We had some great discussions in class Tuesday, but one piece stood out to me most.
We discussed how in some ways, emerging churches are coming to a different understanding of theology from the traditional American evangelical mindset, and it’s changing how they do church. And it’s a larger shift than a different kind of music, less liturgy, candles and cool lighting.
In the past, most evangelicals have viewed the ‘point’ of the gospel as this: Proclaim the message that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. People accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. Through that knowledge and decision they are saved both now and for eternity.
Emerging churches see it differently. They see that Jesus spoke time and again about the Kingdom of God. He spoke about it as something that is supposed to come now. What if Christianity is not only about getting into eternity with God, but also about being a part of what He’s doing here and now? Christians are supposed to be his body, to bring the Kingdom of God alive on earth right now. So part of the gospel is a message for eternity, but another part is incarnating that Gospel on Earth.
That’s why some people see a dissonance with the big, attractional church model. If the point is to share the good news so that people accept it and can begin a journey with God, that’s great. More people, better messages and flashy marketing are a powerful, effective, and relevant way to do it. Especially if you’re in an area where there’s enough church culture that people will turn to the church for spiritual answers. If the goal is to spread a message, it’s difficult to fault a church that’s drawing thousands and thousands of people a weekend. They’re spreading an excellent, true message of hope, truth and love.
But if the goal is to live the Kingdom out now, the attractional, program based, knowledge transfer church model falls short. It doesn’t give people the tools and opportunities to live out their faith in the contexts where it is needed most. It often falls short in real person-to-person connection and opportunities for direct, consistent service. Now, it’s true, a large church can emphasize these things and carry them out through small groups, but that tends to be the exception rather than the rule. In fact, most small churches fail to carry this out as well. But the churches that are intentional about it see that the action side of Christianity as just as much a prerequisite for faith as they see the belief side as important.
Suddenly, seeing the point as “Kingdom now” makes so many of Jesus’ words and challenges “fit”. James’ talk on works makes more sense. It’s less about us. Less about what God’s calling me to do. It’s more about joining in the work of bringing the healthy, life-giving Kingdom of God to Earth here and now.