If you really understand the point of the emerging movement, you’d know why it would be so inappropriate for me to try to reach firm conclusions. The emerging churches are all about conversation and discovery — and opposed to declaring that a final answer has been reached. Therefore, it’s impossible to capture the soul of the movement in a list of propositions. You see, being a true movement, it moves.
It’s really more about an attitude rather than particular theological positions. And therefore many who self-identify as “emerging” disagree — and disagree loudly — with others within the same movement. Of course, we in the Restoration Movement can identify with that!
And so … I’ll not try to reach conclusions that are too firm. Rather, I think I’ll suggest some topics for conversation.
* Regarding prophetic rhetoric, as tempting as it is to overstate a case for effect, in the Churches of Christ, it’s usually a mistake. I mean, people are so bent on proving their beliefs right, they look for any excuse to dismiss their opponents’. I think the conversation goes better if we stay away from overstatement, exaggeration, and heated rhetoric … although I sometimes slip.
On the other hand, the last thing we should be is so polite that we never get around to discussing our disagreements. And here is the heart of the Church of Christ conundrum — we disagree among ourselves and yet we rarely have a polite conversation. We do enjoy the fight, and I think we sometimes enjoy it too much, because it seems to me that we’d far rather fight than talk.
* Regarding Post-modernism, we really need a radical change of mindset. I remember when my oldest kids were in high school. A youth minister taught them a lesson on absolute truth. He held up a green book and declared the book “green.” He was right. He said the fact that the book is green demonstrates the presence of absolute truth. He was right. He said therefore truth is absolute. He was wrong.
When my kids asked me about this, I asked them, “Does chocolate taste good?” Well, one of my kids hates chocolate. The other loves it. They disagreed. I explained that some truth is subjective and some is absolute. The key is knowing how to tell the difference.
We treat Post-modernism as a disease that must be exterminated through bad sermons and bad Bible class lessons. It won’t work.
We should instead think like missionaries. We live in a Post-modern world. We need to learn to express the truth of the gospel in terms that Post-modern people understand — without compromising Biblical truth. And as we work through the process of doing this, we’ll learn a lot about the Bible. After all, it speaks as much to the heart as to the head, and teaches as much in story as in propositions, and deals far more in Spirit than in word — as hard to accept as that may be. And Post-moderns will be very cool with instruction that understands this.
It’s going to take a lot of people a lot of time to get good at this. And as we learn lessons, we need to share them with each other. We need a conversation.
* The Churches of Christ are very worship oriented. Unfortunately, our worship traditions are the polar opposite of the emerging church/Post-modern culture. Therefore, those of our children who remain believers in Jesus very often prefer to worship elsewhere.
Now, I have no wish to urge people to violate their consciences, but we’d better start doing a better job with our worship services. Here are some crazy ideas — just to talk about —
— Visit other churches, especially churches that are evangelistically effective, and see what their worship services are like. Go to other cities. Attend the lectureship at Pepperdine and attend the late night musical events. Go to the Zoe Conference each year. You really just can’t talk about this until you’ve experienced it.
— Turn some of the worship planning over to a committee of 20 and 30-year olds, with women well represented. Let the right-brained and young and female have their way much of the time (consistent with scripture, of course).
— Do a serious study of the Bible’s teachings on worship. The traditional teaching of the Churches of Christ is built on the old Calvinist idea called the Regulative Principle. My series on the topic explains why our approach isn’t Biblical. After that, you might read some of my posts specific to the instrumental music question — not that instruments are really the issue: the doctrine that considers instruments sinful is.
* Orthopraxy is a fancy word for living Christianity. Here’s a story to explain our problem.
Many years ago, I was a student at David Lipscomb. I had a Bible teacher who was trying to explain that Christians live differently from the lost. We asked him for some examples. He paused and said, “When I go to store to buy something, I don’t look to see whether they gave me the right change.” We asked for more … but that was it.
Christian living, if it means anything, it means something radical. If we don’t know how to do it, then we don’t know much at all about our faith or our Savior. We need to talk about this, I think.
* Much of the solution to the Christian living problem is understanding what it means to be missional. “Missional” has different shades of meaning, but here’s the essence —
— First, being missional means the church being a transformed community of people who actually love each other, share hospitality, and sacrifice and serve each other. It’s living Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 13.
— Second, being missional means learning to think like a missionary. We should think of ourselves as aliens in America, sent here by God to extend his Kingdom and show Jesus to the world. We study the culture without absorbing the culture, and we adapt our methods to what works here and today — consistent, of course, with scripture. (I’m tired of saying this. You just need to mentally add this to every sentence that follows.)
— Third, being missional means living the heart of Jesus — teaching the good news of the Kingdom and showing compassion to those in need.
This is something my church is working on. We aren’t all the way there, but we’re on the way. And I’ll tell you this from experience: it doesn’t just happen. Habits are hard to change, and new attitudes require getting shed of some old attitudes. It takes time and persistence and prayer.
And, again, we need to share our methods, visions, dreams, successes, and failures. We need to be talking about this.
* Post-systematic theology. Now, for the Churches of Christ, this is a tough one, because we are just so systematic theology. And we tend to see Christianity as being centered on knowing the right answers to the questions we studied in preacher school.
However, Alexander Campbell saw Christianity as centered on faith in Jesus. The New Testament writers say the same thing. It’s not that theology is bad or wrong. Rather, it’s just not the center.
(Mat 5:3-9) “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”
When Jesus began his ministry, he began by talking about having the right kind of heart — not the right theology. We should start where Jesus starts.
* In vs. out is also tough for us. Like McKnight, I disagree with those who tend toward universalism, but I also disagree with those who draw the lines so narrowly that only a small subset within the Churches of Christ go to heaven. Those who think this way read their Bibles very wrongly.
But here is where we so very much need an internal conversation: Which doctrines save? Does a flawed baptism damn?
* Politics. As I noted in the last post, I have no desire to persuade the Churches of Christ to vote Democratic. I don’t. (Not often.) But neither do I think the Republican Party holds the keys to heaven. We need to —
— get away from both parties
— learn what the Bible says about politics — and it says a lot.
But we instead take either of two mistaken paths. Either we ignore politics, as though God has nothing to say about government, or else we become a piece of the Republican election machine, bowing our knees to entirely the wrong power.
This church-state issue is not simple or easy, largely because in a Democracy we Christians have rights and responsibilities we wouldn’t have in a totalitarian state, like the Roman Empire. But there’s been a lot of great writing and thinking on the subject, and we’d do well to think very seriously about what God wants from us in the political realm. (We should talk about it.)
And so, we don’t need to join the emerging movement. I wouldn’t even know how. But we should definitely be in conversation with the movement, testing our ideas against theirs, learning their insights, and perhaps sharing a few of our own. I think there’s a lot of good there.
Of course, there’s also a lot of impetuous, premature, incorrect thinking. But it’s helpful to see the gospel through fresh eyes and so see questions that we might have never thought to even ask on our own.
And for a little fun, click over to Scot McKnight’s comments on being invited to speak at the Zoe Conference, a seminar put on within the Churches of Christ on a cappella music. This will give you an excellent sense of what I’m talking about.