Since I am not emerging/emergent I doubt I can give them a fair shake. In fact I only include them in this discussion because of their supposed association with the Driscoll/Acts 29 crowd. A true Emergent person would probably be speaking of something different by "gospel" anyway. Rather than asking, "how do we preach the gospel in such a way that someone comes to know Jesus", they are probably asking, "how do we live the gospel in such a way that someone lives a better life and has a better understanding and grows a soul-patch". I'm not concerned at this point with addressing the Emerging Church, it would be a distraction. But a distinction must be made. On issues of the gospel and soteriology ACTS 29 IS NOT EMERGING.
You will not understand this discussion until you come to that conclusion. There are some areas that Acts 29 will look like an Emerging Church. Their methodology sometimes will have the appearance of
On the other hand folks in the Acts 29/Driscoll crowd have the same foundational desire that Emerging Churches have; the desire to change the present structure and be relevant in their culture. The buzzword now is missional. You have to exegete your culture and figure out a way to make the gospel relevant. You do not sell out the message. But you have to make certain to speak the language of the culture. That is the mindset. Sometimes that gets a little shaky. What do you do if the culture you are ministering to eats monkey brains? Well, you eat monkey brains. What if the culture you are ministering to uses crass language? Well, you use crass language. Or do you? And here is the big discussion.
Those who oppose Acts 29/Driscoll say that you must not use crass language just to reach the culture. That is selling out the gospel. Methodoloy matters. If you are drinking a beer with an alcoholic, you are not doing him any favors. Total abstinence is the best way to share the gospel. The lost person, must see that your life is different. Then maybe at some point he'll ask questions. "Hey, buddy, why don't you drink"? Then you can share with him that it is because of your relationship with Jesus Christ, and that you have found happiness outside of a bottle. Maybe you were once a drinker. You can use this as a launching point to share your testimony. But the best way to share the gospel is not to become like the culture. That can lead to sin.
But wait, 1 John says that "greater is he that is in me". Wouldn't we all have been in a pretty precarious position if Jesus himself had not went to these sinful places? Doesn't Jesus say, "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners?" If Jesus always stayed out of bars then why did they call him a drunkard and a glutton. And as far as offensive language is concerned have you read Ezekiel? Do you pick up on some of the language of Paul? Does he not also use, inspired by the Holy Spirit, scatalogical language? So, are we not just following the methods of Paul and Jesus? Because of Jesus and his power we are getting as close to sinners as possible. Our task is to be like Jesus and Paul, they did not run away from sinners and hope that they came to them. They went to sinners. They engaged the culture.
So who is right? Before I begin to answer that question I have to add something else to the mix. Reformed Theology. Acts 29/Driscoll claims to be solidly Reformed. Many that oppose Driscoll claim to be solidly Reformed. Many that oppose Driscoll are not Reformed and oppose him based upon this point, but missionally speaking they might agree. This is the way I see the discussion. Driscoll/Acts 29 says, we are Reformed and because of the awesome power of the gospel we believe that God calls us to engage the culture with it, whatever that means. Reformed guys that oppose Driscoll, we believe that God is powerful enough in His Word that you do not have to add to it with all of this "engaging the culture" mumbo jumbo. Just preach the Word, and God will bring the increase. The non-Reformed Driscoll opposer will either dislike his theology, or dislike his methodology. This camp believes that people are won over to Christ by what we do. If they agree with the Acts 29 methodology then they will probably change their seeker-sensitive churches into Acts 29 churches...or, hey theology doesn't matter much...so why not just be Emerging. Or maybe they disagree with the whole alcohol issue. Maybe the methodology does not square with them. Nobody will be won to Jesus by a drinker. Then you have opposition from this side.
So who is right? All sides believe we are to engage the culture--at least in as much as that means "win lost people to Jesus". Note that I asked, "who is right", not what wins the most people. This is not a pragmatic question. If we make it so, then we will side-track this. You cannot say look at all those people Driscoll and Acts 29 is reaching. That's not a good argument, because look at all those people Joel Osteen is reaching. To which we respond, reaching with what? They key issue is this...who is most faithful to the gospel, as presented in the Word of God?
1) The gospel must be clear. It is very true that God's Word has power in itself--it doesn't need my help to accomplish its purpose. But it seems that there is a need for a preacher. (Rom. 10:14) And it appears that there is a need to preach in the "native tongue". (See Acts 8:26-40) So, there is some credence to this idea of "making the gospel relevant". But
2) Making the gospel relevant, if it is to remain biblical, must mean NO MORE than preaching the gospel in the "native" language. It does not mean that you have to make the gospel appealing. Paul models this in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. It seems as if Paul labored to make the gospel unappealing. He did not want the Corinthians to be won over by his eloquence, but instead to be won-over by the message. But, Paul did labor to be like a Jew when he was with the Jews and like a Gentile when he was with the Gentiles. What does this mean? It means that Paul laobred to speak in their native tongue. He was not doing this to make the gospel appealing, he was doing this to keep from putting up stumbling blocks. He ate monkey brains, if his hearers ate monkey brains. But it is also important to note:
3) Speaking the native language does not necessarily mean engaging in native rituals and removing ALL stumbling blocks. Paul did not allow Titus to get circumcised. Nor did he sacrifice to pagan idols. You do not become a prostitute to minister to prostitutes. But this point is where we get into arguments. Is Mark Driscoll becoming a "prostitute" to minister to "prostitutes" when he uses coarse language to minister to those with "coarse language"? Do Acts 29 guys prostitute themselves when they have a beer to minister to those that drink? These are difficult questions and ones that must not be settled in a vacuum. Despite what some may believe this is not as black and white as it would appear. Therefore,
4) The Church and the church plays a critical role in taking the gospel to the nations; or to put that another way, you are not supposed to "make the gospel relevant" by yourself. That is why we must consider, and 99.4% of the time submit, to the authority of the consensus of the Church universal and, how this will be lived out most generally, to the local church. There are times that we need Martin Luther's. But, seriously, those are going to be really really rare. As long as the Church is being the Church then even if we have a few warts, we are genuinely the body of Jesus that he is caring for. She is worth submitting to for the sake of others. So what are the implications of this?
Let's take Driscoll's language for an example. Language can be a funny thing. What may not be offensive in Calcutta may be offensive in New Hampshire. And the reverse is also true. In Missouri I can walk side by side with my wife. But I better not do that in many Muslim countries. I realize that is not an example of language, but it serves my point well. There is nothing really innately offensive about words...only the meanings that they carry.
But lets consider this through our first four points. 1) To make the gospel clear, is it absolutely necessary for Driscoll to talk the way that he does? I do not know Seattle culture, but I am not certain that speaking the way that he occasionally does is necessary. 2) Is he doing it to make the gospel clear or appealing? It appears to me that his reasoning is to make the gospel "relevant", and by that I mean appealing. 3) Is he engaging in a sinful cultural ritual? This could be debatable. I would lean towards, yes; but lets try giving the benefit of the doubt and see what happens? Let's consider it a non-issue for the moment. 4) If you post a video on youtube it better be acceptable for not only Seattle but also the Bible belt. Why? Because you risk offending the body of Christ as well as creating a needless stumbling block for an unbeliever from a different culture. And I understand that we can easily do this unknowingly. But, you cannot tell me that Driscoll has no clue that what he says may offend somebody in New Hampshire.
Should it offend them? That's not the issue. Is it central to the gospel? No. Do you need to speak that way to preach the gospel? No. You do not need to say "knockin' boots" just to put the gospel in the native tongue. The issue to consider is this, are you trying to make the gospel understandable or appealing? If you say appealing then you are on really shaky grounds. Therefore, I believe Acts 29/Driscoll should abandon the use of potentially offensive "edgy" language. There may be instances where words are not innately sinful. Maybe saying "knockin' boots" is not offensive to folks in Seattle. But it is offensive to your brothers and sisters elsewhere. Therefore, for the sake of unity, and because it is not central to the gospel--abandon the practice.
At this point it probably seems as if I am not taking the "high road" of disagreeing with both sides. It sounds like I am coming down hard on Driscoll/Acts 29. So, this is where I disagree with the opposers.
1) I do not think that Driscoll really is considering all of the ramifications of his every action. I do believe that he is far too entrenched in his culture. But, is he a heretic? No. Is he blasphemous? I really think that is too strong of a charge. And such a statement might create shock but I am not sure that it furthers the discussion.
2) In discussing these matters with Acts 29/Driscoll people, are you trying to speak in their native tongue? We will not win our brother by name calling. Is it possible that you ought to bear their burden? Ought you not gently instruct and rebuke?
3) Are there some issues that they may be right on? Are these brothers in Christ? If so are we guilty of slander? Are we not also responsible for the way that we engage in our discussion with them? Might we cause undue offense by the way that we discuss these matters? Is it really helpful to the body of Christ to call those that follow Driscoll "Kool-Aid drinkers"?
4) Things are not as black and white as you wish they were. Engaging the culture is a difficult thing. Do we eat monkey brains? Do we pick a sheep up out of a well on Sunday? How close to sinners do we get? How do I keep from being culturally anorexic? How do I keep from being culturally gluttonous? These are very difficult questions. In no way does this statement negate the absolute sufficiency of Scripture. But you cannot always point to a biblical text and determine whether or not it is okay to watch a Rated-R movie. You cannot pull out Scripture that speaks of coarse language when the coarse language of Paul's day is different than ours. There are general principles, but it is NOT as black and white as we wish. To act like it is will be dangerous, and will not engage our brothers and sisters. We cannot ignore these issues. Nor can we simply make blanket statements and hope that it all goes away.
So here is my conclusion, to this rather long post. If you are a follower of Acts 29/Driscoll then you ought to repent and cling to Jesus and His gospel. If you oppose Acts 29/Driscoll then you ought to repent and cling to Jesus and His gospel. And I just bet that as we are both draw closer to our great King we will be drawn closer to each other. Maybe we all will give up our pride in the process.