D.H. Williams: Evangelicals and Tradition (book)

C. Michael Patton's Charts on Orthodoxy and the Emerging Church

The conversation at Jesus Creed on C. Michael Patton's chart on orthodoxy and the emerging church is winding to a conclusionary pause and Patton has added more thoughts behind his attempt to map out the emerging church on the orthodoxy scale.

1. The first chart on conservative vs. liberal?


Nah. I don't feel that time-traveling to the 1920's dichotomy of fundamental/liberal to see which side we would land is the best way to reconnect a robust trust in the Scripture with a obedient commitment to social justice as outlined by the mandate of Jesus. I believe the story of the Bible is connected to the event - or in other words, those miracles of Jesus really happened - and so I am not a liberal. But I am also committed to the whole gospel as Jesus described it and that inclusion of justice and social transformation makes me appear suspect by fundamentalists. I prefer not to use the scale at all because its not helpful.

2. The Orthodoxy Chart?

I don't like it Sorry. I appreciate the effort of C. Michael Patton but these charts are neither helpful nor meaningful to me. I wondered why those particular authors were chosen to represent the emerging churches (and why authors and not network or emerging church ministry leaders?) and then I noticed that the 'emerging' and 'emergent were over to the side of Orthodox Christianity, rather than the center.

And who said orthodoxy was a fixed point in time rather than a moving target?

Shoot. What are we doing if it is not moving towards orthodoxy and orthopraxy? The emerging church movement, in my opinion, at least in my corner of the room, is at least an attempt to realign God's mission and the mission of the church in our generation with the way of Jesus and his apostles in a manner that resonates historically and theologically with what the catholic church has traditionally viewed as "orthodox". Patton has some good thoughts on what orthodoxy means, but I don't think he sees emerging church movement nudging the church towards orthodoxy in the way I do. His recent posts on his view on the emerging church [which says nothing about the missiological thinking behind the movement and seems to avoid the eschatological issues that are currently being raised by McLaren, Wright and Tony Jones] show that he sees the emerging church movement very differently than I do.

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Can I share why this is a hassle for me? Can I tell you why this concerns me? I am viewing the maps from a fundraising perspective this week, and they are problematic. Any other week, I wouldn't take them so seriously.

This week I am submitting proposals for funding for emerging church missional projects in many countries including USA. I have assured the foundations in previous briefings that these groups we are funding represent orthodox beliefs and ascribe to historic Christianity. I even ask the emerging church groups if they ascribe to the Lausanne Covenant which is a way to keep some quality control.

The groups on my list represent some very large ministries spanning dozens of countries. One group, less than a decade old, has now spread to over 60 countries. Acts 29 and Emergent Village in the USA are very small in comparison and hardly exist outside their own countries. And in case you were wondering, I am not trying to raise money for either of them. None of these ministries on my list are represented on Patton's chart so I wonder if he has really seen a slice of the emerging church movement wide enough to draw some conclusions from, or if he has just read a few books.

So when the Trusts and Foundations, who are mostly USA based and are supporting global mission efforts through the emerging church movements see charts like that,creates dissonance because I said they are ORTHODOX and Patton has placed them right of orthodox. This not only makes me look stupid, unreliable, uninformed and potentially dishonest, it also threatens future funding to these groups and their leaders, many of whom have no idea who these "emerging" and "emergent" men are, and may not have read any of their books, even if they do speak English.

And as for Patton's cute 20 signs you are moving from emerging to emergent, I get the humor and a few of them are funny, some might even be accurate, but I also think they are demeaning to many young emerging church people who have given up well paid careers or their salaried positions at more conventional churches to embrace a harder, starker, lonelier journey with Christ that translates to a lower standard of living. No house, no car and no gold watch when they retire. And no retirement. And not because it was cool or trendy, but because serving Christ on the margins in the way Jesus described was closer to what they perceived as orthodoxy than pulling in a hefty salary by a giving a polished oration on a big stage every Sunday and asking the new converts to foot the bill. Sure, they expect to have critics make fun at their expense but they also need a few Barnabases to salute them and tell them they are doing a good job and remind them that their sacrifice is will be remembered on the last day.

Some examples.

- I hope she forgives me for mentioning her. Barbara in Portugal, who i talked about in the post Emerging Church in Portugal, and her associates took a step of faith last year and bought some land. They work with street kids in Lisbon and are starting a community to become self-sustaining and to achieve their missional goals. They need $10,000 by April. Are they orthodox? The Evangelical Alliance in Portugal think so, which is why they are helping to support them with their limited means. What will happen if the EA folk read Patton's chart?
- An emerging movement based in Austin, Texas need funding for their mission inside a very well known arts event next month. The chart is utterly meaningless to them and it doesn't define them or describe them in any way. And the funders behind some of the leading people in this movement would be distraught to think they were not "orthodox" in the way they assumed. But in fact, they are quite orthodox (except in the way they dress) and Patton's chart again is weighed and found wanting.

Anyway, enough ranting. Any other week and I would probably shrug the whole thing off. But not this week. And Michael - sorry for being really pessimistic and a grumpy old man. I like your blog and your thoughts and I will try to affirm more of your efforts in the future when i read them. And thanks for interacting with EC folk over this matter and even to make changes to your chart - it tells us you are a listener and are open, as we are, to correction.


- Johnathon Brink feels that C. Michael Patton's understanding of the emerging church is "flawed", despite him being a nice and intelligent guy.
- Dan Kimball is going on a podcast soon to sort everyone out. Go Dan!
- Pete Rollins in his book How (Not) To Speak of God has some good ideas on orthodoxy as not only right belief, but also thinking in the right way.
- Steve Knight on Emergent Village gives some background to Patton's chart.