This is just a quick observation that I seem to have noticed. It seems to me that popular evangelical leaders read books by people like MacArthur, Warren, Hybels, Swindol, Lucado, and Stanley: practitioners and pastors.
However, it seems like emerging church leaders are reading books by Hauerwas, Wright, Brueggemann, Volf, McKnight, Moltmann, Franke, and Grenz: theologians and academics.
I have no statistics to back this up. It is just a cursory observation based mostly off of blogs I read and visiting the ever-exciting Christian bookstore. So, my observations may not reflect reality. But for the sake of this post, I will assume it holds true.
Is the emerging church the manifestation of the academy and the church coming together? Are the ivory towers finally being brought into our sanctuaries? It seems to me to be so. If it turns out to be true, I think there would be some pretty massive implications:
- The emerging church is not a fad, but here to stay. It is a theologically-grounded way of being church that may evolve into something different, but will continue with its value of asking difficult questions.
- The academy will be put to the test. To me, good theology is theology for the sake of the church. Academics will no longer be judged on how many obscure journal articles they publish or scholarly presentations they make, but on how well their books and articles (and blogs) “preach” and transform the lives of our congregations.
- Congregations might begin to see the real weight of the biblical texts in our lives and be forced to reckon with them rather than being placated by trivialized devotional readings of the scriptures. In my expanded theological reading over the past few years the most striking thing is the realization that being a Christian is about more than 1950s morality but is a call upon our whole lives. I know that all churches say that, but it seems few catch the weight of what is being said. Being a Christian might actually involve things like suffering and getting serious about greed.
- As a result of #3, churches might see the triviality of crap that hinders being a church and doing ministry (like egos, rote tradition, consumerism, selfishness, etc.)
- As a result of #3 and #4, the church will grow.
Maybe the list is a little bit over the top. I’m pretty much saying that the emerging church might be able to turn the decades-long slide of people leaving the church just because they read some theology. Well, to me, it seems like a natural progression. I could be wrong; time will tell.
If someone were looking for a research project, I think this would be an interesting topic to pursue. If it turns out that emerging churches in general are paying attention to professional theologians more so than the average evangelical leader, that might quiet down some of those people who accuse the emerging church of being theologically void.
I know my personal interest in the emerging church has nothing really to do with trying to reach a postmodern generation, but with trying to simply be a proper church again, which has led me out of the realm of pop-Christianity and into the rich world of theology. I wonder how many others share my sentiments.