Part 3: The Emerging Church - Circa 1970   (See Part 1 & Part 2)

Retro Emergent

May 21, 2009

Index to articles

by Discernment Group


Emphasis added in bold letters

A church should not change just to be different. It should change because the context of the culture about it requires its organizations to restructure themselves so church tasks can be effectively fulfilled.
       “If we intend to realistically proclaim the truth of Christ’s redemption to nonevengelicals, we must have a significantly different form of outreach. This, in turn, requires significantly new forms of training and study. Organizational structures not deliberately geared to prepare us and effectively carry out our witness would be revised to a more functional format.” – Ralph Neighbour

“The decade ahead is wide open for churches that see themselves as centers for recruiting, training, and equipping a breed of spiritual pioneers competent to move out into all areas of life as lay apostles who can evangelize, reconcile, and prophesy. This, in our view, is truly the apostolic succession.” [2]

A Book Review by Sarah H. Leslie

While the Discernment Research Group was working on the previous two posts in this article series “The Emerging Church – Circa 1970” and “Early Experiential Emergents” I purchased a used copy of Bruce Larson & Ralph Osborne’s 1970 book the emerging church. I had read a brief review of it at Dan Kimball’s website and was intrigued by his statement that he “didn’t know” about it. Could it be that this generation of emergents truly aren’t aware of their roots? Kimball simply viewed the two “‘emerging’ time periods” as evidence of examples of “‘what church looks like as culture changes.’” Kimball said that this was just another indication of a “New Testament church… constantly changing and emerging due to cultural issues,"[3]

Curious, I wanted to know more: what were the similarities between the first “emerging church” era and the second? Were there significant similarities in worldviews? Would this give further credence to our hypothesis that the two emergent church events were connected historically via personnel, organizations, agendas, and philosophies?

When I read the opening paragraphs of the book I was so stunned that I dropped the book. I recognized it! I had read it before – in the mid-1970s. I hadn’t anticipated this. My mind went back into my earliest years in the faith, shortly after salvation. My husband and I had been part of the first emergent church movement!

In fact, back then I was a perfect candidate to read the book and be influenced by its message of change. At the time I was working on a master’s degree based on humanistic psychology. I had come out of a dead Protestant church background, where modern liberalism had abolished the tenets of the faith. By God’s grace I was subsequently saved in the vibrant “Jesus movement” which openly challenged the “God is dead” lifeless postmodernism.

So, reading Larson’s book the first time around, I had accepted the theme of the book without question: the dead, dry, old, stale church structures and traditions are “wrong, inadequate, or outmoded” (p. 25) and “quite irrelevant” (p. 21). I had agreed with the premise, “it is possible to find a radically different approach” (p. 25). Of course, I didn’t know anything about Faith at Work, nor its agenda.

In the ensuing decades my husband and I joined up with many church “experiments” in our zeal to return to a more authentic New Testament faith. But, by God’s grace, we didn’t leave Scripture behind. And that is what makes our story so different. We separated ourselves from our earlier entanglements with humanistic psychology and mysticism. And we spent the next few decades of our lives researching and writing, particularly in opposition to these very same historical and philosophical issues that had once ensnared us.

So, how did I respond to my second reading of Bruce Larson’s book the emerging church 32 years later? Quite differently! The only areas of agreement that I can still find with the basic premise of the book are that: 1) there are problems with spiritual deadness in churches, 2) church structure, function and format can become confining and lifeless, and 3) people are challenged to relate to each other at a deeper, more meaningful level in churches, especially in our depersonalized, mobile and alienated society. But, alas, the answer to all of this is the Word of God and the Holy Spirit working in lives and hearts – not Carl Rogers encounter groups! Not Peter Ducker’s strategies, goals and measurable results! Not utopian plans to build the kingdom of God on earth!

What I discovered on my re-read is that this 1970s book contains all of the essential elements of the Emergent/Emerging Church movement of our own era, four decades later. The parallels are so striking that it this cannot be an accident. Read the list of similarities below and see for yourself.

ENVIRONMENTALISM & ALTERNATIVE FUTURES PEACE & RECONCILIATION • RELATIONSHIPS & SMALL GROUPS • PETER DRUCKER’S BUSINESS MODEL • COVENANT MODEL STRATEGIC GOALS • “RADICAL RESTRUCTURING • INNOVATION IN WORSHIP INCARNATING CHRIST • CLERGY/LAITY & AFFECTIVE EDUCATION APOSTLES & PROPHETS MYSTICISM & RETREATS JESUS THE REVOLUTIONARY & YOUTH CULTURE NEW MORALITY NO BIBLICAL SEPARATION HUMANISTIC PSYCHOLOGY GOD’S DREAM PARADIGM SHIFT DOMINIONISM • EVOLUTION/EVOLVING TRUTH The quotes and snippets of quotes on this list have been excerpted from their original context, but they have not been excerpted out of context. In these few quotes we can see a foreshadowing of what is to come. I believe the similarities of philosophy between the first emergent plan for church transformation, outlined in this 1970 the emerging church book by Bruce Larson, and the subsequent emergent movement birthed about a decade ago, are numerous enough to confirm our hypothesis about substantial linkages.

But there is more. . . .

To be continued, Lord willing. . . .

The Truth:

"Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." (James 4:4)

[NOTE: any links within quotations have been added.]
1. Cited in Bruce Larson & Ralph Osborne, the emerging church (Word, 1970), page 77. “From the newsletter, “Touch News” (undated), published by West Memorial Baptist Church, 14827 Broadgreen, Houston, Texas 77024; Ralph W. Neighbour, Jr., Pastor. Note: Ralph Neighbour would go on to write the main textbook for the cell church movement, vividly illustrating the cellular/apostolic downline networking hierarchical structure of the emerging church of the future: Where Do We Go From Here? A Guidebook for the Cell Group Church (Touch Publications, 1990).
2. Ibid, p. 100.

© 2009 by Discernment Group

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