched forward since the Renaissance. But as we‟ll see in Part 2, the Emerging Church has turned out to be a victim of Postmodernism rather than a victor.
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