Friend of Ur, David Fitch, is back with a few thoughts about the deficiencies in evangelicalism and the emerging movement's reaction. But he's not exactly enamored with the emerging church solution either. Fitch is a pastor at Life on the Vine Christian Community in Long Grove, Illinois, and a professor at Northern Seminary.
Evangelicals of all types are taking notice of the emerging church/missional church and its variations. Its rise to prominence is owed in part to the rejection of the evangelical church by many sons and daughters of Boomer evangelicals. At a recent Up-Rooted gathering, we talked about the real or perceived shortcomings in evangelicalism the emerging church is responding to, and the strengths and weaknesses of that response. Scot McKnight and Wayne Johnson were a part of that discussion, but here is part of my response to the question.
I believe one weakness in evangelicalism that the emerging church is responding to is evangelicalism's excessively rationalist approach to truth and salvation that birthed a stubborn "we're in/you're out" mentality. There has been an impulse in evangelical fundamentalism towards (a) an intolerant judgmental exclusivism, (b) an arrogant, even violent, certainty about what we do know, and (c) a hyper-cognitive gospel that takes the mystery out of everything.
Many of us grew up with this. This was most obvious in the way we made hell the selling point of the gospel. We said if you do A and B, you'll be pardoned from sin and escape hell. Those who do not do A or B are going to hell. We built an apologetic that defended this to prove to people outside the church they were doomed. It came off arrogant, coercive, unloving, and indeed antithetical to the very nature of the gospel. In a world of democratic pluralism, the gospel's witness became shut off, dispassionate, and downright sectarian. It became impossible to represent such a gospel as "good news."
McLaren talks about this in New Kind of Christian when he says:
If we Christians would take all that energy we put into proving we're right and everyone else is wrong and invested that energy in pursuing and doing good, somehow I think more people would believe we are right. p. 61
If you ask me whether I believe there is a hell, I will tell you yes. To me the reality of hell is evident in the evil and destruction of souls I see here on earth all the time. If you ask me whether I believe that the salvation God has worked through the person and work of Jesus Christ has direct consequences on our eternal destiny as persons, again I will tell you yes. But if you ask me whether this singularly defines what it means to be saved, here is where I would say no. For our eternal life is the end of a life lived in His salvation (Rom 6:22), not the goal in and of itself. And so let's not put the cart before the horse.
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