One of my favorite lectures at the Wheaton Theology Conference was by Jeremy Begbie.

By “emerging churches” Begbie is referring to movements in the UK and USA that seek new ways of thinking about and practicing church. He is supportive of both N.T. Wright and these emerging church movements.

5 Elements of N.T. Wright’s Work that Emerging Churches often Embrace

  1. The Centrality of the Church in God Saving Work: God’s plan to rescue that world has always been focused on a Community, first Israel, then the Church.  In the scriptures, salvation and community are not separate. When we separate them, Church becomes either institutional or optional.
  2. The Future Nature of Church:  Our thoughts and practice of the Church should start from the end of the biblical story. We look forward to what it will be when all is right with the world. The Holy Spirit enables this kind Kingdom-centered living, worship and mission.
  3. The Cosmic Nature of the Church: God’s saving work is cosmic. God is rescuing all of creation. The Church is not only recipients of that salvation, she is also an active participant of the redemption the world.
  4. The Materiality of the Church: Wright rejects the dichotomy between abstract concepts of the Church and the physical Church. The true Church is located in space and time. The true Church has flesh and blood.
  5. Improvisation in the Church: Wright’s work on the Church combines reverent obedience to scriptures with flexibility on methodology for Church practice in our ever-changing culture.

3 Elements of N.T. Wright’s Work that Emerging Churches often Neglect

  1. Ascension of Jesus: Jesus, the risen Messiah, is standing over the Church. The Church is not filling the void of Jesus. Remembering this reality prevents both triumphalism and disillusionment. The Holy Spirit is the key link between the Church and the risen Messiah.
  2. Israel:  The Church must understand the story of Israel to ground us in the appropriate context.
  3. Catholicity of the Church
    1. Qualitative – The Church transcends all social, cultural, and natural divisions. Jesus gives a new way of relating to each other.  Unlike consumerism which segments people, the Church includes all kinds of people are included.  The victory of Jesus over the powers of darkness is shown in an inclusive Church.
    2. Extension – The Church is comprised of all believers in all places in all time. The united Church must have some physical presence beyond clusters of homogeneous units. There must be some kind of institution.  Many in the emerging church view institutionalism as the enemy, but avoidance of institutions is often an attempt to avoid the pain of Church unity.

While there are clearly exceptions to Begbie’s generalizations about new church movements, the picture of a Church that he painted (via N.T. Wright) was both inspiring and challenging.   That is the kind of Church that I want to work toward! What do you think?

To listen to Begbie’s talk, and other presentations, at the 2010 Wheaton Theology Conference click here.