Mars Hill Pastor Mark Driscoll preached on the still popular and still controversial topic of emerging churches in his latest sermon. But it's an issue he normally wouldn't teach to his mainly twenty-something church crowd in Seattle.
That's because Mars Hill attendants don't use the language "emerging church" as many Christian leaders label them.
The issue of the emerging church, however, was raised when thousands of people, who regularly tune into Mars Hill sermons every week through the Internet, voted to make it the No. 2 most popular topic they wanted Driscoll to address in a sermon series titled "Religion Saves and 9 Other Misconceptions."
This past Sunday, Driscoll answered the specific question: "What can traditional/ established churches learn from 'emerging' churches?"
Defining traditional or established churches, the 37-year-old pastor said the context on which such churches were built was a culture that was primarily Christian in value. Most people were raised with some experience in church, most people went to church and they typically put on their best clothes for worship services that likely had a pastor wearing a robe, a choir, organ and hymnals. Also, mission works took place overseas where Christianity was not as dominant.
Today, the cultural context is starkly different in America.
Half the population is single, most people are living in the city and not in the suburbs, and most people didn't grow up in the church or don't have any church background at all, Driscoll said. Moreover, many recognize that missionaries are now needed in America where non-Christians would make up the fourth largest nation in the world, some say, according to the Mars Hill pastor, who did not grow up in Protestantism.
Within a more complicated context is a diverse range of Christian churches.
There are the fundamentalist Christians. For this group, Driscoll says everything goes into a "closed hand." Not only does doctrine remain strict, which Driscoll agrees with, but so does the methodology which remains inflexible, rigid, outdated and "no fun."
Then there are the liberals. They say they're open with the methodology and the worship style and how to love people, but they're also open about doctrine.
"We're not sure if the Bible's God's word, we're not sure if Jesus is God, we're not sure if anybody's going to hell," Driscoll said, referring to liberals.
Denouncing such liberalism, the Mars Hill pastor stressed, "We're supposed to be old Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christians. Christianity doesn't change. Now, the way it's expressed culturally and demonstrated does change."
At Mars Hill, doctrine is timeless but at the same time, methodology is timely.
"We're theologically conservative and culturally liberal," he often says.
Emerging churches are known for flexible methodology and efforts to be culturally relevant. And while Driscoll places himself and his church in this group, he still breaks emerging churches down to four "lanes" or groups, some of which he questions.
In the first lane are emerging evangelicals who believe in the basic Christian doctrine, such as the Bible being God's word and Jesus dying for our sins. They also tend to form the "hip, cool church," according to Driscoll. Pastors who may fall in this category include Dan Kimball and Donald Miller.
"These guys are just trying to say, 'Well, we're not trying to change all of Christianity, we're just trying to figure out and make church and Christianity more relevant, more applicable for people who otherwise have no interest in Jesus or church,'" said the Mars Hill pastor, who said he disagrees with this group on a few things such as having women pastors, but doesn't find any major problems with them.
Second, house church evangelicals also are doctrinally Christian brothers and sisters, Driscoll said. But they do not support creating large churches and instead form little house churches or churches in other smaller settings such as coffee shops.
The third "lane" Driscoll listed is the emerging reformers, where he and Mars Hill fall under. They believe in all of the evangelical distinctives and embrace reformed theological traditions. They love John Calvin and Martin Luther, the early founders of evangelicals including Billy Graham and Francis Schaffer, and modern day preachers such as John Piper.
Emerging reformers also try to find ways to make the church relevant, accessible and culturally connected; they tend to be charismatic; and many are involved in church planting.
The fourth lane is a group of emergent liberals who Driscoll feels has "totally gotten off the highway and is lost out in the woods." Although Driscoll was initially connected to this group, which also tries to find innovative ways to do church, he left, citing that they call into question many parts of the Christian doctrine.
Some questions include: "Do you need Jesus to go to heaven?" "Is anybody really going to hell?" "Is sex outside of marriage including homosexuality sinful?"
"On many of these issues, they won't answer the questions," Driscoll noted.
Leaders in this lane include Brian McLaren and Rob Bell.
While Driscoll only has minor disagreements with the first three groups, he has concerns over the content of the emergent liberals' instruction.
But at the end of the day, Driscoll says, "We don't care," adding that he only preached on the topic because it was voted on.
"You shouldn't care because what can happen is you get so concerned it's so easy for Christians to say 'What does this Christian say?' 'What team am I on?' 'What does this blogger say about that blogger?'" Driscoll told Mars Hill attendants.
"I'll tell you what. Maybe this is what you can learn from the emerging church – what false doctrine is," the pastor simply stated.
"Who cares what the emerging church is doing," he stressed. "It's a junk drawer category for all kinds of different people. It's highly confusing. I'm not even sure that the description is any more of benefit or use."
Rather than labeling Mars Hill as an emerging church, he calls it a Christian church and points to only two things he and the church really care about – Jesus and the Bible.
"Here's what we're all about – Jesus," Driscoll highlighted. "The emerging church will come and go. The traditional church will come and go. The church of Jesus Christ will continue."
So whether it's utilizing the Internet, putting up giant screens in the church, or holding an 8:30 p.m. service on Sunday to reach the late sleepers, when it comes down to it, Mars Hill works to "make much of Jesus' name in a place that desperately needs to know how wonderful he is."