Emerging Church

An Emerging Calvinist

This long but fascinating article got my dad and I talking about the relationship between Calvinism and the emerging church. I have posted about this before, but as my dad and I talked, I had a couple of additional thoughts.

I said in my February 2007 post that my Calvinism caused me to take culture seriously, and that led me to embracing the emerging approach to church. Not all Christian theologies take contemporary culture seriously.

The Classic Ryrie Dispensationalism I was taught in college leads to a disconnection from culture. If the world is just going to get worse and worse until Jesus yanks us out of here, why should we bother connecting in any meaningful way to our culture? It’s all pointless. Likewise, Fundamentalism doesn’t take contemporary culture seriously. It looks back wistfully to a bygone age and seeks to recreate it through traditional church services and programs and through a certain brand of Jesus-Is-A-Republican kind of theology.

But Calvinism is different. Calvinism has existed in various cultures across the globe and throughout the ages. (Classic Dispensationalism and Fundamentalism are uniquely American theologies.) It has found expression in various cultural ways – in political involvement, in music and art, in education, in business, in compassion-based ministries. The ethos of the emerging church with its strong emphasis on understanding and relating to postmodern culture seems like a very natural place to be a Calvinist.

My other thought has to do with the place of doubt in the emerging church. I’ve posted about this before too. As I think about it, I am not sure that Arminianism allows for doubts. Arminianism teaches that my salvation is ultimately dependent upon a choice that I make to accept-believe-follow Jesus. It seems to me that I am not going to make that choice if I am not fairly certain about the truth of it all. For me to accept Jesus, I need to have it all figured out.

But Calvinism puts the ultimate responsibility for my salvation on God’s shoulders, not my own. And as such, I don’t think that I need to have it all figured out to be a follower of Jesus. I can have my doubts and still be drawn by God into who he is. Calvinism emphasizes the vastness, the grandeur, and the mystery of God. Again, since it is open to doubters like me, the emerging church seems like a very natural place for a Calvinist to find a home.

These ideas probably need to be developed more, but these are some initial thoughts. Do you have any?

Discussing Emerging Theology

It fell off the first page, but here a conversation about the nature of theology was evolving. Since I am always up for a conversation about theology, I thought I would take it up in its own post.

Is there a difference between “emergent,” “emerging,” and “liberal” theology?

Historically, the answer is yes. In theological terms, “liberal” theology is a product of modernity. It developed when rationalism and the scientific method, coupled with the concepts of objectivity and individualism, where applied to the Bible. The result was a rejection of the supernatural elements of the Bible, including most notably the virgin birth, diety, miracles, and resurrection of Jesus. The modern response to “liberal” theology was (is?) fundamentalism.

“Emergent” theology is not a monolithic thing, but it is the product of postmodernity, rejecting the tyrrany of rationalism and the scientific method, as well as the myths of objectivity and individualism. “Emergent” proponents, such as Brian McLaren, have caused much controversy by advocating such things as theistic evolution, complete gender nuetrality, and a quasi-universalism.

“Emerging” theology is even less monolithic than “Emergent” theology. It too is a product of postmodernity, rejecting many of the basic aspects of modern thinking. Most “emerging” leaders seek to focus on a fresh expression of historic orthodox Christian beliefs that connects well with postmodern thinkers.

So, they are not the same thing historically. Nor are they the same thing in content.

Liberal theology rejects the diety of Jesus.
Emergent and emerging theologies don’t.

Liberal theology devalues the authority of the Bible.
Emergent and emerging theologies don’t.

Liberal and Emergent theologies deemphasize hell.
Emerging theology doesn’t necessarily.

You might disagree with all of them, but don’t say they are all the same thing. Because they are not. I know this to be true because I am an emerging theologian who is neither liberal nor Emergent.

I Like Jesus and the Church

In an effort to sharpen my ministry saw, I read Dan Kimball’s book They Like Jesus But Not the Church. I came to see it as an Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary for emerging generations. It was excellent and helpful.

Drawing on his conversations with friends who like Jesus but not the church, Kimball tries to give us a window into how emerging generations think and feel about church. Here are some thoughts (none really profound) that the book reinforced:

– Relationships are key. Emerging generations care very deeply about friendships. Talking about Jesus can’t be of the anonymous variety. That simply won’t cut it. We have got to be doing all we can – in our workplaces, neighborhoods, coffeeshops – to build relationships and to listen. Listening is the primary means of connecting with someone else.

– The church can be political but not partisan. I don’t think emerging generations want us to be spineless and / or disconnected from the world and its problems. We need to be engaged in issues of justice and freedom and love. But can we do it without being partisan? Can we help the poor without being branded liberals? Can we be a voice for the unborn without being dismissed as right-wing kooks? Can we be a church of Jesus-followers who infect both (or all) political parties with his values? And, can we remember that regardless of the political party we identify with, as followers of Jesus, we are all on the same team.

– Gender issues are uberimportant. This is probably the biggest takeaway for me in Kimball’s book. I don’t want Vintage to be seen as a chauvinistic, male-dominated place. I am reminded that I constantly need to be thinking about how what we believe about the equality of women can be projected in what we do. There shouldn’t be a disconnect there.

– It’s ok to be an organized church. The “organized religion” thing has almost gotten cliche, but ultimately emerging generations are not opposed to organization that typifies the humility and team-orientation that need to be present in leadership. Vintage is on its way to this, but we still have ground to trek.

All in all, good and interesting book. It is written primarily for pastors of established and modern churches, but it served as a great reminder to me about why I caught up in this Vintage thing in the first place.

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