Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Emergent Church: An Analysis

I just read the book, Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck published by Moody Press (2008). I think it is one of the very best books on the Emergent Church I have read and I won't hesitate to recommend it to students and anyone interested in this movement.

The biggest thing I took away from a reading of this book is the description of the Emergent Church as essentially modern. In fact, it is an extension of the same kind of cultural accommodation as is the Seeker Sensitive trend and before that the Church Growth Movement. If the more traditional Evangelical movement was tempted to compromise with modernity, the Emergent Church is tempted to compromise with postmodernity. Since I don't see postmodernity as a very sharp break with modernity, I don't see Emergent as all that different from what it is rebelling against. This tendency to compromise with culture is a besetting sin of the Church in every age and our age is no exception.

Another point made well in this book is that what Emergent people reject and criticize as "modern" is often much older than modernity and, in fact, predates the Enlightenment by centuries. For example, the analytical, verse by verse, word study kind of expository preaching often castigated as "modern" is demonstrated by DeYoung to be characteristic of Medieval and Patristic preaching. He gives other examples as well.

Postmodernity in its extreme forms is a rejection of all of Western culture going right to the pre-Socratic roots of the rational search for order that constitutes one of the two roots of Western civilization (with the other being the Bible). So by flirting with postmodernism, Emergent is flirting with a rejection of much more than merely modernity.

Another critique of the Emergent modus operendi is that Emergent writers and speakers hide behind the fact that they are just having a "conversation" and their contention that propositional truth is not possible whenever someone refutes their positive theological claims. But when the Emergent writers move to politics, they suddenly become very propositional and certain in denouncing what they perceive to be injustice. Like the 19-20th century liberal Protestants they tend to be fuzzy on doctrine and laser beam precise on politics. All this reveals their unique contribution to be 1) not new because it has all been said for decades by the liberals and 2) not credible insofar as their criticisms of more orthodox Evangelicals are just a rejection of theology in general rather than new and better theological proposals.

This book is balanced, fair, respectful and devastating. There is a tendency to focus primarily on the writings of Brian McLaren, which is fair enough since he is the most prolific writer in the movement. I don't see how anyone can read this book and come away thinking the Emergent Church has much of value to offer anyone today.

2 comments:

teadeum said...

"Like the 19-20th century liberal Protestants they tend to be fuzzy on doctrine and laser beam precise on politics. All this reveals their unique contribution to be 1) not new because it has all been said for decades by the liberals and 2) not credible insofar as their criticisms of more orthodox Evangelicals are just a rejection of theology in general rather than new and better theological proposals."

The purpose of a church isn't to offer "new and better theological proposals" but rather to journey in the Christian Faith together and to grow in greater intimacy and faith with Christ. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for focusing on theological issues rather than focusing on Faith. In John 5 he says:

"You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life."

I don't align myself with the Emergent Church but it I think that their voice is one that should be heard and noted within our Faith.

jonathanturtle said...

For another perspective on the emerging church I might suggest reading Peter Rollins' "How (Not) To Speak of God." I'm mid-way through and finding it fascinating. I think Peter does a great job of articulating what many Christians think and feel. I'd be interested in hearing your take on the book (it's short, you could read it in a few hours). I know you're already somewhat biased against emerging Christianity but I think it's somewhat revolutionary and Rollins does a great job articulating some important thoughts.

Peace.

JT.