Following is the fourth and final from "Baptists and the Emerging Church: some critical issues," by Simeon Payne and Philip Johnson from Mosaic. Copyright Mosaic, Payne & Johnson.
The EC is correct in its assessment that the western Church will be institutionally finished within the next generation unless some major changes take place. However we believe that EC thinkers need to become more critically discerning about our era. EC writers tend to uncritically lump all of modernity together, and do not properly describe postmodernity. What Christians think postmodernity is, and what it actually is, are sometimes two very different things.
Another critical problem is that leading EC writers have largely ignored the tremendous influence of consumer religions and failed to make the essential linkages between postmodernity, New Age and DIY spiritualities. We find this omission particularly odd since EC writers are emphatic that they are on the cutting-edge in missional outreach in postmodernity. Here we urge all Christians to become far savvier in their critical understanding of society.
Ultimately, this involves reversing the great twentieth century uneasiness that evangelicals have had regarding Christ being for, against, above, or critically with culture - and also addressing the evangelical uneasiness with natural theology and critical interaction with secular academics. We have to find and develop a middle position between blind acceptance of culture on one extreme, and pure escapism on the other.
We commend the EC for its creativity, but we caution against romanticising parts of church history. We also would like to encourage the EC to move way beyond a focus on chic worship, and to do what its Church Growth parents were unable to do: focus on living as a missional Church every day, not just Sunday.
We also need critical reflections about psychological issues relating to faith development. Just as churches need to honestly articulate their theological convictions and how this connects with some key questions of identity, we also encourage churches to critically reflect on what sort of psychological zone they operate in, and realistically to whom they are capable of ministering.
We have already said that it is dishonest to lump all EC together. Yes, there are some faddish aspects that one can detect in the "soft end" of EC. However, it is unfruitful to dwell on the trivial particularly since this does not represent the whole picture. Similarly, it is not good enough for some naysayers to suggest that anything associated with the tag of "Emerging" is heretical, or that the true test of evangelical orthodoxy is whether you oppose EC. A polarising of views into opposing camps will lead to unnecessary alienation and sideline the need for serious reflective dialogue. The burden remains on critics to go beyond finding theological faults, and if in the final analysis EC is proven to have lost its moorings altogether, critics must construct a viable alternative model.
Evangelical pastors also need a reality check. It is easy to overlook that some of today‚s most admired leaders in the Church Growth networks pursue entrepreneurial models and franchise products designed to cure your congregation‚s declining numbers. If the EC is accused of reflecting the consumerist spirit, the same could also be said of many churches. So before yanking the speck out of the EC eyes, it may first of all be necessary to pluck the logs out of our own.
So what will become of the EC? In the first instance the EC has to face a historic and sociological reality that no religious movement can remain leaderless or without structure indefinitely. For its own good the EC now needs a degree of structure, otherwise it has no positive future.
It also has to plot what it wants to be its lasting legacy. There are two options. The first is that the EC follows the same social dynamics of the civil rights or women's movements. It functions by agitating for rapid changes in existing churches. If through their missional experiments the EC can create new model congregations that effectively reach inside postmodernity, and in positive dialogue help to reshape opinions for existing churches, then mainstream Protestantism could successfully absorb their insights and examples and chart a new positive course for the postmodern era. Then, once the EC had achieved its objectives, it could plateau and subside as a movement.
The other option is for the EC to intentionally form new congregations that would develop into yet more denominations, ultimately exacerbating the Protestant decline. If this new strand were unable to develop a mature, theologically orthodox foundation, it also runs a real risk of creating heresy or theologically becoming a cult. For this reason we strongly urge both the EC and the existing Church to proactively communicate so that this fragmentation can be avoided.
Our preferred option is that the EC will remain within existing denominational structures. Our strong plea is that generous, and intentional, space be made for the EC to be a welcomed part of our Baptist family. If this is not done it will simply and dangerously fragment evangelical Christianity further, and accelerate the decline of western Christianity. If the existing Baptist churches can cultivate the grace to dialogue and to mutually grow together with the EC, then God will surely bless that generous spirit.
May we close with a positive comment? We believe Baptists are well placed to positively gain from the EC. Our independent spirit, non-institutional leanings, congregational government, Spirit-led fluidity, and our radical Anabaptist heritage all offer positive bridges to build upon. The question is, will we positively engage with the EC and have we the courageous vision to see that this needs to be done? We strongly encourage NSW Baptists to actively engage those in our midst who resonate with the ideals and longings of the EC.
Simeon Payne (email@example.com) is the Baptist Chaplain at UWS, and Philip Johnson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an adjunct lecturer at Morling College and independent scholar. Both are members and writers in the Lausanne Committee subgroup (www.lop45.org) that is looking at Alternative Spirituality in the West.
I am glad to see that there are those who are encouraging the EC and denominations to come together. Denominations have much to learn from the EC. I pray for openess and humilty for both parties. I do this not for the glorification of the denomination as a construct on man, but for the edification of the church. That worshipers in mainline denominations would be made awake to their calling to live daily lives as a part of a missional community seeking to glorify God.
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