Welcome, everyone, to the first series of entries on the Power To Stand Ministries blog space! I trust you will be edified and challenged to think biblically about these special topics that were raised in one long article a year and a half ago. Since then, our fellowship has gone through many changes and some might even think that asking this question and dealing with the details is outdated and of no current usefulness to our ministries and churches. If that is the case, in your view, please share accordingly, but otherwise, enjoy the entries and feel free to comment on these areas that I and some others deem to be still very much in need of discussion and biblical assessment.
This is a 10-part series (which means this introduction + nine more entries) and each entry will be added over time as we encounter the various issues covered in our Statement of Faith. Only two entries are on the long side and one being this first one because it is an intro that traces the course for the following blog entries, some of which are bite-size and far more manageable. All entries will include bibliographical notes and links to articles for further study. Soldier on, friends, and comment with great vigor as free men (Ladies are welcome, too)!
Let’s light this candle…
A Question of Compatibility: Thoughts on the FGBC Statement of Faith and Emergent Theology
By Steve Mitchell
Pastor, Garden City Grace Brethren Church/ Director, Power To Stand Ministries
Respectfully Submitted: March A.D. 2008
Greetings in the Name of the Lord Jesus. The question has been posed:
IS THE GRACE BRETHREN STATEMENT OF FAITH COMPATIBLE WITH EMERGENT THEOLOGY?
And this is an attempt to answer that query.
Defining Our Direction
The task ahead is a formidable one and cannot be wrapped up in any neat and tidy way in the space allotted but let us do our best to get at the root of this issue by defining the elements we’re dealing with.
On “Emergent Theology”:
When we speak of emerging church doctrine and practice or emergent theology (1) we have a wide range of features and factors in view. Doubtless some will already point out my usage of emerging and emergent as not being the same thing and I recognize this. For this project we will take the teachings that are most often associated with the idea of the emergent/ing arms of today’s church. Teachings from the Emergent Village (2), various publications (3), Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Dan Kimball, Spencer Burke, etc. come to mind the quickest because they are commonly identified with emergent or emerging church doctrines. Pastors like Dan Kimball and Mark Driscoll are more conservative in their theologies but identify with being emerging or emergent nonetheless and promote the others mentioned and named. Mystics like Rob Bell and Erwin McManus would not receive the label of emergent but nonetheless feature these other teachers at their churches in some cases and would be considered representative of postmodern ministry. We will try to look at this body of doctrines through their writings as representative of the direction emergent theology is heading.
These are the WHOs we will limit ourselves to looking at and the WHATs are the various teachings these and others generally hold in the movement (4). This is not uniform and there are great degrees of agreement and disagreement within these circles but for our purposes, we will deal with just a few of the elements of emergent theology centered on:
1) The idea that “re-thinking”, “re-imagining” needs to be undertaken in virtually every area of ministry in the Church and insistence that we cannot arrive at true orthodox belief and praxis. This often involves a “Neo liberal” questioning of certain truths.
2) Ecumenical beliefs pointing to Roman Catholicism and related religions (5)
3) Practice and promotion of Mysticism in its eastern, medieval, and Roman Catholic contexts (6).
4) Reduction of the gospel and the faith to “story” rather than propositional truth (7) and the introduction of a resurging social gospel in many cases (8).
5) Theological liberalism (9) including ideas borrowed from earlier liberal theologians like “emergent evolution”, “theology as conversation”, “sacredness of the person”, “progressive revelation”, etc. Basically a “repainted liberalism has joined postmodern skepticism” (10).
6) Tenets of universalism (11) (everybody will be saved) and Inclusivism (12) as far as the gospel is concerned. These often come with an entirely new set of ideas concerning of the “Kingdom of God” (13).
These beliefs, while not uniform, are prevalent and regarded as distinctive that help some to separate those who would call themselves emergent or emerging from the rest of the church. We will deal primarily with the beliefs being brought to the church through these specific teachers realizing that there is a wide range of adherence and non-adherence from church to church and person to person. Because these men are adamantly proclaiming these doctrines, we will cite these teachers and teachings in comparison or contrast with the tenets of our Statement of Faith.
On the FGBC Statement of Faith (Quotations, whole or in part, as found on: http://www.fgbc.org/whoarewe/covenant-and-statement-of-faith.cfm will be italicized)
We assume the following:
1) The Statement of Faith is biblical in that it points to the Holy Scriptures as the basis for its beliefs. Both our covenant and the intro of the Statement of Faith point to “The Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible.”
2) The Statement of Faith leaves some “wiggle room” because of what is not specifically outlined. While clearly presenting biblical perspectives in the key areas, certain non-essential issues are vague or not clearly outlined. These could easily be exploited and worked around in an emergent context.
3) I am not proposing we alter or add to the existing statement to accommodate our changing times. Freedom and “wiggle room” are corresponding realities, so we work with what we’ve got. Basically, we are asking if these major areas of emergent doctrine are biblical and therefore compatible with the tenets of our Statement of Faith?
4) Our format only allows a partial examination of the tenets of our Statement Of Faith. Only the major areas of disagreement will be highlighted.
(3) Books which outline key tenets of what it means to be “emerging” or “emergent”: Listening To the Beliefs of Emerging Churches: Five Perspectives, general editor: Robert Webber, A Generous Orthodoxy and The Secret Message of Jesus by Brian McLaren, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity For New Generations and They Like Jesus But Not The Church by Dan Kimball, Velvet Elvis and Sex God by Rob Bell, Church Re-Imagined and Re-Imagining Spiritual Formation by Doug Pagitt, Ancient-Future Faith by Robert Webber, and many others.
(4) A thorough checklist of emergent concerns can be found at: http://www.understandthetimes.org/commentary/c40.shtml
(5) See http://pro-gospel.org/x2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=16&Itemid=1 , and also the Emergent Village website: “We are committed to honor and serve the church in all its forms – Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal, Anabaptist. We practice “deep ecclesiology” – rather than favoring some forms of the church and critiquing or rejecting others, we see that every form of the church has both weaknesses and strengths, both liabilities and potential.” (http://www.emergentvillage.com/about-information/values-and-practices ).
(6) http://www.understandthetimes.org/commentary/c53.shtml ,
(9) Bob DeWaay’s excellent article http://www.cicministry.org/commentary/issue87.htm
(10) “McLaren and others of the postmodern ilk have erected a sophisticated system of doubts that are expressed in various versions of relativism. These are debated in academic circles and call into question the possibility of knowledge that goes beyond our language or cultural identities. Some even question if any human communication is valid (and write books to “communicate” this idea).” (Ibid.).
(13) Read Gary Gilley’s fabulous work: http://svchapel.org/Resources/articles/read_articles.asp?ID=139