The following is a response to Isaac's comment on the previous entry.
You said, “I agree that pursuing holiness is far more important than pursuing relevance, but does one have to come at the expense of the other?”
No, one does not have to pursue holiness at the expense of being relevant. In fact, I believe that one becomes more relevant to the world as one increases in holiness. The problem John MacArthur and I have is not that we believe the Emergent Church Movement (ECM) over-emphasizes being relevant, but rather in how Emergents define “relevant.” The ECM proposes that the church adapt to the ever-emerging culture by incorporating the world’s culture so as to attract the unregenerate. In so doing, they argue that only then can the Church be truly relevant to the unbelieving world. I firmly disagree. I believe that the stylistic preferences of each local church should be decided by the elders of that church for the purpose of benefiting the Christians who attend.
For example, if Local Church A
decides to sing hymns, that would be perfectly fine. Let’s say that Local Church B
church decides to sing more contemporary styles with songs that strongly reinforce Biblical teaching. Again, perfectly fine. Neither of these churches is more likely than the other to attract unbelievers to the point of true conversion. The Holy Spirit doesn’t only save sinners who sing along with contemporary-style songs. But the ECM would have us believe that Local Church B
is more likely to convert the unregenerate, and even they are not as “cool” as they should be. It’s almost as if the ECM forgets that God is sovereign over salvation by acting as though certain stylistic preferences might help convert a dead sinner.
So what does Biblical relevance look like? How does one effectively reach our sinful world? The Apostle Paul answers this for us in 1 Corinthians 1:21, “21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”
God is not pleased to save sinners through the world’s wisdom. God saves sinners through the foolishness of the message preached. O how foolish preaching seems to those who are perishing, but to God’s elect it is an amazing thing. Therefore, if a believer in Jesus Christ desires to truly be relevant to our dying world, he needs to uncompromisingly proclaim the gospel. There is no need to doctor it up with flashy styles, or with lame attempts to look cool. God saves, and He saves perfectly. All we must do is faithfully proclaim the gospel, or as Paul said, “1And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, 4and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.”
(1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
You said, “I've seen several examples of churches this year that take both righteousness and relevance very seriously, Rock Harbor in Costa Mesa, and Ecclesia in Los Angeles, to be specific.”
I cannot comment on either of these churches because I’ve never heard of them =).
You continued, “Both of these churches take the truth of the Bible and doctrine very seriously, while also being engaged in modern culture and having a reasonable understanding of the world outside of the church walls.”
What did you mean by: “…being engaged in modern culture and having a reasonable understanding of the world outside of the church walls”
? If you mean that you adapt the stylistic preferences of the local church to match the styles of worldly culture, I obviously disagree. Also, one can be well aware of the world’s culture without becoming a part of the sinful aspects of that culture. But the goal of the Christian is not to become an expert on worldly culture. His goal, with regards to evangelism, should be to clearly preach the gospel to those who are a part of worldly culture.
You said, “I agree that being 'cool' is a silly goal for the church. I cringe whenever I hear about the "awesome rock concert style services" or "multi-media presentations" at churches.”
Good to hear =). However, I believe the reason Mark Driscoll and other Emergent Church leaders are concerned with being “cool” in the eyes of the world, is a result of the Emergent philosophy that the local church needs to adopt worldly culture.
You continued, “It's not that the inclusion of these particular devices automatically means that truth is being compromised…”
Very true, except if you count the belief (incorporating the world’s culture) that led them to this behavior as a compromise.
You continued, “…but very often they accomplish the opposite of their intended goal and come off as embarrassingly out of touch and straight-up dorky.”
I completely agree with the first part of this statement: “but very often they accomplish the opposite of their intended goal.”
In many Emergent Churches, they genuinely desire to see the lost come to know Christ, and that is wonderful. But my pastor has a saying: “What you win folks with is what you win folks to.” In other words, if you use post-modernism and worldliness, you’ve won them to post-modernism and worldliness.
About your second point: “and come off as embarrassingly out of touch and straight-up dorky.”
This may be true, but honestly, who cares what the world thinks of you? If they think you’re a dork, so be it. The questions I would ask are: how was the preaching during church? Or: did you clearly preach the gospel to so-and-so?
You said, “It’s ridiculous for the church to try and dress up like modern culture,…”
This is exactly what the ECM movement does, including Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church.
You continued, “…but I think it's important to make an effort to understand the culture and be an active participant in it.”
I disagree. We do not need to participate in worldly culture. We need to preach to those who are involved in worldly culture. This is a monumental difference.
You said, “The point here is to keep the message of the Gospel from automatically being dismissed by a segment of Thai people that value a particular style of grooming.”
This scenario is a matter of preference really. If you want to grow a beard, I think that is acceptable. But let me use another example. Let’s say that there is an African tribe that prefers that you have ear-lobe extensions 3-feet long. Should a missionary do this so he can preach the gospel to these people? I think that would be a bit over the top. My point is that there are boundaries to our interaction with others. One of these boundaries is allowing the elders of a local church to decide which stylistic preferences their church should use that would benefit the believers of that congregation. Another boundary is not engaging in aspects of culture that are sinful. I don’t need to see every R-Rated or PG-13 movie so I can preach the gospel (not that every R-Rated or PG-13 movie is sinful, though some are). I don’t need to know who the coolest bands are. I don’t need to go clubbing so I can be relevant to partying college students. We already have so much in common: we are all born sinners. That puts us on an even playing field. Yes, definitely have an idea of the worldview people have, then present to them the Christian worldview.
You said, “Missionary groups are also quick to warn against forcing newly established churches in foreign countries to automatically engage in western-style worship music.”
We definitely agree here. So long as the songs reinforce Biblical doctrine, styles don’t matter.
You said, “My hope is that emerging churches that have gone overboard with a reactionary response can meet halfway with traditional churches that no longer live on the same planet as the people they’re trying to communicate with.”
My hope is that the ECM repents of incorporating Post-modernism and worldliness into the Church.
You ended by asking, “Can we make it a goal to be righteous and relevant at the same time?”
Christians who are righteous are relevant to the sinful world around them. As stated above, one does not become relevant by adapting to the world’s culture. Be the most relevant by appearing foolish to the world through preaching the message of Christ.