Four “lanes” of the emerging church

This post was originally written on 7 March 2009, on the previous version of my blog

If you’ve done any reading on the emerging church, you’ll probably know the name Mark Driscoll. He has distanced himself from “Emergent”, the voice of emerging church in the USA. But he nevertheless still considers himself as “emerging”, although he prefers the label “Reformed Missional” or “Emerging Reformers”.

The video can be found at YouTube (click here). Or see below.

I think he is overly critical of the “fourth lane”, which he labels the “Emerging Liberals”. He is incorrect about Rob Bell, for example, who does NOT say that we can get rid of the virgin birth. It’s interesting. Driscoll says in this video below that “they are asking questions that no pastors should be asking”. Maybe that’s the big difference here. Reformed guys think that some issues should not be discussed, and that all Truth (with a capital T) has already been discovered (i.e. we are not wrong on any major issues right now in the history of the church). Anyone who is open to having conversations about this is labelled a liberal, and is seen as dangerous.

You decide.

But, here, at least is Driscoll’s video. I don’t buy into his analysis of the “emerging liberals”, but it probably fairly represents the concern most people have with the “emerging church”.

The video can be found at YouTube (click here).

On the previous blog, the following useful comments were added to the original post:

Tim Victor:
Both Bell and Driscol have a point on that very same issue. Though ‘misquoting’ Bell, Driscol nevertheless argues something important. I fear that on one had that misrepresentation (like Driscol’s here) clouds the discussions and causes more concern than is necessary. On the other hand, I do believe there are some basics to the faith and that rejecting them means rejecting or re-writing the Faith; the re-writing resulting in a rejection of one faith and the formation of another Christian-type of faith. That’s in part what I hear Driscol arguing that we take note of.

To Tim,
I agree that if we reject some “basics of the faith” then we don’t have Christianity any more.
Two comments. Emerging church thinkers are not rejecting these basics – they are investigating them. I know many of them personally, and have read most of the books, and most of them are in “conversation” mode. Luther, Calvin and Zwingli also started their ministry careers in this way, and there are many pamphlets of their early works that show the investigations and conversations that took place as their new theologies formed. Today, the difference is that these conversations have a larger audience than before. But they are conversations, not rejections. At least, for now.
Secondly, part of the discussion is to decide who gets to decide what the “basics of the faith” are. A simple example is homosexuality. Is this a “basic of the faith”? Is this something we must agree on, or we can have no fellowship? On what basis do we make such a decision? Ditto the role of women, the role of the Holy Spirit, racism and our view of abortion, gun control and the end times.
A more difficult example is the issue of the atonement. What exactly did Christ achieve on the cross, and how was it achieved? Critics of the emerging (liberal) church argue that they have abandoned “substitutionary atonement” or even “penal substitutionary atonement” (neither phrase appears in the Bible, by the way). This is not true. All I hear emerging thinkers say is that Christ accomplished MUCH MORE than MERELY a substitution for our punishment from a wrathful God. He did that, but that is only a small part of what he did.
Once again, I see the emerging (“liberal”) thinkers giving us MORE, not LESS, of the traditional Christian faith.

I’ve been over the book a few times and I’ve read all the internet hype and arguing back and forth over Rob Bell’s example of the Virgin birth as perhaps a brick of doctrine that could be removed without the wall falling down. I keep hearing the emerging crowd crying foul when people bring it up but honestly I still can’t see why Driscoll is wrong in portraying Bell the way he does. Bell essentially says, whilst affriming the virgin birth, that it is plausible that if that doctrine were removed it would not affect the faith which means he IS essentially saying that we can get rid of the virgin birth even if he himself chooses not to – if he isn’t saying that then why on earth use the virgin birth as an example? So sorry – don’t think Driscoll is wrong on calling him up on that one.
I do think Bell better fits halfway between camp #1 and camp#4 with McLaren, Pagitt, Jones etc.

Rob Bell has adequately defended his book elsewhere, and I don’t want to turn this thread into a discussion of his book. But here is what I see as important in that debate.
In “Velvet Elvis”, Bell is trying to make a point about how we interpret the Bible and how we create theology. He correctly points out that the Virgin Birth (a phrase that is not in the Bible, by the way) is only mentioned once in Scripture. AND he correctly points out the word for “virgin” is not actually the word for “virgin”. Rather, it should be better translated as “young girl”.
His point is about Biblical translation. He (again, correctly I believe) is making the point that we have created whole scaffoldings of theology on very shaky premises. We claim Jesus is the son of God, and then point to the virgin birth as incontrovertible proof of this claim. If someone points out that it was not a virgin birth would our whole theology of Jesus’ deity collapse?
He is arguing that it should not.
So, in other words, he is arguing for a STRONGER view of Jesus being God, not a weaker one!! He just wants us to look at the correct proofs, and not revert to simplistic (or even incorrect!) ones.
If that is what being a liberal is, then count me in!