Pastor in Residence Encourages Synthesis of 'Innovation and Tradition' in the Church
CHICAGO, IL (February 2, 2007) – Living the gospel will always be messy, and any attempt to make it "unmessy takes it farther from the gospel." Eugene Cho, pastor of Quest Covenant Church in Seattle, Wash., told a packed forum in Nyvall Hall at North Park Theological Seminary (NPTS) on Thursday.
Cho was the Pastor in Residence at NPTS this week as part of the Making Connections Initiative sponsored by the Lilly Endowment. In addition to the forum, he participated in classes and met with various University departments.
Cho and Ray Aldred, a pastor in Canada and member of the Swan River Cree Nation, responded to questions about the emergent movement (EM) during the forum that was open to students. They spent much of the time addressing what they said are misconceptions about emergents.
The movement's "messy attempt to contextualize the gospel" was a tension that always must be lived, Cho said. "I love tension; it's exhausting, but I think tension can be a good thing."
The pastors disagreed with critics who have argued the movement dismisses the idea of "propositional truth," or that which can be defined. Aldred said there is "a realignment of propositional truth" among emergents, who consider it secondary – but essential – to the community's experience with "the gospel story." Propositional truth is best discerned through the entire narrative of Scripture, rather than the other way around, he explained.
The different approach does not lead to a breakdown of biblical understanding, Aldred said. "If someone wanted to change the name of Jesus to Buddha, even a little kid would say that's not the same story."
"Everything must point to Jesus," Cho said. "Everything must point to the triune God."
Aldred added that he critiques each of the services at his church by asking the questions, "Have they heard about Jesus in at least one of the stories? Does what we do declare the particularity of Jesus?"
How EM members focus on that particularity will vary greatly because the movement is broad, Cho said. That breadth is one of the reasons that the movement is "nervous about labels," he added.
The pastors also countered the idea that emergents dismiss tradition as a source of understanding the gospel. "I have never heard any emergent pastors say they wanted to banish tradition," Cho said.
He added that emergents are more intent than previous generations on learning from the entire "global tradition" rather than those that have been enfolded by European and American culture.
The church must continue to be innovative but informed by the best tradition, Cho said. "The church is more beautiful as a result of a synthesis of innovation and tradition."
Cho said he honors the approach to living the gospel differently as do members of the EM, declaring, "Praise the Lord there are different churches and there are different methodologies." All Christians must be missional, however.
Questioned as to whether the EM missional approach hasn't already simply become reactive -- or guided -- by culture, Cho responded, "The church can be reactive and pro-active. It has to be both."
If the church is to be both, however, it must know how to relate to the people around it, the pastors said. "What we really have lost is the art of conversation," Cho explained. "We don't know how to have a normal conversation with the rest of the world."
Cho added, "You have to be aware of the rhythm and pulse of the culture to see how Christ is moving in the culture."
Aldred acknowledged, however, "The quest for relevance actually is a temptation. Being relevant is not the point; it's about communicating heart to heart."
The movement has been dismissed as something that will soon pass, but Cho declared, "The emergent church is no longer a fad." Average attendance at Quest is between 400 and 500 people each week and Cho is quick to add that many of the people most involved in promoting the emergent ideas have been dealing with the issues for several decades.
Cho said a major weakness of the movement, however, are the people he calls "quitters." Idealism prompts them into ministry, but they are shattered by the messy stuff and then want to disconnect from the church altogether. "I tell them you have to suck it up; that's the way life is."