The current issue of the Criswell Theological Review is making the rounds in the blogosphere (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here . . . just to name a few). As I indicated in my previous post, some of the articles are already available to download for free.
One of the interesting things about this issue is that at least two of the contributors, Mark Driscoll and John Hammett, have decided to use Ed Stetzer’s tripartite scheme for describing emerging churches: Relevants, Reconstructionists, and Revisionists.
Here’s how Driscoll breaks it down in his CTR article:
Relevants are theologically conservative evangelicals who are not as interested in reshaping theology as much as updating such things as worship styles, preaching styles, and church leadership structures. . .
Reconstructionists are generally theologically evangelical and dissatisfied with the current forms of church (e.g. seeker, purpose, contemporary). . .
Revisionists are theologically liberal and question key evangelical doctrines, critiquing their appropriateness for the emerging postmodern world (CTR 3.2, pp. 89-90)
Driscoll associates Dan Kimball, Don Miller, and Rob Bell with the Relevants. He associates Neil Cole, Michael Frost, and Alan Hirsch with the Reconstructionists. And he associates Brian McLaren and Doug Padgitt with the Revisionists.
The provocative claim associated with this last category (the Revisionists) is that Driscoll charges them with heading in a heretical direction (CTR 3.2, p. 91). As near as I can tell from reading Driscoll’s essay, he believes McLaren and Padgitt represent a dangerous and unorthodox strand of emergent leaders.
His evaluation of the three types of emerging churches is instructive:
If both doctrine and practice are constantly changing, the result is living heresy, which is where I fear the Revisionist Emergent tribe of the Emerging church is heading. But, if doctrine is constant and practice is always changing, the result is living orthodoxy which I propose is the faithful third way of the Relevants, which I pray remains the predominant way of the Reconstructionists (CTR 3.2, pp. 90-91).
I expect that we will see much more of this tripartite division in future descriptions of emerging churches, even though emergent-folks on the Revisionist side of the spectrum are likely to offer strenuous objections. Nobody likes to be pigeon-holed, but I think this is a fair categorization.
As a heuristic device, the scheme is most profitably used if it is conceived as a spectrum rather than as three distinct and mutually exclusive categories. I think it is fair to say that most emerging churches probably fall somewhere along this spectrum. This is probably the best way for us to talk about a movement that is very theologically diverse.