The Emerging Way (part 1)

23 03 2007

me-haley1_1.jpgThere is a lot of excitement connected with a movement happening just now in the Christian community. It’s emerging from a variety of mainline denominational traditions including Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, United Church of Christ, Lutheran, Baptist, and even some Roman Catholics. 

It is heralded as a return to the roots of true Christianity; and yet, at the same time, at least one prominent proponent speaks of it producing a new kind of Christian. 

It radiates with the energy of youthful revolution and embraces postmodern convictions. Its goal is to reestablish what it views as the ancient focus of Christianity: the “transformation of the self through a living and dynamic experience of God, who is not separate from us but who is a part of us; and about the transformation of society.”*

The stated goal is tantamount to saying that the emerging church is going to fix what’s wrong with the current church (using the term “church” in the generic vernacular of our day). It’s a noble goal. 

For the record, I think it good to remember that this has been tried before. Almost every individual denomination came into being for that intended purpose. Nevertheless, each new attempt to improve or restore what is lacking in the Christian church deserves honest consideration. To that end, I’d like to share the results of my investigation so far. 

The Emerging Christian Way published by CopperHouse is my reference text. It is a compilation from multiple adherents rather than the views of just one individual. Thus I take it to be a fair representation of the movement in general. 

Chapter one, written by Marcus Borg, is titled “An Emerging Christian Way.” In it he contrasts the old way of doing church with the new emerging way. The old way is identified as a “Belief-Centered Paradigm.”

The Belief-Centered church affirms that “Being Christian is about believing: believing that God exists; believing that the Bible is the Word of God; believing that Jesus is the Son of God, that he was born of a virgin, that he died for our sins, that he was raised physically from the dead, that he will come again, and so forth” (p. 16). The next paragraph begins “This paradigm has serious problems…” Some of the problems he sees include:

  1. Taking the Bible as literally true.
  2. The claim that Christianity is the only way of salvation.
  3. The emphasis on “believing the right things” as a way to be saved (p. 17).

The new, emerging church system he calls “The Transformation-Centered Paradigm.”  About it he writes, “The Christian life is not very much about believing a set of claims to be true, but about a path, a way of transformation that leads to God and to participation in the passion of God. It resolves the intellectual obstacles generated by the belief-centered paradigm, and it does so without watering down Christianity. Rather, it robustly affirms the central elements of Christianity, but sees them differently” (p. 18).

He goes on to illustrate how they see things differently, like the Bible’s authority. “The emerging paradigm sees the Bible’s authority as grounded not in its origin in God, but in decisions made by our spiritual ancestors in these ancient communities; they declared this collection of documents to be sacred, to be authoritative, to be the most important documents they knew. The Bible is thus sacred in its status and function – and this is its authority” (p. 20).

The next page (p. 21) clarifies exactly how the new emerging paradigm interprets the Bible. “Indeed, this way of interpreting the Bible is not very much concerned with the issue of how much of what the Bible reports really happened. That question is seldom of great importance.”

Gadzooks! I don’t see how Marcus Borg can claim this emerging way of seeing the Bible doesn’t water down Christianity.  What do you think?

(* Quote from the back cover of The Emerging Christian Way.)

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3 responses

24 03 2007
svd2thabne

We are living in exciting times….yet scary times. We must be true to the Word of God in every sense of the word. We are called on to defend the faith, preach the Word, and rebuke sin. Whether you (editorially speaking) want to call the emergent church a new approach to God…the emergent way is quite confusing to me.

If I am too traditional for this movement, I guess I will sink with the traditional side of doing church, rather than the emergent way of church.

Lord help us!

25 03 2007
kclick

I don’t think you’re too traditional, just too committed to the truth to abandon the very foundations of the faith.

Praise to the King!

28 03 2007
j4jesus

Emergents don’t have to define themselves. The end-goal of emergent Christianity is wrestling with a topic or adding to an on-going conversation. There is much we have to learn from the movement and much to be left behind. That Borg and some others have helped give birth to it should make us all ask it some really tough questions.

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