Should We Be Emerging? Post-Evangelicalism: In vs. Out

McKnight parts with many in the emerging movement over the exclusivity of salvation.

An admittedly controversial element of post-evangelicalism is that many in the emerging movement are skeptical about the “in versus out” mentality of much of evangelicalism. Even if one is an exclusivist (believing that there is a dividing line between Christians and non-Christians), the issue of who is in and who is out pains the emerging generation.

… [Some] say what really matters is orthopraxy and that it doesn’t matter which religion one belongs to, as long as one loves God and one’s neighbor as one’s self. …

This emerging ambivalence about who is in and who is out creates a serious problem for evangelism. The emerging movement is not known for it, but I wish it were. Unless you proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, there is no good news at all — and if there is no Good News, then there is no Christianity, emerging or evangelical.

As McKnight is one of the leading intellectuals in the emerging church movement, the fact that he insists on evangelism and the exclusivity of salvation through Jesus shows that not all within that movement struggle with this issue.

So I offer here a warning to the emerging movement: Any movement that is not evangelistic is failing the Lord. We may be humble about what we believe, and we may be careful to make the gospel and its commitments clear, but we must always keep the proper goal in mind: summoning everyone to follow Jesus Christ and to discover the redemptive work of God in Christ through the Spirit of God.

I should add that for Churches of Christ, at least, the in vs. out question is tougher than for many. We have a tendency to draw ever-tightening circles for who is in, leaving out many within the Churches and all outside the Churches. And this is not only un-Biblical, it’s deeply unattractive to the lost — as well it should be. This is likely the biggest issue the Churches struggle with: who really is saved?

But there’s a second level of in/out we also tend to get wrong. We treat our converts as in and those not yet converted as out. We often publish directories with asterisks by the names of un-baptized spouses, just so everyone knows not to ask that guy to lead a prayer or pass a communion tray.

However, many churches have taken the opposite tack. They figure that conversion is more likely and more effective when we invite the lost into our church community — not as teachers of doctrine or as elders, but as volunteers in as many areas as possible and as part of our community events. If a pre-convert wants to lead a prayer in small groups, let him. Why suggest that God won’t listen to his prayer? Or that his words are beneath our holy ears? Why not let someone not yet converted oversee the Fall Festival if she has the talent and heart for it?

As a result, in some church plants, there are more visitors than members. And when they go bowling together, the group is likely to have more non-members than members. 

And this is not because they don’t care about souls. It’s because they care about souls so much that they can’t help but love these people — and they hope to love them into the church.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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8 Responses to Should We Be Emerging? Post-Evangelicalism: In vs. Out

  1. Matt Stone says:

    Well, the elephant in the room here is who is in and out of the emerging church, even where Scott is concerned. But, speaking broadly, there is a diversity of views within the movement over evangelism. There is no concensus view. I sit with those that affirm evangelism. I know others disagree with me.

  2. Terry says:

    This is not only the elephant in the room, it's the Achilles heel. After a while, a church that adopts the non-evangelistic form of Emergent theology has a church that does not know its identity. It does not know what a Christian is. It is merely a group of nice people who do not know what they believe or why they exist (except for social reasons–which are important, but Jesus is more important).

  3. Alan says:

    A church that doesn't know who is in and who is out has a hard time explaining why it exists. If they don't know the difference between being in and being out, maybe there isn't much of a difference.

    Jesus was not fuzzy about who is in and who is out. And he doesn't want us to be, either. In his teaching he constantly painted a picture of two extremes: the wide and narrow roads; the tree bearing good fruit and the one that doesn't; the follower who does God's will and the one who does not; the wise and foolish builders (Matt 7:13-29); wise vs foolish virgins; good vs lazy servants; the sheep and the goats (Matt 25); etc. Of course, the lines he drew were not defined by questions like church governance, acts of worship, use or non-use of instrumental music, etc. But he absolutely drew lines, and he was not shy about preaching on the subject.

  4. Terry says:

    Sorry about the misspelling in my first response. I was a little distracted.

  5. Joe Baggett says:

    It is so easy to chastise and criticize the so called emerging churches. All of the older religious groups ours included are suffering from the collapse of church culture and institutionalism. There is Baptist emergent, church of Christ emergent, Assembly of God emergent, Presbyter-emergent and so on. The headline in the Houston Chronicle last year read “Baptists are questioning what it means to be Baptist.” I was on an airplane with a buddy who grew up southern Baptist and we struck up a conversation with a young woman in her mid twenties that grew up in the Assembly of God. We all discussed our religious heritage in our respective denomination and how we had studied the scriptures for ourselves and had come to very different conclusions than the previous generations and religious institutions had. Here is the quick story: He (the southern Baptist) now goes to Cypress Valley Bible church (not affiliated with SBC), she goes to Reunion in the old reunion arena in Dallas a non-denominational fellowship, and I go the most progressive cofC in town after attending community churches in our places we have lived where there was no open minded church of Christ. We all had essentially the same story just different issues. So emergent or emerging churches are not going away once the culture turns back to institutional dogmatic religion; like some have predicted. The emergent church phenomenon along with many aspects of post-modernism is a visceral reaction to empty religious dogma that has all the answers. Emerging churches and their thinking is here to stay and there is nothing that the older religious structures and do or say. In fact the more they try to get people back into church or reclaim drop outs or preach against the “emerging churches” the more embolden people will become in the efforts to separate themselves from failed institutional religious structures that perpetuate ecclesiastical wars, and empty dogmatic religion that even lost and unchurched people can recognize is not of God.

  6. I substantially agree with what Joe has said.

    Lots of folks recognize the failure of institutionally-focused congregations and denominations. And many who read the Text for themselves do not see there support of an institutional ekklesia.

    Salvation is individual not by the "group." So, I think people want to be encouraged, supported, enabled — rather than beat up over denominational doctrine.

    Clearly, there are people who are in and others who are out — but God is the judge of that — not any of us. And we should stop trying to be the judge of that point, which is a point-of-view supported by the Text — but often ignored by many Christians.

  7. Joe Baggett says:

    This is the very kind of question typical of modernistic theology; "who is in and who is out?" Is a typical question born of modern religionists of almost all denominations that had to have an answer for everything? Every denomination had their list of religious acts or rituals and the sequence that they must be carried out to obtain salvation or be saved.
    Instead many emerging generations and churches would suggest that following Jesus has more to do with becoming like Jesus by our thinking, character, and behavior and less to do with a list of prescribed religious acts/rituals or doctrinal statements. Why you may ask do they think this way?
    Because the results of the other left a lot to be desired. Thousands of people were baptized, confirmed, said the prayer and spoke in tongues but never ever really attempted to become like the Jesus in whom they professed belief. The power of the Gospel is lost when church members can follow all the prescribed rituals and religious acts and subscribe to all kinds of doctrinal positions but have little to no story of personal transformation.

  8. Jay Guin says:

    Thanks, guys, these are remarkably insightful comments. I have to agree: our over-emphasis on line drawing has led to some deeply flawed line drawing. We've focused on doctrinal purity rather than purity of lives … which has shown itself to be a colossal mistake.

    We have to hold on to faith as the essential dividing line. As Campbell wrote in the Christian System, "Christianity consists infinitely more in good works than in sound opinions …"

    I wonder why we ignored this wise counsel?

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