Church Transitions

Recently I heard a prominent speaker outline, in his mind, how the church has transitioned over the years in changing its foundation.

He said that the church has moved from the traditional-biblical model (which this presenter believed he still existed within), to the social model, based on Bill Hybels/Willowcreek having numerous ministries connect to social groups and social needs. From this social model our church culture moved to a psychological model based on Rick Warren/Saddleback, connecting with people’s mental and additive issues, while also having pop-psychology sermons. He stated that the church has now entered the sensual model based on Mark Driscoll/Mars Hill/Emerging, where the church is seeking to connect with its people and culture through crass language, sexual innuendos , and “worldly assimilation.”



~ by Dave Smith on October 25, 2008.

8 Responses to “Church Transitions”

  1. Boy…you really didn’t enjoy that recent conference did you?

    I noticed you left out the speaker’s definition of the “traditional” model.

    Where do these models deviate from the one true and pure model he espouses?

    Even if accurate (I don’t know)…the timeframe from which this is viewed and conclusions are made is rather narrow.

    The oldest church represented is what – 25 years old (I don’t know the full history of each).

    Compared to the broader timeline of church history that’s a pretty small data pool to much such large conclusions.

    I’m guessing a 100 years from now, these different so-called church models will be viewed by church historians as a broader trend rather than 3-5 separate threads.

    I’ll take another guess,this speaker is espousing a church model where “biblical expository preaching” is the central function of the church, and any church model that deviates from this so-called traditional model is on a slippery slope.

    This is the all encompasing method for acheiving any of the functions of the church, and, anything outside of this method is viewed with a skeptical eye b/c – “only the preaching of the Word changes a life”…”faith comes by hearing and hearing the word of God.”

    It’s interesting that after 2,000 years, we still struggle with coming to a concensus on how to do church.

    But the question(s) remains – is the speaker right?

    Or is this another recylced version of denominationalism (i.e. sectarianism) we saw so much in the 20th century?

  2. On the one hand, the speaker has accurately assessed certain themes within American Evangelicalism. However, my perception is not that churches have gone through these stages chronologically, per se, but rather that these trends have emerged and continue to exist side-by-side. In other words, the social model may be the oldest of the bunch, but it’s not as if it does not exist anymore now that the “sensual model” has come along.

    As an aside, I’m not sure I would lump Mark Driscoll in with the Emerging crowd. He’s among the most conservative Evangelicals you can find in the younger generation of Evangelical leaders. Although he certainly employs contemporary culture and technology, I’ve never heard him use “crass” language (by my standards, anyway), and one would be mistaken to accuse him that the Bible isn’t still the foundation of his preaching and ministry.

    Which leads me to the main criticism I would have of the speaker’s assertions. Namely, he seems to imply that the church has transitioned away from the biblical center to various other centers for preaching and ministry. If that is the implication, I disagree. For example, Mark Driscoll’s sermons are little more than exegesis mixed in with personal stories that function as illustrations. In other words, it’s thoroughly biblical while being communicated through contemporary imagery, etc.

    To say the church has left the traditional biblical model (whatever that might mean) as its foundation is inaccurate, in my opinion. None of the churches cited above have abandoned Scripture whatsoever, and my suspicion would be that the speaker is merely suffering from a bit of cultural lag. As times and methods change, it’s easy for the older generation to think the younger generation is abandoning the traditional values of the faith because culture/technology/psychology are being employed to communicate the message. But the fact is that the message has remained the same; it’s only the methods that have changed.

  3. Dave – who is this speaker? Are you concerned to name him for some reason? For what it’s worth, if you are accurately presenting his opinions, I don’t think there’s any reason not to name him. Your call, obviously, but I’d be curious to know if you feel like divulging.

  4. But that’s the core of the dispute…a “traditionalist” would claim the message has indeed changed (e.g. Olsteen) and methods can be unbiblical (e.g. emerging church).

  5. Great insight all around.

    I agree that these trends aren’t necessarily inaccurate…but to think they are unbiblical seems to be an overstatement. I see Jesus having the needs of his “leaners” just as much as a priority as the truth he wants to communicate.

    The presenter was John McArthur. I thought his insight on the cycle was interesting & observant…but his quick dismissal of these trends being less biblical was hard to swallow for me (sure, there are always extreme cases)

    I will probably post one more thought about this conference in light of the balance between having biblical-based opinions and carrying an elitist attitude. Not sure what to think about that.

    Ben, you are right about Driscoll, but he was immediately thrown into the emerging camp due to his embracing of the sensual elements of this trend (i.e. rawness, swearing in sermons, explicit sexual talk, etc.). Overgeneralization? Sure.

  6. I’ve never heard Driscoll swear, and you’re the first I’ve heard to say that he does – not that you’re wrong. I’ve just not heard that.

    But the obvious rub for me is the assumption that the term “biblically-based” has a self-evident meaning. The Bible is complex, and even we evangelicals who embrace it as revelatory should admit its complexity – which should result in humility, not arrogance (read outright dismissal of those we disagree with).

    Are emerging folks less biblical because they read the Bible through a different hermeneutic – one that emphasizes the human component of the author, or taking historical context and genre into account? I can hardly answer that question with a yes. If anything, the emerging church movement has helped me read the Bible more deeply by allowing me to see and accept the complexity of Scripture, and even sometimes simply letting its dialectical nature teach me. For example, try reading Ecclesiastes and Proverbs in back-to-back weeks and see if you aren’t at least a little bit puzzled.

    The point I’m trying to make is that there isn’t one exclusive biblically-based model; it is not that simple. Sure, there are the things that are clear – incarnation, Trinity, etc. – places where almost everyone agrees. But there is a multitude of issues where we disagree, even if we share the same or similar assumptions about what Scripture is and how it is authoritative: Young Earth vs. Old Earth, the nature and number of sacraments vs. ordinances, infant vs. adult baptism, Republican vs. Democrat, and the list goes on and on and on. To assume one’s own worldview as the only plausible and authentic biblical option is naive at best and prideful at worst.

    For someone as intelligent and influential as McArthur, I am frankly disappointed, although I guess not ultimately surprised. To dismiss other Christians as unbiblical is prideful, plain and simple, and it only perpetuates and widens the gaps which separate Christian brothers and sisters. Humble disagreement, on the other hand, can be constructive, and I would give anything to hear more of it from our respected leaders.

  7. Yea, Driscoll defends his position in that he is simply speaking the language of the culture…which with his Seattle culture, that is the language. He may have shyed away from this over time, but was his approach at one point.

    Agreed with your thoughts on where we draw that exclusive line on things. I like how you said, “humble disagreement.” Nice

  8. for a much more open-minded read on how the church changes over time, I suggest taking a look at Phyllis Tickle’s The Great Emergence. She has the wisdom of years, breadth of understanding, and isn’t diminutive to those outside of her beliefs.

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