By J. Matthew Pinson
What the Emerging Church Does Right
The Emerging Church (EC—broader than “Emergent,” which denies evangelical orthodoxy) rightly criticizes an outdated seeker-sensitive evangelicalism for substituting entertainment for worship, marketing for evangelism, big business CEOs for shepherds, and psychotherapy for preaching. The EC critiques the Baby Boomer church for being too tied to modern culture. Yet the EC seems to have tethered itself just as closely to postmodern culture.
What the Emerging Church Does Wrong
The EC manifests one of the central problems it criticizes in Boomer Christianity: consumerism. ECs are in danger of catering to postmodern people’s consumer tastes, which have been shaped by the secular culture (e.g., many ECs resemble dark, twenty-something night clubs with college music and a smattering of candles and icons). “I’m the seeker now. Be sensitive to me!” Rather than mimic the secular culture, the healthy church of the future will resist tying the gospel to the trends of this passing evil age (1 Jo. 2:17; Gal. 1:4).
What the Emerging Church Misses
The early EC appeared to be interested in authentic Christian tradition. Now it seems dilettante-like, picking and choosing among mystical medieval rituals and spiritualities that seem cool. We need to encourage our young people to move beyond what is cool at the moment, tying themselves to the Scriptures and historic Christian teaching and practice. This will free them to tap in to the spirit of the age to come rather than wedding Christianity to the spirit of this present evil age.
What the Emerging Church Overemphasizes
The EC overemphasizes the visual at the expense of the Word. Our Free Will Baptist forebears (like others in the Free Church and Reformed movements) avoided medieval image-drivenness in an era when only a fraction of the population could read. Rather than leave behind a five-hundred-year tradition of Word-based worship without images, we need to recapture our tradition, based on that of the New Testament and earliest Christian churches, which worshiped God without visual images. We need to reaffirm that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17).
What the Emerging Church Overestimates
Lastly, the EC overestimates the difference between postmodern culture and the unbelieving cultures of the past. They need to read early Christians like Clement of Alexandria. In the early 200s, when Clement was writing, Christians lived in the midst of a multi-cultural, multi-religious, pluralistic, relativistic, highly sexualized, body-pierced, tattooed, raucous-musical, image-driven, entertainment-saturated culture. But they radically set their lives, fellowship, and worship apart from the world. Yet, this was the time when Christianity grew more than any other time in history.
Free Will Baptists and the Emerging Church
So I would say to Free Will Baptists who might be considering the EC, go back to NT, Apostolic, Reformational Christianity. Go back to the means Christ has given for the calling out, growth, and expansion of His church. These means have produced results in past cultures much like our own. And, the Spirit promises, they will continue to produce results—kingdom results that will not pass away with this present age, but will endure forever.
Reprinted by permission from ONE Magazine.