An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches
If the emerging church movement is looking for a theology, Ray Anderson offers clear and relevant theological guidance for it in this timely book.
Reaching back through time, Anderson roots an emergent theology in what happened at Antioch, where Saul (Paul) and Barnabas were set apart for a mission to establish churches outside of Jerusalem--among Gentiles who had to be reached in their own cultures. He shows how the Lord Holy Spirit himself revolutionized and inspired how the message of salvation was offered to others, and provided a model to follow.
Explaining that an emergent theology is messianic, revelational, kingdom-coming and eschatological, this book adresses many of the concerns of those looking for a church that is contemporary, yet true to the gospel.
If you wrestle with the challenges that face the church in these "postmodern" days, you will benefit from this book.
A Message of Grace
By Harold S. Morton III
As a pastor (and a former student of Ray's &a Fuller Seminary graduate) the hardest thing for me has been dealing with moribund churches in a changing culture--fortress mentality churches that act as if it's OK to let the world go to hell while they stay happy in their fortress doing church as it's always been done. Never mind the fact that, aside from a few creedal statements, there is very little to point to that the church has "always" done, or believed. Ray's book is not a systematic theology--it doesn't claim to be one. In the end of the preface he says, "I am concerned for what it [i.e. the emgerging church] is 'all about' and the chapters that follow are my attempt to answer this question." Ray is very quick to point out places where an emergent church *without any theological moorings* can drift into heretical waters; if I might try to say for Ray, I might say, "If the emergent church is going to try to engage culture--as opposed to standing against culture--here is a theological basis that might be worth building upon.
For people wanting orthodoxy (like most of the other reviewers?) Ray's book will fail to deliver. Emergent churches, I think, are trying to apprehend a new epistemology, new hermeneutical lenses for reading hte Bible, and a new spirituality--and the defenders of orthodoxy will never like the answers apart from their usual orthodoxy. In Ray's defense, he speaks to all three to a greater or lesser degree. Emergent epistemology is tied to revelation whereby God speaks and gives us each a personal narrative (personally I think this answer is right as far as it goes, but it's incomplete and is deserving of fuller consideration). Hermeneutics then is, in part, the process of reconciling God's narrative (the Bible) with our personal narratives (what God is doing in our lives, part of which is revelation). Our "spiritual act of worship" (Romans 12:1) is our lives in the *world*...not our lives at church. The answers that Ray gives challenge absolutist thinking, compartmentalization of our lives, and works-based spirituality (which I believe most American evangelicals suffer from). I consider myself to be evangelical, and I see Ray's book as a message of grace to for those--me included--who have labored under the fear that they are not spiritual enough.
For me as a pastor, I found Ray's exposition to be easy to follow, personally challenging in places, and full of comfort for me in the trenches. Most of the chapters end with a section titled "[A] Concluding Nontheological Postscript"; typically these sections dealt with lots of real-life pastoral problems, e.g.: church members claiming to be more Spirit-filled than the pastor, church members quibbling about inerrancy; church members complaining about hypocrisy (e.g. not following Jesus' command to the rich young man in Mark 10:21); doubts and self-accusations that pastors feel inwardly. These sections gave me great encouragement and refreshment and made me feel like I was not alone in the trenches.
This book is a nice addition for one's library of emerging church books. The proverb is, "Well begun is half done." Ray has begun the conversation regarding emergent church theology well, but it won't be the final word. But then, if you knew Ray, you'd know he leaves the final word to God.