Adventists and “The Emerging Church”

There have been some discussions about the so-called “emerging church” at Adventist Today, with contributions by Herb Douglass, Monte Sahlin, and yours truly. The subject now graces the cover of the Adventist Review, with articles by Fernando Canale and James Coffin.

Canale dismisses the “emerging church” as liberal compromise with postmodernism and Catholicism. He goes so far as to make the statement that they “unavoidably embrace theological pluralism, relativism, and Roman Catholic ecumenism.” Well, which is it? Those are mutually exclusive categories.  He appears especially fearful of  the Eucharist (I would remind him that it is a Biblical command and that we observe it).

Neither author discusses what “emerging church” leaders would say is the critical issue: mission. It isn’t about changing us to make us attractive to them; it is about changing our approach so that we are out there, doing mission among the world, as Jesus did. It is about taking on flesh and blood in the real world, responding to the questions and problems the world raises, realizing the world has changed, and no longer shares our assumptions. It is to recognize that there is deep spiritual hunger in the world today, and that ancient practices of spirituality (like the Sabbath?) and a wholistic lifestyle (like our health message?) may find a receptive audience today.

Yes, different folks associated with the “emerging church” take different approaches, as Coffin notes. I think he’s right, though, in his bottom line:

The emerging-church conversation has clearly identified a number of real problems—problems that definitely afflict the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Could it be that the proposed solutions are a mixed bag, ranging from spot-on to out in left field? If so, the advice of Scripture is particularly apropos: “Test everything. Hold on to the good” (1 Thess. 5:21).

4 thoughts on “Adventists and “The Emerging Church”

  1. I have not read either article, but I don’t think your critique of Canale stands up. By definition, if the “emerging church” embraces pluralism, they can also embrace relativism and Catholic ecumenism. That is the definition of pluralism: embracing divergent views that appear to be mutually exclusive to everyone else with a thinking brain. (And, by the way, pluralism and relativism are NOT mutually exclusive. I am assuming that you are implying those things are mutually exclusive from Catholic ecumenism.)

    Secondly, don’t forget John Markovic’s two articles in Ministry on the emerging church as well which were published recently. Both were very good, in my humble opinion.

    • Catholicism is known for its dogmatism; it has a very clear understanding of what it considers the truth. It cannot be embraced while embracing pluralism/relativism. Also, I’ve come to think that Catholic ecumenism is an oxymoron itself–Catholics see themselves as the only true church, and all others as deficient (or as mere “ecclesial communities”), so “Catholic ecumenism” means inviting others to become Catholic.

      As to Markovic … I just took a look at the March article online. April isn’t, and I can’t find my copy. In that issue, he muddles “emerging” and “Emergent” (the latter being a specific orgainzation); he says it is a broad movement, and then he generalizes, saying definitively what “Emergents” believe and think as if there is uniformity–and he takes what Adventists would regard as most objectionable as the norm; he says we need to be clear on who we worship–without naming anyone who advocates worshiping self or another god; and he says nothing about mission.

      • I understand what you’re saying about those two things being logically exclusive. But don’t blame Canale for saying it! It seems like this is what emergents illogically do!

        And I agree with what you’re saying about Catholic ecumenism – though I think it could still be used if one takes this definition of ecumenism: “promoting or fostering Christian unity throughout the world.” Isn’t that what Rome is all about – trying to bring about unity under their umbrella; being willing to engage any and all denominations in “dialogue” in order to get them to ease their stance on the Papacy?

      • Lots of overgeneralization there, don’t you think? How many “emergents” have you read/known/visited/spoken with? Which “emergents”? Let’s talk specifics that can be documented, if possible.

        Seventh-day Adventists are in dialogue with lots of folks, too. And the irony of Catholic dialogue is that those denominations they’ve had the best dialogues with on some issues (liberal Lutherans and Episcopalians) have turned around and taken positions on sexuality that Catholicism could never countenance. Thus the historic ecumenical movement is dead in the water.

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