The Emerging Church

Terry Mattingly is having a hard time defining “emerging church.” I wonder, is Brian McLaren really “the key figure”? He links to a Washington Post interview. It seems to me McLaren is just another liberal–and I find it interesting that in responding to the question of whether he is one, he speaks only in political terms, not theological.

4 thoughts on “The Emerging Church

  1. “just another liberal” – hmmm…
    At first I thought this might have been a compliment until I re-read it and noticed the word “just” which seemed dismissive, so I’m not thinking that the phrase, “just another liberal” is meant to be an put-down.

    Brian McLaren is my friend (and by friend I don’t mean I’ve read his books and heard him speak at a conference), so my take would be a bit different.

  2. Well, Ryan, having had lots of experience in liberal Protestant and liberal Catholic circles, I have to say I see nothing original in McLaren’s approach. I don’t see that what he presents is any different from what Harvey Cox presented in The Secular City back in 1965, or the optimistic liberal Protestantism of the 19th and early 20th centuries, or what is taught at most mainline seminaries or proclaimed by the press releases issued by the social justice offices of the UCC or the ELCA or by the liberal Catholics of Call to Action. All of these said they would change the world, and appeal to the young, and are losing them at twice the rate evangelicals and Catholics are.

    The world is a little tougher place than it seems McLaren wants to admit, on the one hand. Sin exists, and from it we need salvation. I’m reminded of Joseph Ratzinger’s comment that the Vatican 2 statement, “Gaudium et Spes” was too much Teilhard, not enough Luther. I’m also reminded of Barth’s commentary on Romans.

    The rightness of God’s law still resonates with human experience. He may want to redefine and excuse and reinvent, but those who try all those old sins with the new curiosity he seems to encourage still wind up empty, as I’ve seen many times.

    And yet the Gospel of Jesus Christ still has more power than he wants to admit, as well. It still speaks peace to the heart troubled by sin. It still speaks hope to those who feel hopeless.

    The world needs Christ, not naive optimism. It needs salvation, not mere betterment. It needs God’s law, not psychology, and the Good News, not good advice. It needs the old rugged cross, not the latest new-fangled theory.

    Those “emerging church” figures who I think have something worth saying are those whose reading includes heavy doses of Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Barth, Tolkien, Lewis, Chesterton and Waugh. They’ve seen that the problem with contemporary evangelicalism isn’t that it is old–but rather that it is too shallow, and there is depth to be found in the wisdom of the saints that still speaks to seekers today.

  3. Have you read Brian McLaren? Or just the conservative blogs commenting on him? I don’t think Brian’s lastest book, for example (Everything Must Change), is naive about sin. Unless you confine sin to the private matters of my personal soul. Anyway, he won’t please those who insist that theology fit in predetermined categories, but he isn’t naive about the world or dismissive of sin and the deep need for repentance and change.

  4. I’ve read him. And as I say, it seems just rewarmed liberalism to me. In “Everything must change,” the tone seems to me akin to that of Bishop Spong. I don’t think everything must change. I think we are called to preach the faith once for all handed to the faith. I’ll see if I can provide some specifics, though, rather than just speaking in generalities.

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