Webber, Robert (editor) Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches. Five perspectives. Zondervan 2007
The five writers in this presentation have this in common. They are all pastors of what are considered emerging churches. They all write about theology. Their descriptive words they use regarding their theology are all different. As each one writes the other four respond to the writing either agreeing or disagreeing with their theological position. All five writers seem to be on a theological journey that will result in changes in their positions. By and large they seem tolerant of each other’s position. Judging from these writers have expressed it would be inaccurate to talk about an ‘emergent theology’. The editor’s comments are helpful in putting these presentations in perspective.
Historians suggest that societies go through a cycle of cultural shifts every 80-100 years. Each cycle has four parts; beginning, development, unraveling and crisis. For evangelicalism the present cycle began after WWII and is presently in its last phase. The editor labels the four phases as “high evangelicals (1946-1964), awakening evangelicals (1964-1984), evangelical unraveling (1984-2004), the emerging church and younger evangelicals (2004- ). (11-!5) These phases form the backdrop for the essays which follow. The presentations of the five writers reflect an “evangelical sense of unity in the essentials, freedom in the non-essentials, and love in all things”. (18)
Mark Driscoll entitles his essay, “biblical theology”. (21) His personal viewpoint is that of a Reformed Calvinist. God speaks through Scripture. Scripture is “the metaphorical Supreme Court of final authority”. (25) Scripture must be interpreted by Scripture. Scripture reveals a Trinitarian God who has provided for the salvation of man through the death and resurrection of his son Jesus Christ.
Response: The most serious criticism of Mark’s essay has to do with what is perceived as an inflexible position on biblical theology that does not allow for questioning and tolerance.
John Burke talks about “incarnational theology”. (51) His bottom line is, How does our theology help or hinder us in accurately re-presenting Jesus to our world?” (52) It is important to avoid a cultural bias that represents effective evangelism, e.g. truth can only be found in Christianity. In our approach we must not dilute the authority of the Scriptures. The most common criticism of Christians is that they are judgmental. The acceptance of this fact and the focus on invitation rather than judging is basic to incarnational theology.
Response: Understandably, Driscoll criticizes John’s position as not strong enough on Jesus being the only way.
Dan Kimball discusses what he defines as “missional theology”. (83) Dan is comfortable with the concept of an emerging church but not with an emerging theology. He talks about the evolution of his theology. “What our churches practice is based on our theology.” (103) A missional theology arises out of Christ’s teaching which has become known as the ‘great commission’.
Response: There needs to be a greater dependency in Dan’s teaching on the Holy Spirit as a teacher along with Scripture.
Doug Pagitt describes his theology as “embodied theology”. (119) “Theology must come from the life of the one who holds it.” (121) Theology should make faith come alive and therefore needs to be contextual. The process is always a form of emerging. Many quotes that are preceded by “the Bible says” are actually taken out of context. Since our community has experienced tremendous change (it has become global) our theology must adjust to this change. Terms such as “rhythm with God, integrated holism, progressive co-creation, evolving”, (134-137) will describe an embodied theology.
Response: Driscoll is quite critical of this theology. Pagitt and Driscoll represent the extremes of the five writers Kimball and Ward are supportive of Pagitt’s involvement of community in developing theology.
Karen Ward labels her theology “communal theology”. (161) Since members of the community are involved she uses the term “little theologies”. (178) They originate from within, e.g. “mission and friendship, authenticity and economy, service and mercy, beauty and wisdom, etc.” (178) Karen describes her position as “the theological soup from the Church of the Apostles”. (181)
Response: Driscoll has six concerns about Karen’s theology; the first is his lack of acceptance of women in leadership. Kimball expresses a concern that even one unacceptable ‘ingredient in the soup’ could create a serious problem. Pagitt resonates with Ward’s position.
In his concluding comments Robert Webber focuses on three things; who the writers are (coming from), what they are saying, and what we should be hearing. The writers are all pastors not theologians with a similar training. They tell us that changes in our culture require changes in our approach to people. What these writers are asking is of greater significance than what they are saying. There is diversity in our churches. The approach must be practical with theological roots. There must be an acceptance of,
; mystery, a missional commitment, and a realization that the spiritual hunger out there reflects evidence of New Age and Eastern religions. Rather than highlighting divisions and differences between emergents and others, we need to affirm “that we all stand in the historic faith as we seek to understand it and apply it to the new world in which we minister”. (201)