Friday, June 26, 2009

Thoughts about "emergence"

When I first heard about the Emergent Church, I was skeptical. You might look at my conservative habits and remark that you're not surprised. I'm actually quite open to stylistic differences; new ways of "doing worship;" new avenues for evangelism. When it comes to doctrine, however, I'm not into improvisation. And what I've seen of the doctrine of the Emergent Church does not impress me. Some of what they were suggesting- things like "missional living"- seemed to me to be pretty basic Biblical principles, and not ones that would require a whole movement. Why were people parading around with these notions as if they had discovered something new?

I was glad to see the book" Why We're Not Emergent,"* thinking that I had found someone on my side, although I was still confused about the movement itself.

The premise of the book is that people have approached the authors (Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck), promoting Emergent Church ideas. Although these two men (one a pastor, the other a journalist) fit some criteria of who embraces the movement, these guys are not buying into it. In this book, they explain why.

full post/-

A word about the style of the book:

This book has a very cynical tone to it. In a way, it's funny. In other instances it has a quite disrespectful air to it. The men are quick to explain that they are in fact acting in brotherly love, but that is open to interpretation. While dissecting the teaching of emergent pastor Brian McLaren, DeYoung explains, "I have never met Brian McLaren. I bet that I would really like him and find him warm and thoughtful and kindhearted. Everyone I've talked to who has met McLaren has spoken highly of his kindness and sincerity"(43) And then proceeds in picking apart his potential "friend's" writing...

What is the Emergent Church?

Good question. I understand a bit more after reading this book, but mostly due to the inclusion of David Tomlinson's "" list** on page 150 and a few other visuals like this handy chart I found on the Internet. They may not explain it all, but they help break it down into simpler thoughts. I like having the visuals, so maybe it will help you, too.

The Controversy

I actually felt fairly conflicted reading this book. The descriptions are dead-on with some of the stylistic quirks of the era, which is entertaining...yet, I'm not concerned with hair-dos. From a theological perspective, a lot of the "faulty" ideas that DeYoung and Kluck criticize in connection with the Emergent Church are really close to what I believe, yet there's just something funny about the wording that makes me wonder whether it is just a case of sloppiness in Biblical knowledge or if there are serious doctrinal issues there.

Ted Kluck seems to be concerned about the theology of the following quote about hell, from emergent author Rob Bell. Although there is no clear explanation as to the errors of this statement, DeYoung emphasizes the importance of teaching God's wrath, later in the book.

"...When people use the word 'hell,' what do they mean? They mean a place, an event, a situation absent of how God desires things to be. Famine, debt, oppression, loneliness, despair, death, slaughter-they are all hell on earth.

What's disturbing then is when people talk more about hell after this life than they do about hell here and now. As a Christian, I want to do what I can to resist hell coming to earth. Poverty, injustice, suffering-they are all hells on earth, and as Christian we oppose them with all our energies. Jesus told us to."(Rob Bell, quoted on p.102)

I believe Bell has a point here, but with a few problems. First of all, what about God's sovereignty? A person may be living in "hell on earth" because he is contributing to these world problems by disobeying God. However, a Christian living in poverty or sickness is not necessarily living outside of God's will. God's allowing us to experience suffering does not mean He is not all-powerful.

In addition, I don't know what's disturbing about focusing more on eternity than the present. We can be sure of heaven, but we can't be sure of what will happen tomorrow, and we certainly can't make promises to others.

With confusing statements like these, I often found it difficult to immediately agree with DeYoung and Kluck in their criticism of the Emergent Church. A question of emphasis is not always a problem with doctrine. However, there are clear fallacies that the authors call attention to.

These are the ones that spoke to me the most:

1) Praise for uncertainty. This involves...
  • Denial of our ability to "know God."
    "The Christian faith is mysterious to the core. It is about things and beings that ultimately can't be put into words. Language fails. And if we do definitively put God into words, we have at that very moment made God something God is not...The mystery is the truth. "(Rob Bell, quoted on p. 38)
DeYoung remarks, "True, there are secret things that belong to the Lord our God, but what about the things revealed that belong to us and our children forever? [Deut.29:29]"(38) I think this response is apt.
  • Refusing to take a stand on key moral issues. As the authors point out, this is a disservice not only to our congregants, but also to non-believers who are trying to understand what we believe as Christians. There is a difference between humility and just plain cowardice! We need to present a message of clarity. The example the authors use is the question of homosexuality.
    "...McLaren and other emerging church leaders surely must realize that indecision is not pastorally helpful to most people. There are people in my congregation who struggle with same-gender attraction. To ostracize them for struggling with these desires would be pastorally damaging, but so would an unwillingness to encourage them in their fight against these desires."(48)

Here is another example of the ambiguity that Kluck and DeYoung criticize. It comes in the form of a list of characteristics for emerging churches, drafted by McLaren.

"1. Identify with the life of Jesus
2. Transform the secular realm.
3. Live highly communal lives.
4. Welcome the stranger.
5. Serve with generosity.
6.Participate as producers.
7. Create as create beings.
8. Lead as a body.
9. Take part in spiritual activities." (McLaren, quoted on p. 177)

Sound like Christianity? Sort of. But it also sounds like a lot of other religions. Kluck compares this with a list of goals of the Unitarian Universalists (very similar) and concludes "...there is nothing said in either list of guiding principles about Jesus' death and resurrection and the need of both for our salvation."(178) Again, I think this is a fair observation of how the emerging church represented in this example falls short of declaring basic Biblical truths.

2) Orthodoxy vs. Orthopraxy

-Again, there is a lack of clarity in the Emergent Church about what we should believe. Instead, there is an emphasis on how to live. Above all, follow Christ's example. Sound like good doctrine? Well, at a quick glance, we might say yes. "What would Jesus do?" Isn't that what it's all about? Not exactly. Many non-Christians who see Jesus as a moral teacher would also like to follow His example.
"Instead of following the Greek-influenced idea of orthodoxy as right belief, these chapters show that the emerging community is helping us rediscover the more Hebraic and mystical notion of the orthodox Christian as one who believes in the right way-that is, believing in a loving, sacrificial and Christlike manner....Thus orthodoxy is no longer (mis)understood as the opposite of heresy but rather is understood as a term that signals a way of being in the world rather than a means of believing things about the world" (Rollins, quoted on p. 110)
Here is part of DeYoung's response:

"John wrote his gospel, not that people might follow Jesus' exemplary way of life, but that they might believe Jesus was the Christ and by believing have life in His name [1 John 4:2-3]." (112)

Again, I agree. Christianity without a specific belief in Christ is not Christianity.


I think I will stop there before I end up quoting the whole book. It's worth reading if you are interested in this topic and don't mind a bit of cynicism or the picking apart of statements by various Christian leaders.

Appropriately, the book ends with some thoughts on the book of Revelation, in which we are exhorted to examine our own congregations to see what is lacking.

*DeYoung, Kevin, and Ted Kluck. Why We're Not Emergent (by two guys who should be). Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008

** “David Tomlinson catalogues a number of shifts (some of which are below) from the modern church to the postmodern church. He sees them yielding the advantage to the postmodern church. The shifts within the church include:

*from propositional expressions of faith to relational stories about faith journeys;

*from the authority of Scripture alone to a harmony between the authority of Scripture and other personal ways God mysteriously and graciously speaks to Christians;

*from a theology that prepares people for death and the afterlife to a theology of life;

*from a personal, individualistic, private faith to harmony between personal and community faith;

*from the church being a place where people take up space to the church as a mission outpost that sends people out;

*from arguing faith to the “dance of faith”;

*from salvation by event to a journey of salvation;

*from motivating through fear to motivating through compassion, community, and hope; and

*from a search for dogmatic truth to a search for spiritual experience.” (150)


  1. Лиза, спасибо за заметку. Буду изучать.

  2. Thank you for a wonderful review. Have you ever thought of looking for a spot to have some of your book reviews published for a larger audience? You do such a fine job.

    Whenever I see "harmony" I tend to agree... otherwise, I am looking for it. Not an either/or, but something of both.... at least in most cases. For example, I want propositional expressions of faith AND relational stories! And I think there can be "salvation by event" but it also requires a journey....otherwise its like getting the tickets but not going anywhere.

    Well....I better go to bed!

    Thanks for your interesting and insightful writing, Elizabeth!

  3. By the way Liz, if you want to ping your posts, visit this blog:

    You can submit your blog to blog search engines and increase traffic to it.

  4. My pleasure! I think it would take a lot of reading and researching to be a full-time reviewer. I think it is possible to submit things to Amazon or other sites, but I've never really considered it.

    Annie, what you said about "both" is exactly what I don't get about the emergent church. Why do we have to abandon one thing to embrace the other? Stylistically speaking, I mean. There have to be boundaries. But if we're missing things like creative expression, we can surely make room for them.


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