More Discussion Regarding Emergent Methodology

I opened a can of worms with some in my criticism of Ed Young’s recent “7 Days of Sex Challenge” in THIS previous post.  I’m not going to rehash the particulars of this specific incident again, but in the process of trying to make a point I wrote the following which drew a strong reaction from some of my younger/hipper readers:

I personally find this kind of trendy, flavor-of-the-month, pop-psychology type of “religion” distasteful and immensely irritating.  To me, this fits in with other “trends” in emergent-driven churches like wearing too much gel in one’s hair, wearing shirt tails out, giving away shot glasses with the church name on them out in bars, shocking signs (Flamingo Road Church recently had a huge banner on their building asking people to “Flip Someone the Bird” this Thanksgiving.  It was part of a Thanksgiving food drive.  Please excuse me while I roll my eyes.), Starbucks franchises in the lobbies, one-word church names and worship franchising.  

I want to clarify a few things.  I don’t have a problem with flavored coffees, kewl glasses, untucked shirts, gelled hair, big screens, sitting on a stool to preach, etc…   I really just don’t care one way or the other and I find much the debate to be supercilious and pointless.

However, (and this is where I’m going to start trying to make my points),  what I find off-putting is this concept that doing any or all of the above will make you more spiritual, relevant, cutting edge, unique or any combination of those things.  They all come from the ol’ “Nothing New Under the Sun” department in that we fundamentalists/evangelical types tend to stampede to the latest trend some mega-church dude is trying like a herd of lemmings without much thought.  But I’ve seen this all before — in the 60′s and 70′s.

In those days it was double-breasted (and later 3-piece) suits, pompadour hair styles, bus ministries, Christian schools, Sunday school attendance campaigns, the Moral Majority, ensembles with matching outfits and Gaither music.

In the 80′s and 90′s it was dramas, stage decorations, polo shirts, projection systems, comb-overs, the Christian Coalition, mega-church conferences, orchestras, praise and worship, and anything Hybels.

Today, we’re into Starbucks, camp shirts and shirts with untucked tails and opened long sleeves, black sets with kewl lighting, blogging, the Junky Car Club, hard=edged bands, conversations and social work.

What we don’t seem to notice, with each generation, is that we keep becoming caricatures of ourselves.  Today’s generation openly mocks and derides the “fundamentalism” of the 70′s and 80′s with it’s polyester suits and legalism, but I lived it and our churches were bulging.  For all it’s flaws and failures (and they were myriad), it was trendy at the time.

Today’s emergent generation seems to be so impressed with themselves, the way they “relate”, their penchant for being innovative and shocking, their kewl young looks and their compassionate social activism that they are missing the fact that in their rush to be as relevent (if not more) than the next guy, they are ALSO losing touch and coming off more than a little ridiculous.

And c’mon — a preacher — any preacher — Ed Young or anyone else, lounging on a bed while delivering a sermon that is beamed across the country to satellite locations in which he is encouraging married people to “do it” for seven consecutive days is somewhere between revolting and hilarious.  And what’s even more curious is the fact that Ed wasn’t the first — and for sure now — he’s not going to be the last.  All the hipster young pastors and some that are not-so-hipster-or-young will now feel compelled to match his bet and maybe even raise the stakes a few points to make it interesting.

I guarantee you that in a few years, some obnoxious young blogger type is going to teleport an article onto someone’s eyeglass screen microchip which mocks and derides the days when some loony preacher dared give a sex challenge from a bed in a church.  That will be SO old school and corny.

But in the midst of all these trends and rushes-to-trends, what must remain constant? — the sound systematic exposition of the Word of God.  Over and over, Paul noted that he did not resort to “gimmickry” or trickery in his Gospel message.  He just faithfully preached the Gospel message without a lot of adornment.

Yes, I know a favorite tactic is to bring out the example of Christ eating with the publicans and prostitutes and how he was criticized by pharisees.  But keep in mind, there is a difference between someone being an unconverted pharisee and being pharisaical.  Also keep in mind that there is a difference between methodology and simply having daily contact with the unconverted.  In fact, Jesus at times refused to perform miracles rather than turn his message into a dog-n-pony show.  His supernatural methods were to reveal and confirm His message and His authority, not to draw the masses.  One should also note that at the moment of his agony, the masses who swamped many of his appearances were reduced in number to a handful of faithful disciples.

So I offer a few simple words of caution to my younger friends and sons in the ministry.  Preach the Word.  Whether you do a book exposition or a sound topical exigesis — don’t substitute style for substance.  Don’t chase the elusive butterfly of relevance and edginess.  That’s a pursuit that has no conclusion.  Like “converts” who pray a prayer for a bowl of rice in a third world country, people who flock to a venue to see a show will often drift away once their bellies are full.  Spend more energy in prayer and study than in pomp and production.  Nothing’s more important than the working of the Holy Spirit and that can’t be artificially induced.  Don’t worry about whether or not you are perceived to be relevant, kewl or creative.  Be concerned with whether or not you are accurate, direct and honest with the Word.  Don’t substitute volume for virtue, relevance for reality or dynamism for doctrine.  It doesn’t mean you have to go old-school.  It doesn’t mean you have to become a neo-legalist.  It doesn’t mean you can’t do your best to connect with your audience — you can and you should make those connections.

If you don’t want to put on a tie — who cares.  If you gel your hair — be thankful you have enough hair to gel.  If you want to remove the pulpit — go right ahead.  If you schedule your services at different times than tradition — go for it.  Just don’t put the emphasis where it doesn’t belong.

In 100 years, the only things on this earth that will still matter are the souls of men and the Word of God.

22 thoughts on “More Discussion Regarding Emergent Methodology

  1. Jonathan Charles

    The favorite line of some goes something like, “Methods change, but the message does not.” I’ve got news for you, preaching is a method, THE METHOD.

  2. Jonathan Charles

    The thread on music that the BJU post veered to is nearly dead, so I’ll post my thought here since this thread has to do with methodology. An ancient philosopher defined “beauty” as that which has proportion, balance and complexity. I’m not against contemporary music just because it is recent. The difficulty I have is going from a beautiful hymn that has the complexity of classical music to a contemporary dittie no more complex than the song “The Three Blind Mice.”

  3. Ed

    Dr. Burrell, I have been reading your blog for about two years now and I think this is the best one I have seen yet. Great job!

  4. Ben R.


    My only regret is that I wasn’t to read your “7 day” posting until after the conversation was done. I loved your response today. As a young man who has been able to worship in hundreds of churches (mostly IFB), it is the message that matters most.

    I’ve been to Saddleback and back in observing all of these trends, and to be honest with you, if people are getting saved and being discipled in the truth of God’s Word, that’s all I care about. My greatest fear is that many of the churches that preach relevancy and excellence in order to share the gospel never get around to actually preaching Christ and the cross. It’s a detour too many of us are taking.

    Thanks again for your wisdom. Have a great Thanksgiving with your family!

  5. Josh Benfield

    Yeah, good stuff. I totally agree here. I wanted to disagree to be able to argue more, but I can’t. I do understand that many of our generation seek to be cool more than Jesus-like. I guess I just really believe that the way I approach ministry is led by Christ (or, that’s what I’m praying towards).

    I always feel like, though, that there is such a hostility from the older generation when we try anything new. I know much of that is you guys protecting us from getting our priorities messed up. I’m good with the old school Macarthur churches and the new school meet-in-a-warehouse churches, I’m with Ben, as long as people are getting saved and discipled in the Word.

    So, great stuff. P.S. to Jonathan – way to bring it back around to a childish discussion on contemporary music. Are we still not done with that? Do you really have a contempt for people who like a song written, say, in their own lifetime? Let it go, man!

    Thanks, Pastor Burrell, have a great weekend!

  6. Jonathan Charles

    Josh, evidently you scan posts without actually reading them. I’m not at all opposed to contemporary music; the only contempt is that which is in your posts, it certainly wasn’t in mine. I know music is a subject that is beat like a dead horse. My distaste is for any music that lacks a touch of complexity. Such songs are disatisfying to me. If you are in an art gallery with paintings that took time and skill, you will likely be disatisfied to come down to an art exhibit of paint-by-number pictures. That is how I feel in listening to some contemporary music.

  7. Jonathan Charles

    Follow-up: I’ll admit that a lot of “traditional” songs in a hymnal are worthless ditties. They are shallow and before much of anything is said, they come back to a chorus that you have to sing 4 times that likewise doesn’t say much at all either. A lot of Christian music BOTH NEW AND OLD was written quick-and-dirty, and as a result, such songs leave me dissatisfied.

  8. Anonyomous

    I’m getting a little weary with people who want to twist the words of this blog to sastisfy an agenda. Dan, I agree with your statements, especially the last three paragraphs. May, I add that over arching goal in all of ministry as in all of life is the glory of God. When we live for our own agendas conservative or kewl. we forget the only one who really matters.

  9. John The Baptist

    Excellent post Dr. Dan, second one in a row that I agree with word for word 100%.

    Kinda scary isn’t it?


    Hope you are having a happy Thanksgiving holiday!

  10. Skip Tilton

    Excellent post Dan,

    Some of Solomon’s reply relevant to the discussion might have been:
    Let us hear the conclusion to the whole matter, fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
    For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or evil.

    There is a way which seemeth right unto man, but the end thereof are the ways of death

    These are two sets of verses which keep me focused in how I go about doing the ministry.

    Our Job as ministers of the Gospel –
    Take people from where they are and lead them to Christ likeness.

  11. Steve Sizemore

    Preach the Word! That’s the imperative. One only has to look at successful churches that have years of solid ministry in winning souls and making disciples and they usually have a consistent, expository message coming from the pulpit. Fads come and go, but the Word never changes. I believe we should be consistent in our methods and not give in to the latest fad that comes along. And that method should always be simple, powerful, exposition week after week, year after year. That’s how great, God honoring churches are built. Great post, as usual, Dan.

  12. Justin Facenda

    Pastor Dan,

    Sorry to be a part of bringing this article about, but thanks for your post. I too agree that we need to keep our focus on the message, but I still find the method to be useful to help give application and visual impact. (by the way, I do not agree with the “bed-talk” method). Paul for example, when teaching the very Word of God to those worshipping idols, and he used the very applicable illustration of the “Unknown God” to get across to those people the truth of God. I think that Paul was very good at using methods that would help someone apply or remember the truth he was telling them. However, I agree that our methods have been going way to over-board. So in simplicity the only thing that I agreed with about Ed’s “Bed-Talk” was the application. He gave a challenge not just information because I am sold on the fact that God is going to be more interested with how I applied and lived out the truth in the Bible rather than by how much I knew it.

    I am still not sure about the whole “preaching is the key” though. I would love some sincere imput here. I have a hard time believing that life-changing decisions happen while sitting in a pew in a large group environment. I have been in those situations, and I can easily say, I made it through without much change. I think that the connections made (not on a platform but one on one) are the key to life-changing decisions. The key to me seems to be the continual teaching, building up, and prayers of believers who want to seem themselves and others changed for God’s glory.

    And just as another thought to Mr. Charles. This may bring about a whole other article, but here goes…I do have my opinion as well on music, and I believe that a balanced view is critical, but my problem with your post is the the critical attitude toward a simple chorus, or song, or hymn. Sometimes I would much rather frame a simple “paint by numbers” that my 1 yr. old boy did all by himself than to have the best painting in the world because I know that he meant it with all of his heart. He couldn’t boast about how great of a job “he” did or how creative “he” was…”he” just did it because “he” loved his daddy. I wish I had the ability to write a simply song for my Father to show Him that same thing.

    Love you Pastor Dan

  13. S Stinson

    Well said. Although I do enjoy a nice evening wearing a camp shirt, drinking Starbucks, and listening to the Gaithers.

  14. Tim Decker

    By the looks of it, I think you are going to have to do another post on preaching – the styles, methods, & message.

    Back to the topic of the emergent movement, I wonder if some are confusing the emergent and emerging movements?

    And I can’t believe you got through this discussion of the emergent church without mentioning postmodernity.

    I enjoyed the article and whole-heartedly agreed. But the praxis of emergent thinking is only the tip of the iceburg. Dr. Burrell, have you read the book “Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be,” by DeYoung & Kluck. It’s a great book from the gelled haired, untucked shirt, trendy evangelical perspective.

  15. steve davenport

    Right on! I have been to Willow, been to Saddleback (via video) , and to Ed Young’s Creative Church Conference. I ahve also purchased more resources than I care to admit from these places. In my opinion, there is a lot of style but very little substance.

    Give me Joe Stowell or Erwin Leutzer any day of the week.

    I havent bought a suit or tie since I moved to Nebraska eight and half years ago. My bald head does get cold on days like today though.

  16. Wally


    The funny (and sad) thing about all of the showboat and curcus-driven church madness is that its just a placebo. Once the shine wears off, the curious lemmings will be gone to the lastest new craze.

    I remember being a teenager and seeing the adults in our youth group trying desparately to reach out to us. Pizza parties brought the kids in and Bible teaching ran them away again. Why? Pizza is what we wanted and the Bible was not.

    Not much has changed. The driven and emergent churches are for people who want entertainment and a ‘get out of hell free’ card. They do not want the real God of the Bible.

    I get sick to my stomach watching a 45-year-old man with jell in his receeding hair, torn blue jeans, and a Rolling Stones t shirt stand on a stage and pretend to be representing God. We’re talking about the word of God, not a used Chevy Nova.

    I like what Paul said about preaching the word, in season and out. That sort of implies that it will not necessariliy be popular to preach the truth…


  17. Wally

    One more thing. Why is it that people who really believe in the Bible and are truely saved are afraid to sand up and point out the fallicies of the ‘come as you are, leave just like you were’ movements? I keep hearing a whimpering ‘I don’t want to be judgemental’ or a ‘I don’t want to run anyone off’ from people who should know better.

    Maybe we need a sermon series on what the Bible teaches about what is and is not judgemental. Back before churches turned into coffee shops and tatoo parlors, people learned and defended the ‘fundamental’ doctrines of the faith. Now we shun them due to not wanting ‘run someone off’. Where worse than hell can someone run…? Oh, yea, the emergents don’t really believe in hell, I forgot…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>