Thursday, June 29, 2006

Don't emerge just yet: part two


So why is the church so awash in a sea of culture-assessments and postmodern analyses to find out "what we're doing wrong"? One reason, I believe, is the rapid rise of evil in an historically conservative culture which always spawns a desperate counter-attack to preserve all that is treasured and familiar. In other words, the evangelical church has simply not been content with dwindling numbers, strained budgets, increased persecution, academic ridicule, and cultural marginalization. But this is precisely when the temptation to compromise is at its zenith. Instead of seeing such circumstances as "normal" (though not acceptable) in a declining culture of rebellion against God (millenniums of human history demonstrate this), we've made an idol out of "the impact we used to have", gone back to the drawing board of ministry, redefined the purpose of the church, and congratulated ourselves for our new crowds, pragmatically-gotten budgets, and fad-focused hype. Unfortunately, this new generation of ministry "architects" is too sufficiently disconnected from historical ecclesiology and theology to have any idea what they've crafted. They are truly a "generation who knows not Joseph". Who determined that we were doing something wrong? How was it determined? "The church is old-fashioned and out-dated" some will argue. OK, update your illustrations, modernize some of the churches great hymnology, write new songs, use technology, aggressively evangelize, let your presence be known, etc. I agree that these methodologies aren't really the issue. But if everything about the worship of God's people is "up for grabs" and dispensable simply because the culture seems more disinterested than ever, then the emerging church is not a "church" at all, but just another paradigm shift among pagans---a new way of "feeling" like they spiritually and morally matter in this life.

Another reason for this sprint toward “a new kind of church” is the disappearance of the universal necessity of the cross. When ministry becomes an attempt to subjectively “touch” the hearts of individuals rather than bring them face to face with their actual condition and ultimate need, the necessity of the cross is eliminated! Sin is no longer the result of natural corruption but the unfortunate outcome of limited knowledge, unfulfilled expectations, and overwhelming odds. Today’s average postmodern “reachable” is therefore not looking for a savior but a sympathizer who understands their plight from their vantage point. They don’t want a God whose friendship is conditioned upon obeying another master but a supplier who meets them at their desire. Professions of “faith” are merely pledges to join a less stringent religious group whose god demands nothing. Guilt from sin is more of an unfortunate inconvenience in an otherwise deserving, worthy, and loveable life. If a gospel is offered in these “churches”, it is often reduced to an acknowledgment that the historical Jesus “died for sinners”, while the new “convert” retains his/her sense of significant wholeness, allowing God to make him/her feel more deserving, worthy, and loveable. Trusting in the Holy Spirit to regenerate by means of His truth quickly becomes a forgotten essential. David Wells was poignant when he said, “The church [has adopted] strategies that…it is hoped, will make up for the apparent insufficiency of the word and ensure more success in the culture.” Furthermore, if human beings are not thoroughly corrupt and in dire straits with a holy God one wonders why God made such a big deal of Jesus’ death at all. Such a horrific bloodletting for the unavoidable mistakes of otherwise good people? Whatever for?

If today's "purpose-wars" tell us anything, it's that we must let God define the postmodern heart and the means to "reach them". I don’t believe today’s postmodernist truly values anything but themselves. Indeed, that’s what makes them postmodern, believing in no objective reality or meaning outside of the one they create. Reaching their ears with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ is our most awesome privilege and responsibility! But reaching their hearts with the gospel’s life-giving power is God’s sovereign joy. I long to see God move mightily in the hearts of sinners, but I shudder to think that some might find today’s “emerging authenticity” more attractive than truth. In fact, until they face the truth on God’s terms and stop haranguing about what they think the church ought to offer, they can never know saving grace. We should not be surprised that our culture is in a rapid declension away from truth, clarity, logic, and true meaning (2 Tim. 3-4). We must trust implicitly in the saving power of God to regenerate hearts---A work He has not ceased to do as He builds His hell-defying church. If we lose the battle here, we are no different than those who consider the preaching of the gospel as "foolishness".

7 Comments:

Blogger Caleb Kolstad said...

Great thoughts on this subject.

Would you agree that the Church has failed when it comes to biblical evangelism? We have the message right and we may be doing church right on Sundays but we're not really living "missional" lives Mon-Sat? How would you respond to this criticism?

5:36 AM  
Blogger Paul Lamey said...

Jerry,

You have truly struck a match in my little brain with this post. I can hear some complain now (b/c I've heard them before), "but we are in touch with our historical heritage!" In fact many will argue at great length about a return to an "ancient-future faith" thinking that celtic music and chanting the Apostles creed with a dj in the background is what it means to "keep it real". I hope some will put their beers down for a minute and truly listen to what you are saying here. Thank you Jerry for this well-stated reminder.

7:44 AM  
Blogger runninbill said...

"Today’s average postmodern “reachable” is therefore not looking for a savior but a sympathizer who understands their plight from their vantage point. They don’t want a God whose friendship is conditioned upon obeying another master but a supplier who meets them at their desire."

How true of moderns and postmoderns as well!

Great post.

Bill

10:08 AM  
Blogger Chris Pixley said...

"...we've made an idol out of "the impact we used to have", gone back to the drawing board of ministry, redefined the purpose of the church, and congratulated ourselves for our new crowds, pragmatically-gotten budgets, and fad-focused hype."

This is keen analysis, Jerry, into what goes on in the minds of most evangelical leaders today. We are consumed with secular definitions of success rather than driven by the the call to faithfulness to biblical ministry priorities. In short, the church has become increasingly wordly because its inner motives are carnal. Such is the stuff of idolatry.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Caleb Kolstad said...

My previous post expresses the complaint i hear most from emergant or Acts 29 ministry guys...How are you reaching the post-modern culture? Where is your evangelism outside the local church?

That's why i asked the questions above

2:21 PM  
Blogger Jerry Wragg said...

Great comments guys...
I've been on the road and have not been able to interact with your responses. Sorry.

Caleb -
The "failures" in evangelism are glaring, yet, I think, misdiagnosed. The apparent ineffectiveness is almost always attributed to the lack of gospel fervor or soul-compassion. Emergents are quick to claim this because they equate their culture-friendly posture with true “outreach”. The very word “outreach”, however, demands not only taking the gospel “out” to the lost, but also offering what will actually “reach” them (Romans 1:16). Friendship along common pagan grounds will never reach anyone, and very often has the opposite result of corrupting the “evangelist”. Wayne Watson once wrote, “There’s a fine line between taking bed with a lost man, and being consumed by his way while reaching out in love…temptation’s right at your door…guard what you’re thinkin’ of, for it’s a fine line”.
Furthermore, no honest Christian would deny that evangelicalism is diseased in this regard, but are such maladies the cause or merely symptoms of a more insidious degeneration? Where does the wholesale lack of gospel fervor come from? Do Christians suddenly lose their compassion for lost souls? I believe the root-problem is deeper. Whenever the transcendence and supernatural power of the gospel is traded for any one of a number of man-centered manipulations the cancer is effectively injected into the bloodstream. Gospel-fervor cannot feed on the impotent scraps of finiteness, nor is compassion for the souls of men poured out where there is no fear of judgment.
The church’s true sickness is her endless crafting and idolatrous worship of “new and improved gospels”! The call for reform is desperately needed, but we must use the scalpel of scripture alone if we’re ever to return to true gospel passion. Radical change is needed, but not the surface innovations and rearranging suggested by those whose gospel is already vacuous. We need churches that, with contrite heart, “tremble at His word” and beseech the Lord of the harvest to send workers bearing His fruit!

4:46 PM  
Blogger SJ Camp said...

Jerry:

You wrote: "But if everything about the worship of God's people is "up for grabs" and dispensable simply because the culture seems more disinterested than ever, then the emerging church is not a "church" at all, but just another paradigm shift among pagans---a new way of "feeling" like they spiritually and morally matter in this life."

That is one of the best commentaries I have heard in a long time concerning EC philosophy.

Thank you brother,
Steve
Col. 1:9-14

10:55 AM  

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