Saturday, January 06, 2007


This post started as a comment to Phil Wyman over at his excellent blog, Square No More. It got too long so I just put it here. I urge you to go to Phil's blog. You'll find a link to it in my right margin column. The discussion there is brilliant!


I have been very attracted by the Emergent Thing. (Like you, I'm not really sure what to call it.) The missional aspect of their thinking was the first thing to get me too. I was already scared to death that we American Christians were about to become totally marginalized due to our own inability to address our culture. The second thing that attracted me was a renewal of worship in congregational gatherings. For many years I have longed for something more IN MY OWN MINISTRY than a series of activities that served as the warm up band for THE PREACHER! It always felt like the "worship leader" was doing an Ed McMahon, "Heeere's Dave!" I have some young guys around me at Shiloh to help me with the Emergent Thing and they keep telling me I'm not really emergent but "thanks for the freedom to do good stuff."

Last Spring I went to a Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology here in Grand Rapids. I've been attending PCRTs since the 70s. A couple of the main speakers launched out on tirades against the Emergent Thing. These were young guys. (All my old buddies seem to have left the scene for one reason or another.) I heard myself being skewered in the most amazing language! I was an antinomian. I was anti-theology. I was a good works salvationist.

I was stunned! I thought I was a reformed church planter who wanted to reach his neighbors with the gospel and worship God! Here I find I must have been wrong about myself all along! So I went up to the young man and introduced myself. (I know his father well.) He was so glad to meet me! I asked him if he had ever had a conversation with an Emergent pastor. He said he had not. I unveiled my secret identity and invited him to talk and he walked away as fast as he could.

It is very dangerous to look at a movement from the outside and then paint it with a broad brush. Those who did that to the Jesus People movement in the 60s were eventually embarassed. There were some errors in that movement but so much good came out of it! The same is true of the 1st century church. There were some errors in it but...

I suspect this is true of the Emergent Thing. Some of us are wrong about some things and there is error in it. But many people are coming to faith in Christ who would never come into contact with a member of 1st Baptist, Anywhere, Michigan! The mystery and majesty of worship is returning. (Of course, you Pentecostals never lost that! We're trying to figure out how to get the sign off our door that reads "ICHABOD!")

It makes me sad that many of those who are spewing anti-emergent stuff from their pens and pulpits are men whom I love, whom I have counted as friends, whom I have greatly respected, and from whom I have learned so much. What are they afraid of? These brothers should tread very lightly and be very certain of what they say.

Thanks, Phil, for the ongoing conversation. None of us will emerge unscathed but WE SHALL EMERGE!



At 8:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoa - nice post Dave, and some interesting experiences you've had in the transition. The young man who ran away reminds me of the people we've had to deal with in respect to ministering to Neo-Pagans.

Lately we've been thinking there is a need to evangelize the church - in the sense of hoping to bring conversion. Know what I mean?

At 8:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is interesting to see how God uses these different perspectives. For example, The Purpose Driven Church is attacked as bad theology, etc., but it had such a positive impact on so many people.

At 4:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep, yep, yep! Super great articulation of the dilema so many of us find ourselves in.

At 7:14 PM, Blogger Doulos Christou said...

Interesting thoughts, Dave. I guess I'm one who has been fairly concerned about at least certain parts of the "emerging" discussion. I'm all for pursuing real worship, and I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but I am concerned about the inability of some in the conversation to support what I've understood to be basic, standard doctrine. Some of the CT conversations about eternal judgement would be an example.

Most concerning to me have been what I've understood to be attacks on the Word - (inerrancy, exclusivity, sufficiency, and/or perpiscuity). Some I've heard have questioned the necessity of regeneration or the exclusivity of salvation through Jesus alone.

I like what Phil said here about hoping to bring conversion to the church... I'm reacting more and more strongly against the "evangelical system" (as per my post!), but I get concerned when I feel like the emerging conversation throws historic christianity out with the errant evangelical movement.

Am I on your wavelength here at all?

At 8:35 PM, Blogger Shiloh Guy said...


There is a man at Shiloh who came to Christ out of Spiritism at the age of 72. What did God use to get through to him? The first church he went to was doing the Purpose Driven campaign and he got a copy of the Purpose Driven Life. To this day, every time the book is mentioned in his hearing he praises it as the tool God used to save him!

Now, here is where I have changed in my thinking. In the old days I would have taken him through the book and pointed out all the theological flaws and made sure he was carefully Calvinized. Now I say, "Praise the Lord, brother. Let's study the Bible together!" I'm basically doing the same thing without lambasting the author of the book.

For me, that's a big change!

At 8:49 PM, Blogger Shiloh Guy said...


You have known me longer than anybody else in the blogworld. Therefore, you know how my heart hurts when I hear lame theology and stuff that sounds like blatant heresy. Yes, I am concerned about those things in the Emergent Thing.

It has not been my experience that Emergent guys are throwing out historical Christianity; at least not in the area of worship. My heritage in fundamentalism totally disregarded anything before Fanny Crosby and D.L. Moody. There was this huge gap between the first century church and the 19th century. The Reformation? That was something the mainline denominations cared about.

Let me say it like this: The guys who find themselves with a voice or a pen among the Emergents need to call for serious study of theology to go along with their great emphasis on the missional church and their recovery of worship. Also, they need to honor and respect those who have gone before them in the 20th century, warts and all.

One more thing. I hope a way will be discovered to bring about a larger sense of mutual accountability among the Emergents.

Yes, we are on the same wavelength. Let's thank God for what he's doing and offer what we have to these guys who are generally younger than we for the good of the Kingdom!

What do you think?

At 9:39 PM, Blogger Doulos Christou said...

Totally agree with you. By the way, i'm lost in a post that's way too long, but will give you some flavor of where I'm living these days... I long for a community where we (a)seek - however imperfectly - for reality rather than being (b) sidetracked on lesser things or (c)lost in pretending that everything's already ok.

My sense is that you're feeling (b), and I'm definitely stuck in (c) :) But I'm grateful that we're both looking for (a).


At 3:00 PM, Anonymous Rich Snay said...

Dave I am just checking in now and then to view the interesting comments. Some of this makes as much sense to me as the writings of Emerson but if I hang on long enough I may catch on . Rich

At 5:44 PM, Blogger Shiloh Guy said...


Buddy!!! Welcome to our little corner of the world! Please make yourself at home and just enjoy the conversation! Jump in whenever you feel like it. There will be no judgment or mocking forthcoming.


Post a Comment

<< Home