But my growing theory of most churches is that when churches become so inwardly focused, we can produce the fruit of knowledgable but usually negative and critical people always pointing out the wrongs in everything. Or when we become so outwardly focused, we can become shallow theologically and produce Christians who barely know the Bible. Or when we become so felt-needs and methodology focused , we can produce consumer Christians who end up depending on which church best meets their needs which produces a bigger and better cycle for the church leaders to deal with. All of these things can produce a people who aren’t seeing themselves as missional Christians being the church throughout the week – but people who have faulty (in my opinion) definitions of church and then they “go to church” for meeting the faulty expectations we have set up for them to define “church” by.
In my recent post on Traditional vs. Emergent churches, I called for balance between the “Faith in Jesus” and “Faith of Jesus”.Â Dan seems to echo this in his comments about inward-focused (which seems to be similar to ‘traditional’, in my terminology) and outward-focused (which seems to be similar to ‘emergent’, in my terminology).Â He adds this third element, which I had not figured in at all, around ‘felt-needs’ (what I would see as the extreme ‘Purpose Driven’ model).
As I’ve pondered this and slept on it, I am starting to see somewhat of a four-quadrant model that balances directional focus (inward vs. outward) and needs (Eternal (”spiritual needs”)Â vs. Temporal (”felt needs”)).Â It is kind of like the diagram to the right.
What seems to be occurring with these different models is that, as Kimball has noted, when left to their own devices, they tend to pull away from the center, toward the extremes.Â In doing so, they open themselves to criticism from other “models”.
As Bob Hyatt noted the other day in his Next-Wave editorial, the pendulum is currently swinging toward the ‘Emergent’ quadrant, which (as would be expected) has lead to a great deal of consternation from the ‘Fundamentalist/Traditional’ one (since it has an opposite emphasis on needs and focus).Â While I am comfortable with the general direction of that movement (toward the center), I don’t know that I would maintain that level of ‘comfort’ once the middle is crossed.Â As I (and others) have noted, generally speaking, the Emergent conversation is primarily being driven by less mature leadership than the more established movements, ironically supported by a great deal of scholarship about the culture in which the scriptures were written (in some cases, because parts of this scholarship challenge some traditional (but non-essential) views).
What can be done?
I see at least two currents working in favor of balance:
The Restoration Movement started in the early 1800’s as a move toward the center from the Fundamentalist quadrant, away from denominationalism and ’systematic theologies’ (similar to what is being seen in the ‘emergent’ church movement).Â It, too, had less established/mature leadership at the local level, which led to a number of difficulties (a number of which have long been sorted out, others of which are only now being settled).Â However, as it has matured, I have seen (both from within and without) an agility to continue to correct course toward the center.Â As a model, this gives me hope that, even though there may be a number of problems in the emerging of the emergent churches, they may work out in similar fashion.
I also see willingness of leaders in the fundamentalist/traditionalist movements, like Dr. John Piper, to try to understand how to contextualize the gospel for the current culture without compromising on the content of the gospel.Â In inviting Mark Driscoll to the Desiring God conference two weeks ago, andÂ including Mark in the discussion on contextualization, Dr. Piper seems to have opened a door for better discussion and understandingÂ (at least in the view of many participant reports and tentative support in some normally hostile quarters of the Christian blogosphere).Â I am hoping more bloggers in the fundamentalist/traditional camp will reach out to parts of the ECM, not for agreement on everything, but to help them discern what is contextual vs. what is truly compromising.Â In doing so, I see the possibility of both groups moving toward the center.
It takes very little energy to be hyper-critical (or hypocritical) and cast stones when someone breaks tradition.Â It takes a higher level of responsibility and maturity to be willing to step out of one’s comfort zone to work with the tradition-breakers to make sure that what is truly essential is maintained.Â It is easy to criticize a brother you don’t know, and it is hard to get to know a brother you might not fully agree with (and as a friend of mine likes to say ‘if we both agree on everything, one of us is redundant’).Â I think Jesus calls us to be the latter and not the former, to be Nicodemus and not Caiaphas.Â Or, at the very least, I think he would have us in the seat of Gamaliel, Paul’s teacher:
When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed them: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.Â But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” [emphasis mine] (Acts 5:33-39)
I’ve not thought enough about the fully ‘Purpose Driven’ churches to understand what would bring them toward the center, toward more of an eternal perspective and a less self-centered focus…Â I’ll hold that one for later…