How Much Weight Do We Grant To Experience?

Posted: January 19, 2010 in Uncategorized

I don’t consider myself Young, Restless & Reformed or Emergent or Neo-Seeker Sensitive but I have spent enough time in each camp to know that there is a tribal mentality to each. 

If you are one of the New Calvinists then, generally speaking, you subscribe to podcasts from Mars Hill, The Village and maybe Desiring God.  You read a lot of books from Crossway and you carry an ESV Study Bible.

If you are Emergent then your Bible of choice is an NRSV, TNIV or The Message, you own a few Nooma DVDs and you wear a lot of tees promoting social justice ministries (i.e., “compassion fashion”).

I could go on but you probably get the point.

A lot of young Christians are not sure where they fit in.  They may sample a bit from here and there before they decide.  I would caution them to think twice before pledging loyalty to any one tribe rather than learning from all of them but I know how comforting it is to belong to a theological clique.  It’s not easy to try to be a member  of a kind of doctrinal “Breakfast Club” (if that rather dated pop culture reference doesn’t make any sicne because you’re under 35 then Google it).

When I encounter a young Christian trying to decide which tribe to pledge loyalty to I often hear the same type of questions along the lines of “Isn’t what Rob Bell and Brian McLaren kind of new-agey and squishy?” or “Isn’t Mark Driscoll kind of arrogant and nasty?” 

But one of the questions I rarely hear asked is, “What kind of spiritual experiences or opposition do these Christian leaders report facing?”  For example, Mark Driscoll claims to have encountered demon possessed individuals.  He has stated that he has seen objects float in his office while trying to counsel those who have dabbled in the occult, etc.  I never hear folks like Shane Claiborne or Doug Pagitt recount such tales!

Is this evidence that Driscoll is encountering real spiritual opposition while the darkness isn’t really concerned about Emergent? Or do you even believe in such things?

What about the number of conversions in a church? Xenos Church in Columbus, Ohio claims to have conducted a study where they found that churches, which belong to the more progressive wing of the emerging church movement to have an overall conversion rate of about 3%.  That is, that only about 3% of attendees at places like Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids or Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis actually met Jesus at that church while churches like The Village in Dallas boast something like a 40% conversion rate.

David Opderbeck, writing over at The Jesus Creed Blog, opined that the Christian Right is not “missional” but, again, according to Xenos, the church with the highest conversion rate is Calvary Chapel in California with a whopping 70% conversion rate while also leading the charge for Proposition 8. 

What do you make of this?

Should Christians face spiritual opposition? Does it have to manifest itself in the form of the paranormal?

If we believe someone’s theology is odd but it tends to win those to a close relationship with Jesus should we give it another look?  Some have already objected to this post that being missional isn’t the same as being evangelistic but don’t you have to be the former in order to be truly successful at the latter?

Tim Keller has stated that if we are not having the same effect that Jesus had then we are not preaching the same message he did.  Does this include evoking the demonic? If the message isn’t bringing those at the margin to Christ should we chuck it even if we feel it is right?

I’m not trying to backdoor an argument for churches to become right-wing Calvinists, but honestly asking the question, “how much weight do we grant experience when shifting through the confusing modern theological landscape?”

What do you think?

  1. …When I encounter a young Christian trying to decide which tribe to pledge loyalty to…

    I think it’s a tragedy if young Christians feel this is something they need to do. One Body. One Spirit. One Faith. One Baptism. One Lord and Savior.

    • Revolution says:

      Paul, I agree, which is why I advocate the “Breakfast Club” theology but it still makes me wonder why it is that one camp seems to be more evangelistic and at least claim to face spiritual oppositon while the other one doesn’t. Just been on my mind. Thanks for the comment.

  2. dopderbeck says:

    Hi. Well, for starters I didn’t quite say “the Christian Right is not missional.” I suggested their understanding of “positive law” is not set in the context of a missional theology.

    As to Calvary Chapel’s “conversion rate”: first, I’d question the meaning of a “conversion rate” statistic. What statistical methods are being employed? What is the control against which this is being tested? Even if the “conversion rate” is somehow a meaningful statistic — which I doubt — I’d question its statistical correlation with CC’s affiliation with religious right politics. Is this why people are “converting,” is it more because of other factors?

    Finally, and related to the first two points, I’d question how “conversion” is being defined here. Are we talking about the making of “disciples” of Jesus, who, like Jesus, develop a heart for the poor and marginalized? Or are we talking about people who sign up to join a political / social movement that is devoted to preserving their socioeconomic privileges — which, IMHO, is a significant factor in the Religious Right’s appeal to middle class Americans? Or is it a messy mixture of both?

    • Revolution says:


      I apologize if I misunderstood you. I appreciate your columns and am challenged by them.

      I don’t know if the study by Xenos is an example of “evangelicals behaving badly with statistics” but I have no reason to suspect anything but an honest effort by the folks at Xenos. Also, in my limited interactions with Chuck Smith and Calvalry Chapel, it seems to me that they appeal to a pretty wide spectrum of people who seem to have compassion for all people and desire to follow Jesus closely albeit imperfectly like all of us.

      Also, my involvement with the Christian Right (going back to the early ’90s when I was campaign hack and then Congressional staffer) left me with the impression that if it were not for the abortion issue then many, if not most, would not be active in politics at all. So, I don’t think it is quite fair to label them as attempting to protect some type of suburban Christianity. Moreover, many that I know adopt orphans, sponsor children via Compassion International, help build houses for Habitat for Humanity, etc.

      Anyway, my real point was just to pose a question that I haven’t heard considered, which, in sum, is, “Should we give another listen to a movement within the faith that encounters spiritual opposition, brings people to declare Jesus as Lord, etc. even if their beliefs doesn’t strike us theologically astute?”

      Blessings, brother.

  3. Brian says:

    Interesting. I don’t think that social scientists would be impressed with the methodology used by Xenos, but I admit that they probably have a legitimate concern.

    Out of curiosity, did the numbers on The Village Church come from Xenos too?

    • Revolution says:

      Brian, they didn’t actually state the names of the churches, they just talked about their locale, etc. and it was pretty easy to guess who they were speaking of. The 40% conversion rate obviously applied to Mars Hill in Seattle and when I visited The Village in the fall, I had a long talk with a staffer who estimated they were about on par with Mars Hill.

      I’m not sure how Xenos conducted their survey but even if they are close then it’s interesting. I’m not saying it means we all need to become Mark Driscoll or Chuck Smith clones but I think they shouldn’t be dismissed so easily either.

  4. […] Okay, maybe the short title works just as well.   This interesting topic over at Pastor Matt’s blog is begging for more of you to jump […]

  5. […] Okay, maybe the short title works just as well.   This interesting topic over at Pastor Matt’s blog is begging for more of you to jump […]

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