Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Emerging Church: Some Critical Issues

My friends and colleagues, Simeon Payne and Philip Johnson in Australia, recently wrote an article for Mosaic Vol. 8, No. 2 (Winter 2006), a publication for Baptist churches in that country. The article is titled "Baptists and the Emerging Church: some critical issues." I am reproducing this article in installments in order to share their thinking in the hopes of facilitating dialogue between leaders in the emerging church and other forms of church in the West. The article is copyrighted by Payne, Johnson and Mosaic. A copy of this article is available in PDF file by request.

Mosaic article: Part 1

Through the establishment of the Emerging Church socio-spiritual dynamics and New Age spirituality are being mirrored sociologically. What role does the Emerging Church play in our Baptist Churches?

Are there any Christians out there who have not come across material, or had a conversation with someone about the Emerging Church? If you browse the Internet and Christian bookshops, the Emerging Church (EC) is the "in" topic. Subscribers to the EC seem more at home in postmodern culture than they do inside traditional churches. They sense a huge gap between a church in serious decline and postmodern culture, and feel strongly that there must be other legitimate ways of worshipping, expressing faith and relating to the community.

Passionate polemics, either for or against the EC, are now very common. In some circles, sympathy for or against the movement is held up as a new mark of Christian or evangelical orthodoxy. Yet the EC is very diverse, and a big mistake is to over-generalise about the movement and lump all EC sympathisers together. This discussion is neither a defence of nor a polemic against the EC. We are not debating their theology, which Don Carson and others have already done. Here we reserve our judgement on the fairness and accuracy of these critics.

We belong to a missional network that centres on reaching seekers in new religions, New Age and Alternative Spiritualities. We have learned a lot about society and missions, and therefore feel we have something fresh to say in this debate. Instead of focusing on the EC theologically, here we are looking at it from the social sciences. Using this approach, we believe we have uncovered a new set of critical issues that have largely been excluded from the conversations generated by the EC.

This is our thesis: the socio-spiritual dynamics that surfaced in mainstream society in the 1980s with New Age spirituality are now being mirrored sociologically inside the church through EC. Please note we are not saying that the EC teaches New Age doctrines or that it is New Age in disguise. The EC and New Age are theologically poles apart. The parallels we draw concern their social phenomena: What New Age was for secular society, the EC is to Protestantism. Both the EC and New Age have arisen as reactions to very broad societal changes and cultural influences. Nothing occurs in a vacuum, and the EC is very much a product of, and not just a response, to broader societal changes. If we can compare the two movements sociologically, there is much to be learned.

Tomorrow: Part 2 - Social Change and the New Spiritualities


Sally said...

This I like- the parallels between the Alt spiritualities as a reaction to secular culture and the EC in reaction to mainstream church culture (from different traditions)
So what is it that these two groups, though poles apart in many ways, are looking for?

philjohnson said...

Sally there is a "fan-dance" taking place here as John is serialising by instalments the original article. Which is another way of saying the answer to your question might become apparent once the entire article fully appears.