When Extreme Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does

I’ve started paying attention to the “Emerging Church” movement, which is an attempt to redefine the Christian community of faith. There are a lot of issues within that particular movement, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

There are groups within groups within groups (and then some) within the Emerging Church movement. Some (like me, I’m tempted to say) are no doubt within the “orthodox” (I don’t mean Eastern Orthodox) tent, but are frustrated by the human church that is so hierarchical and stuck in a morass, that it is beginning to fail. There are a lot that are so theologically out there, that even the Episcopal Church (USA) can’t open their arms to accept them.

This is my long introduction to one thing that many in the Emerging Church movement are accused of (and rightfully so in many cases). A particular segment of the Emerging Church movement (I’ll call them the “No Boundaries” segment) is definitely theologically in trouble. In an attempt to reach the unsaved (don’t get me wrong, Jesus tells us to), they water down the Word to such a point that it becomes a feel good show, and not a life of faith. Now, there are people who attend church for the feel good show, but that is not the way it is supposed to be. It certainly shouldn’t be “institutionalized” that way.

The No Boundaries Emerging Church movement segment (NBEMCS) believes that we should put no limits on people as part of their being in the church. While that is good on one hand, because we should not be working to the law, but through faith, it is also bad, because how are we to measure a life of faith and grace? The NBEMCS tries its best to be everything to everyone, which is a problem in and of itself, since that is impossible.

I read an article on The Ooze, Out on the Wings with JesusArchived Copy, Alan Ward states his belief that we have tried to “tame” Jesus, trying to make him more in the middle (as in the middle of the bell-curve, see Bye-Bye, Bell? Hello, Well?). I would say that there has definitely been an effort to tame Jesus, and many Christian authors have commented on that already. Mr. Ward says that Jesus was on the extreme, and He was in many ways. However, and I have to admit I don’t know Mr. Ward’s intent, but it appears as if his article was meant to justify the NBECMS. If that is the case, I think his article failed. It’s a great article, but the Emerging Church movement, if it becomes like the NBECMS, will fail, for with no boundaries it will more fully embody the fallen world, than current society does.

That being said, however, Mr. Ward does say:

“Average Jesus” comes to us where we are and doesn’t require us to change or grow much. “Average Jesus” doesn’t cost us anything but still gives us the “benefits” of being Christian. We can have Jesus and still remain comfortable in the middle with everyone else.

Here, if you take out the “Average” part, and perhaps replace it with “Self-Portrait”, you have a, in my opinion, portrayal of what Mr. Ward means, I hope. If everyone were like Jesus, “Average Jesus” would be just fine, but averages change. I believe what he intends is that in trying to emulate Jesus (i.e., allowing ourselves to be discipled with Jesus), if it costs us nothing, and/or its easy, it’s pointless, and not a true emulation of Him.

My biggest fear is that the Emerging Church movement, especially the NBECMS, is trying to create a pain-free Jesus, an skewed version which is just a revered version of ourselves. In their attack against the middle, the NBECMS, and even the majority of the Emerging Church movement, I think are trying to slay straw men. By this I mean that their attack on the middle will have no effect on actually producing a Christ-centered church, because the focus isn’t on Jesus, but on trying to be “tolerant” and “accepting” group with Jesus vaguely thrown into the mix.

The great advantage that the Emerging Church movement has is perspective. I will agree that much of the “mainstream” church is no longer effective, and is, frankly, lost. However, their (both mainstream and emerging church) focus is supposed to be on Christ, and I think too many churches (whole denominations) have moved their church from the solid rock of Christ to the dangerous and treacherous shores of the water that is the world. However, I can’t help but feel that many in the Emerging Church movement are trying to build a pontoon float for the church to float on the waters of the world, rather than returning to the rock that is Christ.

The point of this rambling is that for much of the Emerging Church the perspective seems to be, “since we are extreme, we are more Christ-like.”  However, creating your own image of Christ and worshiping it, is not Christ-like, but idol worship, the idol of self.  This is the same idol that much of society already worships, so that doesn’t make the Emerging Church extreme, just extraordinarily average.