Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Chasing the Culture

An interesting post on Steve Camp's blog tries to elucidate some of the issues of the emerging church. I always find these kinds of posts interesting. Of course, I find the informed ones more interesting than the others. The problem is that informed posts are sometimes hard to find. This article by Gilley has some good and some bad, but what led me to post was two things.

First, he mentions as a key feature of the emerging church their view of truth. At this point, it is necessary to underline these comments with a point that Gilley should have made clear, but did not. The emerging church is not in agreement about the nature of truth. There are some in the emerging church conversation that hold a very low view of truth. McLaren is guilty of this to a great degree, despite his claims to the contrary. There are also some in the emerging church that hold a very high view of truth. Mark Driscoll would be an example of this. This highlights the shapeless nature of the emerging church. The temptation for many is to broadbrush emerging churches into the same category. We must resist that temptation (and repent of it if you have done it).

But on to the point about the nature of truth. I believe a strength of the conservative side of the emerging church is their ability and willingness to communicate absolute truth to people who do not buy the idea of absolute truth. In other words, they are willing to engage in a dialogical presentation of the truth that engages its opponents while arguing strongly and correctly for its own view. Too many are willing to engage only in a demagogical presentation of the truth that ultimately turns away hearers. At this point, the problem is not the commitment to absolute truth. It is the presentation of it that turns people off.

This is highlighted by a comment I heard recently from Ed Stetzer. It caught my attention because it was the same point that I have written an article about that I have never posted. Perhaps I should post it. The point is simply this: We must use the gospel to answer the questions that people are actually asking, rather than the questions that we think they should be asking. We must be willing to show that Jesus is the answer to the real questions of life, and all other questions should be framed in a different way. (Tim Keller has also done some great stuff on this idea.)

Dialoging with unbelievers and answering their questions is not the same as holding a fluid view of truth. We need to do better on learning to talk to people who do not already share our worldview. Fundamentalists are notoriously bad at that. We are great at preaching to the choir; not so good at interacting with the world.

Gilley says,
The emerging church is concerned about presenting genuine Christianity in a way the postmodern culture understands. Since the very heart of postmodernity is rejection of absolute authoritative truth, yet Christianity claims to be the proclamation of absolute authoritative truth, a head-on collision is almost unavoidable.
He is correct about both assertions. However, I am not convinced that he draws the proper conclusion from them. To insist that the emerging church "must" compromise in order to reach postmoderns is incorrect. His statement that "There is no absolute truth or ultimate reality in the emergent agenda" is an overstatement of the reality. There will no doubt be a collision. Let us not shrink from it. Let us simply brace ourselves for it and be prepared to deal with the realities of living in an emerging culture.

The second point that jumps out at me from Gilley's comments is when he says, "the emergent church is a movement chasing a culture." I think he is right. And I do not think that is necessarily bad. We live in a culture, and we have to "chase it" with the gospel. That is what Christ commanded when he said to go into all the world and preach the gospel. He did not command the culture to come to us. As one person says, separating ourselves from culture is like separating ourselves from air. You cannot do it. There is good air and bad air, just as there is good culture and bad culture. In every culture there is some good because of common grace . In every culture there is some bad because of sin (more on this later).

Regardless of our view of the culture in which we live, it is the culture in which we live. We can curse it, and run from it. Or we can engage it with the truth of Jesus presented in a way that they can comprehend. We can look for points of commonality, where the questions of unbelievers are answered by the truth claims of Christ, and then answer those questions. We can point unbelievers to the fact that their question in reality are undergirded by a false belief system and therefore their question is the wrong question. That is what we must do.

Obviously, chasing the culture can take a wrong turn, if that chase involves compromising on doctrine. But even at this, we need to make sure that we drive our stakes in the ground on essentials, rather than on non-essentials. The emerging church has certainly failed to drive their stakes in the right place. But that should not keep us from driving them in the right place while we take the gospel to the culture in which we live.


Wendy said...

I'm not a fan of the phrase "chasing the culture". I definitely think some groups ARE chasing the culture. But others just had a core group come to Christ from said culture, and the culture naturally followed them into the church. If your first 12 converts in a church are Korean Americans, that should affect aspects of the culture of the church. Similarly, if your church starts with converts from a tattooed, artsie, nose-pierced, indie rock culture, that will influence aspects of the culture of the church. So rather than the church chasing the culture (which is only superficially successful), I think cultural distinctions of converts affect the overall culture of a church ... which in turn influences which demographic is most likely to be effectively ministered to through that church.

For instance, at Mars Hill, I'm pretty sure Mark didn't start the church with his own music guy that he instructed to play post-modern indie type music. Rather, as the church started, the music developed as the natural outgrowth of the hearts of the converted. The music has become what it is not because that type of music was intentionally chased but because it was the music of the people who came to Christ through the ministy.

Larry said...

Good to hear from you Wendy. Trust all is well.

I too don't particularly like the phrase "chasing the culture." But I think it aptly describes what we should be doing in terms of figuring out who we are reaching and ministering to. I think a key factor of Mars Hill is the cultural fit in Seattle.

I do think it is a symbiotic relationship, where people come to Christ from the culture and then bring aspects of that culture into church. But at the same time, the church is desiring to incorporate aspects of culture so that they can better reach the culture. Mark has talked about that before, as have others. A church trying to reach an lower class urban black community should probably not be designed just like a church in a white middle class suburb where people drive cars that cost more than $50,000. Knowing your community/culture has certain mandates for the church.

I think the key thing to discuss is what part of culture can we incorporate and what part should we reject.