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The Emerging Church

January 17, 2010

New Year’s Day after seeing “Broken Embraces” my wife and I met her sister and her husband for dinner at the Left Bank in Santana Row.   I mention these two things because the movie, a Spanish film with English subtitiles, is about love, lust and treachery and the French restaurant is a good example of fine food and excellent wine.  As the dinner progressed, enjoying our meals with two bottles of wine, we discussed a variety of topics.   My brother-in-law asked me what I thought of the emerging church.  I told him I had never heard of the term and would have to research it in order to give an opinion.

Now what you need to know is that I am an ex-Southern Baptist minister with a doctorate from Golden Gate Baptist Seminary who was a pastor for ten years and also taught at the seminary.  The fact that I had just seen a movie about love, lust, and treachery and was having wine with dinner tells you how far removed I have become from that background.  (For those not familiar with Southern Baptists’ stand on life, the saying “we don’t dance, drink, or chew and we don’t date women who do” sort of sums it up.) The one thing I have not lost is my love for research and debunking those that misuse theology.  So as we parted for the evening, I couldn’t wait to get home and start digging into this emerging church concept.  As Sherlock Holmes would say ” the games afoot”.

Scrolling through the entries on I found three books to get me started.  I figured a scholarly approach would be good so I purchased “Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church”, by D.A. Carson.   I always want to read books from first hand sources so I added “Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches, by Robert Webber (actually he is the editor and the perspectives are from Mark Driscoll, John Burke, Dan Kimball, Doug Pagit, and Karen Ward).  And finally, I found a book that criticizes the concept called “Faith Undone”, by Roger Oakland.

Now it will take me some time to wade through these and give an opinion, but two things stand out right away that I can relate to from my Baptist background.  One is the concept of church and the other is the acceptance of a diversity in opinions.

Anyone familiar with scripture knows that the word for church was never meant to be applied to a building but refers to the people, the followers, the body of Christ.  We have allowed that term to come to mean a building so we go to church as opposed to thinking of ourselves as the church.  A little like forgetting we are the government. What is sad is when some look at the building, their church, as something more sacred than it is meant to be. When I was a pastor our congregation decided to participate in a rotating shelter to house the homeless for thirty days in our building we lost some members because they couldn’t tolerate the idea of homeless people in “their” church.  From what I have read so far the emerging church is an attempt to get back to church as the body of  Christ and not an institution.

The acceptance of diversity is close to my heart because one of the saddest thngs that happened to Southern Baptists is getting away from that idea.  In the beginning, one of the tenets of the denomination was the agreeing to disagree on interpretation of scripture.  It was the rock from which we were hewn, allowing a church to have a woman pastor or a woman deacon while another church would never consider either, yet not letting the difference divide.  As the ultraconservatives took control of the convention diversity quickly became a thing of the past.  A quote from Spencer Burke, in Carson’s book, directed at the narrowness of some existing churches caught my attention, “challenge an accepted belief or confess doubt and you’re the equivalent of a card carrying communist”.  So if the emerging church is about opening dialog and not condemning anyone who disagrees with you, then maybe they are on to something.

As I said I am just diving into this subject and will undoubtedly have more to say, which is fitting as I just read that the emerging church is more of an emerging conversation.  Oh, and to my brother-in-law, thanks for giving me a challenge that may keep from being so quiet at the next family gathering.   Stay tuned….

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 18, 2010 11:05 am

    Dr. Don,

    I love your openness to learn and explore for yourself. If you would like a few more titles that speak from a 1st person about what we hope and dream for the Church, faith and following Jesus – please consider “New Kind of Christian” by B4rian McLaren and the source book for D.A. Carson (of your quote)

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