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Dialogue on Emergence
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Robert Webber, gen ed.
Listening to the Beliefs of the Emerging Churches:  Five Perspectives (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 2007.  240p.)

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This book was one in a series I set out for myself in 2008.  I began reading in the arena of the emerging church and how contemporary churches in the United States were attempting to build communication with their society.  Interestingly, I found this book in October 2008 in Boxburg, South Africa.

In classic categories, the contents of this book are probably considered Theology.  However, I classified this book as Culture and Trends, since it addresses the character of contemporary society, and this set of essays and dialogue between the five writers considers how current churches can take into account the trends found in current American society.

Provocative and Vulnerable
The format of the book is very productive and provocative, involving a rather vulnerable format, in which each presents an essay, and all the others comment on it!  This format used to be rather popular in academic circles, but seems to have dropped out of fashion for a while.

I have seen that over the last four years of so, several volumes, and whole series of books, have effectively revived this format.  The overall attitude that seems to characterize these practical thinkers is a strong desire to understand and learn how to relate to their communities in meaningful terms.

I have read a couple of things by Driscoll, but this book was the first, I believe.  The dialogue style of this book was very helpful to present the "flavor" of each writer's thoughts and style, and overall "theological" views.

Culture and Society
Since returning to the United States from South Africa in January 2009, I have continued and intensified my reading on American culture and society.  I have set out an intensive reading plan on American culture, politics and financial structures as part of my orientation to the new setting.  This set of essays was an insightful contribution to this goal.

An excellent reading list is provided by the contributors and the editor.  The book closes with a helpful appendix by Webber and colleague Phil Kenyon.  Placed after the Reading List, this could be overlooked.  Be sure you take this in before you close the book.  The appendix, titled "A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future," confirms the tone of evangelical concern for clarity in its time combined with a commitment to past affirmations of the universal church.

Robert Webber
Webber, editor of this set of essays, was Professor of Ministry at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois.  Webber died at the age of 73 the year this volume was published.  He introduces the topic here with an engaging and readable summary of the "emerging" church phenomenon.  Webber outlines briefly the main concerns of the contemporary church to engage its community with the gospel, and provides a summary of the issues entailed.

Webber's historical perspective helps place the discussion in context.  He then provides a brief introduction of the five contributors.  At the close, Webber offers us a summary reflective conclusion called "Assessing Emerging Theology."

Mark Driscoll
Although Mark Driscoll is in some ways the least representative of this group of "emerging" pastors, his essay is first in the book.  Driscoll is the founding pastor of Mars Hills Church in Seattle, Washington.  He fits in to the more traditional Reformed perspectives, so in this dialogue sounds more traditional and classical than any of the other four participants.  He is very misional in his belief and action, serving as president of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network.

I was surprised that Driscoll came across as the primary negative voice among these five, countering much of the perspective and many of the specific approaches and suggestions the others brought forward as methods of communicating the message of Jesus to their communities.

While I find Driscoll methodologically creative, I am surprised at his retro theological point of view.  He is an old line Reformed Calvinist, and doesn't like much creative thinking as found in Bell, McLaren, Pagitt and others.

John Burke
Burke gained experience at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, before starting his current church, Gateway Community Church in Austin, Texas.  He has an engineering background from the University of Texas and worked as a project manager for Chevron.

Burke started a new church in St Petersburg, Russia, after the fall of Communism.  With his wide range of community engagement, Burke has some helpful insights into the aspects of current culture and suggestions for how the Gospel of Jesus may make sense to the current generation.  John takes seriously the "global village" developing on the world scene as a framework for communicating the Gospel in meaning ways across cultures in the modern world.

Dan Kimball
Kimball is a well-known writer on the Emerging Church phenomenon, and has received both affirmation and approbation.  His name appears on other titles in my reading lists on this site.  He speaks now from his focus of ministry, Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California.  He focuses here on "Missional Theology," the focus of a church on mission, as each believer understands their life as a mission outreach and an expression of the Kingdom of God in society.

Doug Pagitt
Pagitt is also a well-known writer, and has been likewise discussed on discussion lists and in book reviews on the Internet.  Pagitt was one of the founders of the Emerging Church Network.  He discusses here the topic of "Embodied theology."  Pagitt understands this term to refer to personal faith engagement of life and ideas in a relational sense, not an abstract formal system.  He emphasizes that the context is our working range, and the context of our society sets the questions and needs to which the Gospel will speak.

Karen Ward
Ward, a writer on church and culture for Worship Leader magazine, is an interesting spice in this mix.  She speaks and consults on misoisnlogy, liturgy, ledership, community formation and spiritual practices.  The founding pastor of Church of the Apostles in Seattle, Washington, she writes with a narrative format that is both elusive and engaging.

Ward expresses the concerns of the church for its surrounding non-believing community and for their mutual spiritual pilgrimage.  Ward presents a somewhat mystical perspective, emphasizing the aspect of relational worship in community.

She reports some examples of community engagement and family exploration on question of faith and spiritual guidance or authority.  She gets roundly, if politely, hammered by Driscoll, whose Reformed antipathy to women, contemporary narrative theology and "exploratory" theology make him uneasy with Ward's participation in this lineup.  Ward is generally affirmed by the other participants, who respond to the intentions and compassion infusing her narrative relational gospel style.

This set of essays, and the bonus dynamics of interaction among these five astute commentators will stimulate and engage the reader.  These essays will likely induce an excitement about the possibilities of life in this challenging maelstrom of cultural change and diversity that constitutes our modern world.

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[review] Barbarian Faith versus Safe Religion
[PDF] Christianity and Society
[Review] Dialogue Church to Non-Church - Let's Listen
[review] Faith as Hilarious Adventure
[review] Faith Discovery Quest
[review] God's Trustworthiness in a Misbelieving World
[Review] Graduation to Reality – The Church Emerging
[Review] Jesus' Openly Secret Teachings
[review] The Other America:  Life on the Streets
[TXT] Postmodernism and the Emerging Church:  Some Thoughts
[Review] Uncovering the Hidden Kingdom

Related on the Internet:
Acts 29 Church Planting Network
Church of the Apostles
Dan Kimball
Doug Pagitt
Emerging Church Network
Gateway Community Church
John Burke at Zondervan
Karen Ward
Mark Driscoll on The Resurgence
Mars Hills Church
Robert Webber at The Institute for Worship Studies
Webber dies at Age 73

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First review notes written 28 May 2009
Review finalized and posted on Thoughts and Resources 28 September 2009
Last edited 24 January 2012

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2009 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
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