If the title of this post makes your evangelical stomach feel queezy – I apologize. I myself can’t get enough of “third-way” language. It automatically makes you the rational one when discussing two viewpoints.
I was made aware of David Fitch’s post which (slightly) critiques what he calls the Neo-Reformed church plant movement (Tim Keller’s Redeemer Church, Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church and Acts 29 Network, Ed Stetzer’s gazillion blog posts and books) through Anthony Bradley’s recent discussion of the issue. (Which I only saw through the Aquila Report. Somebody wake me up.)
Anyone who knows me will admit that I think Tim Keller hung the moon, and Mark Driscoll placed some of the stars in the sky. Stetzer planted some trees and flowers.
In all seriousness, I think Keller and others have been tremendously helpful in helping Reformed pastors be creative and contextualize without necessarily being unfaithful or opposing an ordinary means of grace philosophy of ministry. The conferences, books, and articles produced by this movement has provided great depth than what we had in the 1990s (I am still proud, though, of my Promise Keeper and Aquire the Fire days.)
Yet, Fitch and Bradley make some good points. Redeemer, Mars Hill, and Village Church don’t just cater to the non-churched. Plenty of young adults who grew up in the church (and maybe left the church) have found a comfortable home. I even agree with Bradley that church plants would do well to have some involvement with Christian education. (Does Bradley agree with Gary North on something? Wow.) In addition, movements and strategies come and go. Some of what Keller said ten years ago is outdated (and he would admit such). Driscoll would tell any young church planter to not exactly replicate what he talks about in Confessions. Stetzer comes out with newer editions of books and continues to research and blog. (Planting Missional Churches is merely an upgrade from the same work published earlier in the decade).
Also, consider these observations from one who is still in seminary and probably should have no place at this table.
1. The so-called “Attractional Model” of ministry is not necessarily a negative. Perhaps this term has been defined more narrowly elsewhere, but from what I can tell I don’t think even traditional churches escape this critique. It is nearly impossible to have a church that is truly advertised to all people to all walks of life. Even traditional, Reformed churches cater to (i.e. attract) senior Reformed citizens or younger Reformed families which prefer a more conservative lifestyle and view of politics. Acts 29 churches will cater to Reformed-evangelical young adults who see flaws in the traditional model (or at least, that such a model isn’t workable in all portions of our country). Church plants which cater more to Bradley’s liking (not that he doesn’t like Acts 29 churches) will be attractive to those interested in multi-cultural ministry, starting Christian schools, etc. over the revelant, contextualized preaching of a Keller church.
The fact is, all three kinds are churches are “attractional” and usually have a pastor with an attractive personality. All attract a certain “kind” of Christian, and all may see conversions from nominal/cultural “Christians” or even non-churched people.
2. Acts 29/Redeemer churches don’t just succeed in Christianized parts of our culture. Sure, many Neo-Reformed church plants may just steal members from the out-dated Baptist church or the stifling Presbyterian church, but what about these churches which are seeing kingdom fruit in places such as New York City and Seattle? It’s hard to find more secular cities than these (maybe San Francisco, Portland, and Las Vegas). Seattle especially is a tough city, and Driscoll’s testimony is one to praise God for. I have no doubt that many conversions have happened in his ministry (and some of those conversions are now pastors at Mars Hill).
Then again, I do wonder if this model of church planting would work in Las Vegas (there is an Acts 29 church in Reno). There are some secular cities which need the gospel and would be tough to plant a church in. Boulder, Colorado anyone?
3. Perhaps the Neo-Reformed church plant movement has come across as a know-it-all group of Reformed white men who criticize others for not aligning themselves with the Bible’s own philosophy of ministry. (Wait, are we speaking about TRs or Driscoll and Keller?) But, I tend to give this movement the benefit of the doubt. I think its leaders are striving for humility and recognize that their methods and strategies will one day be dated (at least some of them). They also probably realize that the next generation of pastors and church planters will correct any over-emphasize or flagrant error in their movement and reform it to the teaching of Scripture. At least, that should be their hope.
This is why I find it difficult to launch criticism on a movement. There are so many dynamics at play. It isn’t like critiquing a systematic theology. (Watch out Horton.)
I think Acts 29-minded folk should heed Bradley’s suggestion of being involved with Christian educational efforts. They should also realize that times change and that styles come and go (I love RUF hymns, but even those will need to be re-written).
And finally, let’s agree with Keller’s recent conversation that we shouldn’t only focus on cities. We need churches in the suburbs and in the country as well.
Alright, now I should get back to listening to Keller talking about Jesus.