To recap the panel discussion on evangelicalism and the emerging church at up/rooted.north yesterday, I have some good news and some bad news. Let's get the bad news out of the way first.
Bad news is, no podcast. Sorry to all of those who asked for it. It wasn't for lack of effort. In absence of someone who actually knew what they were doing, we set up the mic, turned it all on, fired up the recorder, and two hours later had...a blank CD. Smooth. Minus one geek point, plus one dork point. Our bad.
Good news is, the evening was excellent. A healthy 50 people turned out (at least they looked healthy to me), and a good many of them just asking “What's this thing all about?”, which is part of what up/rooted is all about. Made for some really great discussion.
I can't hope to cover everything here, and a lot of good topics were raised in the questions and answers, but as a synopsis of the topics of the evening I offer these summaries of Scot, Dave, and Wayne's answers to the two questions we asked them to prepare answers to. My apologies if my summary misrepresents some of their finer points (or even their not-so-fine ones).
Question 1: What issue in evangelicalism is the emerging church responding to, and what are the strengths and weaknesses of that response?
Scot: emerging churches are responding to the inadmissibility of doubt in evangelicalism, and therefore exhibit irony in their stance within the faith: they stand within it but also over it and at times over-against it. The emerging movement offers the freedom to ask questions that often cannot be asked in evangelicalism: inerrancy (especially in Genesis 1-11), Biblical authors as humans who's ideas of truth are conditioned in their context, science and evolution, hell and universalism, and coming to terms with faith having an awful lot to do with our social location (i.e. How many of us North American Christians would follow Christ if we were North Koreans?) The emerging church offers space to seriously process these tough questions; they genuinely want answers.
Wayne: the emerging church is responding to consumer and seeker-driven worship, re-emphasizing participatory worship, liturgy, prayer, the church calendar, confession and lament, and (following Bob Webber) worship as God's story of redemption. He expressed concern that this response still can lead to a new and improved “Celtic, mystic, ancient” seeker-worship, with a heightened (snobby?) aesthetic. Wayne also had reservations that the emerging church might think “authenticity” was the solution to the problem, not realizing authenticity is a social embodiment, that often takes the form of “We don't plan what we say and are just informal.” He also offered a very insightful critique that as emerging worship becomes more and more refined for “our” sensibilities, it only reinforces the ethnic and generational divide in the church.
Dave: the emerging church is reacting to a “we're in/you're out” mentality in evangelicalism that accentuates rescue from hell as the heart (totality?) of the Gospel and individualizes salvation. Instead of offering a second hand summary here, I'd invite you to read his blog post on this issue. (Which led to a surreal moment of Dave quoting himself out of a post he had made the day before for this very panel. That's a tip folks...when presenting, publish on the internet first so you can quote yourself!)
Question 2: What doctrine or church practice has particularly benefited from the emerging church?
Wayne: evangelism as community witness, especially in seeking to reclaim the church as a distinctive social community. Wayne did express concern that the emerging desire to be “un-evangelical” (not that guy, as he put it) could trump this reclamation of the Gospel, particularly in a hesitancy to actually speak and tell people the Good News. He also expressed concern that the emerging church could be co-opted by “bigger projects” in a similar way that the conservative and liberal church has been co-opted by conservative and liberal politics, respectively. He mentioned Jim Wallace's synthesis of right and left as a potential threat in this regard, and underscored again the particularity of the Gospel and the church community, which is not a handmaiden of political gains. (If you haven't picked up on it, Wayne is a pretty rocking anabaptist...a tradition I think the emerging church needs to (and often does) listen to closely.)
Dave: reclaiming the church as transformational, communal, and missional. The emerging church realizes the formation of Christians is about more than cognitive development, and shapes its gathered worship and communal life toward forming people in the shape of Christ, through liturgy, mutual submission and other community practices. Missionally the emerging church (at its best) rejects the attractional model of the evangelical church and seeks to minister in the community it is placed in: to live among and serve the neighbors, poor, hurting, and disenfranchised.
Scot: re-establishing a fuller, Biblical understanding of sin. Sin in evangelicalism is often reduced to the distortion of one's personal relationship with God. Scot spoke of how in Genesis 2 and 3 sin distorts humans' view of themselves, of God, of each other, and of the world. The Biblical narrative then, is an unfolding of God's answer to those problems: reconciliation with ourselves, with God, and with each other for the good of the world. And this answer doesn't skip straight from Genesis 3 to Romans 8 or the cross. First God forms a new community around Abraham. The gathered people of God (ecclesiology) is at the heart of God's story. (Scot unfolds these ideas in his newest—and good—book, “A Community Called Atonement.”)
So that's that, apart from the near violence at the end over the role of mega-churches our fearless moderator Geoff had to break up. (Way to go Geoff!) A special thanks to Dave, Scot, and Wayne, and to everyone who came out and joined us.