Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Emerging Assessments

Last week Dr. Mark Devine, professor of theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, sent me a link to his article on the Emerging Church. It is scheduled for publication in the Midwestern Journal of Theology. Mark is a very insightful theologian and his gifts of analysis are a welcome contribution to the emerging "conversation." I highly recommend the article, "Fast Friends or Future Foes: The Emerging Church and Southern Baptists." It is carefully nuanced and avoids the dismissive caricatures that too often passes for critique when it comes to the emerging churches, such as those that appear in this Baptist Press article that was released yesterday.

Norm Miller, who wrote the BP article sets his parameters with this not-especially-helpful paragraph:
The emerging church movement is diverse and difficult to generalize. However, the mix of influences includes: postmodernism (a focus on sense-making through the various mediums of culture); Calvinism ala John Piper; and for some, Christian liberty, as granted by their scriptural interpretation, to drink alcohol and engage in other cultural activities that many Southern Baptists eschew based on opposing scriptural interpretation.
Difficult or not, Miller shows no hesitation in gratuitously linking postmodernism, Calvinism, alcohol(ism) and worldliness (at least as perceived by "many Southern Baptists") to broadbrush the emerging movement. Actually, this ploy is rather efficient because it allows both Calvinists and emerging folks to be demonized with one stroke.

The controversy swirling around Darrin Patrick, church planter and pastor of The Journey in St. Louis, is highlighted in the BP article. Both the Associated Press and Good Morning America have featured the church and noted its outreach efforts at a local pub. Despite Patrick's repeated declarations that neither he nor his church promotes drinking beverage alcohol, some vocal critics continue to imply--and even charge--that he does just that (Darrin, I feel your pain).

One of the most outspoken critics is Roger Moran, "Missouri Baptist and SBC Executive Committee member." He is quoted in the BP article as saying, "No Southern Baptist entity or personality should be loaning our denominational credibility to such churches or organizations as The Journey and Acts 29. We simply cannot do that for movements that are dripping with error and expect good to come out of it."

Hey, we have been doing it for each new fad churned out by "church growth" experts for the last 30 years. I do not know Mr. Moran, but he and I have mutual friends who speak highly of him. I am glad that he is concerned about "movements that are dripping with error" and the need to identify and distance ourselves from them. But I wonder, does he (or anyone else who shares his concerns) discern the errors that are dripping from the shallow evangelism movement that permeates our convention? Probably not because, as Devine so picturesquely notes, "Wherever the lure of potential numerical growth dangles, numerous Southern Baptist
knees go wobbly" and "numerical growth covers a multitude of sins."

Compare the damage being done to churches by the "emerging movement" to that which has already been done by Bible thumping, alcohol condemning, liberal hating, denominational boasting, Calvinist bashing conservatives. Simply do the math. Look at the membership-to-attendance ratios of the churches that are constantly being paraded as models within the SBC. When twice as many people are on the rolls as attend then "dripping with error" might be an apt description of what is going on.

Don't misunderstand me. I am not at all suggesting that emerging churches or Calvinistic churches or any kind of churches are beyond critique. In fact, the opposite is actually my point. It is time for conservative Southern Baptists to get honest and engage in some long-overdue, honest self-examination. When that happens, then we will inevitably be humbled by what we discover and, if there is any spirituality within us at all, will be compelled to confess our widespread neglect of the Word of God that we love and proclaim with confidence.

One of my hopes is that the rising generation of church leaders like Darrin Patrick will, perhaps unintentionally, provoke this very kind of effort. By taking Scripture more seriously than conventional customs they will force the rest of us to go back to the Bible to engage their beliefs and practices. If that can be done without dismissively treating their concerns and arguments, great benefit could result for the SBC and broader evangelical world.


William E. Turner Jr. said...

Thank you for the link to the article. Your post brings to mind:

Matthew 7:3-5 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

G. Alford said...

Devine’s comments "Wherever the lure of potential numerical growth dangles, numerous Southern Baptist knees go wobbly" and "numerical growth covers a multitude of sins." are just pure gold!


One would think that Mr. Moran (whom I understand is not qualified to serve as a deacon or pastor in most Southern Baptist Churches, yet somehow finds himself appointed to the X-Com?) should know where the verses William posted are located in his Bible.

As far as the BP is concerned… it is nothing more than a “Political Rag” that is mostly good for wrapping mullet in.

Grace to all, said...

Great post Tom. There are so many things frustrating me in the SBC at the moment I'll leave it at that.

Chris Bonts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Tolin said...

Thanks for the post.

Not that g. alford needs me to defend him but I think he is just expressing that the Baptist Press has consistently churned out article after article glorifying the "success" of many of the pseudo-evangelistic churches. They, like most news sources, have an agenda. So why not call it what it is?


peter lumpkins said...

Dear Dr. Ascol,

Thanks, my Brother, especially for the link to Dr. Devine's paper. Excellent read, seemingly well-balanced without lacking any meaningful critique.

I also appreciated his acknowledgement that D.A. Carson, at minimum, made some contribution to the emergent/emerging phenomenon, an acknowledgement many friends of the movement do/will not concede.

I less agree that Norm Miller's article was not so helpful. It seems he nailed many of the same issues as did Dr. Devine though admitttedly in a more popular but understandable media. Moreover, I with you have never met Mr. Moran--indeed I'd never heard of him until recently. Yet, from both the professor's paper and the BP article, it seems that Mr. Moran had more right about emergent/emerging than some of our blogs proclaimed.

For my part, the jury remains out on this movement or "conversation" so to speak.

Have a great Bible study this evening. With that, I am...


Chris Bonts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chadwick said...

When is the SBC "hierarchy" going to seriously address the pangs of "free-will" Theology & how much damage it has done to the SBC rather than publishing a "lengthy" article in BP to "broadbrush" all those who are not in the "good ole' boy" click?

Why don't we make a motion in "San Anton" to change the name of the SBC to, "Southern Free-Will/Fundamental/Good Ole' Boy Baptist Convention."

Jim Crigler said...

Re: [We] will be compelled to confess our widespread neglect of the Word of God that we love and proclaim with confidence.

As Fred*** the Layman, I have to say that I found that sentence poignant. Were it really the Word of God that we loved and proclaimed and not [insert favorite whipping boy here], very little of this would be going on.

We are finally coming out of the confusion that got started when revivalism co-opted the name "evangelical" sometime last century (probably due to the similarity between "evangelical" and "evangelism"). The old terminology was better, I think.

*** "Fred" is not intended in any derogatory or demeaning way; rather, it means a typical representative of a group, in my case, laymen.

G. Alford said...


I found calling the BP a "political rag mostly good for wrapping mullet in" very helpful… after suffering the constant barrage of the BP publishing the “party-line agenda” week after week, month after month, and year after year… it made me feel better to make the above comment!

Perhaps it is a harsh statement… but what makes Mr. Moran’s opinions so news worthy as to be printed in the BP? Or so important that Executive Committee President Morris H. Chapman suggested that Moran prepare his statements for submission to LifeWay? Oh, yes I remember now; he is one of the important people in the SBC - a member of the “Ruling Party”.

So what does the BP do whenever someone from the ruling party speaks? Examine what he says with a critical journalistic eye… careful to always present the balanced truth so as to never to be guilty of misleading the faithful Baptist reader who trust their BP to be “fair and balanced”? (credit to Fox News)… No, they publish every word without question… Sorry Chris, this is the classic definition of a “political rag”…. Publish the party’s talking points without question.

The BP (and most State Papers as well) have lost most if not all of my trust… and I bet I am not alone in this view. I simply do not trust them to tell me the balanced truth.

One last thing… in my opinion the BP publishing the comments of Mr. Moran (follow the link that Tom provided and read the article) is what is “not helpful” for the SBC. Perhaps you are going to contact the BP and ask them to tone it down as well?

Grace to all,

Rhett said...

Good post Tom!

Dull Iron said...

As always Tom. Thanks.

I am not one for quick and easy learning. I like to consider myself studious and I know that most, if not all, issues of discussion have many facets. However, can you give me a brief outline of the "emergent / emerging church" movement? What is it? Is there a difference in those two terms? Why the reformed connection in the article? there a connection (ala Piper)?...etc...etc...One paragraph or less is fine realizing what I state above. I'm not looking for a quick revelation, it's just that I have begun to study it somewhat in order to learn, primarily through Mark Driscoll and a few others associated. I respect your thoughts on the matter.

Thanks in advance.

Dull Iron

Tom said...

Dull Iron:

Mark Devine's paper (to which I linked) is a very helpful introduction to the issues you raise. Those within the movement recognize and want others to recognize the variety of stripes as well as the distinctions between "emergent" and "emerging." Among the latter, there is a growing number that are becoming convinced of Reformed soteriology. Many of their key leaders (Driscoll, Patrick, et al) hold this view. Read Devine's paper. It is very helpful.

wayner said...

Michael Horton did an interview with Mark Driscoll for the White Horse Inn a couple of weeks ago. Pretty interesting seems he thinks he can grow a church by pushing orthodox Christian theology and preaching expositionally through whole books of the bible:)

Jeff said...

Roger Moran is twice divorced and currently married to his third wife, that he has been party to at least 11 civil lawsuits, including several for failure to pay employment taxes.

What right does Moran have to stand in judgment over other people?

Tom said...


We are not discussing Mr. Moran's personal life here, just his comments and concerns as they were mentioned in the BP article. Please do not resort to this kind of tactic here. Not only is it not helpful, it is unbecoming dialogue and debate among brothers.