Monday, October 22, 2007

Come As You Are, Stay As You Are: The Emerging Emergency

This is the atheist's dream: Christianity rendered obsolete through its own ambivalence about Biblical truth.

In the evangelical community, there is a tendency to expend great (and nearly exclusive) effort at bringing in greater numbers of people. While this goal is not intrinsically wrong, “mere outreach” carries with it a danger that is both silent and potent. When the "numbers game" wins out over Biblical cultivation of spiritual maturity within the community of believers, a tendency to lower the proverbial bar “emerges” (pun intended). The most imminent form of this danger lies within a movement called the emerging/Emergent church (“Emergent” is the title of an actual entity within the emerging movement).

The emerging (also sometimes known as “missional”) movement (a blanket term including many related theological variations) is largely well-intentioned in that those of this persuasion strive to recover an element of effective outreach lost to some in the evangelical community. The trend under the emerging umbrella is, however, is that of making concessions to postmodernism (in varying degrees) in the name of appearing attractive to non-believers. By "concede to postmodernism", I mean Christians who "soften" God's truth for the sake of building better relationships, hence attempting to make the Gospel "culturally relevant" to the non-Christian. This produces a "come as you are, stay as you are" mentality. This emerging mentality incubates an illness which is highly contagious, even infiltrating churches who believe that they are keeping their boundaries well defined. The threatening illness of which I speak is called relativism.

Consciously in its logical extreme, or subconsciously in its infancy, truth is considered to be unknowable, subjective, and sometimes irrelevant to the emerging adherent. Relationships then become so important that the desire to love the person chokes out the mandate to speak truth, if truth can even be deciphered. What happens when one intends to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) but has also foolishly eliminated Biblical absolute truth from the equation? Practically, one can deduce that there is nothing to speak, and thus, no standard is ever vocalized and defined. The equation becomes: speak [nothing and/or relativism] in love. When we strive to have the non-believer respond favorably to the church at the expense of truth itself, it would be beneficial to consider the words Jesus spoke in Luke 6:26,
“Woe to you when all people speak well of you, for their ancestors did the same things to the false prophets.

Paul was not sympathetic to bending truth in order to increase favor among non-believers.

2 Cor 4:2 But we have rejected shameful hidden deeds, not behaving with deceptiveness or distorting the word of God, but by open proclamation of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience before God.

Galatians 2:5
But we did not surrender to them even for a moment, in order that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.

While Paul was familiar with the cultures of those he engaged, he never bended or softened his message and continually spoke the truth in love.

The church must recognize this emerging emergency, take a stand or be assimilated.

All verses are from the NET Bible.

I give credit to my friend Jeff Miller for the catchy "Emerging Emergency" title. One example of the many benefits of a trip to Dallas!

25 comments:

Tim said...

I've been speaking out about the Emergent movement for some time now. There is, however, one very interesting twist: former Emergent all-star Mark Driscoll has come out very strongly against the heretical theology of McLaren, Pagitt, and Bell. Check out this podcast from his sermon at SEBTS last month.

Tom said...

You make a number of serious claims here against the emerging church and her theologians, but you don't cite any sources. In the interest of truth and fair play, might you give us some quotations that demonstrate the charges of relativism and a disregard for truth that you level against them?

Sarah Scott said...

Tim,

That is a great podcast! Thanks.

Tom,

I would recommend that (if you are interested) you listen to the podcast which Tim posted. You can also google Doug Pagitt and Brian Mclaren, as they are the "sage leaders" of the Emergent movement. What they have to say is dangerously unbiblical, yet they are heralded as influential Christian leaders.

Tom said...

Sarah,

I've read some of McLaren's stuff. While I find it at times unclear and frustrating, I don't see the rampant relativism or "dangerously unbiblical" theology. But I've read only a small part of what he's written so maybe I've just not read the right things.

My comment wasn't really a request for a reading list but a suggestion that if you are going to make serious allegations against someone or even a moevement, you owe it to your readers (not to mention those against whom who are writing) to provide some specific examples of the problems you are addressing.

Daniel said...

Great post! The Emergent Church Movement is the bane of me. Emerging from what? i ask. Truth? They dangerously substitute tradition and liturgy for a relaxed atmosphere and cupholders in the seats. It makes me want to puke. So much more could be said, but I totally agree with you. This movement is a slap in the face towards 2000 years of Church history. But I suspect it won't last.

You should have been there in Groothuis' class when he literally threw Blue Like Jazz across the room... twice! It was awesome :)

Daniel said...

Tom,

I see what you're saying. You want proof of what Sarah is accusing the Emergent Church Movement of being is in fact true to what they believe. I think (for practical reasons) she's just saying that there is lots of reading out there by them and there's lots of reading out there refuting it. But this post is looking at it all from 50,000 feet up. They basically give the finger to tradition and want to do things "our own way". This is dangerous because a) it's a slap in the face to 2000 years of the history of our great religion, and b) it delves directly into our cultural mandate of individualism and subsequently relativism. There is no foundation of truth of which to hold to. And I (as many others too) believe that this is a dangerous road to go down. "Heretical" might be a bit strong of a word to use. "Void of depth and meaning" might be better.

Sarah Scott said...

Tom,

I appreciate your input! It is helpful. However, most of what I am saying in this blog comes from personal discussion and my experience within the church. Also, I try to keep blogs short. If I ever write anything ranging from an article to a book about this (or anything else, for that matter), I will most certainly include more citations and refrences. Thanks! :)

Daniel,

I wish I could have been there to witness the greatness of the Blue Like Jazz book chuck (squared)! :)

Tom said...

Sarah,

I do undertand that blog posts should be relatively short, and that cuts against the desire to carefully cite sources. And I appreciate the chance to discuss these matters. Thanks! I suppose I have a knee jerk reaction against posts/columns that make strong claims against very general positions because I think very often such writing is primarily against straw men. Still, I appreciate your good nature in this, and I hope I didn't come off as being unduly cranky. I don't find crankiness to be a virtue.

I did listen to the podcast that Tim linked to his response. Mark Driscoll is certainly an engaging speaker and his lecture was interesting. I can't say he convinced me, however. He is overly fond of the following sort of argument: Person A says that Person B's writing in book X was helpful/interesting/inspiring. But person B has said some really wrong things in book/on topic T. Therefore, Person A's position on various topics is dubious. Compare: John thinks that Richard Dawkins' book *The Blind Watchmaker* contains some illuminating passages about the theory of evolution. But Dawkins has said some pretty stupid things about belief in God. Therefore, John is to be distrusted. But surely John might have only trustworthy, smart things to say about faith and God, and yet still think that when Dawkins limits himself to claims about evolution, he has something interesting and illuminating to say. By my lights, Driscoll should be more cautious about "guilt by association" arguments.

Anonymous said...

Sarah:

You make harsh claims and cloak yourself with academic superiority, yet your writing is sloppy and inarticulate. It lacks a light touch and smacks of hard-skinned bloviated boilerplate.

My guess is that you grew up on the television, didn’t read literature, got low SAT scores, but somehow became zealous about “nuanced” discussions of evangelicalism. Please do not deceive yourself into thinking you stand above masses of benighted peons.

Please post your SAT scores and prove me wrong! Show me that you are intelligent! I'm guessing a combined score of 1100-1150. That should be humbling enough to silence your sardonic (lack of) wit.

Your trenchant standards condign you to the people you condemn. Fight insouciance, but do it in a different manner. After all, you don’t like your academic shortcomings highlighted.

Chris D.

Justin said...

Chris,

I have to say that I’m impressed with your post. Never in my life have I seen an ad hominem attack hidden behind such big words. You attack the blog author’s writing as sloppy and inarticulate without providing one example of what you didn’t like. In fact, throughout your whole insult-laden rant, you never once brought up exactly what bothered you about the blog entry. However, in the course of 4 paragraphs, you did manage to call the author sloppy, inarticulate, pompous, uneducated, arrogant, and stupid.

Please don’t be so foolish as to think that just because you use “intellectual” language to call people names, your attacks carry more weight. When you feel like actually talking about the issues discussed in the blog, your comments will be welcomed here. Until then, it sounds like you still have some growing up to do.

Anonymous said...

Justin:

Let me place examples of sloppy writing or a heavy-handed attitude in abeyance until Sarah posts her SAT scores. If my supposition is correct, I think that low scores will confirm (or disprove) my general thesis.

Would you really like me to pick apart her writing? Pick an blog entry for me to take apart.

Tim said...

Chris,

Grow up.

Doug Groothuis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Chris' comments are completely unhelpful and the ad hominem attacks are certainly inappropriate. But I find it interesting that Justin wants to call for examples of Sarah's "sloppy writing" (not my words), while Sarah and Daniel defend her own refusal to provide examples for the serious accusations she levels at the emerging/Emergent movement (which she oversimplifies by treating it as a monolithic entity when it is not).

Tom is correct - it is easy to make blanket criticisms of an entire movement while providing absolutely no evidence of your claims. True argumentation provides evidence - someone involved in higher education should know this. And arguments about brevity and the blog medium are not an excuse for making broad, unsubstantiated accusations.

Jake C.

Tim said...

Jake,

If you want evidence that prominent leaders in the emergent movement have embraced postmodernism, pick up a copy of A is for Abductive or A New Kind of Christian and see for yourself. And by all means listen to the Driscoll podcast linked above. Driscoll knows these people personally and speaks from a position of having not only read their books and attended their conferences but also discussed the issues with them in person. You may not like what he has to say -- you won't like it if you're politically liberal -- but he is in a position to know. And what he has to say backs up some of the things D. A. Carson said in Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church.

Jake said...

Tim,

Thanks for your response. I've read at least pieces of some books by emergent leaders - and when I have time I may well take a look at some of the books you mentioned. I doubt I'll disagree with them as much as some people do, as I find much of what I've seen in emergent/emerging circles thought-provoking (even if I don't always agree), and have a real problem with the idea that they are outside the fold of Christianity as some have claimed.

But as a previous commenter pointed out - providing a "reading list" is not the same as backing up an argument. If Sarah wants to make sweeping accusations about other Christians, she needs to learn to back up what she says with something much more specific than "look at this book". Again, anyone involved in higher education should understand this. It is very easy to make general accusations, but its also unfair and unhelpful if someone is interested in actual discussion or dialogue.

Tim said...

Jake,

It is always difficult to know how to respond to a request for documentation of this sort. How much can one take to be public knowledge? Have the people objecting to one's statements about the Emergent literature taken the time to read that literature themselves? How much account should one take of the deliberate verbal slipperiness of various Emergent leaders?

In A is for Abductive, Leonard Sweet identifies Easter as "dying into the new" -- and then he goes on to identify "the new" with "postmodern culture" which "thrums with possibilities." I take this seriously: it is a very grave error to take a historical event at the heart of the Christian faith and to turn it into a metaphor for contemporary culture.

In the same volume, the authors make it plain that they think "abduction" (in the sense of Charles Sanders Peirce, whom they explicitly associate with it) is akin to kidnaping. This is embarrassingly ignorant.

In A New Kind of Christian, McLaren puts Kuhnian relativism into the mouth of "Neo." This is epistemically reckless. I do not say this out of ignorance of Kuhn's work or a knee-jerk reaction to the word "relativism." For a discussion of Kuhn's relativism, you can go here.

I doubt that all of the Emergent leaders are outside the fold of Christianity, but some of them are clearly well outside the scope of evangelicalism as it has traditionally been understood. (They would no doubt reply that they are trying to broaden the definition of evangelicalism.) In any event, in my own readings I have found them provocative but not thought provoking. Perhaps this is because I have a low tolerance for historical ignorance, fuzzy thinking, and sloppy or slippery writing, particularly on topics of great importance.

Jake said...

Tim,

I appreciate your attempt to at least provide some examples of what bothers you about emergent leaders. I'll confess to being a little stunned that you still seem to defending the fact that Sarah didn't provide any sort of examples to support her accusations against emergent leaders, apparently on the grounds that it is difficult. First, I fail to understand why it is so difficult. Often when someone is writing they are unaware how familiar their audience is with the background of the subject - that's part of the challenge of writing, not an excuse to fail to do one's job to support her claims and accusations. And you criticize "fuzzy thinking" and "sloppy or slippery writing" even though that is precisely what results from a failure to back up one's arguments.

As for your examples, I'll admit that I fail to see the great harm in the Leonard Sweet example - although I'll grant that without knowledge of the context it is difficult to be certain. I don't see the harm inherent in using a historical event as a metaphor. My assumption is that you don't like the specific metaphor - perhaps because you don't agree that good can be found in postmodern culture (that it "thrums with possibilities")? We'll probably have to agree to disagree on that issue - I don't agree with Groothuis and others that are hyper-critical of postmodern culture.

I'll confess that I'm not familiar with Charles Sanders Peirce and his idea of "abduction", so I have no context with the second example. I'll also confess that I have only the slightest background in philosophy and am not familiar enough with either Kuhn or that particular book by McLaren, both of which would be necessary to offer anything worthwhile.

My entire point here is less about any specific examples and more about the fact that I constantly see a lot of strident but incredibly vague criticisms of the emerging/Emergent movement that contribute nothing to any helpful debate about specific ideas. Such criticisms don't contribute anything worthwhile to anyone, but they do seem to make those doing the criticizing feel better about themselves. I'm quite sure this is not Sarah's intent, but her post is a good example of the problem.

Tim said...

Jake,

Easter is about the resurrection of the son of God. I think it is bordering on blasphemous of Sweet to twist that historical fact off into a metaphor.

Sarah has already written regarding postmodernism; this post of hers does not occur in a vacuum. It is the nature of the blog medium that we tend to read each entry as a set piece, but perhaps in this case that is causing part of the problem.

Having done my doctorate among postmodernists (the majority of my peers, and a number of the professors at my institution, were self-described continentalists), I must second Sarah's contention that the rejection of logic and rationality, and the embracing of epistemic relativism, are central to much postmodern thought. In this respect I am an impenitent modernist. It would be a better world if more Christians, and particularly more Christian pastors and leaders, would put down McLaren and Miller and start reading Paley, Chalmers, Watson, and Lardner.

Jake said...

If Sweet was trying to replace the meaning of Easter, rather than using it as a metaphor for another idea in addition to its traditional historical meaning, I'd see a problem. But I think you're making a big deal out of something that isn't. Words almost always have multiple referents - its how language works. The charge of blasphemy is pretty extreme - I think that word is often overused.

Your point about the blog medium building on itself is a good one. One of the advantages of the blog, however, is the ability to link back to previous posts - if something else forms the background and provides the kind of examples I've been talking about, there are ways to provide them.

Both postmodernism and modernism have strengths and weaknesses - I'm often a little concerned at the near deification of modernism that I see among some critics of postmodernism. But again, we'll have to agree to disagree. And while I haven't read any of the authors you referenced, from a cursory look at the links it looks like they are primarily apologetic texts? Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. I certainly don't question that apologetics has its value, and I have benefitted from the apologetic elements of my education. At the same time, the reality is that in our culture, apologetics is not nearly as much a concern as it was once was, for believers or non-believers. We can bemoan that fact if we want, but it doesn't change the reality. While I don't think that area should be ignored, I also think that authors like McLaren and Miller offer a valuable and needed social action component to Christianity that is quite valuable. I realize some deride this as the "social gospel" - and it should never exclude an understanding of Christ's atonement - but many Christians have neglected this aspect of the New Testament for far too long. They provide a valuable corrective.

Tim said...

Jake,

I rarely use the term "blasphemy" and think this is a marginal case. But it's a margin I'm not eager to approach.

You write:

At the same time, the reality is that in our culture, apologetics is not nearly as much a concern as it was once was, for believers or non-believers.

In my experience, both within the Christian community and (in my job) outside of it, this is flatly false. Who told you so? It wasn't the kid who dropped out of the church youth group in highschool because it was all fluff and no content. But perhaps he was gone before you had a chance to ask him why he had left.

It is true that some people have made a lot of noise deprecating it -- but, again, in my experience these are people who have no expertise in the relevant fields and often have their own fish to fry.

I have never seen a single legitimate criticism of "modernism" or "rationalism" or "the Enlightenment" from the pen of a postmodern writer. If you think you have, feel free to bring it on. But please, before you do, spend at least a few days reading the works of the great rational Christians.

If you want to see an active social component in the Christian community, read up on the life of Thomas Chalmers.

Sarah Scott said...

Jake,

Thanks for posting. I appreciate the dialogue! Sorry, I have been so busy with classes lately that I haven't really been able to engage.

First of all, it is important to realize that "Emergent" is, in fact, a rather monolithic entity. Second, while "emerging churches" cannot necessarily be classified as the former, they hold many things in common in order to be considered "emerging". The imoportant similarity is that they have SOME degree of concession to the idea that faith in Jesus Christ is subjective and experiential. Some "emerging" churches may be indeed falsely classified as such.

If we define our terms (read: "emerging") but reject definitions as "restrictive boxes" altogether, we arrive at a quick and illogical way to kill any sort of productive dialogue and render the idea of definitions useless.

Also, I will heed your advice on linking back to relevant old posts.

Tim,

Thank you for your great comments, friend! I always learn a great deal from reading them.

Blessings,

Sarah

Jake said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jake said...

Tim,

As I stated, apologetics has its place, and is not without value. But I stand by my contention that apologetics is simply not as important to many people as it once was. I have a job too, as a pastor working with adults, so I'm drawing on some experience of my own. Your hypothetical situation doesn't really add anything to the discussion - I'm sure I could come up with a similar made-up story about someone who got sick of hearing "evidences" to refute questions they weren't even asking. It wouldn't be helpful either. And the implication that because I say apologetics isn't as important, my teaching is "all fluff and no content" is ridiculous.

Sarah,

I'm aware of the distinction between emerging/Emergent. And while I understand the need for definitions in dialogue, it is still important to recognize that the entities you are talking about may exhibit more complexity than you are allowing for.

Tim said...

Jake,

My scenario wasn't hypothetical. The fluff without content – ice cream socials, skating parties – was typical of that youth group. I intended no aspersion on your own work, as I do not know you.

I work with young adults constantly, since I teach at a fairly large secular university. Each of us has contact with a group that is, in some respects, selective – yours is the group of young adults who choose to come to your church, mine the group who are doing their degrees (mostly graduate students in my department) at my university.

The suggestion that apologetics is of value only to people who are already asking is, I think, misdirected. Some don't want them, I agree. Some are not intellectually prepared to read such works. Some have such a simple faith that a doubt will never spontaneously cross their minds. But in the internet age, savage attacks on the credibility of Christianity are literally a mouse-click away, and most people will encounter them sooner or later. What will happen next should be of more than passing interest to all pastors and youth workers.

It might surprise you to discover the latent hunger for serious works of apologetics that exists among the evangelical population. I could give numerous examples from my own experience, but here is one from outside of it, in a different state. Within the past few weeks, a group of bible college students and alumni otherwise unknown to one another – people who had never been told that this literature existed and who were not asking for it – were given, unsolicited, a 19th century work on Christian evidences. Their reaction was unexpected. One alumnus came back two days later and said, “Why didn’t anyone tell me there were things like this out there?” There is now a steady stream of students coming to the professor who passed out the work, and they are asking for more, asking for a course in which they can read this material.

On the other hand, I know of an erstwhile evangelical liberal arts college where students who come to the student affairs office with questions about their faith are being handed copies of Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian. In consequence of this and other similar actions, that school is now (unsurprisingly) riven with controversies over postmodernism, faith, and certainty. It does not seem to have occurred to the administration that the problem may be of their own making; that instead of giving the inquirers solid answers, they are passing out pretentious works written by men without logical insight or a sense of logical obligation.

And most pastors don't even know where the serious works are to be found. Your own unfamiliarity with four of the great names from the history of apologetics suggests that your education on that front was typical of American seminaries. In my opinion, this is a problem.

God knows that the apologetics literature isn’t the only thing that we have forgotten. It seems that today the church cannot be bothered to go back and read the work of Robert South, or Joseph Hall, or John Tillotson, or Jacques Saurin, or even George MacDonald, who was such an influence on C. S. Lewis.

Besides their Bibles, what do you encourage your young adults to read? It obviously isn't Paley. Taking Derrida to Church? Blue Like Jazz? The Purpose Driven Life? The educational material put out by your denomination? G. K. Chesterton? C. S. Lewis? The Puritans? Something else? Nothing at all? I'm genuinely curious.