Explaining Emerging (Summary)

So I have finally finished my look into the emerging church. I’m sure there is a lot more that could be said, and a lot of other people who could have explained it much better. I notice that Scot McKnight has recently done just that in an article called the 5 streams of emerging church. His headings are Prophetic, Postmodern, Praxis-oriented (Worship, Ortho-Praxy, Missional), Post-evangelical (Post-Systematic Theology, In Versus Out), Political.

It was quite encouraging to see that I had covered much of the same ground, despite having not read any Brian MacLaren or other emerging books. All this has been picked up from reading blogs, listening to emerging sermons and the occasional visit to an emerging church meeting.

Here’s an index of my posts on this subject:


So what are my conclusions? To be honest, I will be glad to take a break from this subject for a while. Though the church is important, it is possible to be so preoccupied with ourselves that we can take our eyes off God. But despite my reservations about the emerging church, there are some lessons to be learned. Personally, I hope that, rather than evangelical churches going “emerging”, we receive their criticism where it is justified, and reform ourselves to be more faithful to Scripture.

So I will round off this series with a few things that the emerging church needs to teach us…

  • We do need to learn how to engage with our culture better so we can communicate the gospel.
  • Lack of humility and integrity from leaders is devastating to the witness of the church. We need to remember that leadership is as much about character as it is charisma (if not more so).
  • We need to recover a deeper appreciation for Scripture, that recognises its unity as a meta-narrative, rather than just a rule-book or doctrine handbook. Many charismatic churches need to get back to reading it more, rather than merely proof-texting from it.
  • We need to demonstrate a real concern for justice that is outworked in practical action, including (but not limited to) getting involved in politics
  • We need to learn to appreciate the wisdom of believers from past centuries. Though they may have got many things wrong, we should not be too proud to think that they have nothing to teach us. Charismatics in particular need to believe that the Holy Spirit really was at work before the 1900s.

… and a few things that we would do well to avoid…

  • We must not let the world dictate our agenda and morals. The gospel will always seem offensive and foolish to some, however graciously we try to present it. The emerging church is right to seek to forge good relations with secular community leaders, but we cannot compromise on truth to earn their favour.
  • Heresy is a real danger to the church. Whilst we should allow for differences of opinion over debatable matters, the New Testament is brimming with warnings of false teaching. Many emerging people congratulate each other for having “different answers” to a question, when in fact they should be lovingly challenging one another.
  • We should not give up meeting together. In some (but certainly not all) parts of the emerging movement, Christians are no longer part of any church, and those that are are meeting for worship only very rarely.
  • We should not set up a false dilemma with respect to what holiness looks like. ie. the old paradigm of sexual purity, sobriety, daily devotions etc should not be rejected to be replaced new paradigm holiness – ethical consumerism, environmentalism etc. Rather, we should recognise that holiness has both negative (sins to avoid) and positive (good works to do) aspects and pursue both with equal vigour.

Book Review – The Gospel Driven Church (Ian Stackhouse)

There seems to be no shortage of books about the church at the moment. Each one provides its own critique of what the typical church is doing wrong, and what it should do to rectify this. What makes Ian Stackhouse’s contribution unique is that it comes from a charismatic, criticising charismatics, with particular reference to the UK revivalist / renewal / restorationist scene.

It does not make for light reading. The style of writing is academic and targetted at students of theology. It certainly had me reaching for the dictionary on occasions.

His main thesis is that the contemporary charismatic church has capitulated to the “numbers game” – the all-consuming quest for getting more people to attend your church. This has resulted in at worst compromise, and at best pragmatism, where they simply try to mimick ‘success’ stories elsewhere. This can be seen in the way that churches are so quick to embrace the latest “fad” that promises growth, whether this be Alpha, Strategic Spiritual Warfare, Seeker Sensitive or even Toronto or Pensecola Revivalism. These fads, he argues, have diverted attention from discipleship. Many churches have even embraced a contradictory mix of theologically incompatible fads in their eagerness to grow numerically.

Although he approves of a ‘catechesis’ for new believers, Stackhouse is critical of Alpha, which is viewed by many as a panacea. He also cautions against the excessively experiential focus of charismatic worship, with the need to “get something out of it”, which has led to “performance driven worship with its cult of the worship leader”.

So what is the solution? He argues for a return to preaching, sacrements and prayer. This will result in growth that is intrinsic to the gospel – organic and not merely mathemematical.

So first he calls churches back to preaching from the Bible, which has been displaced in charismatic circles by an emphasis on the prophetic. Where there is preaching, the trend is to preach for a decision rather than as a call to a different way of life. There is also the desire to be “relevant” which again can draw us away from the true demands of the gospel. He also cautions against the trend of preaching visions and ideas, and insists that we let the Biblical text speak. As in other areas of church life, Stackhouse calls for a fidelity to the basic metanarrative of the gospel as our benchmark for success, irrespective of numbers. The gospel, not the church’s relevancy or contemporaneity determines its identity and mission.

Drawing on the insights of P T Forsyth, he argues that a romantic religion of affection and temperament has obscured the religion of will and conscience. We need to believe in the gospel as an agent of renewal.

His next chapter on the sacrements I found a little harder to follow. He contrasted the holiness revivalism of Pensecola with the passive spirituality of Toronto, both of which he sees as missing the mark. Charismatic worship has emphasised musicianship above communion and liturgy resulting in a loss of transcendance. He highlights the importance of remembering what God has done in Christ, which is celebrated in the sacrements of communion and baptism. He rejects the “belonging before believing” model of church growth, which circumvents the scandal of the cross.

In a chapter on ‘pneumatological concerns’ he critiques the “Toronto blessing”, arguing that it represents a step away from a pentecostal Spirit baptism to a focus on manifestation. He calls for a return to an appreciation of the sacrement of the laying on of hands – the gift of the Spirit is not normally unmediated.

As he moves on to consider prayer, he notes that in renewal circles, prayer is almost exclusively conceived as intercession – a tool to be harnessed for church growth. He thinks we would benefit from returning to a “daily office” and a systematic praying of the Psalms, rather than the ad-hoc approach to reading and praying through the Scriptures that most charismatics take. He also laments the lost art of “contemplative prayer” understood as us listening to God as he takes the initiative.

In a chapter on leadership he notes that the focus now seems to be managerial, rather than providing “cure for souls”, hence the senior leader is no longer a “pastor-theologian” but a CEO. He argues that we have lost sight of the pastor’s important role of personally knowing and caring for the members in his church. This is not the same as the pastor becoming a contemporary counsellor, and a commitment to this care for souls will of necessity result in a mega-church model being rejected, as the pastor simply cannot personally relate to more than 300 or so people. Theologians such as Peterson have advocated this necessity of smallness for pastoral ministry to operate correctly. Stackhouse doesn’t wholeheartedly embrace this idea, but admires it. He sees the “Jethro principle” that attempts to compensate for this in large Cell Churches as inadequate.

The final chapter deals with the Ascension gifts of Eph 4, a favourite passage of renewalists if ever there was one. He argues that these are specifically intentioned for qualitative growth, not quantitative. However, he believes that if communities of mature believers are created, the quantitative growth will follow naturally. He calls on those with apostolic ministry to call the church to stay within the theological boundaries of historic orthodox Christianity. This includes a restoration of the doctrine of sin to the attenuated gospel that is being proclaimed. He also takes a swipe at the “militancy” of a post-millennial revivalist mindset, arguing that such an attitude is bogus as a way of constituting the people of God. In conclusion we are urged to forget about effectiveness and focus on fidelity to the Jesus narrative.

What are we to make of this book? Anyone who has spent some time within the UK charismatic scene will have seen first-hand examples of most of the attitudes and practices that Stackhouse criticises. His analysis is insightful, especially the observation that a fixation with numeric growth has been allowed to set the agenda far too easily. I expect that many will react strongly to his criticisms of Alpha, Cell Church, Toronto and so on, but I think it is worth seriously reflecting on what we are doing and why. In the present culture, if a church is large and growing, it can easily assume that it is getting everything right. We must not content ourselves with having a few strengths that the traditional churches do not share. We need also to learn to emulate their strengths. As Stackhouse says, “the necessary iconoclasm of the first generation of any renewal movement ought not to prevail into the second generation.”

I hope to move on now and read some recent books that present the vision from a restorationist perspective of the life and mission of the church – including Dave Devenish’s What on Earth is the Church For and John Hosier’s Christ’s Radiant Church. It will be interesting to see whether any of Ian Stackhouse’s criticisms (and other similar voices) have been recognised and responded to in either of these books.

The Principled Missional Church

Mark Driscoll is something of a controversial figure at the moment. On the one hand, he is loosely associated with the Emergent/Emerging movement and has upset a number of bloggers with his somewhat vulgar style (see what Challies, Jollyblogger, the Blue Fish, and Cawleyblog thought of his book Confessions of a Reformission Rev). On the other hand, he’s been invited by John Piper to speak at the “Above All Earthly Powers” conference alongside such speakers as Don Carson and David Wells. In other words, he’s not someone who can be easily pigeon-holed.

I hadn’t had a chance to read or hear anything from him until recently, when Desiring God put a few video interviews with him online. I was particularly interested in what he had to say in the “Seeker vs Missional” and “Biblical Principles and Cultural Methods”, as it ties in very closely with what I was trying to say yesterday on the Results Driven Church. There’s another installment of Seeker vs Missional up now that I’ve yet to listen to.

Anyway, I thought they were good enough to warrant transcribing (apologies for any mistakes, emphasis mine etc) …

Seeker vs Missional (Part 1) (Watch Video)

I think part of it is [that] the seeker sensitive church begins with the assumption that the church is a business that produces goods and services to a market. Therefore the demands of the market in large part determine the message and ministries and mission of the church. A missional church doesn’t start with the assumption that the church is a dispenser of goods and services but it is God’s kingdom representative on earth; it’s a counter-cultural entity, so it’s not just cultural relevance, it’s counter-cultural in nature and it begins with theological assumptions and then it’s asking, “how do we translate those theological assumptions effectively to a culture?” but the seeker movement is more asking “how do we win more market share or gain a larger following” which then can change your theological convictions, can change some of your leadership type of decisions. You say, “well, the majority of people who aren’t Christians don’t like to be preached at [so] let’s not do preaching, let’s do sharing. The majority of people that aren’t Christians think that women should be pastors, therefore let’s have women pastors.” It’s beginning with a business mindset of meeting a constituency as opposed to a theological mindset of working from a biblical series of convictions and just trying to articulate that in the most effective way possible. So it’s a distinction – do you lead with your theology or do you lead with your pragmatism? That’s the difference I see.

Biblical Principles and Cultural Methods (Watch Video)

In the Bible I see for the church, I see lots of principles. The church needs to have male elders, the church is to gather regularly, the church is to be involved in caring for the needs of widows and orphans, and about preaching the gospel, about planting of new churches, about teaching sound doctrine, about worshipping of God together corporately, partaking the sacraments, those kinds of things. There are principles in Scripture, and then we have methods that we use to implement those principles.

What I see is when you put everything in the open hand – both your principles and your methods – you’re a classic liberal. If you put everything in your closed hand – your principles and methods are both unchanging – you’re a classic fundamentalist. And these tend to be the two teams. “Our theology is open and our practice is open” or “Our theology is closed and our practice is closed”. What I would argue for is a two-handed approach. There are principles in the closed hand [that] we don’t negotiate [and] we don’t change, but our methods are flexible, culturally contextualised, open to change.

Some would call that cultural capitulation but they’ve already done it. They’re speaking English, not Greek and Hebrew. They’re singing, but they’re not singing the Hebrew Psalms. They are working out of an English translation of the Bible, they’re wearing American clothing and they’re driving a modern day vehicle, speaking over a contemporary sound system and recording onto modern technology. So the question is, does anyone have the right to actually say that cultural contextualisation is a bad thing? I think no. There is faithful and unfaithful cultural contextualisation but as long as we keep our Biblical principles, then that gives us a lot of freedom for our cultural methods. So what is our music look like? That can vary. What is our style of our printed material, of our architecture, of our pastoral dress, of our service order, all of those things are flexible. The New Testament actually gives no criteria for what those things should be. So I think there is a lot of freedom, if you have sound doctrine in the closed hand, and the Biblical principles are well established.

My fear is today, lots of people are only using the open hand, and their doctrine, their biblical principles and their methods are totally flexible. That’s very dangerous. But its likewise dangerous to have dead orthodoxy, where you have a Bible-believing solid Jesus loving church that nobody can relate to because you don’t speak the language, you don’t articulate the heart-cry of the culture. Your architecture, your printed materials, your vocabulary is so insular that you’re not doing what Paul says in 1 Cor 9, that by all means I communicate the gospel to as many as possible in an effort to bring them to the love of Jesus, so Paul says “I become all things to all men” – to Greeks I work this way, to Jews I work this way, therefore faithful not just to the theology of Paul but to the example of Paul we’re going to be pretty flexible and have a lot of diversity in methodology.

Song – Don’t Look At Me

Here’s a recording of a song I wrote towards the end of last year. It is themed on John the Baptist, and was inspired by reading the early chapters of John’s gospel and Bruce Milne’s BST commentary on John. I love the way that John the Baptist so humbly pointed away from himself and directed all attention to Jesus.

It can be downloaded or streamed from my SoundClick site here.

The Lyrics

Don’t look at me, there’s nothing to see
I’m just a voice in the wilderness, crying “Get yourself ready”
Don’t stick with me, I’ve got nothing more to say
I’m just a friend of the bridegroom – it’s not my wedding day
Don’t trust in me, but listen to God’s word
I saw a dove descend from heaven, and this is what I heard

“This is my Son, my beloved One”
Listen to him, listen to him
This is the One, God’s Anointed One,
Come follow him, come follow him

Verse 2
Come and repent, and be baptised with fire
Don’t be content drinking water, when you could be drinking wine
Come to the light, come and see his glory
Don’t miss the most important person, in the whole of history
Come and believe, grasp the promise of new life
This is the one the prophets spoke about; he’s right before your eyes

Chorus 2
This is the Lamb, taking the sin of man
Have faith in him, have faith in him
This is the Word, creator of the world
Come worship him, come worship him

The mission of my life’s complete:
I’ve seen and testified
Now my ministry can fade away
But but let him be glorified


Recording was done in SONAR 5, and this was the first track I made since purchasing Project5 which gave me the use of the Dimension sampler.

Vocals – Unfortunately its me again singing. I needed to make use of the SONAR take comping features to piece together sections that sounded OK. Quite a lot of compression was needed as well as some gain automation to get the levels a bit more even. I used a Sonitus EQ and Kjaerhus Classic Reverb, and of course my Kjaerhus GUP-1 which is my favourite compressor.

Choir – The ‘aah’ choir after the bridge is made up of 5 of me, plus the GM choir from Hypersonic (due to the fact that my lowest and highest harmony parts both sounded rather ropey).

Acoustic Guitar – I still struggle to get a good recorded sound out of my Yamaha APX-4. I recorded both with my Senheisser Evolution e845 mic and direct using the pickup. I went with the direct sound in the end, with a bit of EQ and Reverb added.

Piano – I made use of my very own sampled piano library played back through Dimension during the recording process, so I didn’t need to keep turning on my P200 and adjusting the levels every time I wanted to work on the song. I found the SONAR’s nudge feature to be invaluable for cleaning up the timing of the piano without making it sound quantised. Before mixdown, I sent the MIDI back to the P200 and recorded the output, with the reverb from the piano on. I needed to cut some low frequencies as well to help it cut through the mix.

Drums – This was my most ambitious drum setup to date. I used six instances of Dimension each loaded with the nskit_7 free samples, and used a drum map to send kick, snare, toms, hats, ride and crashes to their own instance, to be compressed and EQed separately. I used another instance of Kjaerhus Classic Reverb for the drums. The drum patterns themselves were programmed based on some ideas I played on my acoustic kit. I’ve now sold that kit and replaced it with an electronic one which I can record MIDI from, so hopefully future drum tracks will benefit from some increased realism.

Electric Guitar – I used my Behringer V-Amp 2 for providing amp simulations for all the guitar parts. I did also make some unprocessed recordings, but found that my software amp sims were quite processor intensive and didn’t produce as good results. I spent so long trying out different ideas for the guitar solo that I ended up with a blister on one of my fingers, and so I never got a chance to attempt to improve on the recorded take of my final idea.

Bass – Bass was just my Yamaha RBX-270 DIed with some compression. I think it cuts through the mix quite nicely.

Synth – I used an arpegiatted patch from Hypersonic in the outro.

Mastering – I used Voxengo’s excellent free Span plugin to help me with my EQing the various tracks. For final mastering I used the Sonitus Multi-Band compressor for the first time which I have to say I am very impressed with.