Monday, November 13, 2006

the emerging church and evangelism

On Thursday 26 October 2006, Scot McKnight gave a talk @ Westminster Theological Seminary's Emerging Church Forum entitled, "What is the Emerging Church?"

There he said in one of the most passionate sections of the talk (this really comes thru in the audio of his presentation):

"The emerging church is not known for [evangelism] - and I wish it were known more for it. I believe it is right here that we are staring at a very serious issue for the emerging movement itself: any kind of Christianity and any kind of Christian ... that is not evangelistic is woefully inadequate. Unless you proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, there is no good news at all; and if there is no good news, there is no Christianity - emerging or Reformed.

...I offer here a warning to you and 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 commitment clear, but we better have a goal in mind - the goal of summoning everyone to follow Jesus Christ and to discover the redemptive work of God in Christ through the Spirit of God" [emphasis Scot's].

- as recorded in the PDF of his talk

And so I have some questions and I welcome answers in the comments.

I do not assume that these questions aren't being asked and answered anywhere in the emerging church. But we are perceived as being unconcerned with these issues.

Are we concerned?

Who in the emerging church conversation is doing the best job at addressing below? It would be great if we could capture some of the best thinking on below by links in comments or your comments.

  • What does it mean to be "saved" in the New Testament? Is anyone in trouble and needing to be saved?

  • What does it mean to be "born again" in the New Testament?

  • Why don't we talk about sin?

  • Who is talking about fulfilling the Great Commission?

  • There is a lot of talk about expanding our understanding of the atonement beyond penal substitution, and it seems that few in the emerging church who are doing this are denying penal substitution. So if, then, we do believe in penal substitution, are we talking about judgment? Do we need to warn anyone about anything?

  • Are we afraid that if we talk about these things that we will be labeled fundamentalist?

  • Are we allowing a past exclusive emphasis of some on our eternal destiny after we die to drive us to the opposite extreme of an almost exclusive focus on issues of justice today?

    • Why does this have to be an either/or; why can't it be a both/and?

  • And, finally, if you can't point to any links or books where emergers are talking about these matters, what do you think?
Can we afford to ignore matters that seem to be such a prominent part of the New Testament documents?


Anonymous said...

Long post, I know...

"Who is this person" wrote an excellent book titled, “The Passion of Jesus Christ.” Here he shares 50 reasons why Jesus came to die. These are not fifty causes, but fifty purposes.

It all starts with the Cross of Christ. I am amazed how this has been lost in our sophisticated, blogging culture. Imo, the past 50 or so years has lost its roots and it trying to focus on Christian living without the proper foundation of the Cross. What is the result? Nonsense for the most part. Many fragments of Christianity that hardly resemble the object of Paul’s preaching and teaching. It’s scary really. How can one have discernment if they don’t believe properly?

What I like about Piper’s book is it will divide. You can’t really read it and be neutral. It causes one to draw a line in the sand and say, “I believe” or “I don’t believe.” The discussion questions about being saved, born again, sin, Great Commission, atonement, etc., are all answered clearly at the Cross. This is not theology, this is relationship!

It is equally sad that reformed theology has broken down Scripture into categories to the point where the life has been sucked dry. However, truth is still truth.

If I break a song down to its parts; [intro, verse, verse, chorus, verse, verse, chorus, solo, chorus, ending] it is still a song in structure, but it will not move anyone in this format. Only when the parts are put into the context of a band performance will the parts, words, music all come to life.

Theology broken down into its parts can have purpose, but there needs to be great caution of losing its soul. The Cross is the soul! This is where it all comes together. Paul’s writings all are rooted in this message of hope. When we hear about the things that should move our souls; the love of God, justification, forgiveness—and they don’t, or worse make us angry, we must look within.

Maybe we need to rethink. Maybe there is nothing wrong with what the Scripture has said for centuries, maybe there is something wrong with those communicating it. Instead of changing the message, maybe we need to change the leadership…and then maybe we will find ourselves in a similar position being criticized by the next generation unless we first hear the message, let it touch our hearts, and then act.

When this trilogy of understanding is lost we become woefully out of balance. It has to be head, heart, will...and the head part needs to get back to the Cross.

This can never be just about theology...Paul's writing of Romans was never to be only studied, it was TO MOVE SOULS! It's always about relationship between God and man. This can so easily be lost or forgetten.

postmodernegro said...

The emerging church is not known for [evangelism] -

Which ones? 'all' in the emerging church movement? what examples does he offer for such a sweeping observation? or could it be that some in the emerging church do not 'do' evangelism Great Awakening-Charles Finney-ian style? I'll have to look into this more.

...I offer here a warning to you and to the emerging movement: any movement that is not evangelistic is failing the Lord.

I wonder what he means by evangelistic? I have my suspicions but I am only limited by my own experience which was walking around parks handing tracks knocking on doors and asking people if they knew where they would go if they died tonite. Of course God works even through that particular form of evangelism. I wonder if Scot goes door knocking. If not, then what does being evangelistic look like and what particularly does he do that he would consider evangelistic.

Stephen. What do you do that is evangelistic? what would be a recent event in your life where you were evangelistic?

Are we concerned?

I think many of us are concerned. Its just that the concern may take a different form than what such a concern should look like.


To be saved means to be delivered from sin, the devil, the world, and the powers.

"born again"?

To see and enter God's kingdom.

Why don't we talk about sin?

We do, at least I do. sin? privation of the good that is God. It is to be complicit with the falleness of the 'course of this world'.

Who is talking about fulfilling the Great Commission?

I don't know of anyone who isn't. Can you give an example who isn't in the emerging church?

There is a lot of talk about expanding our understanding of the atonement beyond penal substitution, and it seems that few in the emerging church who are doing this are denying penal substitution.

And? I think church history gives a picture of a mosaic of beliefs concerning the atonement. Why don't evangelicals and some Reformed folks never talk about the others?

So if, then, we do believe in penal substitution, are we talking about judgment? Do we need to warn anyone about anything?

We need to be warned against our participation and allegiance to the very forces that crucified Christ. We crucify Christ daily when we live not according to God's kingdom.

Are we afraid that if we talk about these things that we will be labeled fundamentalist?

I am not afraid. Honestly, the way I think about some of these matters I find myself thinking somewhat differently than fundamentalist. Who's to say fundamentalist, Evangelicals, or even Reformed folks have the corner on what Christ's death means? Who adjudicates that?

Are we allowing a past exclusive emphasis of some on our eternal destiny after we die to drive us to the opposite extreme of an almost exclusive focus on issues of justice today?

Maybe for some. I don't know. But the biblical story seems to be concerned about 'justice' on earth as it is in heaven. For me, it is my reading of the Bible and various points of the Christian tradition that drive my concern on justice.

Why does this have to be an either/or; why can't it be a both/and?

You are correct. It can be both/and but why does a particular fundamentalist/evangelical/somewhat Reformed position have to be on the other side of the both and 'and'?

One book comes to mind that captures a reading of the Christian faith seldom heard in popular fundie, evangelical, and somewhat Reformed traditions:

Strength To Love by Martin Luther King Jr.

Black and Reformed by Alan Boesak

Stephen said...


thank you for your note! I was becoming concerned that my expressed concern was so valid that no one responded!

I appreciate Piper's teaching and emphases.

I'm not sure that we can blame Reformed Theology for life dryness. However, I do agree that protestant theology generally (and RT specifically)has been too monopropositional.

thanks groover!

Stephen said...


i very much appreciate your interacting around this topic and I am encouraged at your positive outlook on this. To your points and questions:

to "which ones?", anthony, I would ask: who do you read that's talking about this at all? I track ab 100 or so blogs - many of them ec - and I just don't see it discussed that much. but i most assuredly am not reading everyone, so I'd welcome counter-examples.

regarding what scot means by evangelistic, if you have the time to listen to his talk (or read the pdf, if you haven't yet) he actually spells out what kind he is and isn't talking about.

regarding my own efforts, what I try to do is to be free in talking with everyone in my context in a free way about my life and what I'm doing (including Godstuff). I, however, was personally challenged by scot to be more intentional.

And thanks for answering the questions directly, Anthony. Now you - who are in the ec - are talking about it! (not to say that you weren't! ) :)

I think "Why don't evangelicals and some Reformed folks never talk about the others?" is a fair question and that's a good thing about the current discussion about the atonement.

Thanks again, Anthony!

postmodernegro said...


Thanks for the gracious response. Honestly, if I wanted to know what particular emerging church types believe about particular topics I'd email them personally and also investigate the particular tradition they hail from. Because that's part of the challenge. For instance, last night at our emergent cohort meeting we had at least five different Christian traditions show up...and all consider themselves a part of this conversation. If I were to ask them what their particular position was on 'evangelism' I am sure I would get a different response. Also on the atonement I would get different responses. When I hear people say people in the EC do not give their position on a particular issue of interest to particular Reformed or Evangelical folks I cannot help but ask a rhetorical question in my mind:

Have you emailed them personally? have you found out what particular tradition they hail from?

To me that would be the way to go.

And when we ask for a EC position on something I'd think the first response would be something like this:

Which stream of the conversation are you referring to? catholic, pentecostal, anabaptist, Reformed, evangelical? which one? Because would all probably give a different answer depending upon the topic. You know what I'm saying?

Another thing is this. If you study social movements you will find that in the beginning of things there is a period of uncertainty and ambiguity. Think Martin Luther. There was no such thing as the Reformed tradition when Luther posted the 95 theses on the chapel door.

I think our modernist tendency is to want all phenomenon in our view to be easily categorized and easily mastered and domesticated.

The beginning of things like this tend to have a level of uncertainty and are usually hard to nail down. Another contemporary example. When King organized the Boycott in Montgomery he did not have a full fledged program we now call the Civil Rights movement. Such talk would later come into view as their was 'success' in the movement.

The same thing I see taking place with the EC. This is the beginning of things. And normally the beginning of things tend to have more of a questioner and deconstructive flavor to it. Think about the various social movement in Church history. There were alot of question and problems being pointed out. This is the first stage of things.

As far as what I have read on blogs or in books or in person. Again it depends on who I have talked to. I talked to EC folks who are from different traditions so I would have to give you that particular traditions take on a particular topic.

Stephen said...

hey anthony,

oh, by the way. I don't know when yet, but I'll be coming to Charlotte probably sometime in the next 6 weeks or so. Would love to get together with you and Steve and Mr. Garvin.

anthony, I am curious as to folks believe, but that's not what's driving me. What's motivating me is that I just don't see people *talking* about it. There doesn't seem to be a concern for people who will face judgment. I know that some are universalists and that some don't believe in the historic view of hell, and all that, but that's not the majority in the ec (at least, I don't think it is). So why isn't this a larger topic? I point the finger at myself. I'm on a mad reading jag right now studying atonement, covenantalism, progressive dispensationalism, and - quite frankly - was highly stimulated by mcknight, horton, and franke's talks at WTS. I think this wider view of the atonement is great, as long as we tell non-Jesus followers about it! As far as the religious traditions, what I'm asking for would be consistent in most of the traditions you mentioned including all the traditions of my own background which are methodist, presbyterian, plymouth brethren, and non-denominational.

And please believe me: I truly don't think that a mere propositionalism is enough with its tepid two-dimensional cartestian casper milque-toast anthropocentric epistemology. Nothing less than our own transpropositional experience and our providing others with a transpo experience of Jesus in us will be sufficient to the task we're talking about. I think each tradition provides insight and flavor in these questions, but truly throughout history the answers to these questions have been transtraditional. I'm just refering to core soteriology, not limited atonement or supralapsarianism or anything like that. We're justifiably passionate about folks getting killed or dying of aids or needing food or getting ignored because of their ethnicity or language or whatever, but are we at least equally passionate about their meeting our Jesus? Or does talk of God's wide mercy relieve us from uncomfortable conversations?

Again, please understand Anthony that I am not speaking from my own sense of adequacy on this topic. I am speaking out of my own recent personal conviction as a long-time participant in the ec conversation.

Stephen said...

ugh - please forgive the poor spelling in above! I need to proofread before I hit send!!

Ross said...

Last year, for Advent (I am an Anglican), I had to give five weekly radio talks. I thought it would be appropriate, as it was the Christmas season, to talk about salvation.

In preparation, I found myself asking again what I thought salvation really was. I realised then the extent to which I assumed I knew what it was. I don't think I am alone in having taken its meaning for granted. I think we have grown accustomed to think of salvation more in terms of what we are saved for and less what we are saved from.

As I went through the New Testament again, it struck me more and more, that ultimately it is God himself that we are saved from. This was quite a jolt to me, and I have spent a great deal of time this year thinking about the implications of this for my preaching and teaching.

The biggest problem I find is getting anyone to take this and the consequences of it seriously. So I find your questions timely as we approach Advent again.

Eli said...

Perhaps a less educated comment would also be welcome. Some of us "practitioners" get scared off by words like praxis, even if it is us doing the "praxis-ing"

So, does anyone care? Hell yes, we care. We care enough about people's eternal future to leave the traditional cloisters and get out and mingle with the "uglies".

Sin? Why talk about it? I am finding that more and more, sin is a foregone conclusion with the post-church crowd. These are people who learned about sin in sunday school or VBS. It's now inherent in them that they are failures and fall-short-of-the-glory-ers. IMHO, the evangelical emphasis on sin has hurt the cause of Christ in two practical either a)desensitizes a man to the call to holiness...or it b)kills his hope for redemption. This is why redemption, resurrection, and love are the better message. John the Baptist has fulfilled his mission, it's time for Jesus to come in and say my favorite words (paraphrased) - "It's OK. I know what you did. Don't let it happen again." This, I am afraid, is the message that gets lost when you talk about renewing the emphasis on sin. Perhaps we could look at it another way...people will stop going to the doctor, if he has nothing to help them. They know they are sick, and they don't go to the doctor to merely confirm the diagnosis. They go there to be healed. We have to get away from the emphasis on diagnosis, and get a renewed empasis on the cure.

My $0.02.

postmodernegro said...


I don't see a passion for social justice and giving display to the love of God as mutually exclusive. Honestly, I believe a passion for people to see the love of God apart and absent any committment to social justice is not the love of God. The Hebrew scriptures tell us: to do justice is to know God. To love is to know God. Its not enough to convince oneself that they are 'giving Jesus' to the lost...we have to be the body of Christ that gives faithful expression of the kingdom of God.

These things should not be held as mutually exclusive. Of course we would have to have a conversation about what such a 'justice' would look like. There needs to be no rigid dichotomy here.

The highest commandments, Jesus said, are "love God, love neighbor."