Union U conf.: Southern Baptists can learn something from ‘doctrine-friendly’ Emerging churches, Devine says

Communications Staff — October 8, 2009

Mark Devine, associate professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School. Photo by John Gill
Mark Devine, associate professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School. Photo by John Gill

JACKSON, Tenn. — While some Emerging churches do not uphold basic Christian doctrines, others are doctrine-friendly and theologically-sound and from these Southern Baptists can learn and benefit, Mark DeVine said.

DeVine, associate professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School and a Ph.D. graduate from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, examined the role doctrine-friendly Emerging churches can play in the Southern Baptist Convention.

DeVine identified two major streams of the Emerging church: the first he called “doctrine-friendly” and the second he called Emergent, which he said can be further subdivided into “doctrine-averse” and “doctrine-wary” varieties.

DeVine said his main interest is in the churches he called doctrine-friendly. Such churches are characterized by orthodox confessions of faith and affirm historic orthodox Christian creeds and the central tenets of the Protestant Reformation.

DeVine identified several characteristics of doctrine-friendly Emerging churches that could benefit Southern Baptists. First, he said such churches are fixated on church planting.

“Perhaps the most misinformed comments I encounter about the Emerging Church are those that apply a quick analysis that ends by dismissing and reducing the phenomenon as the convulsions of typical youth rebellion against grandma and grandpas religion,” DeVine said. “Emerging church leaders do tend to be young and young people do act like young people. But the first wave of church planters has aged by 10 to 15 years. … Church planting is not child’s play, neither is church re-planting. It is a fairly impressive way to rebel, I think.”

These church plants usually take place in cities and this commitment to urban or “citified” church planting is another helpful characteristic, DeVine said.

“For many (Emerging church planters), the more citified the context, the more they salivate at the prospect of seeing the Gospel advance,” he said. “As North America, and the entire world, become more and more urban, missiologists tell us and give us numbers showing how forbidding urban terrain proves for would-be church planters.

“Yet, there are many ecclesiologically baptistic and theologically evangelical church planters pouring their lives out to reach the lost with zeal and a willingness to sacrifice comparable to the great missionaries we Baptists have long revered.”

Emerging churches that are doctrine-friendly also bring a healthy emphasis on being missional in nature. While attractional churches focus on what takes place within their walls, DeVine said missional churches make it a point to engage people outside the church walls, in neighborhoods, restaurants and other local community contexts. Missional churches also emphasize the responsibility of every believer to take the Gospel to their local community, he said.

DeVine said that perhaps the biggest potential contribution of Emerging churches to not only Southern Baptists but all of North American Christianity is their engagement with the multiple cultural sub-cultures that now make up the continent.

“No longer can Christian believers and would-be evangelists expect to encounter unbelievers with whom they share a deep, wide and rich cultural heritage across great swaths of geography,” he said. “The cultural diversification occurring in North America matters for those who would see the Gospel advance. Culture profoundly affects the conveyance of meaning and the Gospel is a message with a meaning that must be conveyed in order to be believed.”

DeVine said a failure to understand the culture in which we minister will result in a failure to communicate the Gospel. With the changing cultural landscape in America, he said Southern Baptists must view our own land as a mission field. And doctrine-friendly Emerging churches can help Southern Baptists reach this mission field.

“Where strong and deep theological affinity avails, let us be slow to view those with a jaundice eye,” DeVine said. “Let’s do shared theology do its work and let’s be patient with these men.”

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