Pastors have a nearly impossible task. Especially pastors of mega-churches. Because they are asked to do so many things, speak at so many other functions, and render judgment on nearly everything that comes along, pastors can develop one of two orientations: humility about the task or what I call “P-Bics”: Pastors of Big Churches Syndrome.
The P-Bic Syndrome is the need to render judgment on everything and everyone. The problem, as I see it, is that the fully capacious qualities of many pastors of mega-churches, and I know a number, can easily be transferred from what they are genuinely called to do (pastor, lead, preach) to what they are asked to do and are not qualified for (analysis of current trends).
Here’s my problem with James Macdonald’s recent examination of emerging and then his second part: I don’t think he has studied the movement deeply enough or widely enough to understand it. Therefore, his five point critique falls flat for me and it falls flat because it is not penetrating or fair.
In general, I consider myself a part of the emerging movement but I think I agree with the substance of what Macdonald says here. The fact is this: very few really know what this emerging movement is all about because it is extremely diverse, all over the map theologically, and constantly in motion. To criticize it is much harder than to to try to describe central elements. I think Macdonald has sketched a stereotype and responded to that. I’m asking Jim to meet with me sometime to discuss the emerging movement. We live close enough to one another to pull it off, and he was at one time a student of mine at TEDS.
First, his introductory paragraph is nice and he returns to much the same at the end of the second article. But, I’d like to see some of what he appreciates come into play in his critique. It is his article, not mine, so I’ll simply respond to his five major points. I consider his stature significant enough to devote an entire lengthy post in response.
Here are his big points:
1. Because observing the bad is not a credential for guiding us to the good.
“History is replete with proof that those most articulate about our shortcomings are often least able to bring balanced, objective solutions.”
Just down the road from Macdonald’s church is Willow Creek, and that pastor, Bill Hybels, would offer a serious warning to Macdonald about this statement: holy discontent with the way things are is the necessary condition for change. I don’t know how Macdonald can make this statement: those most articulate about problems are often the ones who are remembered for leading to change. Let’s start with Augustine and move to Luther and Calvin and Zwingli (and not forget the many medieval male and female saints) and Whitfield and Wesley and then into our modern times with Martin Luther King, Jr., and the origins of TEDS (where he went to seminary and where he was one my students).
I do agree, however, with him when he says that emergent remedies are too easily accepted by some. But, I’m not sure what he is thinking of. And I’m not so sure, after reading his article, that he knows enough about the emerging movement to say that he “deeply resonates with much of the criticism flowing from the emerging church against Western Christianity.”
2. Because God is looking for obedience to revealed truth, not just sincerity.
In general, I don’t like this point because I don’t think the issue is “truth” vs. “sincerity” but a re-evaluation by some (not all) of how to articulate that truth.
In this section, Macdonald mentions names (Chris Seay, Carol Childress, Dave Travis, Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren, and Rob Bell) and it must be these that he is making this statement about: they are sincere but they question the truthfulness of Scripture.
On this second point, I’m not sure if Macdonald gets it right. In some settings, I think I’d agree with him. In the main, though, I think the emerging folks love the Bible and live by it and live it out.
3. Because Christ’s is a kingdom of substance, not style.
I’ve heard this statement so many times it is annoying. It is annoying because it is not true. I’ve seen plenty of experimentation with style. But, the point is being missed: style and substance are not two different things. Standing high on a platform, standing behind a huge pulpit, having one’s picture broadcast all over the building is not just “style” but says something: about the authority of the preacher and about the authority of preaching. I like the latter, I’m nervous at times about the former.
By the way, James, I tend to agree with you on the chic approach to everything (I’m 51 years old, after all). But, I also tend to agree with others that a business man’s suit is also an issue. This needs to be thought through more carefully.
4. Because the answer is Jesus, not cultural analysis.
Again, the issue is the same as #3. Cultural analysis is not something “in addition” to the gospel but the gospel is presented in a cultural form everytime it is presented.
Again, the issue is not “Jesus” vs. “cultural analysis.” It is both.
I like this statement of Macdonald’s, and it is thoroughly emerging: “How about a more compassionate extension of our own life in Christ and please . . . a lot less perpetual babbling about culture, which even when rightly observed is not the answer, duh – Jesus is!”
5. Because Jesus is the purpose for the party, not the surprise hiding in the closet of respectability.
This one wounds because I think it is cheap. I’m not so sure that many in the emerging movement are into “respectability” and certainly not over against Jesus himself. In this section I think Jim gets a little cheeky and sarcastic.
I agree that sometimes the emerging folk are so embarrassed by institutional evangelicalism that they want to “show” Jesus rather than “shout” Jesus. Maybe this is what Macdonald is talking about.
Well, Jim, how about lunch? I’ll pay. And I suspect we’ll both need pen and paper.