Because life is a series of edits

How the Emerging Church Can Help the PCA

In Church on December 15, 2007 at 10:15 am

At the risk of overkill (and to bring closure – at least for now – to what ended up being this week’s topic du jour), I thought it might be interesting to consider some key contributions the emerging church movement might offer the PCA to make it more missional.

From my perspective, the biggest contribution would be the questioning of some church and denominational traditions, and how they do or do not aid in fostering a missional emphasis within our churches. In other words, I don’t think we enter into the emerging conversation primarily for what it could add to God’s Kingdom mission through the PCA, but rather to help us identify what we ourselves have added over time (often with the best intentions) that actually works against the gospel’s global mission to make disciples.

As Darrin Patrick observed, I agree that the emerging church can help the PCA in three ways:

  1. engaging in conversations about important issues that are not just ones of theology or technique
  2. bringing attention back to missional contextualization, as well as to justice and mercy initiatives
  3. redefining (perhaps “updating” is a better word) community and authentic relationships within the church

On the flip side, I agree with Patrick that his list of emerging church negatives – deconstruction without reconstruction, emphasizing the Incarnation to the neglect of the Exaltation, focusing on God’s World more than God’s Word, or marketing of the emerging church – would not serve the PCA. True to our name, we need to always be reforming, but I question whether the more extreme conversations within the emerging church are as much about that as about re-doing altogether.

The choice of church paradigm is certainly important, but the content of church paradigm is the most important decision of all. In other words, the journey matters, but so does the destination. I’m all for emerging as a church, as long as we’re emerging into the body and bride of Christ as he defines it, not as we do.

(As a very practical example of what I’m talking about, here‘s a piece from today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch about how emerging churches are bringing to light legalism within another denomination, “taking one for the team” in the process of trying to live out a biblical – not Baptist – worldview.)

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  1. I know you don’t mean to but it comes across like all of the PCA needs help. So what do you mean when you say the emerging church can help the PCA? Help individual churches? Our friend Tim Keller says that about 10% of PCA churches fits in the category that Patrick and other Acts 29 folks would describe as emerging. Do you mean on a denominational level, like from GA down? That is along way off I think? The problem is that our 16th c. theology isn’t very missional, as you pointed out. I do appreciate the denominations ability to protect the purity and sanctity of the church though. This being missing from much of the emerging church would probably fit in your negatives. Anyway, just some thoughts. keep up the good work. oh and that conference at your church in Feb should be a step in the right direction

  2. I’m not trying to make too sweeping of a generalization; as long as Keller and others like him – including several here in St. Louis – continue thinking, teaching, and writing on the subject, I’m hopeful. Of all the denominations I’ve known of or been around, the PCA comes closest to holding onto (and holding out) a biblical worldview, and that’s why we’re in the PCA.

    However, as with all denominations (and especially some PCA churches more southern in the hemisphere), I do think we could use some help lighting a fire under us on certain issues – actual justice and mercy ministry, for instance, rather than a lot of the rhetoric that perhaps earned us the old “Frozen Chosen” label in the past.

    I need to think more on your observation about 16th-century theology not being very missional. I’m not sure I’ve weighed that idea one way or another, so thanks for bringing it up.

  3. I’m not yet exactly sure what missional means other than “getting on with it.” Theology is not missional, but it definitely isn’t doing it’s job (even if it is true) if it isn’t producing theopraxis of the type in view in your comment, Craig–and theopraxis without a lot of theological navelgazing.

    Ours is great theology, the best. But it’s only the skeleton of the Bride, not her flesh and glorious raiment. Without it she is a bowl of jello. Without anything else she’s as dry as the bones in the ground. The path for churches in the PCA is to be thoroughly and intentionally reformed but not self-consciously reformed. Our theology is the beautiful and carefully crafted stage setting, but the play is Col. 1:24.

  4. You are a man of many metaphors, Clay. Well said.

  5. It was late and jello seemed less gross than protoplasm.

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