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Thursday, December 13, 2007 

Giving Emergents Equal Time?

HAVEN'T YOU EVER WONDERED WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ALL THE YOUNG ADULTS IN YOUR CHURCH? WHERE HAVE THEY GONE? OR MAYBE THERE JUST AREN'T AS MANY? So how do we connect or reconnect with the post-high school and twenty-thirty-something? How do we reach out to them? YOUTH MINISTRY 2008 will explore the question of young adult ministry. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, CTCR, will explore the nuances of the so called "emerging church" and what they mean for Lutherans. Dan Kimball, author of The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for Emerging Generations, will talk about this movement from the perspective of a practitioner. And Dr. Craig Oldenburg, adjunct faculty at Concordia University Nebraska, will facilitate conversations as to what it all means in reaching new generations for Christ. …You can read a review of Dan Kimball's new book, They Like Jesus But Not the Church by clicking here

Ok, I’ve had this sitting in my inbox for almost a month while trying to decide what exactly to do with it. I’m really at a loss as to how to respond without sounding like I’ve finally blown that last remaining gasket and gone moonbat crazy. That being said, I’ll give it a shot anyways.

First, let’s take a quick look at the review referenced at the end of the emailed paragraph by Rev. Terry Dittmer; as the Director of LCMS Youth Ministry Rev. Dittmer writes:

The new book from Dan Kimball, They Like Jesus But Not the Church, presents many helpful and challenging ideas related to reaching today’s young adult. Is it Lutheran? No. Is it theological? Not necessarily. Is it helpful? I believe it is.

Kimball begins by saying that church workers need to get out of our offices and into the coffee houses, brew houses and other places where young adults gather. For example, Kimball takes his laptop to Starbucks to write his sermons; as the opportunity arises, he engages in conversation with people who he encounters there – mostly young adults.

Where do I even start with that? Does being “helpful”, in spite of the fact that what Dan Kimball confesses is vastly different than what the church catholic and Lutherans specifically, validate and automatically give Kimball a opportunity to address those who would lead our youth? If the answer is yes, then why not invite Tom Cruise to speak on the topic of getting youth to read Scripture just because Scientology has reading programs? Xenu likes it when kids read so therefore it must be helpful and by default Xenu needs to speak, through his called and operating theatons, to our youth workers.

If inviting the vicar of Xenu sounds a little crazy, why in the world do we want to invite somebody who doesn’t like church and wants to start a whole new way to experience God?

Now, surely Rev. Dittmer doesn’t think that the new mission field we need to focus on is outside of the Divine Service does he? No of course not, that’s Kimball who that doesn’t like church. But wait, this is the same Rev. Dittmer who thought it was a good idea to send out in Youth Ministry E-Bulletin Special edition #3 the following:

MINISTRY SHAPES FAITH MORE THAN WORSHIP . . . If you want to influence a teenager's faith, have them serve meals to the homeless or do other hands-on service projects. "Involvement in community service is far more significant to the faith development of teens than involvement in worship," says Michael Sherr, one of the Baylor University researchers who conducted the study (Associated Baptist Press, February 8, 2007).

Wow, that sort of makes the puzzle a little bit clearer. I can certainly see why Rev. Dittmer might think Dan Kimball’s book might have something to say. With the inclusion of the study in the E-Bulletin and his review of the Kimball book I think we can honestly raise the question as to whether or not Rev. Dittmer “likes” the church or not. How the hell are we to put any good construction on the promotion of the promotion of experiential faith achieved outside of Church?

I don’t care if Dan Kimball likes the church or not, that point is irrelevant. What is relevant is that we are giving equal time to somebody who has rejected what Scripture and our Confessions have always stated Church is and where the Church can be found. Just because somebody thinks they discovered a new new way of doing things doesn’t mean they need to speak to a conference of youth workers. That would be like inviting somebody that thinks God is merely a Giant Spaghetti Monster to the conference. Would such a person be Lutheran? No! Is such a view theological? I’m gonna say no to that one as well. Is it helpful? No! Unless of course, you don’t like church and wish to start worshiping a new god at the local Olive Garden on Sunday morning.

But I’m getting off topic and probably need to veer back into this emergent church garbage.

The main reason for my hesitation is that the theologies of these emergent “church” folks are all over the map. The one thing that does seem to unite emergents is their rejection of all things modern and a desire to retreat to a more experiential communion with God outside of Word and Sacrament. What they seem to long for is a reimagined church that redefines Scriptures as relevant narratives with some eastern mysticism thrown in for effect. Meditation and fellowship with the community are the emergent’s pendulum swinging back to hit Protestantism squarely in the head as a response to the pathetic mega-church growth movement that so spiritually starved Americanized Christianity. Seeking to feed themselves, but not looking to Christ to feed them where He said He would, they are doomed to starve as well precisely because they are looking inwardly to themselves as a community.

I certainly understand emergents rejecting most of what passes itself off as Christian these days. The whole “meeting them (the unchurched) where they are at” and “don’t talk to them about church stuff, we don’t want to scare them away” approach to evangelism makes us sound no different than the local glee club down the street. But meeting in a Starbucks or remodeled warehouses with U2 blaring over the speakers as hymnody to talk about how the Jesus narrative fits in with your narrative is just as wrong.

Recently Bill Hybol’s, (from Willow Creek, the Mecca of all things church growth) admitted that all the slick marketing and vapid, fluffy preaching, that looked more like Oprah than it did anything church, didn’t keep people in the pews for more than a couple of years. As it turns out, Willow creek had conducted exit interviews and had known for years that people were leaving because they were spiritually starved. One would think that with that admission that we wouldn’t be jumping on yet another bandwagon. But sadly that seems not be the case. Apparently we are ready to climb into bed with another fad that rejects that we meet Jesus where He says he will meet us, in Word and in Sacrament! Trading fancy plasma TV’s for grunge meditation sessions ain’t going to work either.

When I first read the email my blood pressure spiked because of what I have to listen to in the mission meetings that I attend. All the pieces of a puzzle that I wasn’t looking for fell into place. I remembered all the talk of meeting in coffee shops and finding ways to congregate without walls. What I remember most was the utter lack of any mention of Christ and how he feeds his sheep.

I would propose that the young people that we are getting so upset over losing are leaving our churches for the exact same reason that the people leave Willow Creek, they’re hungry for spiritual food that we withhold from them. In an effort to not offend anyone, we are causing the same starvation that we now complain and gripe about. And leave it to our beloved synod seek a remedy for by looking to the emergent church types. Sorry, but trading khakis for ripped jeans, happy clappy for grunge, and feel good theology for eastern mysticism isn’t going to feed them the spiritual food they crave either. They long to hear the voice of their Shepard and what do we do? We give ‘em another fad. Oh joy.

At one time I would have thought that the emergent church was not even a blip on the radar screen. I now think otherwise. And unfortunately and sadly, our beloved synod agrees.


It seems that even the leaders of "church growth-ers" might be starting to realize the error of aligning with the emergents.

Check this out:

It seems that he got a first hand experience at how cancerous the thoughts of the emergents can be in a biblically-based congregation. He's got plans to revamp their entire approach to having church.

"Recently two fairly emerging church plants have ceased functioning in an official capacity. These were made up of mostly young to mid 20-somethings that had theological leanings toward a more liberal and Emergent doctrine. As a result of these two communities of faith dissolving, some of the participants began coming to Compass Point. With them came a universalistic doctrine that they attempted to convey in every situation that was presented to them. For the first time the leaders of Compass Point and I had to deal directly with the illness that is the doctrinal beliefs of those that align with the Emergent movement."

Once again, the Lutherans are the last to adopt the "new wave," just in time for the tide to change...

Thanks for the link; I’ve never heard of this guy before. If folks like Compass Point, who are at the opposite end of the theological spectrum as what the LCMS claims to be, can see how dangerous this is...
Terry Dittmer hasn’t sent out and email or e-bulletin in the last two months without talking about how excited he is about a guy who says he loves Jesus but hates church.

Frank - you wrote: "When I first read the email my blood pressure spiked because of what I have to listen to in the mission meetings that I attend. All the pieces of a puzzle that I wasn’t looking for fell into place. I remembered all the talk of meeting in coffee shops and finding ways to congregate without walls. What I remember most was the utter lack of any mention of Christ and how he feeds his sheep."

Seems that you are basing some of your conclusions on experience. Isn't this a bit like what you are raging about in regards to how others create their ways of knowing? I can only post the question anonymously due to the nature of your attacks against others.

While I agree that the Emergent doctrine is Liberal and do not desire to abide by it, some of the thinkers of Emergent have a very good handle on what it means to be missional in a changing culture. This is at least worth being in a constructive conversation about rather than raging.


You also wrote: "Apparently we are ready to climb into bed with another fad that rejects that we meet Jesus where He says he will meet us, in Word and in Sacrament!"

What it appears you are trying to say is that having a conversation with someone is the equivalent of climbing into bed with them. I would not want to be your date for fear that is I talked with you you would try to make inappropriate advances.

You write about an "utter lack of any mention of Christ and how he feeds his sheep" but fail to practice a ministry of reconciliation and fail to share an understanding of Christ that is not damning and hateful.

Luther's goal was clear. He came to understand Christ based on the free gift of grace, of which Jesus paid the ultimate price for us to obtain. Wouldn't it be wiser to work hard at sharing Christ crucified than your disdain for Terry Dittmer (or whomever you might pick next)?

Frank - would you rather have the church as you know it disappear or would you like to have a conversation about how to be effective in a changing culture?

Frank - the statistics vary, but about 3-5 Christian churches close a day. It might do you good to find out how many Lutheran churches (LCMS) close a day in the USAmerica.

Frank - is it wrong to try to figure out new ways to get the mission of Jesus Christ done? If you believe it is then you must condemn Luther himself who was constantly working and trying to understand how to communicate within his culture.

God bless you, Frank.

Let me address the last point first; the emergent doctrine isn’t liberal, it’s all over the map. What is taught really depends on what part of the Biblical narrative the leader chooses to make relevant at any given time. Some emergents deny there is a hell and that there any substitutionary atonement made by Christ on the cross, some do accept and teach those principles. Again, it depends on the leader. There are emergent that use a liturgy that looks very much like my own. But to point out that some historic churches have been doing the same liturgy for about 1500 years, go right over their heads because the historic church is not perceived as relevant.
I don’t think the emergents are missional because the they as a group only point to the relevance of Christ but not to Christ. Promoting an eastern style meditation to “feel” what God means to you is not the mission of the Church. Instead of looking to the desert fathers and their mystisim, they should give Jesus a try.
(I’m still on your last point here) I think a dialogue would be great, I would support that. But I’ve been ridiculed and told that I’m a useless wordsmith for even suggesting that we need to bring up how we receive the means of grace at mission meetings. How would you suggest a diagloge begin when you are told not to bring up church at church?
Now to your first point; “Seems that you are basing some of your conclusions on experience. Isn't this a bit like what you are raging about in regards to how others create their ways of knowing?” I’m not sure I understand your point exactly, so if I do please feel free to correct me. I simply don’t believe we as creatures have the capability to create an understanding on our own of God that fits with what Scripture has laid out for us. To think otherwise, quoting ACV, would to side with the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Ghost comes to men without the external Word, through their own preparations and works. It wasn’t the case 500 years ago and it isn’t the case now. That is why I think that sitting in a drum circle meditating on an icon while listening to U2 just isn’t efficacious.
Finally there is no rage here at all, only frustration that with some that think Jesus just can’t be relevant unless we make him relevant. We are fallen creatures, we don’t deserve any grace that’s shown to us, but for reasons beyond our limited comprehension, faith given to us on the account of Christ is counted as our own. How can that be twisted into something irrelevant?

Better that churches close than for those inside to be confused or tempted by with ideas that could lead them to a false gospel and ultimately to damnation.

If we start looking like the Emergents, what's to keep people from just going to an Emergent church?

The point of the post is that "church growth" wasn't the answer to growth, and now Bill Hybels mourns the fact that his throngs of people weren't actually being reached the way he'd envisioned.

Is there scripture that teaches us to reinvent the gospel every decade? Are we just buying into yet another trend with the emergents? Are they really going to have the answer this time?

Also, this post was not written in the spirit of hatred. I feel the same anxiousness when I see our beloved synod doing things that would cause us to be "tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes."

We don't need any more schemes that would divide us. If we can't draw them in with the Gospel, then they're not going to stay for the coffee.

I fear we're ultimately teaching ourselves to be ashamed of the Gospel in trying to come up with "crafty" ways to reach people.

Christianity isn't a pretty road.
Daily, we die to our sin. Christ is found in our weaknesses. Jesus tells us to cut off body parts that are causing us to fall into sinful ways! We need to cut off the hand that picks up materials that aren't in alignment with the true Gospel.

Anon#2, Would it be safe to assume that you believe the mission is more important than the message?
Anon#2 Do you believe we should change the message so that we become relevent as the emergents demand?
Anon#2 Yes I do know how many churches close every day. Do you think the reason might be the same one Willow Creek just admitted to, not feeding the sheep, as in not preaching Christ?
Anon#2 Do think we should support synodical leadership if they want to promote new ways to promote a church that conficts with with Scripture and our Confessions so that we are relevent?
Anon#2 What new way to sell the church do you suggest to promote Jesus?

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  • From The Haut South
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