This is a good book which serves a good purpose: getting a general look at the beliefs and practices of emerging churches. “Emerging churches” is a broad term, of course, which includes Emergent Villiage to (sort of) the Acts29 network. I appreciated editor Robert Webber’s intro and conclusion, which had to do with church, history, and cultural interaction. He put the fact before the reader: “The church must engage with the emergence of a postmodern, post-Christian, neo-pagan world” (p. 9). The question is: how? The five pastors in this book grapple with that tough question.
The chapters are by (in this order) Mark Driscoll, John Burke, Dan Kimball, Doug Pagitt, and Karen Ward. To me, these chapters started well but got worse as I went. Driscoll (calling himself “a devoted biblicist”) was a good read (though I’m not sure about his discussion on his “unlimited-limited atonement”). John Burke’s chapter (on how Christian practice should interact with a “global village”) made me think a ton about a church dealing with the people around it. It was OK. Dan Kimball’s chapter on missional theology was decent, and I thought he made some good points in applying theology in a humble way. I can learn from Kimball, even though I’m not a “Vintage Faith” guy.
Doug Pagitt’s chapter on embodied theology didn’t sit so well for me – I think evolutionary theology is quite dangerous. And the last chapter by Karen Ward (a monastic abbess of an Episcopal-ELCA community) was just plain appalling. I’m completely disgusted by an icon of the Trinity as the centerpiece of monastic worship. Yikes! These last two contributions showed me the dangers of the unorthodox side of the emerging churches. I was honestly trying to read it with an open mind willing to accept critique (I’ll quickly acknowledge the weaknesses of my tradition!), but its hard for me to glean much when these two authors basically treated scripture and culture like dance partners, or like fries with a burger.
Another aspect of this book that I enjoyed was the responses that each of these authors wrote to one another. Those were helpful, even if sometimes they 1) were way too nice to each other, and 2) talked past each other. To me, Driscoll came across as the old-school biblicist type with a “postmodern” edge, while Kimball and Burke were somewhere in the middle of the old-school biblicist and the new-school postmodernity crowd. Pagitt and Ward, on the other hand, were far from old-school biblicism and much closer to the post-liberal type that overreact to the foundationalism of modernity (something like Rob Bell).
Anyway, if these kinds of things interest you, grab the book! If you read it when you’re in a good learning mode, you’ll learn a ton, as I did. Most of these leaders are asking the right questions: how do we be the church in this morphing culture – and what does the Bible have to do with it all?
I hope confessional churches wrestle with these types of questions too, even if we don’t always agree with others (or each other!) in our answers. I believe that if we don’t wrestle with these questions, our churches will become sort of like musem exhibits that only attract people who long for the good ol’ days.