Last night’s White Horse Inn broadcast featured Mike Horton interviewing Jim Belcher, author of the newly released Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional. Back in 2005, WHI producer Shane Rosenthal went to the Emergent Church Convention in San Diego and wrote up some reflections for Modern Reformation magazine. Here is his summary statement, which anticipated much of what you heard last night between Mike Horton and Jim Belcher:
As I made my way back to my hotel room, I realized that the discussion had been very instructive. Not only did I get a better sense of what drew people to Emergent, but the conversation gave me some insight into the thinking process of those wishing to start an Emergent church. The issue is much deeper than hairstyle, as Keel indicated, or even worship preferences. It also goes deeper than appreciating postmodernism. At its heart, the Emergent movement is about failure. Having hitched their wagons to modernism in so many ways, many evangelical churches have failed to provide a place of solace and transcendence in the midst of a dying culture. Now with the waves of postmodernism crashing upon our shores, the failure of churches still clinging to modernist assumptions are increasingly apparent, especially to the next generation. Having failed to define ourselves by Christ’s story, our churches look like entertainment centers, self-help seminars, political rallies, and Kiwanis clubs. Most of us do not really know the person in the pew sitting next to us, and we have failed to live noticeably different lives than those of our non-Christian neighbors.
The Emergent convention was not merely about diagnosing the ills of the contemporary church, it also pointed us to various treatments and therapies. This is where I fear the Emergent Church fails to give us much lasting benefit. Labyrinths, yoga, and prayer sculpting (to give only a few examples) might make us feel better for the moment, but we need medicine of a stronger sort. Burning incense might help cover up the dank smell of a church facility, but it will not ultimately lead to reformation. Without question, recovering a lost sense of community is a grand idea, but if the community itself is not about something other than itself, it will not last. We need Christ: We need to be caught up in his story, rather than our own. We need to better understand his Word and his mission for the church, not our own Cain-like attempts at spirituality. While “re-thinking church” can sometimes be a step toward ecclesiastic renewal, it should never be forgotten that it has just as often been the root cause of schism and heresy. Truly authentic Christian faith and practice is not recovered by an examination of what other churches have done, whether ancient or modern. It can only be recovered if we once again focus our attention and submit to Scripture as our norm for faith and practice.
[“Experiencing Emergent” Modern Reformation( July/August 2005) Vol. 14 No. 4 Pages 28-35]