Recently the Gospel Advocate published a series of featured articles on The Emerging Church Movement. As is to be expected the articles are as a whole fairly negative. I personally think it refreshingly biblical. I do not have time to critique all the articles in depth but I have chosen one snippet to probe a little further. Unfortunately my probing will be from what is, in my opinion, the cream of the crop of the articles: Matthew Morine's "Missional Evangelism." My probing is not intended in any way to be an attack upon Matthew because I really like Matthew and believe he is a great servant of the Lord.
Matthew summarizes his understanding of the principles of missional evangelism which seems, in my view, to be rooted in the very Godly idea of incarnation. Matthew then offers two criticisms of ME under the heading "The Missional Compromise." This is a most interesting way to go at it. ME promotes "drinking, smoking and carousing" we are told in bold letters. We are informed, therefore, that the first compromise of ME is "moral laxity." Matthew provides a case in point so to speak from Michael Frost and Alan Hirsh's outstanding book The Shaping of Things to Come. In Frost & Hirsh's story they want to illustrate the notion of becoming "Partners with God." John Smith, an Australian evangelist, has dared to invade "schools, pubs, motorcycle gangs" etc to witness to Jesus Christ. In this case he found himself witnessing to a young lady who had to go to work. She invited him to visit it and continue their conversation. When John arrives it is a strip joint. He decided to go in. The authors explicitly state "whatever one might think of the wisdom that choice, we ask you to hold your judgment and so get to the core of the story" (p. 160). John and the girl talk but she has to return to her station so to speak. John stays to further witness to her. The authors then conclude the story with this question: "Was Jesus in that strip club that night? ... Can God be found in that place of tragedy and brokenness?" (p. 161). Then they ask "If God was in that place, wooing Linda to himself through Jesus Christ, was it all right for John to join him in mission in that place?" This for Matthew was "moral laxity" and a major flaw in Missionial Evangelism. But I think Frost and Hirsh have nailed it with the correct question. Was Jesus in that place?
What about J. R. Mahon and Craig Gross of XXXChurch and their mission? Is it "moral laxity" to go into the den of thieves so to speak an bring the love of God in that place? Is God not there? It never ceases to amaze me that the biggest critics of this mission to porn stars is none other than Christians themselves.
But Dare We Be "Godly?" Do we? Is scripture really the shaper of our worldview? It seems to me that in Scripture the incarnational ... missional principle is everywhere. Even in some fairly bizarre ways. Have we not read about Isaiah's radical "moral compromise"? Did God, the Father of Jesus, tell the Prophet: "Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet. And he did so, GOING AROUND STIPPED and barefoot." How long did Isaiah preach in the nude? "[M]y servant Isaiah has gone stripped and barefoot for THREE YEARS ..." (20.1-3). I wonder how many folks responded to "Just As I Am?" With the preacher preaching in his birthday suit? How many folks thought he was a nut? or ... immoral? But was he?
Ezekiel and Jeremiah also do some pretty interesting things to convey the message that God gave them. Were they compromising or being obedient?
What about the Lord Jesus himself? Jesus did after all hang with the "sinners" (Luke 5.29; 15.1-2). How did Jesus get stigmatized as one who "welcomes sinners and eats with them?" If John 2 is any indication it is fairly certain that Jesus did a little drinking with some one some where at some time. How did he get a reputation for being a drunkard? Jesus not only went to the unclean places he embraced the unclean people. What did God do? God did what we see Jesus doing?
Neither I, nor do the authors of The Shaping of Things to Come, suggest that every Christian needs to(or even should!) go into strip joints. But there are those, like John, who can and when they do this does not indicate that they are morally lax or they have compromised or any such thing. It suggests that they have finally understood what it means to be light in dark places. Neither I, nor the emerging church advocates anything less than a God centered life. Accountability, traveling in pairs and the like help keep us "morally pure" ... but my point is that I think the criticism is wide of the mark. Do we dare to follow Jesus? When we do I can promise you that the religious folks will take offense ... you might even end up on a cross.