September 21, 2020

Southern Baptists and the Emerging Church: Friends or Foes?

devine-200.jpgMark DeVine, theology professor from Midwestern Seminary (and a man who knows his Barth), has looked seriously and deeply at the emerging church and suggests some directions for SBC interaction, avoidance and further study. A measured and competent essay, worth your time. [Or you can watch the video below. It’s more of a summary of big ideas, like the dangers of “beat” music. (jn).]

The entire article is here, or you can read/print the pdf from Dr. DeVine’s site. (24 pages) The whole paper gets the coveted “Internet Monk Five Stars.”

Mark DeVine is proving to be a thoughtful, careful and trustworthy voice in this, and other, discussions. Bookmark his blog and stay current with his excellent posts on many subjects. And get his book on Bonhoeffer.

Maybe Dr. DeVine has a book on the SBC and the emerging/missional church movement in the works. How about letting the IM audience in on that possibility, Dr. DeVine?

Anyway, read it. Decide for yourself what you think. That’s how it works around here.


  1. Maybe we need to coin a new term “Truly Emerging” and we can add it in with TRs.
    To me this seems like the same trash people have been doing with emerging church for a long time. Classify into groups that are good and bad, and then lets take their programs (kind of like say a purpose driven program), and even if it is not us, lets use it to reach the lost. Screw the organic communal nature of what emerging churches are trying to do, lets turn into something we can just use. This is exactly whats happened with the word missional, and now it is a program rather then a lifestyle. Plus these guys are still afraid of churches that don’t have elder boards, those that have female pastors, and ones that think maybe we don’t have the market pinned on Truth. Every emerging church is willing to stand in humility on those issues, even if they do disagree. But it is just far easier to classify them as bad, and take the good.
    But in one way your right: an article like this is a big step for the SBC. I am not sure that means it is 5 star worthy, but ok. The McKnight article was much better, and more informative, without branding.
    So if can just get on with and coin the term TE for people like me the better off we are. It is far easier us dismiss with a classification.

  2. I love your writing Michael and I am currently about half way through your essays. However I must say I am still lost on this whole argument about the emerging church. Maybe because it is lost concept on a predominantly black church background to which I am acquainted or because it’s still seen as quite fringe within my network here in the uk.

    Whether its your commentary, TallSkinnyKiwi, Brian McLaren and every one else in between I still don’t get it. Not to worry, as it makes for interesting reading but whether a church is evangelical, post evangelical, non denom, emerging seems for me to miss the point all together that we just need to engage through our speech and lifestyle with the good news of Jesus.

    Continue to inspire with your writings anyhow.

  3. Michael

    Thanks for the five stars. I doubt that it is deserved but never mind.


    I consider Scot McKnight superior to me as an observer of the Gibbs/Bolger type emerging churches and am greatly indebted to him. His article in CT was superb.

    In my article I am accepting Gibbs/Bolger as the best current standard for understanding the phenomenon “they call emerging.” But, I am questioning their ability to define “postmodern” once and for all and most importantly, their ability to tell us what Western urban dwellers in their 20’s and 30’s will find relevant. The spectacle of Mars Hill, Redeemer, and The Journey type urban communities of faith justify this skepticism in my mind. It is this second dimension, the critique of Gibbs/Bolger that I do not find in McKnight.

    Scot accepts Gibbs/Bolger’s exclusion of Mars Hill from what “they call emerging,” so I guess that is branding of a sort. We have to use these terms and categories in order to communicate clearly. So rather than argue for the bestowal of the “Gibbs/Bolger” emerging tattoo upon Mars Hill, I have tried to ask a different question―does winning that tattoo tell us much about “postmodernism” or the prospects for “being found relevant?” My answer is “probably not as much as many think.” And that matters to me because if church planters think they must mimic the Gibb/s/Bolger “emerging” indicators to a “t” in order to plant viable urban churches, it seems clear to me that they are mistaken.

    I teach at a Baptist seminary but I am also bi-vocational pastor of an urban congregation I am trying to have re-planted, so these matters are of immediate concrete interest to me.

  4. Thanks for you comment. While of course we can still find plenty to disagree about, I really respect your position on following the Gibbs/bloger plants. Church planters need to think about creating more within the context of their community rather then following someone else’s ideas. I think within the emerging church it is difficult to affirm what Mars Hill is doing because of the lack of humility that seems to stem from leadership, and video venue preaching. Journey and Redeemer I think are churches that are both doing great things in their contexts, and I think because their ethics are more embracing they have less people turned off by them then Mars Hill. Like you I don’t think the emerging is the only way, but I do think churches need to be able to affirm other churches, even those churches that don’t have traditional sermons or all male leadership, or are drinkers. The emerging ethic of humility is something that I think was missed in your essay, but something valuable for our new context where the center of Christianity is no longer America.
    One minor question: your essay seems not to define success the Gibbs/Bolger way, but it does seem to define success by size (how many people are being reached), so why even worry about emerging (which would define itself as movement not based on size) and look at Joel Osteen’s church in Houston? or Northpoint (Atlanta)? or Saddleback (LA)? Or look at some churches with emerging ethics (which is more important then style) like Willow Creek (Chicago)? Or Jacobs Well (Kansas City)? or Mars Hill (Grand Rapids)? Or the SBC Mosaic (LA)?

  5. I do state in my article (and here I suspect Scot McKnight might agree) that to the extent that the Gigbbs/Bolger types have a bad conscience regarding proselytizing, they will prove largely irrelevant to that stemming-of-the-tide in decreasing numbers that Gibbs/Bolger say they are so concerned about, and thus, need not be worried about.

    Humility is tricky. Once we are talking about it or insisting that we have it, well, there you go. It strikes me that the humility on some of main emergent-friendly blogs tends to wane a bit when conservative evangelical voices pop up. They tend to be ganged-up on and shouted down by all the defensive wounded out there. I suspect this follows from the “protest” element present within the movement that both Carson and McKinght have noted (one of the few areas of agreement between them where emerging/emergent is concerned).

    I do not define success by size. Note the section in my article where I speak of those who set themselves up as the relevance police. Size matters to my argument because of the claims Gibbs/Bolger make regarding their understanding of postmodernism and the kinds of ministries that will be found relevant by a certain demographic, especially in the urban context.

    Here is where I am a little suspicious. Given the protest element against conservative evangelicals within parts of the emergent conversation (and for some against reformed evangelicals as well) might there be a certain un-humble bias against applauding churches like Redeemer and the Journey? I do not know. I am asking.