Written by Todd Mangum
Monday, 29 October 2012 00:00
Recently, a group of traditional, original-language-program students submitted to me four questions they said were questions they commonly had and heard among their student colleagues. I thought it might be good to share the questions — and my answers — with you.
Q. How does Biblical Seminary see the current missional church movement relating to other movements such as the emerging church, emergent church, ecumenical movement, WCC, NAR, Charismatic, IHOP, etc.?
A. It is worth clarifying right up front that Biblical Seminary is an evangelical Protestant school that has embraced a missional vision. We recognize that not everyone making good contributions to the missional church conversation is an evangelical Protestant and we applaud missional instincts wherever they are found. But we come to the missional conversation unapologetically from an evangelical, Protestant perspective. We are Bible-believing Christians who hold to the full, infallible authority of God’s Word; and, though we recognize that we are prone to error in even our best efforts of interpretation, God’s Word is completely without error, so that all of our ideas must be subject to the authority of God’s Divine revelation. In the end, we at Biblical are missional because we have become so firmly convinced that being missional is biblical.
In being an evangelical Protestant school that is self-consciously missional in theological, hermeneutical, and ministerial approach, we join a conversation and movement that is larger and broader than evangelical Protestantism. We recognize that this can cause some confusion. So, let’s take each of the other movements mentioned in the question in turn.
Emerging church/emergent church:
The “emergent church” is a movement composed mainly of younger Christians disillusioned with and critical of the traditional institutional church. People within the emergent church movement were early contributors and outspoken advocates of the “missional turn” — and provided hopeful encouragement to recognize God’s Spirit doing “a new thing” organically, spontaneously, and unexpectedly among His people. Encouraging leaders of God’s people to not be so uptight and controlling, but to allow His ways and purposes to “emerge” less neatly and less linearly over time, had wisdom to it. We continue to appreciate some of the things they are doing, but leaders in the emergent church movement over time have seemed to embrace positions less and less conducive to evangelical instincts; and we are an evangelical school.
The Ecumenical Movement (including the WCC, the World Council of Churches):
The older ecumenical movement that originated in the late-19thand early-20thcentury was a movement that emphasized elimination of denominational separation by minimizing the importance of doctrinal truth. We at Biblical are not interested in that kind of “ecumenism.” We ARE interested in cooperating with fellow believers whenever and wherever possible to engage together in the greater mission of Christ’s Kingdom, despite doctrinal or convictional disagreements. Here’s the difference: the older ecumenical movement commonly disparaged any doctrinal faith commitments; we embrace a “generously orthodox” approach (and from an evangelical Protestant perspective at that) — with emphasis on BOTH generosity AND orthodoxy. We believe that firm points of central biblical truth can be reliably and confidently discerned not just from our own study of Scripture but also from our judgments of “what is clear from Scripture” being confirmed by the history of studied, Spirit-indwelt teachers and leaders of God’s people over time. “Jesus being the only way to God,” for example, may be an unpopular notion in a world that prioritizes tolerance and acceptance of all sincere beliefs, but this is a tenet of biblical truth not only deemed clearly taught by evangelical Protestants (like us at Biblical Seminary) but in virtually every Bible-believing creedal statement produced by prayerful, sincere, studied Christians since the first century! So, while we, too, affirm a renewed commitment to cooperating with fellow Christians wherever possible and to prioritizing the common ground we share with Christians of various denominational stripes, we do not pursue that cooperation and unity at the expense of firm commitment to biblical truth in areas of central dogma, deemed core to the Christian faith since the time of the early church. The Lausanne Movement is reflective of the larger movement of which we are a part, rather than the World Council of Churches.
The Charismatic Movement (including the NAR — the New Apostolic Reformation, and IHOP, the International House of Prayer):
At Biblical, there is some diversity of conviction on how much or how little we should expect “signs and wonders,” “speaking in tongues,” or “miraculous faith healing” to accompany the Spirit’s work in the current era. In general, we would be wary and would encourage others, too, to be wary of self-appointed or self-proclaimed “apostles,” “prophets,” or “faith healers”; on the other hand, we recognize that God can and does heal and sometimes intervenes in miraculous ways on behalf of His children. There is danger in failing to have faith such that mountains could be moved, and there is danger in presuming that God is a “genie in a bottle” obligated to respond to our incantations and self-concerned demands.
Historically, Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians have been a strand of our constituency, student body, faculty, and leadership. Pentecostal and Charismatic evangelicals are a welcome and contributing portion of our community, like Presbyterian, Baptist, Mennonite and other evangelical members. We are proud of most of the Charismatic and Pentecostal students we have graduated because they have tended to be careful and exegetically and theologically sound. We are not blind to the fact that the Charismatic Movement has had perhaps more than its fair share of “extremes,” charlatans, and scandalous embarrassments in its history; however, we are also not blind to the degree of extraordinary vibrancy, piety, prayerfulness and faith that has been both present and consistently encouraged in this faith tradition. We are also quite aware of the fact that the greatest and fastest growth of Christianity in the world is of the Charismatic or Pentecostal variety — which we see as mostly something to admire and learn from, not something to critique or disparage.
Our approach at Biblical would be to affirm what is strong and good in the Charismatic movement, engage spiritedly but fraternally points of disagreement, all in a spirit of engaging together the mission of God and sharpening one another in that pursuit. We would want to promote alertness to error, danger, or weakness in ALL of our denominational structures, histories, and convictions, but mostly affirm what strengths each have to contribute to the Church as a whole.
In fact, in general at Biblical, our posture is not one in which we believe we have the “final answer nailed down” on every theological, interpretive, or ministerial subject. We do not see ourselves therefore as needing to “guard against” infiltration of fresh ideas, or squelch insights that might challenge our views. Rather, confident in the truth of God’s Word and unapologetically embracing our own evangelical heritage, our missional emphasis makes us open to the Spirit’s leading in adaptive change — in accordance with the unchanging truth of His Word, of course — generous in our regard for the viewpoints, insights, and contributions of fellow Christians, and desirous of cooperation and collaboration in the mission of God wherever possible. We recognize that walking the fine line between sustaining sound orthodoxy and submitting to the Spirit’s leading us to take on new challenges in our ever-changing contexts is a task that is greater than we can ever hope to maintain on our own. This is what keeps us prayerful — and humble. We believe that is a good thing; in fact, we believe the communal atmosphere and learning environment thus created is a work of God in and among us, for which we are thankful and for which we give God alone the glory.
Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical. He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention. Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.