Brian McLaren: Does the Emerging Church Have an Ancient-Future?

What does Brian McLaren have to do with Bob Webber? I have often wondered just how much an overlap there could actually be between what Robert Webber does with liturgy, postmodernity and the Ancient church and what is going on in the emerging churches of N. America. I always thought Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Faith from several years ago now was a great accessible look at the postmodern issues we face today and how the ancient church offers resources for this challenge. And we know there is an interest in liturgical forms both from emergent works like Tony Jones’ The Sacred Way and the general renewed interest in more historical church forms from younger evangelicals and younger folk in general. But yet there is still some general confusion among emerging church planters as to what liturgy/ancient church can possibly bring to emerging church sensibilities. It is hardly a good marketing tool right?
This is why I find the title of Brian McLaren’s address at the upcoming conference on the Ancient Evangelical Call to be so interesting: “Does the Emerging Church Have an Ancient-Future?” What will McLaren have to say on this issue? I have no doubt Bob Webber needs McLaren (if Ancient Future is to be made accessible to the practitioner and even more importantly if it is going to make sense to the practitioner) I just don’t know if McLaren needs Bob Webber?

For those of you who don’t know what this conference is all about, Christianity Today recently published “The Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future,” in their September issue along with an interview with Robert Webber. It has already generated blog discussions too numerous to refer to. It is a document written as collaboration across many evangelical lines, devised and organized by Robert Webber of Northern Seminary. It is a Call to the evangelical church to renew its sense of historical integrity in the Narrative of Christ. Its list of signers is impressive and among its editors includes the names of Kevin Vanhoozer, Hans Boersma and Howard Snyder. The Call strikes at a theme near and dear to my own sense of things: that evangelicalism has become so aligned so with modernity, American individualism, consumerism and America’s culture industries that it has lost is vitality to narrate an account of reality that is faithful to our Story in Christ. The Ancient-Evangelical Call calls us back to being faithful to our Story, specifically the Narrative as told in Scripture, enacted in worship, lived out through spiritual formation and embodied in engagement with the world through justice and mission.

Now I admit that some of the ways “the Call” puts things might appear a bit out of step with current philosophical and theological trajectories. “Story” and “Narrative” have been overused and somewhat trivialized in places academic and otherwise. Yet it is the simplicity of this document, using such baseline concepts like Narrative that just might bring evangelicals across the dividing lines, Reformed, Holiness, Baptist, High Church, Mega Church, Missional Church, Emerging Church, to dialogue on how we are to engage culture in these times, get us out of our hyped-up foundationalism, modernism, individualism and consumerism long enough to seek a new missional presence in the world.

The themes of the Call are familiar and getting more attention from within traditional evangelical circles: themes like Discipleship as spiritual formation, worship as less narcissistic and more liturgically driven, and missional embodied engagement with the injustice and impoverishment of our warped society. I wonder if the AEF Call could bring together parties that have resisted the emerging church forums. Perhaps the AEF could bring together a wider and broader participation in the push towards a missional direction for the N. American church. I have hopes, I just don’t know yet.

I know there are blank spots in this document. In large part this document aims squarely at the downfalls of White Suburban Evangelicalism (WSE) because that in the past is what evangelicalism has tragically often been: white and suburban. And so, anytime you use the word “evangelical” (like this AEF Call does) it seems to leave out large participants in vital parts of American Christianity, I am thinking especially of African American and Women Christians who have not been part of the (WSE) evangelical church voice until maybe just recently. Nonetheless, if we would get somewhere with this part of the church, not leave it behind in disgust, perhaps a document aimed directly at it might be necessary.

So having said all of this, I am eager to see what happens here at this meeting coming up at Northern on the Ancient-Evangelical Call. I’ll be interested to hear Brian McLaren’s address, “Does the Emerging Church Have an Ancient-Future?” I am interested in McLaren’s talk and reflection on this. There will be others as well, Lauren Winner, and Aaron Flores who may be able to comment on Emerging Church issues. Martin Marty will have his own take on things. Frederica Mathewes-Green will be rich. I also hope some Emerging church pastors, leaders interested thinking missional people come and get into this discussion. Can anything vibrant come out of this? I don’t know. But I have sincere interest and hopes. And of course I’ll be there as a member of Northern’s faculty.

What do you think of this Call? Is anyone out there thinking about coming to the Conference? If you are let me know, I’d like to connect with as many folk as possible there.

And BTW, even though I am a professor at Northern Seminary, all my comments above represent my own thoughts, not Bob’s or anyone else’s at the seminary.


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