Over 1350 pastors and church leaders from around the world attended a pastors convention in San Diego last week. The dual National Pastors Convention and the EmergentYS Convention were held at the Town & Country Resort in Fashion Valley. This year, nearly half of the attendees came to participate in the EmergentYS Convention focused on the growing emergent movement in the Christian church.
The emergent movement has been called a reaction against the traditions of mainline Christian churches. The goal of the movement is to deconstruct these traditions and refocus on what it means to live true to scripture. This movement continues to gather followers and influence in America. Brian McLaren, one of the movement's statesmen, was named one of the top 25 most influential evangelical Christians in America, according to the February 7 issue of Time magazine.
At the convention, McLaren and other leaders in the movement taught sessions, such as: "They Like Jesus but Not the Church"; "How to Change Your Church without Killing It"; "The Church in Transition"; and "No Perfect People Allowed: Creating Church Culture for the Postmodern World."
I spoke to a number of local attendees about their thoughts on the mainline church, the emerging church, and what they believed.
"The Christian Church has to sober up. The church in general is in a bit of a drunken arrogant stupor. We feel like we have arrived. Christians have a belief that we are superior to everyone else in our rightness," said Garret Akerson. Akerson, a former youth pastor, lives in Oceanside, where he attends Saddleback Church.
"Too many Christians are concerned with heaven and hell," stated Akerson. "It is a lot more important to be like God. My view of hell is that it is not an actual place. There is no lake of fire or partying with the devil. We all are on a journey. If you choose God, you will be with Him. If not, you will cease to exist.
"Scripture is best seen as a case study or story- book; it should not be read like a code book or a science manual," Akerson continued. "The Bible speaks about how God had a relationship with the people. He has been misrepresented by the Christian community. A lot of Christians hold to an Old Testament view, 'God will strike you down' type of attitude."
Matt Mills started an experimental café church. He attended the convention to participate in the discussion regarding the future of the church. "People say they want to reach out to the unbeliever. The vast majority are just spiritual baby-sitting. Their churches end up reaching out to people raised in a Christian environment," said Mills. At Mills's café gatherings, the people don't identify with any religion or church. "They are actually hostile towards church," Mills remarked. "I create an environment for people to interact in a spiritual way. We host community groups for the people that live in the local neighborhood."
I asked Mills what a person has to do to get to heaven. "Heaven is an afterthought. Heaven isn't a 401(k) program where we cash out. Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, agnostics, witches can all be saved. Your religion isn't going to save you. It is your relationship with the ultimate being. Christianity is not what most people think it is. A lot of Christians don't know God. These Christians are the Pharisees that Christ fought against," said Mills. "I believe a person will move toward the Christian ideal of becoming like the nature and essence of Christ. There are ways of moving toward that and moving away from that. I have faith God will do the converting of people. We all are converting to what God is."
Shawn Beaty is the senior pastor at North Hills Church in Oceanside. Pastor Beaty calls North Hills Church a replant. One-and-a-half years ago, North Hills took over an older, traditional church that was once a thriving church that had since dwindled. Forty people started with North Hills, which has since grown to 120.
Beaty considers himself emerging, but still holds to traditional Christian beliefs. "I believe you have to accept Jesus Christ and that He died for our sins." I asked Beaty what happens if someone doesn't accept Jesus. "The Bible leaves that as a mystery. People usually believe [if one doesn't accept Jesus, that leads to] annihilation or eternal torment. I believe that people will perish. [As part of the emerging church], we are okay with not knowing everything. The traditional church has to know."
I asked Beaty his thoughts about theologians such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, and Jonathan Edwards. "These are guys that were used by God for their time. A lot of what they dealt with, such as Calvin and predestination, are no longer the issues of our time. In San Diego and the West, pluralism is the issue." Religious pluralism involves accepting all religions and beliefs as equal spiritual expressions. When asked what religious beliefs are wrong, Beaty replied, "I've always believed if you begin slinging mud, you're going to get yourself dirty. There are enough errors that [Christians] have made that need to be corrected." Beaty reiterated his belief that to be saved, a person needs to accept Jesus as his Savior.
Glenn Murdock works in public relations for EmergentYS. Murdock lives in San Diego and attends The Flood, a local postmodern church. At The Flood, the church service includes concert ambience, loud music, dark lighting, and the ability to "ask questions, find answers, doubt, heal, learn -- there's total freedom." I asked him about the emergent movement's scriptural beliefs. "Some people in the emergent movement are open to reinterpret everything, like how we view God and the Bible. However, most people believe the way we express our faith needs to change but the principles stay intact."
Charlie Johnson works for the Church Resource Ministries (CRM) in Anaheim. The purpose of CRM is to develop leaders to strengthen and start churches worldwide. He spoke to me about the emerging church. "The philosophy of ministry in the emerging church is evolving and fluid. It changes with each new culture and time period so that we can be a tasty representation of Jesus," said Johnson. "Traditional churches are based on a culture that is 100 years old. The emerging church is much more relational, community-centered, with a holistic component. Traditional Christians often go to church in order to consume from a religious service. But, the emerging church is a gathering of people that participate in the work. The emerging churches use art, poetry, interpretive dance." At the convention, seminars on this included, "We Speak Art: Rituals and Celebrations from a New-Monastic Postmodern Tribe" and "Art Therapy and Prayer."
My last conversation was with Renee Altson, San Diego author of Stumbling Toward Faith, a book that deals with her faith struggles and the abuse she's experienced at the hands of the church. She spoke of her desire to find a church to call home. "I'm looking for a church that honors story, that holds a big God, and that creates a safe place for people to be human with one another.