Thursday, December 01, 2005

a southern response to a southern response

John Hammett, Professor of Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has offered An ecclesiological assessment of the emerging church. I glanced through it (just wish Carson was as easy to glance through) and have made about 10 brief responses.

Update: I emailed John Hammett to inform him that I had made this response to his paper on my blog and I’ve just had a warm email response, full of the intention to continue dialogue and a desire to keep it cordial and gracious. Hoorah for nice Southern baptists!

1. (Reading the footnotes). Every single reference is US-based. Surely it’s time every US emerging church organisation and website added two letters (US) to their names, because it’s obvious that people are not getting the “oh, we really are global” rhetoric. (Here on my blog is a list of some non-US emerging church research.)

2. (Reading page 3). Heck it’s hard to criticise the emerging church. We don’t like to define ourselves. We produce diverse characteristics and emphases. When we catch flak we just define ourselves as local church pastors and ask for academic backup.

3. (Reading page 5). I like Hammett’s point about the diversity of culture and the fact that not overyone is postmodern. When I arrived at Opawa Baptist I showed the first minute of Zeffareli’s Romeo and Juliet and the first 2 minutes of Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet. Some people liked Zeffareli’s 1968, other people like Luhrmann’s 1996. (There’s cultural analysis of these movies in my out of bounds church? book if you want more.) Instantly we could all see that mission would have to variegated, both/and not either/or. That’s helped us formulate our multi-congregational model, and allow us to use different ways to reach different people.

4. (Reading page 5) I don’t like the automatic equation of lots of young people with the assumption that a church is effective at “winning postmoderns.” To make that claim you need to research firstly the religious background of those young people and secondly, the cultural background of those people. (Such research requires some work and it’s what I did for my PhD study of an “emerging church.”) It might just be that Manhattan’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church is full of rural US people, already Christian, who have moved to Manhattan. I don’t know. I’m just questioning the assumption that “lots of young people” = “effective in winning postmodern.”

5. (Reading page 6). The research John draws on regarding attitudes of young people is in such striking contrast to that produced by OMG! How Generation Y is Redefining Faith In The iPod Era, (PDF can be downloaded from here).
ipodpoll.gif“[A] generation who are seekers far more than drifters … They are actively considering questions of identity, community, and meaning – negotiating how important their religious identities will ultimately be – but doing so with their own friends, in their own homes, and in their own ways. We are fascinated by the majority who hunger for episodic religious experiences, preferring the informal and expressive to the ritualistic and institutional.”

Perhaps we are again seeing the variegated nature of our mission context.

6. Definitions of postmodernism/ity are so slippery and I think both John and Carson are slip-sliding all over the place. Here is one definitional attempt I made a while ago.

7. In all humility, John needs to read Postcard 8 of my out of bounds church?book. In the book I suggest that our models of gospel and culture are now unhelpful, as they so easily slide into either/or; if you are emerging you are culturally accomodating cf if you are non-emerging you are gospel faithful. The dualisms are easy but dead wrong. I argue in the book that at it’s best the emerging church is DJing. A DJ can subvert, amplify, juxtapose. I argue that our culture is so “variegated” that we need multiple responses. At times we applaud (amplify), at times we subvert and juxtapose (challenge). The authority for this is “two or three gathered together”, the wisdom of Christ present in the community. (I draw on Miroslav Volf at this point, especially this article: Soft Difference). It’s a caricature to define the emerging church as culturally accomodating, just as it is a caricature for the emerging church to define the mega-church as accommodating of suburbia. The future is what I am now calling the “micro-poetics of the everday”; everyday lifestyle discipleship.

9. (Reading page 10). I’m uneasy about the simple comparison of culture against Scripture. It oversimplifies our mission task and it oversimplifies Scripture. I doubt any Christian is prepared to literally read Psalm 137:8-9 and not want to suggest some cultural influences might shape how we respond to that Scripture.

10. (Reading page 11). I like John’s ending. There is warmth and wisdom. It reminds me of the famous quote by Dean Inge; that the church which “marries the spirit of the age becomes a widow in the next.” That is not a licence to embrace modernity or postmodernity. Rather, it is a challenge to be a faithful Jesus follower in the culture that is now. To use the Eugene Peterson quote I blogged yesterday;
God’s great love and purposes for us are all worked out in messes in our kitchens and backyards, in storms and sins, blue skies, the daily work and dreams of our common loves. God works with us as we are and not as we should be or think we should be. God deals with us where we are and not where we would like to be. (Christ plays in ten thousand places, 75).

Dang (to use a tallskinnyism) that’s a long post. Perhaps I should have given the paper, not John Hammet. I am after all, more Southern Baptist than him, because I am a Baptist Pastor down (South) under! 🙂

More thoughtful responses here and here.

Posted by steve at 03:42 PM


  1. And, further to your point (4), why does Hammett’s equation automatically equate “postmodern” with “youth.” Surely “youth” don’t have a monopoly on “postmodern”…

    Comment by Paul Fromont — December 1, 2005 @ 4:47 pm

  2. thanks steve

    great to have you applying your mind to this.

    peace on nz

    Comment by andrew — December 3, 2005 @ 4:25 pm

  3. Could you explain more about what you mean by your evocative phrase the “micro-poetics of everyday life”?

    Comment by gary manders — December 4, 2005 @ 3:07 am

  4. Hello,

    Being 43 and new to things EC, I think a couple questions for JH are concerning his concerns for his own church. Evangelicals, at least here in the US, do not have a very good track record (biblical literacy, holiness, impact). In “TCOTOS”, Brian McLaren talks of a friend who has no expectations of Ev/Mega-Churches and that’s right where I am at; I read EC Things and I like what I see. The point here is not to bash Ev/Reformed churches, but if the are the “keepers of the flame” let’s have an honest discussion about how we are all doing. (

    Thanks, DougG

    PS What started my quest was a major Ev leader making a pretty strong negative generalization of the EC.

    Comment by DougG — December 4, 2005 @ 2:29 pm

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