SO YOUR CHURCH IS UP-TO-DATE?
Whether liberal or conservative, emerging leaders
believe they must prove they are up-to-date. So they seek an
accommodation to the spirit of the present world. They feel
compelled to make Christianity more "relevant" to the spirit of this
age. They beat their drums for a new theology "by, for, and about"
the spirit of today’s generation.
Their ultimate illusion, in other words, adapts
God to "where people are at."
So the emerging church finds its legitimacy in
the latest "buzz." This legitimacy includes researching the
"market," then bringing commercial success to their "product." It
includes Madison Avenue marketing and show-business spirituality.
And it includes anything that sells—even the hidden (or not so
hidden) seductions of sex.
Of course, kids are the main targets. With the
latest lingo and state-of-the-art technology, emerging leaders morph
the "cool" of kids into a religion.
Why not? We’re all creatures of culture. We all
need a sense of belonging. We all seek sympathetic agreement with
how the world works. So it’s no big surprise that we’ve always
tailored religion to the tastes of culture. We’ve always made
"religion" a socially acceptable agreement about who God is. And,
whenever necessary, we’ve always reinvented faith to conform to that
And how do we get away with it? We simply
The resulting problems should be obvious. Culture
is not the same as Spirit. Never was, never will be. In fact, it’s
hard to imagine a worse fit. Cloaking Spirit with culture leads only
to consensual delusions, for we end up being something other than
who we think we are—or even the opposite of who we think we are.
This is a dangerous game we’re playing, for any belief contrary to
the original message is—by definition—"heresy."
Yet, wait. Shouldn’t the church want to be
effective in its community and in its culture? Shouldn’t the church
want to connect successfully with anyone and everyone—anytime and
anywhere? And shouldn’t the church want to "talk the talk," to find
relevance in "real" life, to speak the language of the "latest" and
the "greatest". . . .
. . . especially when a new culture is
"emerging"—and, even more especially, when the Lord of History is
Yes, but we do these things blindly. Usually, the
latest medium becomes the latest "Message," the latest trend becomes
the latest "Word," and the latest ethos becomes the latest "Spirit."
In this caricature of culture, counterfeit "signs" move deceptively
close to the real—illusory "angels of light" hide deceitfully from
our discernment—and bogus "spiritualities" masquerade cunningly as
So it seems we’re "damned if we do and damned if
we don’t." Where are we missing it?
To begin, too many emerging leaders put too much
trust in anything "new." They track the "cutting edge" at any cost.
They think, "If we can just get ‘far out’ enough, God will be
there." But this reflects the unfortunate confusion between "keeping
relevant" and "keeping up"—or between "relevancy" and "recency."1
After all, something new can become an overnight
cliché just as easily as
something old. In other words, the most "relevant" is not
necessarily the most "recent." A suicide leap into the
"unknown"—without a powerful hold on the "known"—does not open up
new worlds. There’s a difference, after all, between "trends" and
Yet, to accept the message of the emerging church
is to accept culture. And to accept culture is to accept the message
of the emerging church. That means secular spirituality—whether
unreal or surreal, wild or otherworldly—remains "untested,
undiscerned, and ungrounded.2
Such foolishness flies in the face of the Gospel
which is totally autonomous to culture—completely unconstrained by
culture. For the Good News is transpersonal, transcultural, and
Yes, the Lord of History is "always doing
something new." But His "newness" is not a trendy "newness." His
Truth, for example, is not a matter of something in style or out of
style. Instead, it’s a matter of something hidden in a live metaphor
or lost in a worn-out metaphor—old or new. Transcendence, in other
words, comes only from the tension between the unknown and the
known—the tension, for example, between "being in tune with the
Spirit" and "being in touch with culture."3
More than "infinite passion" for our culture, we
need "passion for the infinite." Again, culture can’t hear as deeply
as God speaks. It can’t move as quickly as God moves. And, it can’t
repent as rapidly as God demands.
The emerging church risks the re-emergence of a
pagan culture. And, emerging leaders won’t be able to criticize
culture if they’ve already become culture.
© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt
1. Leonard Sweet, quoted in Peter Walker and
Tyler Clark, "Missing the Point?" Relevant Magazine, Issue
21, July-August, 2006, pp 70-74.
2. Gordon D. Fee, Paul, the Spirit, and the
People of God (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers,
1996) p. 188.