Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Emergent church and engaging culture

Lately I have been thinking about the Emergent church and how "we" as Christians are supposed to minister to others and engage culture. I am taking a class right now called "perspectives on Christ and culture", it is taught by the Richard Mouw who is the president of Fuller Seminary. We have been talking a bit about Neibuhr, Emil Brunner, and Karl Barth and there views on Christ and Culture. I am a big fan of Barth and inspite of my Barthian bias I still agree with Barth. We are called to engage culture through the lens of the grace Jesus Christ. Christ first culture second! How can we engage culture as Christians without Jesus Christ being the center or motivation for our engagement. Neibuhr uses the paradigm Christ transorming Culture. The key here is Christ transforming culture, not one culture transforming another.
Thinking about how Christians engage culture has been very troubling to me, especially the Emergent church's view on engaging culture. I have been following the Emergent Church somewhat and what is going on in the theology of the Emergent church is really bothersome. I was on the Emergent Village blog the other day and two things that were said at a big Emergent church conference really troubled me. First, Alexi Torres Fleming was quoted saying, "When we pray for God to ‘fix’ a problem, maybe Jesus kneels and prays for us to go out and be the solution." Second, Richard Rohr said, "We must turn from a belief system to an inner experience. Know them, don’t believe them". On the Alexi Torres Fleming quote: Yes, we are called to go out and be servants in the world, but "We" cannot be the solution. Christ is the solution and if we turn from Christ being the solution to people being the solution, we not only boast in ourselves but we put the will of God into our own hands. We slowly become our own God's, willing whatever we wish and displaying ourselves as the problem solvers. This makes Christianity out to be nothing but social justice with the culmination of that justice being "man". If we are to engage culture as Christians should, we have to do it with Christ as the center, not earthly justice as the center.
Secondly on Richard Rohr's quote: When a system of beliefs is replaced with an inner experience we no longer have community. His suggestion is that we know the systems of belief, but not believe them. First and foremost I think that this statement discredits scripture, secondly it discredits the fathers of the early church, and thirdly it brings Christianity to a place of neo-enlightenment. If Christianity is boiled down to an inner experience it is nothing more than a subjective religion based on what I might believe to be right.
My point here is not to bash on the Emergent Church. I think that there are some great ideas coming out of the Emergent movement, but I also greatly disagree some others. My point is that if we want to do sound scriptural theology, Jesus Christ and scripture have to be the center. We have to have a strict system of beliefs, Christianity cannot just be an inner experience. We also have to remember that we are not the solution, Christ is the solution. Whether you agree with me or not I hope that we can agree that if Christ and Scripture are not the foundation of Christianity than we have no foundation except what man has put into place.

Andrew Esqueda


  1. Oh Esqueda, how I love you.

    1) I agree with your point that is dangerous to believe in a Godless social justice. In fact, to do so is often to turn ourselves and our leaders into gods. The only way I succeed as one seeking to be an agent of social justice is by recognizing that the problems of this world will never be fully solved by me ...


    I also want to say that there is a parallel risk in arguing against Fleming's point (which is also the same point made by Claiborne and Bell). How often do those of us claiming the name of Christ guilty of reading scripture, praying, singing, and attending religious services, and then plead innocence like Cain, "Am I my brother's keeper?" when asked about the hurt of others, who like us, were also created in our Maker's image? If we do not act, then we have perhaps denied the influence of Christ in our lives, no?

    2)Systematic theology based on scripture is also critical. We stand on the absolute goodness of creation, on the stories and legacies of the biblical sojourners, and on the grace and mercy fully realized at the cross.


    I think it limits the power of God to say that the systematic truth of who He is and how He manifests himself cannot be included in the personal narrative of our lives. How can scripture be against personal experience when in fact scripture is all about personal experience? What was God for Abraham and Jacob and Moses and Ruth and Esther and the disciples and Saul/Paul on the road to Damascus but inner experiences. Inner experiences from which we draw our systematic theologies!

    Paul urges us to test all things, and that which is good comes from God. The positive points you are making about the primacy of Christ and scripture are absolutely true. The points you are arguing against, however, are also perhaps the points that give Christ and scripture their primacy: that we are called to be witnesses to the resurrected Christ who has indelibly changed our lives.

    Oh Esqueda, how I love you.

  2. Chen,

    I totally agree with what you are saying. My point is not that personal experience is worthless. My point is that our theology needs to be based on scripture first. We know that our experiences reflect God's work in our lives, but we first know that from scripture. We could all have divine experiences, but it is scripture that tells us that the divine being is Jesus Christ. Inner experience is so very important, but Christianity is much more than just an inner experience. If Christianity becomes just an inner experience than Christianity becomes subjective and we can all have our own form of Christianity. Christianity is a system of beliefs based on scripture and the experiences that others have had with God, but it is not just and inner experience. It is so important to have both scripture and personal experience, but not just one or the other it has to be both. Scripture is based on first hand experience with the Father and Jesus, but the fact is the experiences happened so that they would be written down to be used faithfully to learn and to serve God. If we just had experiences there would be no such thing as systematic theology, only personal theology. All forms of subjectivism, be it ethically, philosophically, or theologically, digress down to nothing, to personal preference. If this is the case there is no room for being part of the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ becomes the inner Body of Christ. A structure that is kept and held within each individual person, rather than a structure that is supported by all believers. Experience is so very important, but I do believe in the primacy of scripture and that we understand our experiences because of scripture. Chen I love you man and I love how you always make me think more and more and you challenge me.