A semi-regular attempt (in other words, as I have time) to explore the interaction between God and the adolescent world, especially the connection between theory and praxis (otherwise known as practical theology). Primary emphasis will be given to the role of the church (and especially the emerging church) in this process.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Is the Emergent Church a threat to the Church of the Nazarene?

According to Dr. Nina Gunter, General Superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene, the answer is "Yes." At the recent M7 Conference, Gunter suggested that the three more recent challenges to the Nazarene church are: Calvinism invading the minds of students, the emerging church, and Reformed theology invading Arminian theology. (Because sound bites can be dangerous when taken out of context, the entire content of Dr. Gunter's sermon may be viewed by going here.)

While I'm willing to concede the first and third points, I admit to being confused on the second. This seems somewhat puzzling, considering that the M7 Conference had several workshops specifically targeted to those interested in the Emergent church. And these workshops were often the best attended of all those offered. In addition, Dr. Gunter herself acknowledged that the church had to be willing to adapt, asserting that the denomination is a vigorous 100-year-old, who can still give birth. “We can embrace new methods, new structures, and new ways to connect, serve, and resource our church, all for the ultimate work God has called us to, the work of making Christlike disciples in the nations” (M7 Summary).

The Nazarene church has long struggled with understanding and critically engaging new ways of doing church because it does not have an adequate ecclesiology. Even the dean of Wesleyan theology in the denomination, Dr. William Greathouse, has acknowledged this lapse at the recent Revisioning Holiness conference. Because we don't have an adequate ecclesiology, our tendency is to assume that the old ways [read: the ways we grew up with] are the best, and we judge new forms of ministry that don't fit our expectations harshly.

Ray Anderson, senior professor of theology and ministry at Fuller Seminary, has talked about this type of issue in his book An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches. In it, he distinguishes between the Jerusalem church and the Antioch church. The Jerusalem church was more concerned with historical precedent, which forced them to seek to control new forms of ministry which differed from their own practice. Their existence was held in place by the long line of continuity with their ethnic and religious tradition. As a result, their message was tamed and contained by the dominant culture of their past.

This doesn't mean the Jerusalem church was wrong. Anderson writes that it "was the source of an incredible spiritual force that resisted attempts to suppress and even destroy it. When those who were dispersed, due to persecution, fled to other cities, including Antioch, they carried with them the gift and power of the Spirit along with the message of a crucified and risen Messiah" (p. 15). If not for the Jerusalem church, we would not have the message of Christ today.

The Antioch church was a new theological movement that was concerned primarily with advancing the kingdom--it was a missionary church through and through. It was committed not to historical precedent, but to a theology of revelation as elucidated by the apostle Paul. "The fruit of the Spirit's work, for Paul, was the evidence for the work of the Spirit. To the Christians at Thessalonica, Paul wrote, 'our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.' (1 Thessalonians 1:5)" (pp. 27-28).

Anderson makes the case that the modern church correlates with the Jerusalem church, and the emergent church correlates with the Antioch church. I would suggest that, for the Church of the Nazarene, the Jersualem church has been our identity since our inception. Those who are trying to create new forms of ministry and identity are reflective of the Antioch church (even to the point that many of them are fleeing Jerusalem because of persecution, only this time the persecution is coming from within).

There are a growing number of Nazarene pastors who understand and embrace many (though not all) of the principles of the Emerging church. The question is, will these pastors find a place where they can practice new ways of doing and being the church or will they be pushed to the margins because they don't fit the traditional models?

My hope is that Dr. Gunter's comments will be the start of constructive dialogue between she (and others in the denomination who see the Emergent church as a threat) and those in the denomination who find themselves in the Emergent camp. Only as we engage in conversation together, seeking to understand and to be understood, will the Nazarene church be able to fully embrace all that God is doing in its midst.

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9 Comments:

Anonymous Tevis Austin said...

Good post. My hope is that Dr. Gunter's statements will indeed create conversation. I was humbled to help host the emerging track for sponsored by New Start at M7. I felt (and still feel) that the Church of the Nazarene had made a positive step in the right direction by having an emerging track sponsored by NYI and one by New Start.

At first, I felt almost betrayed by the comment made by Dr. Gunter, but I am beginning to see more conversation taking place. Sean Heston was part of one of the panel discussions on the emerging church sponsored by New Start. He also has commented on Dr. Gunter's statement. See postmodernpastor.blogspot.com for his comments.

12:05 AM

 
Anonymous James Diggs said...

Thanks for your perspective, I was very much encouraged at M7 with how the emergent church was received and Nina’s 30 seconds of seemingly negative perspective about the movement does not change the effort the denomination as a whole has made to make space for the emergent church and dialogue.

I think this is a good start, there is a lot more to do, and many are still afraid of all this- but there is reason for hope that we can keep moving forward in a positive way.

Peace,

James

12:51 PM

 
Blogger James Petticrew said...

Hey Jim nice to find you in blog land and interesting topic which you know obviously impinges on some of the stuff I am doing. I did think it was strange that she should talk about the need to be open to change and then attack the emerging church. Then again I think I have come to the conclusion that the "emerging" label is used of such a diverse group as to be render meaningless.
I also find it difficult to understand why some one who is a missionary leader in our church would find an attempt to develop an ecclesiology which is missionally focused and culturally relevant a threat?

3:27 PM

 
Blogger Brian said...

Hey Jim. Good thoughts here.

A few perceptions...
1) Dr. Gunter did say "challenge" and not "problem". Which is good. I know that we are piece mealing this issue right now, but if we are, then I'd like to be clear about her exact words.

2) If we are really attempting to be both "emerging" and "Nazarene" then we are saying that we are committed to both. If this is the case, then as with all long term relationships there are going to be bumpy parts, rough spots, arguments even. But part of what it means to be committed to something is that we're in it for the long haul. I'm willing to stay in this conversation through the rough spots because I believe in the people and the stories that alive here. One of my hopes, as an employee of Nazarene HQ and someone who has a voice in NYI and its future, is that as we have conversations, within the blogosphere and without, that they are conversations of hope and of grace. Conversations that are open and kind to one another. The easy thing for many of us to do in this moment would be to stick out our bottom lip, pout a bit, say "I knew it would never work" and walk away. But let's join together in this conversation in our kindness and our grace, and most importantly our commitment to one another.

I know that you are a partner in this conversation and in the commitment to it. I appreciate your heart for both the Nazarene church and the emerging conversation.

9:25 PM

 
Blogger Brian said...

Hey Jim. Good thoughts here.

A few perceptions...
1) Dr. Gunter did say "challenge" and not "problem". Which is good. I know that we are piece mealing this issue right now, but if we are, then I'd like to be clear about her exact words.

2) If we are really attempting to be both "emerging" and "Nazarene" then we are saying that we are committed to both. If this is the case, then as with all long term relationships there are going to be bumpy parts, rough spots, arguments even. But part of what it means to be committed to something is that we're in it for the long haul. I'm willing to stay in this conversation through the rough spots because I believe in the people and the stories that alive here. One of my hopes, as an employee of Nazarene HQ and someone who has a voice in NYI and its future, is that as we have conversations, within the blogosphere and without, that they are conversations of hope and of grace. Conversations that are open and kind to one another. The easy thing for many of us to do in this moment would be to stick out our bottom lip, pout a bit, say "I knew it would never work" and walk away. But let's join together in this conversation in our kindness and our grace, and most importantly our commitment to one another.

I know that you are a partner in this conversation and in the commitment to it. I appreciate your heart for both the Nazarene church and the emerging conversation.

9:25 PM

 
Blogger James Petticrew said...

She might have said challenge, but if she lumps the emerging church with Calvinism you now from a Nazarene perspective she is thinking problem

11:03 AM

 
Blogger Dave said...

I find it interesting that those most in favor of the emergent movement have time to BLOG. The “bill payers, old-timers, traditionalists, etc” in the church, and who make up of the majority of the opposition, are too busy keeping the lights on and paying the pastor’s salary. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you!

4:49 PM

 
Blogger Dave said...

I find it interesting that those most in favor of the emergent movement have time to BLOG. The “bill payers, old-timers, traditionalists, etc” in the church, and who make up of the majority of the opposition, are too busy keeping the lights on and paying the pastor’s salary. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you!

4:49 PM

 
Blogger theoskaris said...

Dave, my intent has never been to "bite the hand that feeds me," but I'm not even sure what that means in this context. I'm not a pastor of a church (although I am ordained in the denomination), so I AM one of those who, as you put it, are "keeping the lights on and paying the pastor's salary."

And I've never once stated that those "bill payers, old-timers, traditionalists, etc” (again, your language) are bad or wrong or anything else. Rather, our question has always been, can they make room for those of us who are moving in some new directions?

I do find it disheartening when folk like yourself feel your first response should be a negative one rather than asking questions and beginning a dialog.

9:57 PM

 

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