“The New Thing”

Part 4: The Emerging Church – Circa 1970

To the Lord of the Church
and all of His faithful people
who are helping Him to create
the new thing” in our time.
– Author’s Dedication, the emerging church [1]

In the Foreword to Bruce Larson and Ralph Osborne’s 1970 book the emerging church (Word) the authors expand upon what this strange phrase, “the new thing,” would mean in defining the emerging church movement. The authors anticipated that the 1970s would be “an era of chaotic change in the Church” and also “a day of new beginnings.” They wrote:

We hear a sound of hope, a calling forth of a newly emerging Church, a demand for priority and commitment, and a word of instruction as to what the Church is to be. That voice … speaks… of new goals, considerable resources, and fresh strategies for the 1970’s.

The authors spoke in the Foreword of a “new vision of God,” a “new strategy,” and “new forms” for the institutional Church. This, they said, would be based on compromise, writing that “the mark of the emerging Church will be its emphasis on both-and,” meaning that they would “not choose up sides” theologically. They said that they would be “blending the dynamic of a personal Gospel with the compassion of social concern.” Note how they described this early emerging church:

In the emerging Church, due emphasis will be placed on both theological rootage and contemporary experience, on celebration in worship and involvement in social concerns, on faith and feeling, reason and prayer, conversion and continuity, the personal and the conceptual. (Foreword)

Adopting the evolutionary progressive stance so essential to the postmodern emergent worldview, the authors wrote that

From its earliest beginnings until now, the Church has been in the process of becoming, and it shall always be so. If the Church is true to its Lord, it may never properly say that it has “emerged.” In both the past and the present, the Church is in a process, moving toward a fulfillment of its calling. (Foreword)

The authors therefore state that they reject the concept of “renewal” and would adopt instead this concept of “the new thing,” citing Isaiah 43:19: “Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.” Let the reader note that the Isaiah verse is translated “a new thing,” but the authors use the phrase “the new thing.” In biblical eschatology these verses have to do with the coming Messiah and the New Testament. But that is not what is meant by these authors.

In addition to all of their many usages of the term “new” pertaining to a “radical shift” in church structure and function, the authors wrote that a church needs to be able to change its “goals and strategy” to “become receptive to the new thing that God is trying to do….” (p. 139-140, emphasis added). While denying that they are interfering with “Biblical revelation,” the authors assert that this “new thing” is all about God giving “new orders”:

the nature of God as revealed in Jesus Christ and the New Testament most clearly indicates that God can do once again a new thing and give new orders to His people. (p. 141, emphasis added)

Furthermore, the authors invoked Carl Jung’s evolutionary views to suggest that the church “dream authentic dreams and see great visions,” and that families in the church “dream a new dream of what God is doing.” They described this “dream” as being “God’s new thing for them” (p. 144, emphasis added).

And, not surprisingly, the authors concluded the book with another contradictory set of assertions. They claimed that when the Church begins “to ask God for an authentic dream or vision, living out that new thing will not include destroying what has been” (emphasis added). Yet, they hoped that as the “new emerged,” the old would be “diminished.”

To dream is not to destroy, but to build. The edifice that results from dreaming quietly overshadows the old, and in time the old may pass away. (p. 151)

To sum up, “the new thing” for the newly forming church in 1970 included new revelation. And in the context of this evolutionary worldview, it was intended that the formation of the emergent church would progressively supplant the old church order. Today, 39 years later, we can see how successful this planned and orchestrated paradigm shift has been.

What does the phrase “the new thing” actually mean? Stay tuned to the next post in this series. . . .

The Truth:

“There is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? It hath been already of old time, which was before us.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9b-10)

Part 1: The Emerging Church – Circa 1970
Part 2: Early Experimental Emergents
Part 3: Retro Emergent