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Emerging I: The Church June 1, 2007

Posted by Matt in Church, emergent.
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In order to understand the emergent movement, I think it necessary to first understand how they see the church as it exists today. Today is something of a slipper term given that the emergent movement saw its first rumblings in the 1980s. So this view of church today spreads from the late 70s through the present (think: Post-“Jesus Movement“). Continuing to disclaim a bit, this look will focus almost exclusively on church as it appears in America. (Not to be Ameri-centric, but I’ve never lived anywhere else.) Not to say that this approach wouldn’t be valid outside of the states, just that your milage may vary.

Since around the 1860s (the arrival of Pentecostalism),  there have been three rather distinct branches of Church. The first of these branches for discussion is the Catholic branch. The Catholic branch of the Church includes the Roman Rite, Orthodoxy, and certain members of the Anglican tradition. The Catholic branch of Christianity is largely concerned with eccessiology. (I use the term in a slightly irregular manner — Not only do I use it to refer to the structure and practice of Church, but also that Catholic activity is primarily centered on the church itself [in and of itself].) Highlights of the branch include a heavy emphasis on submission to the Church as a united whole as expressed through its tradition. The individual has little status in the eyes of the Church at large, excepting rare circumstances (“miracles”?) (ie: Fatima). Also characteristic of the Catholic branch is the equivalent reliance on tradition and Scripture. Catholic soteriology is Church-based: the individual receives salvation through the church. This places emphasis on the Church at large over the individual. There are, of course, significant theological differences between the Catholic branch and the rest of Christianity. However, it is beyond the scope of our present discussion to detail these explicitly, but anyone with a cursory knowledge of Christian doctrinal history will have passing familiarity.

The second major branch for discussion is  Pentecostalism. Pentecostals are by in large independent of any overhead leadership structure, leaving local churches to guide doctrine and provide pastoral leadership. Pentecostalism is primarily indicated by its heavy emphasis on the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit. In this tradition, worship is primarily concerned with the exercise of the gifts. This fact tends to highlight the individual over the church as a whole. Pentecostal soteriology is based upon the spirit providing affirmation of the individual to himself and to the community at large via the presentation of the gifts. Beyond this primary influence, there is little that is characteristic of the movement as a whole (not even Christian orthodoxy). This is due mainly to its decentralized nature and its loose view of ecclesiology. Parts of the Pentecostal branch overlap with the Evangelical branch (esp. in fundamentalism) and even (ever so slightly) the Catholic branch.

The final branch for consideration is Evangelicalism. Now, I will be presenting my own opinion of what constitutes an evangelical, being fully aware that this is a term that is still being debated. Evangelicalism is the largest branch in States (though it does depend on how you define the term). In my definition: there are three distinct groups within Evangelicalism: Mainline Protestants, Independents, and Fundamentalists. The reason for this division is primarily simplicity’s sake, though I think that there is more overlap between them than not. Conservative Mainliners, Independents, and Fundamentalists all share similar views of ecclesiology and soteriology as well as an emphasis in praxis. Liberal Mainliners are outliers for the present discussion (maybe, because many of them are ’emergent’?). Most Evangelicals have a lower view of ecclesiology. Mainliners (as a whole) have higher views of Church (still lower than that of the Catholic branch) which includes an emphasis on non-local leadership and a slightly higher view of the sacraments. Mainliners tend to be more politically liberal and yet less politically active. Mainliners are also typically more established in their communities than other and (perhaps, for that reason) their demographics tend older. In contrast, Independents tend to have lower views of church (even though some of them are even known to serve Communion from time to time). Independents usually have no formal overhead structure, but often belong in church conglomerates or collectives (such as the Southern Baptist convention) with similar views of doctrine and political issues. Independents tend to be more politically conservative and trend younger demographically then their Mainline brethren. Finally, contrasting even further with Mainliner are the Fundamentalists. Fundamentalists are characterized by an extreme commitment to orthodoxy (at least, in so much as the individual fundamentalist sees it). Characteristic of the fundamentalists is hard stances on the inerrancy of the Bible, Solo Scriptura (that first word isn’t a typo), and premillennial views of eschatology (esp. dispensationalism). Fundamentalists are almost exclusively politically conservative as the result of firm views on the issues such as abortion and homosexual practice. Fundamentalists tend to be very vocal in political activity. As a result of its radical doctrine, there is almost no place for ecclesiology within this sub-branch. Fundamentalist soteriology is characterized by extreme emphasis on a personal commitment to the gospel (as the local church would define it) and usually a ‘Once Saved, Always Saved’ view of perseverance. (How that fits within their praxis is a question for another day…) These three contrasting subtypes of Evangelical make trying to make overriding generalizations difficult, but there are couple of things that are probably worth noting of the movement as a whole. While not all of its constituents are political vocal, a majority of them are active in political causes that are primary a result of their personal beliefs on The State and moral issues. Most evangelicals, while having individualistic views of soteriology, maintain that local community is of value especially individual participant within that community.

Hopefully, this overview of the Church at present will give us enough of a basis to discuss the Emergent critique of Church as well as how Emergents define themselves apart from this overview.  Next up, we’ll take a look at the culture that we find ourselves in. Until then… :-)


The Emerging Church: A Tiger’s View May 27, 2007

Posted by Matt in Church, emergent.

I begin this series with the following understanding:

I, Matt Lemieux, do not pretend to speak on behalf of The Emerging Church. I do not pretend to have a complete view of the movement and its content as a whole. I will restrict myself to addressing the movement as I see it. I will attempt to explain my position relative to those qualities that I find defining the movement.

With that preliminary explanation, I hope to follow this outline in looking at the movement:

1) Introduction (this post)
2) The catholic Church: Where are we now?
3) The Culture: Where are we now?
4) The Emergent Church: Introduction
5) (One Post for Each Major Strand of Emergent — Probably following Scot McKnight’s view)
6) The Emergent Church and Culture: What now?
7) The Emergent Church and catholic Church: What now?
8) Conclusion

I reserve the right to alter this outline at anytime (because it’s my writing… :-P). I will link each post as it is made and hopefully make it easier for those of you who follow along after I write the series. At present, I do not know the schedule for how I am going to write these posts. I will be following the outline from 1) to 8), but the gap between each maybe be entirely random.

I will state ahead of time that I will NOT be quoting much from primary sources. This is not to say that I haven’t read them or that I value what they have to say or add to the conversation, but I’m namely dealing with emerging as I see it.

If you have questions or comments on the overall program/series as a whole, please leave them here. Specific comments or questions about the Emergent Church or any other comments that I make, please leave those on each post.

So I’m Emerging? May 25, 2007

Posted by Matt in Church, emergent, Matt.
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I suppose that over the past year or so as I have become increasingly familiar with the emergent church and its varying ways and streams of thought that I have gradually been pulled in by the basics of post-modern Christianity. Now, I’ve been struggling over the past few days to try to place some definition around that admission.

I suppose there is something that I find wondrous and mysterious about not being able to completely define the movement that I call home or even describe the basics of that movement. Yet, there is also I think something to be unnerved about the fact that there really is not a firm understanding of the underlying theology of the movement. For instance, what does an emergent soteriology look like? Now, I think that every can agree that there is a fairly plain and common eschatology and missiology amoung those in the emergent movement, but what about beyond that.

I have spent the last few weeks trying to get a hold of as many different intro’s to post-modern Christianity that I can in order to try to make better sense of these issues. I hope that I’ll be able to return to many of them and blog my thoughts.

Anyway, this is all to say that over the next couple of weeks I want to spend time looking at my own views and the views of the movement as I see them on display both in text and in the blogosphere.