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The Church in Transition: The Journey of Existing Churches into the Emerging Culture Paperback – March 6, 2006
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From the Back Cover
The Journey of Existing Churches into the Emerging Culture In our fast-growing post-Christian, postmodern culture, the church often finds itself marginalized and ineffective in mission. The new emerging church is both hopeful and frightening compared to more traditional forms of Christianity. However, these 'two churches' need each other. The Church in Transition presents honest stories of the failures and successes of a variety of transitioning fellowships.
About the Author
Tim Conder (MDiv - Gordon-Conwell Seminary) has served as a pastor and an elder at the Chapel Hill Bible Church in Chapel Hill, NC for the past fifteen years. He now pastors Emmaus Way, an intentional missional community in nearby Durham while remaining a standing elder at Chapel Hill Bible Church. He is the author of The Church in Transition. He also serves on the leadership team of Emergent and on the Board of Directors for Mars Hill Graduate School. He and his wife, Mimi, have two kids, Keenan and Kendall.
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Conder summarizes "seven deadly fears" of existing churches as follows: the loss of truth, personal faith, gospel message, the Bible, ethical values, tradition, Christian identity. These are done in his effort to uncover and deal with the issues of deep structure when they encounter the emerging culture. But more valuable than the analysis of the fears of existing churches is that he invites the positions of existing churches to the place of conversation. In most of the pages assigned to the "conversation", Conder tried to keep balance between the values and belief in traditional churches and the emerging culture's energetic movement.
Another aspect that I very much appreciate for Conder's work is that his writing is very hermeneutical. When he is making critical analysis of existing churches, he attempts not to tackle with their values themselves but with their theological fears, presuppositions and assumptions. In this transcendental approach, (a group of) people as an object of persuasion or conversation might be give an opportunity to put their guard down. I believe this also keeps Conder himself not miss the point. His pointing one out of the missteps of emerging church, that is, their easy and usual centering on "changes in worship style", would be a good example. Conder says,
It's understandable, though regrettable, that the conversation on the emerging church and postmodern transition often centers on changes in worship style . . . Changes in a church's worship service seem like the obvious place to begin a transition into emerging culture ministry. But, in the most cases, it's precisely the wrong starting point . . . [E]ach of them is likely to fail in its goal of transition--and may also yield a range of negative consequence (96).
In its essence the gospel is not a moment, event, or performance. Better events and new worship styles are not the answer. Our pluralistic, postmodern, and post-Christian culture is not only event-savvy; I believe it's largely weary of Christian events . . . What this culture desperately needs to see is God's story and kingdom as morally good, plausible, and embodied in communities (104).
Flipping the last page of this book, I recall the word "balance" in my mind. The difficulty in finding disagreement to Conder's view would be that he tried hard to balance between the positions of existing churches and emerging culture. In almost all places, he gives credits to the contributions of traditional churches but at the same time exactly points out the places where they have begun to part from the essence of the gospel. I hope, however, recalling Bultmann who failed in demythologizing his contemporary thought and culture, that he will also be able to watch and evaluate post-modern, post-Christian culture in critical eyes when it will begin deviate from the essence.
For my own agenda, I expect Conder's work may contribute a lot for my plan to build up my own preaching model and manual. For me considering the theology of the Cross and cruciform narrative is the alternative story for contemporary Churches and Christians, many points of contact are found in The Church in Transition. In short, this book greatly helps me to keep self-critical mind with which I can find "a vital connection to God's [and Christ's] story, and hence our own story" of which lack will let anyone "wither" (61).
but three things strike me as unique about this work:
1. it's extremely sensitive to and supportive of existing church models and approaches. that's wonderfully refreshing, and it lends an enormous amount of credibility to his content.
he recognizes that the emerging church didn't drop out of the sky without preceding context or help. he recognizes that the emerging church owes a debt to and can benefit from 'modern' churches. he sees the relationship between the modern church and emerging church as synergistic rather than antagonistic. that's inspiring.
2. he understands that the emerging church is far more about theology than style. in an age when church practice is determined more by pragmatic concerns than theological underpinnings, it's extremely reassuring to know someone is saying this with clarity.
3. he's actually engaged in this transition on a day to day basis. he's writing not only from a theoretical perspective, but also from a practical one. again, that gives his words a gread deal of credibility.
bottom line, if this is the kind of person who is responsible for giving direction and leadership to the emerging church, we're in pretty darn good shape.