Unconvincing rejection of the emergent movement
Some of us don’t know a lot about the emerging church, but I’m sure most of us have at least heard of this new movement afoot in North America. It’s not a new denomination, but a movement; not a network of churches, but a conversation, focusing on relationships and dialogue.
While on the surface this doesn’t seem controversial, these relationships and conversations are rocking the foundational practices and ideas of the church.
In reaction to modern-minded denominations that have sound, tight, placed-in-a-box, doctrinal statements showing who’s “in” and who’s “out,” the emerging movement is staggeringly decentralized and has no formal doctrinal statements or core faith practices.
The best description of the emerging movement I’ve found comes from Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger in their book, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures:
Emerging churches are communities that practice the way of Jesus within postmodern cultures. This definition encompasses nine practices. Emerging churches (1) identify with the life of Jesus, (2) transform the secular realm, and (3) live highly communal lives. Because of these three activities, they (4) welcome the stranger, (5) serve with generosity, (6) participate as producers, (7) create as created beings, (8) lead as a body, and (9) take part in spiritual activities.
DeYoung and Kluck’s book, Why we’re not emergent, is a reaction to the emerging church movement. The authors’ essential premise is to introduce themselves as postmodern Christians in their early thirties who don’t love or embrace all things emergent. For a movement that’s easy to label as a young postmodern rebellion against the traditional evangelical church, these two authors have chosen to reject it.
Kevin DeYoung primarily critiques the theological positions of authors aligned with the movement: Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, and Peter Rollins. Ted Kluck chooses to critique the emerging church from an on-the-street personal perspective. With this dual authorship approach, Kluck and DeYoung attempt to bring a fuller, more balanced perspective to everything emerging.
A highlight of this book is DeYoung’s evaluation of emerging theological stances. One of the most common critiques of the emerging movement is its perceived soft, squishy, nebulous stance on certain doctrinal beliefs that have traditionally been seen as sound, firm, intellectually locked down for all time. Having immersed myself in some emerging theological ideas, it was healthy to hear a counterbalance.
Points of disagreement
However, I didn’t agree with all the theological points presented from DeYoung’s Reformed, Calvinist perspective. He advocates the theological idea that the role of Christians and the church is to help people die well – meaning that all of us should be able to die knowing we’re going to heaven.
But isn’t there more to our faith (such as living) than just planning to die well? That’s the stance of many emergent writers.
Admittedly, there’s a real attraction to thinking that faith in Jesus helps us die well and that we can figure God out in this world. It’s natural to want safety and security in our faith, and life in general. Therefore, I can appreciate how authors like McLaren, Jones, and Rollins are perceived as reckless rebels.
Emergent writers are asking some very difficult questions about creation, the Bible, and our subjective understanding of truth, which catch people off guard and make them uncomfortable. If there’s anything that makes people scared in conservative, evangelical realms, it’s an intellectually destabilized faith.
I also had some trouble with the beginning of the book, which suggests the emerging church is strictly for younger, postmodern Christians experiencing a “quarter-life faith crisis.” Without a doubt, the emerging church has caught on because people feel disillusioned with traditional churches, or are recovering from negative church experiences. It would be foolish to deny that younger generations are finding vitality for their faith in the emerging church. But to say it’s exclusive to believers in their twenties or thirties alone would be too narrow.
After all, Why we’re not emergent critiques three authors who are in their forties and fifties, “leading” the movement. Authors like Jones, Pagitt, and McLaren aren’t alone as mature Christian leaders who want to see change and revolution in our faith, embracing values expressed by the emerging church.
Overall, this book falls short of encompassing all the realities of the emerging church movement. I would only recommend it for those who have read McLaren, Jones, Pagitt, and Rollins, in order to gain a balanced perspective. Otherwise, it’s a one-sided argument that will prove points you may already believe.
This volume misses a solid understanding of what the emerging church movement is at its core: a decentralized organic community movement. The figureheads may get the most attention, but if those figureheads were removed, the movement would only lose its outer shell, not its core energy.
The emerging church is still in its infancy and requires further maturation. However, that positive development will only happen from within because at its foundation is community – which means all of us should engage the movement, whether we support it or not.