A Few Words in My Defense

And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming. (Genesis 24:63 ESV)

In recent days, I have been taking a lot og heat for being sympathetic to the Emerging Church and what they are trying to do. I’ve also been taking heat for reading books and articles by people involved in it. And we can’t forget the criticism I’ve been receiving for making room for “contemplative” practices. In light of this criticism, I offer these few words in defense of what I have been doing.

As far as reading books and articles by people involved in the emerging church is concerned, I have yet to be given strong proof that my doing so is wrong. People have told me I’m wrong, but I’ve not been given documented proof that everything that the Emerging Church is doing is detrimental to the Christian community.

I agree with my critics that there are some real issues with the Emerging Church, especially as regards postmodernism. A full embrace of postmodernism is not what the church needs to do to thrive in our postmodern culture. At the same time, though, to ignore postmodernity and continue to evangelize and theologize in a modern mindset is only asking for trouble. Throughout the world, the church embraces the good elements of the cultural philosophy. In fact, Western Christianity seems to have absorbed a lot of Greek philosophical thought patterns (thanks to St. Augustine and his use of Plato).

In light of this, I think it is important that the church find some way to “redeem” postmodernism. I am not suggesting that we go so far as to deny absolute truth and stop making absolute truth claims. The adherence to absolutes is what has kept Christianity afloat for all these years. But we do need to embrace the postmodern’s thought patterns to some extent, especially when evangelizing.

I am reminded of a story by Chris Taylor.

Last week a knock came at our front door, and as I got there I saw a man disappearing out of the gate. On the mat there was a leaflet that said “This is important!”, so I read it. It was a leaflet explaining about Jesus, sin, the cross, and judgement, of the kind I’ve seen many times before. But just before I put it in the bin I noticed something that horrified me. On the back, where the publishers had put “For more information, contact:” and left room for the contact details of the church who left the leaflet, there was nothing. Just an empty white space staring back at me.

If this is the way we’re “supposed” to evangelize the lost, than I want no part of it. Give me a dialogue with the lost any day. Let me interact with the world that I live in any day. Let me share God’s love with the lost the same way Jesus did rather than through some formula or by using the cowardly method of a tract (although using a tract can come in handy from time to time, just not as the primary means of evangelism). The Emerging Church offers other options, and, in my opinion, some options that are much more sound biblically than what is commonly taught in church today.

As to being sympathetic to them, I am having a hard time understanding why I am taking heat for this. They are reaching out to the people who the church has neglected for a really long time: the culture. Anymore, the church is trying to reach middle to upper-class white Americans, but what about all those people who don’t fall into this category? What about the drunkards and the homosexuals and the punks? Don’t they need to have the gospel too? The Emerging Church goes to where these people are and ministers to them in ways that they can relate to. It uses their words. It is willing to go to their places. They are willing to get their hands dirty. Again, I think they go too far sometimes in their embrace of postmodernity, but they are doing what the majority of the church is ignoring today. Rather than trying to build mega-churches, they are trying to build communities of believers. Give me a community of believers over a mega-church anyday.

Lastly, as regards those “contemplative” practices I mentioned, this seems like the silliest criticism I’ve received thus far. I recall you back to the text above:

And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming. (Genesis 24:63 ESV)

Need I say more? Even Isaac meditated. Why is it wrong to teach our people to do so? Why is it wrong to exhort our people to seek God daily? Why is it wrong to place, even remotely, some emphasis on having a personal experience?

There must be balance in the Christian life. I am reminded of the words of Paul.

For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. (1 Corinthians 4:20 ESV)

More than words, the Christian life is about having the power of God in us. We are indwelt by the Holy Spirit; why don’t we live like we have that power? Until someone can show me from Scripture that Western Christianity has this whole God-thing completely nailed down, I will continue to pull from the Eastern Christian traditions as well. Call me contemplative if you will, but I never thought there was anything wrong with contemplating. I never thought there was a problem with meditating. Afterall, Scripture commands that we do so.

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Joshua 1:8 ESV Emphasis mine)

I step down now to let the criticism continue to pour in. I pray for my brothers and sisters in Christ who can’t see past the log in their own eye. I admit that I am still learning. I am still reforming. I always will be. There should never be an end to that. And if in my learning, I become a bad Calvinist, than so be it. I want to be Biblical, not Calvinist. Isn’t that what we all should desire anyway?

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