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Thursday, February 17, 2005

An Emergent conversation

I have recently discovered this new Emergent church movement, or "conversation", as some prefer to call it. (yes, that is a touch of sarcasm). I'm wondering if I'm a little late to the game on this one, but I thought I would comment on it nevertheless.

For those who aren't very familiar with Emergent, let me try to define what it is. This is a difficult proposition, as Emergent proponents seem to purposefully avoid defining their movement. The Emergent movement has primarily arisen out of the writings of Brian McLaren such as A New Kind of Christian and A Generous Orthodoxy. Disclaimer: I have not read either book; however, I have read just about everything that there is to read online about Emergent. This article at Christianity Today helped a bit to understand Emergent:

"A New Kind of Christian became influential not just because of its content but also its form. McLaren cast the book as a story of two friends, a disillusioned evangelical pastor named Dan Poole and an enigmatic high school science teacher nicknamed Neo. On the brink of despair with his own ministry, Dan is led by Neo—who turns out to be a lapsed pastor himself—through a series of set pieces that introduce the initially skeptical Dan to a "postmodern" approach to Christianity."

"The modern period of history, as Neo tells it, is coming to an end. We are entering "postmodernity," an as-yet ill-defined borderland in which central modern values like objectivity, analysis, and control will become less compelling. They are superseded by postmodern values like mystery and wonder. The controversial implication is that forms of Christianity that have thrived in modernity—including Dan's evangelicalism—are unlikely to survive the transition."

Much of what McLaren is saying is that the church today is trying to communicate in a modern way to a postmodern culture and that the church needs to reconsider much of what it is doing. Here are a few quotes from McLaren:

I have tried to have an open mind about Emergent but the more I explore it, the more skeptical I become for the following reasons:

  • McLaren mentions Lesslie Newbigin quite a bit as an influence on his thinking, which I applaud. Newbigin was the second coming of Francis Schaeffer and had great insight on Christianity in a postmodern world. I'm wondering however if McLaren has misunderstood Newbigin. Newbigin pointed out the importance of understanding our culture and the prevailing worldviews. Newbigin also stated the importance of proclaiming the Gospel as "public truth". I am under the impression that not only has McLaren done much to understand the postmodern worldview and rightly so, but that he has adopted a postmodern view himself. I certainly agree with McLaren's critique of many within the evangelical community as having a modern worldview. But we are called to have a Christian worldview, not a postmodern nor modern worldview.

  • I am concerned with McLaren's disdain for propositional truth. While I certainly agree with McLaren that methods of scientific inquiry that evolved after the Englightenment are lacking as it relates to our beliefs, I don't agree with him that the assertion of propositional truths is a simply a modern construct. I very much doubt that Augustine, Aquinas, or Calvin would agree that Christianity does not involve propositional truths. A friend of mine related an interesting story to me that highlighted my unease with this particular aspect of the Emergent movement. He happened to have a conversation with the theolgian Walter Brueggemann at a meeting about Emergent. My friend asked Brueggemann if he would die for the fact that Jesus was born of a virgin and was truly resurrected. Brueggemann said no. In no way do I mean to imply that McLaren believes similarly, but I wonder how much of this thinking is in the Emergent movement.

  • I am also concerned that the Emergent movement is any many ways an aesthetic movement and reaction to current forms of worship in evangelical churches today. I can certainly sympathize with this thinking as I rarely go to a church where I enjoy the worship and especially the music. I am starting to think however that the problem is me and my elitist ideas about music and worship. I guess I'm a bit tired of all of the church navel-gazing and talking about what the church should or shouldn't be. I'd just like to go to church.

    I still haven't made up my mind completely about the Emergent movement so I welcome comments. I do find it odd how much effort is put into not defining the movement by its proponents.

    Update: I just ran across this review of Brian McLaren's new book A Generous Orthodoxy by Albert Mohler. I find it rather amusing that someone with SUCH a modern mindset critiques a postmodern. While I find Al's (may I call you Al, Dr. Mohler?) review a tad grating and sneering, I can't help but be dismayed at the lack of orthodoxy that McLaren displays, particularly in this quote:
    "What about other belief systems? McLaren suggests that we should embrace the existence of different faiths, "willingly, not begrudgingly." What would this mean? Well, a complete reconsideration of Christian missions, for one thing. McLaren claims to affirm that Christians should give witness to their faith in Jesus Christ. But, before you assume this means an affirmation of Christian missions, consider this statement: "I must add, though, that I don't believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all?) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts. This will be hard, you say, and I agree. But frankly, it's not at all easy to be a follower of Jesus in many 'Christian' religious contexts, either."
    This is rather baffling coming from a evangelical. Someone help me understand what McLaren is saying here.

    Update: Here is my latest Emergent post.
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