It feels as though a civil war is brewing between those who are seeking to drag my denomination into whatever it is that the future holds and those who are trying to drag us into fundamentalism. After years of Nazarene (hopefully) sanctified smugness that our Zion avoided the divisive pitfalls of the Battle for the Bible, a few who have no respect for our longstanding “plenary inspiration” and “all things necessary for salvation” approach to Biblical inerrancy are taking advantage of the Internet to organize and then put pressure on the denomination to take a big step toward joining the bloody fights over the nature of Scripture that have wounded other groups.
Meanwhile, the second group is busily trying to re-invent Christianity. These people are less than impressed with the track record of the Church over the last 100 years or so and think the problem is that culture has changed while the Church has stayed the same, perfecting an approach to Christianity that’s only of interest to “insiders” and irrelevant to “outsiders.” Their movement, overall, is called “emerging” because it’s not very well defined. No one claims to know how things will look in 100 years, but proponents hope the result will be a revitalized, world changing Christianity.
The fundamentalist-leaning and the emergent-leaning Nazarenes get along like cats and dogs. Fundamentalism is all about believing the right things. Its tenants are well defined. “Emergentism” isn’t very organized and its proponents are more united by a desire to bring new life to Christianity than they are organized around any unifying doctrinal position.
When an emergent and a fundamentalist interact they drive one another crazy. The fundamentalist is angry that he can’t pin the emergent down on things that matter the most to him. The emergent tends to be dismissive of the fundamentalist, thinking that his approach has already been proven to be a failure as the influence of Christianity is waned in many areas of the world.
Interacting with these groups is a challenge. The fundamentalist is a labeler. He tags everyone who doesn’t line up with his rigid positions as an enemy. It isn’t hard to get on the wrong side of a fundamentalist. His approach is “if you’re not with us you’re against us.”
On the other hand, it’s easy to get on the good side of an emergent. You can believe a variety of things yet agree that the Church needs to change to reach the lost and be okay in their eyes. You don’t have to really be one of them so long as you aren’t actively opposed to them. Their approach is “if you’re not against us you’re for us.”
Personally, I’m not a fundamentalist because I hold to the traditional Church of the Nazarene approach to Scripture. That is, I think the Bible is fully inspired by God and is inerrant in matters pertaining to our salvation. I can’t be a fundamentalist because I refuse to shoehorn all the historical, scientific, and other “not necessary for our salvation” material into an “it has to be literal or the Bible’s not true” classification.
I get along with the emergents okay, but I’m not one of them. I’m a baby boomer and I don’t think in post-modern terms as they do. To me they feel a bit clannish and sometimes come off as a little arrogant. I’m not convinced that their approach is going to be the big, world changing version of Christianity that they think it will. Still, I guardedly cheer them on. I don’t want to see them de-Christianize Christianity, but I’m ready to see Christianity find itself, to fall in love with Jesus all over again, and to get back to living the Great Commandment and obeying the Great Commission.