Are Baptists Softening on the Emerging Church?

This one is:

Some critics see the emerging church movement as a heretical compromise with a pluralistic, truth-denying culture. Baptist history might offer an alternative explanation—ecclesiology is more defined by the practices of a Spirit-led community than by assent to the statements of a modern theological meta-narrative. Conversely, the emerging church movement may provide hope for reformation to Baptists ignorant of the difference between modern truths and Truth incarnate.

via The Baptist Standard :: The Newsmagazine of Texas Baptists – 2nd Opinion: Emerging church: Threat or ally?.

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  • Just wait until the Baptimergent book comes out. Al Mohler is going to be calling you to teach a practical theology class.

  • Tony,

    Here’s my response to the Baptist article:

    Although we have to regard our theological formulations with humility and some degree of skepticism, it seems like the Emergent Church has made skepticism into a doctrine. Reflecting this fact, Loyd Allen wrote,

    “Postmoderns have abandoned big-picture reality. Either it does not exist, or it cannot be proven by a logical system of propositions—known as a ‘meta-narrative.’ Postmoderns’ reality is more like a set of children’s building blocks than a jigsaw puzzle. The blocks have meaning according to their context in a particular construct. Truth is established through local relationship more than rational, universal application.”

    However, the meaning of any one “building block” (or even word) is somewhat determined by its relationship to the whole jigsaw puzzle. If I want a fuller sense of how Jesus used language so that I can interpret a particular passage, I want to see the “big-picture” range of His usages. If I want to know what He meant by “unless you drink my blood and eat my body you have no life within you (John 6),” I have to look at what He taught about “salvation” and “life” in general.

    Jesus even mandates that we look at the “big-picture reality.” He ridiculed a synagogue leader for criticizing Him for healing on the Sabbath. While He never disputed the charge that He had done work on the Sabbath, Jesus did find fault with this leader because He his interpretation was too narrow. Although the leader had gotten the one building block right – don’t work on the Sabbath – his interpretation and charge against Jesus culpably failed to take reality and the rest of revelation into the picture (Luke 13; John 7:23-24).

    When our vision narrows to the immediate context, failing to appreciate the broader context of revelation (the “big-picture reality,” the “meta-narrative”), we become myopic, and this will bring many problems upon our heads.

  • I smile every time I read about a Christian trying to understand God through left-brained analytical reasoning. I smile because I envision someone trying to understand the nature of God through an Aristotelian process of collecting attributes and properties of God on little index cards with their associated proof-texts and then pointing to the finished pile proudly proclaiming that they now know God. I smile because that is the HARD way to get to know God. The easy way is just to ask him to let you know him.

    I also smile when we talk exclusively about Jesus in the past tense. Surely he existed in the flesh two thousand years ago, but let’s not forget that he was resurrected in the flesh and lives on through us in the present.

    Truth incarnate: How does THAT work? I’ll give you one example. When I go into the Bible I leave his word in its context, both literary and well as historical. I don’t yank chunks out to examine them on their own as that would do damage to what I consider a living thing. I leave the black immersed in its matrix of white bathed in the Holy Spirit. And every time I go into the Bible, I bring Jesus, Truth incarnate, with me.

    I read the story of Mary and Martha and something doesn’t sit right with me. The traditional interpretations and all the sermons I have heard on this story don’t “stick”. Truth is telling me that Mary is not at His feet because of some starry-eyed love for him. Mary is not there because she wants to be his boyfriend. And I struggle with that story, searching, until I finally find an interpretation which makes sense authored by a famous first century historian and theologian [Luke for Everyone].
    N. T. Wright points out that Mary is not only in the “male” part of the house, but also in the position of learning from a Rabbi. Not only that, she is “at the feet of” which is an honored position for someone aspiring to become a Rabbi. And Truth, sitting beside me, excitedly asks, “Jim, do you get that? Don’t you see? She was in a place reserved not only for men but for the one exceptional student who was learning to become a teacher. And I said SHE BELONGS HERE! Do you see how incredibly radical that was? Do you see how radical and freeing that is for today?”

    I get it. That interpretation now sticks and glows with a beauty I never saw before. And all it took was a good foundation [Fee and Stuart], a good non-dualistic study guide like N.T. Wright’s “For Everyone” series or one like this [InDepth: Revelation], and Truth in the living person of Jesus. The only theology we need is a real, concrete, continuing relationship with our living Lord and Savior. Everything else flows from having his love flow through us and into a world in dire need of our redemptive work within it.

  • So how do I edit or delete a post? The “boyfriend” sentence above was supposed to read “because she wanted him as a boyfriend”. Duh!

  • Kenton


    Did you just compare the gospel to a jigsaw puzzle??? So in a jigsaw puzzle each piece only fits in a certain way to create one exact picture. I think that’s kind of thinking is what drove me to the emergent church. Where do we get the notion that the gospel is not some sort of puzzle to be solved? And is it possible that the picture we have in our heads of how the blocks/pieces are assembled is just one of several ways they could be assembled? Yes, let’s look at our big pictures, but let’s not get so tied to thinking our picture is the only valid way to assemble the pieces.

  • Kenton


    I should have read the linked article before I posted. The jigsaw puzzle analogy was not Daniel’s, it was the generic modernist in the article.

    My sincere apologies, Daniel.

  • Jim Fisher,

    You certainly have your foundation correct. You wrote, “The only theology we need is a real, concrete, continuing relationship with our living Lord and Savior. Everything else flows from having his love flow through us and into a world.” It all starts with Christ!

    Although this is so true, Christ would ALSO have us love him “with all our mind” (Matthew 22:37) – wholistically with all our God-given faculties. Consequently, we can’t just approach Scripture with our heart and intuitions, but also with our minds, perhaps this might also include borrowing from the scholarship of others, as you are doing by consulting NT Wright.

    When we approach the passage you have referenced, we find that Martha’s complaint didn’t stem from the fact that Mary was sitting where only men should sit, but instead, that she had left all the cooking to Martha in order to sit under Jesus’ teaching (Luke 10:40). Jesus’ response to Martha is very informative: “But only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better” [sitting under My teaching] (Luke 10:42).

    Consequently, learning from Jesus must take priority even over acts of loving devotion. After all, how do we know how to love and to have friendships and edifying conversations without having first been enlightened regarding these things! If goes even further! If we aren’t properly Gospel-oriented, our good works will go to our heads, convincing us of our own superiority.

  • Kenton,

    No apology necessary. But I do think that you got the correct drift of my perspective. Nevertheless, I can appreciate the attraction of the Emergent Church. Often times, we become too doctrinally assertive and tend to alienate others. At other times, we push them as a certainty, when they really aren’t. However, even with these problems and dangers, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t pursue understanding and a higher degree of certainty, even if this means re-inventing the wheel.

    In fact, I’d argue that communication and relationship are unnecessarily truncated without them. If we just examine our own communications, we find that they are laced with statements of absolute certainty, even when we dogmatically and absolutely declare that there is no certainty.

    While I appreciate many of the emergent critiques of the ways we have done church and theology, I think that we have to be careful about going too far and disdain systematic thinking. Ironically, it is this tool that enables us to deliver some important critiques on target.

  • I hope I did not leave the impression that my Bible-view, my worldview, my God-view should be anything less than holistic. It’s the starting point toward that ideal which has changed for me. When I start with the relationship, the incarnate Truth leads me in all the other directions I need to go to grow in understanding. In this right-handed left-brained world, it is not normal to start with a relationship. We want to start with the observations, categorizations, quantifications which satisfy our left-brain’s thirst for facts and syllogisms. E.g. In the quest for our purpose, we want to start with a spiritual gift inventory and work our way logically to God’s will for us. The Biblical model for this process is contrary (as usual!). In every case, the working out of God’s will through someone in a Biblical narrative starts with an assignment from God, not some systematic study of Torah or something. I know in my case, I have grown in him more richly by waking up each morning and asking for an assignment — then after the inevitable “you GOT to be kidding!” moment, I say yes and trust that the gifts will be given along the way as I act out his will. But then, I am an ambi. For me to start with my right brain and be led into my left instead of vice versa is as easy as eating, batting, or playing tennis with my left hand instead of my right. I also totally understand that this may be quite difficult for others to start from where they have never started before — and may even be as hard as trying to sign their name with their left hand starting with the last letter and working toward the first — upside down.

  • nathan

    given the current battle to determine “true baptist” identity…i wonder how long it’s going to take for someone from some SBC sect/camp to claim anyone who “softens” toward emergent is a BINO-Baptist In Name Only.

    Why not, right?
    They have RINO’s as a moniker to describe any republican that doesn’t buy into tinfoil hat ACORN conspiracies or that birther ass-hattery.

    (i mean, they have a “Baptist Identity” guy–Malcolm Yarnell– down at Southwestern, doing Baptist Identity scholarship for heaven’s sake. I guess only when “the gays” do such identity work it’s worthy of derision. but, I digress.)

    bottom line, don’t get your hopes up…

  • Stephen Feltmate

    I guess the question I have to ask is: who cares what various sects of “Christiandom” think?

    As I understand Jesus, He was really quite unconcerned with what the modern orthodoxy thought of Him or His teachings. He just kind of said things and in some cases was intentionally provocative. But I don’t see any evidence that He was looking over His shoulder hoping the “mainstream” was going to follow Him to Calvary. In fact, He seemed to understand that they wouldn’t.

    There’s a reason the Emergent movement exists – it’s because of the abject failure in leadership on the part of the modern “Christian” church. I don’t think that many in the mainstream are going to be interested in joining any conversation with us – especially when they understand that we are willing heretics who appreciate nuance more than tradition. Maybe this is a bit harsh on my part; but I am not the one demanding rigid intellectual ascent to orthodoxy.

  • Nathan,

    One of the defining marks of “Baptists identity” (historically speaking & at least on paper) is concrete work for religious freedom. Religious freedom means that all people are free to practice religion as they choose (or no religion at all) – Baptists included. I’m not about to start throwing around the “Baptist in name only” kind of jargon, but I will say that the SBC folks certainly have a misshapen and a-historical understanding of this particular aspect of “baptist identity” (and a handful of others).

    At any rate, there are lots of Baptists out there (Alliance of Baptists, CBF, and a bunch of European Baptists) for whom the discussions going on in the emerging / emergent worlds have been happening for decades. So don’t lose hope just yet – not all Baptists are SBC Baptists and, because we value religious diversity, we see this as one of the “goods” inherent in the Baptist way of being Christian. There are, of course, downsides to refusing a top-down hierarchy but this freedom of religious practice bit is not, I don’t think, one of them.

    Peace, A.T.

  • And Tony,

    Man, you ought to know better than to lump all Baptists into one group! I know for a fact that you’ve been around at least a handful of us who are more than “soft” on the emerging church! I know, I know – provocative statements make for better reading but, really, don’t throw us under the bus just yet. 🙂

    Peace, A.T.

  • nathan


    yeah, i get it about not all baptists are SBC…that’s why i said the SBC “sect”…since they’re the ones so given to defining out other baptists even, especially within their own camp.

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