From what I’ve read here on the MCOI site and elsewhere, it seems like it would be interesting for anyone to out-emerge “emergent church” writers in terms of style and substance.
First, I would have a great conversational style, interrupting myself multiple times for pop-culture and movie references to show (perhaps incidentally) how trendy and hip and with-it I am. Secondly, I would be very well-read and adept and making seemingly complex ideas lay-level and understandable. Oh yes, and thirdly, I would subtly undermine concepts of orthodox Christian doctrine and the very idea of claiming to know objective Truth. Instead, I would offer a custom-cooked stew of warmed-up leftovers from old and molded heresies, such as Pelagianism, extreme postmillennialism, liberation theology and Jesus-died-to-set-a-good-example-for-us-ism.
Alongside all that, I would maintain a demeanor of humility, yet suspicion and intolerance only for those who claim to know objective facts about God. They are inevitably egotistical and autocratic, I would argue. And that assumption — that constantly floating specter of legalistic, pulpit-pounding we-have-God-all-figured-out self-appointed doctrine police — would be recognized all throughout the writing.
The emergents’ usual style is fairly similar for pastor Kevin DeYoung’s and sports journalist Ted Kluck’s Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be), which starts with a cool and colorful, grainy-black-authors-in-silhouette-accompanied cover and keeps up the coolness factor even better within.
Regarding the first two “emergent” style characteristics, they’re mostly split: Kluck handles the conversational and cool style; DeYoung mostly debates the divergent views of the emergent mindset with well-read and complex yet lay-level flair.
However, on the third emergent style facet, these “two guys who should be [emergent]” aren’t anything of the sort. DeYoung offers solid doctrines of God’s Word and upholds God’s own understandability. He reveals and refutes the flagrantly illogical ideas of not even being able to know truth. Meanwhile, Kluck intersperses those lengthier, deep-doctrine-magic chapters with his own boots-on-the-ground accounts of delving into emergent culture, such as books by emergent guru Rob Bell, and conversations with his friends who are seemingly being assimilated into that quasi-Christian collective. “Kevin’s chapters are longer and more propositional,” Kluck explains in his own introduction. “If my chapters do nothing more than get you to keep reading Kevin’s, then I will consider it a job well done.”
Defending the faith, debating the false
And well done the book is, as both men start off with their positive, personal defenses of the local and Biblically balanced local church. Their passion for Scripture study and helping people is evident. What is wrong, exactly, they ask, with our present local outposts of the Kingdom of Heaven when it’s not riddled with all the legalistic and autocratic issues — as the emergent authors presume the Church is, inevitably and all the time?
From the quotes of emergent guru Rob Bell onward, one is forced to conclude on this side of Truth (acknowledging even that there are sides) that many emerging authors are simply using the whole “ugh! legalism” concept as an excuse to propagate what in effect becomes a false gospel. The authors are careful personally not to reject Brian McLaren, Bell, Doug Padgitt, et. al., as false Christians, goats among the true sheep. However, because so many emergent authors endorse one another, it’s difficult to avoid questioning whether they’re even well-intended as they often propagate blatantly false teachings.
For example, the idea of Jesus suffering God’s wrath and dying as substitution for His people is derided by some emergent leaders as “divine [or cosmic] child abuse.” Instead, they say, Jesus died to help humankind realize its True Potential to change itself and the world.
DeYoung favorably quotes from D.A. Carson’s Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: “‘. . . if words mean anything, both [Brian] McLaren and [Steve] Chalke have largely abandoned the gospel.’” DeYoung himself adds, “How else can you describe things when two men describe atonement for our sins as cosmic child abuse?”
Here, at such a crucial doctrinal point, the author shows great restraint — restraint likely made in the hope of foregoing an intense sermon and instead pleading with emergent types to see where “their guys” are going. This is frequent throughout the book. And though concerned Christians familiar with these anti-orthodoxy authors or perhaps even family and friends ensconced in emergent-ism may want DeYoung and Kluck to come on a little stronger, the authors wisely hold back the most severe criticisms (though rightfully they may be made).
Debating false dichotomies
Frequently, too, the authors go after what seem to be countless if/then false dichotomies and logical fallacies claimed by emergent advocates: if you say you can know something about God, then you’ve claimed to have Him totally figured out; if you believe God’s Word is His only fixed revelation, then you’re worshiping the Bible and not caring for people, et cetera.
For example, DeYoung debunks the emergents’ frequent false dichotomizing of God’s know-ability and written revelation versus the notion that if we claim to know something about God, then we’re arrogant. That’s as opposed to the oft-cited emergent view that constantly claiming ignorance is the more humble way of thinking and living — so “humble,” in fact, that it directly places man’s view above God’s.
Because of the emerging church’s implied doctrine of God’s unknowability, the word mystery, a perfectly good word in its own right, has become downright annoying. Let me be very clear: I don’t understand everything about God or the Bible. I don’t fully understand how God can be three in one. I don’t completely grasp how divine sovereignty works alongside human responsibility. The Christian faith is mysterious. But when we talk about Christianity, we don’t start with mystery. It’s some combination of pious confusion and intellectual laziness to claim that living in mystery is at the heart of Christianity.
[. . .] McLaren is guilty of a very modern error, insisting on either-or, when a both-and is possible. There is a place for questions. There is a time for conversation. But there is also the possibility of certainty, not because we have dissected God like a freshman biology student dissects a frog, but because God has spoken to us clearly and intelligibly and has given us ears to hear His voice.
And these sorts of rebuttals goes on and on — I’m not saying [insert false either-or emergent stereotype of opposing view here]; what I am saying is [insert both-and Biblically balanced view here]. Perhaps this can be somewhat wearying after a while, yet the pure, mere logic is so simple, and it should be understood by writers who claim they reject locked-in and “modernist” thought patterns! God’s nature is both wrath and love, knowable and infinite, and our life in Him can be mental and emotional, academic and relational.
Kluck cuts up with cool criticisms
Meanwhile, Ted Kluck, stuck with the shorter chapters, relishes his task of adding personal flair to the book. He writes slice-of-life accounts of email correspondences with friends (complete with verbatim copies, sometimes even with sent times) and reading emergent leaders’ books. He also gets to make most of the jokes, which he admits have a little fun with the emergent types’ “tics” and teaching tacks:
The book is called How (Not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins. Similar to A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity and A Generous Orthodoxy, it has the requisite fetchingly rebellious title. And it also has what has become the emergent stamp of success—the Brian McLaren endorsement where he says he’s crazy about the book. Just nuts about it. It’s changed his life.
More than other, more-academic material, Kluck’s contributions just make you realize how silly some of the emergents’ “tics” can be. Kluck personally goes undercover at several popular emergent churches, including one where people sing an old song with the lyrics “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ‘round, turn me ‘round, turn me ‘round,” repeated a few times.
A quick look around the room at Mars Hill Bible Church, at the five thousand or so middle-class, suburban white people, and I really wonder what injustice it is they’re singing about. Not finding their size at the Gap?
[. . . W]atching thousands of tall, white Dutch folk—babyboomers, yuppies, college and high school kids—belting out a Civil Rights-era spiritual is just about the weirdest thing I have ever seen. My black buddy L.J. would blow his stack if he saw this. I’m glad he’s not here.
But don’t think it’s all fun and games for Kluck — he can certainly sling Biblical truth with the best of them. Later, he describes Bell ascending the stage to “preach” (or whatever), and Kluck returns to Bell’s book for a refresher on the author’s view of God and man. “‘What I’m learning is that Jesus believes in me,’” Bell writes, quoted by Kluck. “’God has faith in me.’”
So the point of all of this, according to Velvet Elvis, is that God came to earth, to die, to help us realize the great potential inside us. It’s no wonder that this is popular. It’s the spiritual equivalent of Rocky ascending the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum and then digging deep to knock out Apollo Creed.
[. . .] There is nothing mentioned of those who reject God, and their fate, as laid out in Scripture. No wonder I had trouble sleeping.
Corrupting the Kingdom
Christ’s cross, Hell, the exclusivity of His claims, His Grace and forgiveness, and even the true Kingdom to come apparently receive scant mention in emergent-ism, as the authors point out. In place of relying on God and looking for His future re-creation of the New Heavens and New Earth, emergent-ism offers a bring-heaven-to-Earth-now view — in effect, lapsing right back into the legalism and moralism its advocates claim they want so much to avoid.
DeYoung quotes one such writer: “‘. . . I have mistakenly placed the emphasis of the good news on the eternal. In the Gospels, Jesus wasn’t talking about something distant when he proclaimed the good news. It was something for NOW.’”
For my own response, I want shake my head and either laugh or yell — and possibly and paradoxically both — and demand, Now see here, whoever you are, why can’t it be both?! But DeYoung more reasonably notes:
Our cursed world needs more than a plan for refurbished morals. It needs a Savior because it is so full of sinners. I just cannot understand how the gospel as a call to become a disciple for the good of the world is richer, grander and more alive than a gospel that announces God’s grace, forgiveness, and the free gift of salvation.
[. . . D]oes the emergent church really believe in original sin? The need for mercy? What about the reality of eternity? Occasionally emergent authors write about the hope of eternity, but then they strangely go out of their way to explain that eternal life doesn’t actually mean life after death.
The emphasis of emergent authors thus becomes living our best and most moral lives now on this Earth, cleaning up the environment, beating back poverty (because apparently no one else has ever tried that before) and restoring “authentic” spirituality. So the past 2,000 years of Church history mean little or nothing, and what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery” runs rampant as such writers and leaders proclaim their own religious practices as the answer to all the world’s ills. Heaven and Christ’s return are nowhere in sight, DeYoung contends:
[E]mergent leaders are hoping for heaven on earth before Jesus returns to earth to bring the new heaven and new earth. Emergent leaders dare us to imagine a world without poverty and war and injustice. That’s good. We need to be stirred to have faith in the God of the impossible. But we should not expect something God has not promised, especially when He has promised the opposite. Jesus said the poor would always be with us (John 12:8) and wars and rumors of wars would continue to the very end (Matt. 24:6). This doesn’t mean we are pro-poverty warmongers. But it does mean that wars won’t go away just because we follow the secret message of Jesus.
In addition to other humbly orthodox Christ-followers who are debunking the divergents (such as D.A. Carson’s Becoming Conversant), DeYoung and Kluck have done the true Church and the field of Christian nonfiction a valuable service. Their gentle yet firm rebukes, both in-depth and entertaining, capture the paradox of loving correction and non-arrogant doctrinal defense — the kinds of Gracious both-and interactions the “emergent church” advocates apparently can’t (or refuse to) acknowledge.
Undoubtedly they will merely receive in return more of the same annoyed and feigned-humble responses. But for those open to loving rebukes, and those among the true Church who are both studying and delighting in God and His Word, learning more about Him and living out their faith in their works, Why We’re Not Emergent is a well-written defense of true Christianity and a reckonable force against what is, in effect, the divergents’ false gospel.
The comment about heaven on earth reminds me of Malcolm Muggeridge’s comment in the ’60s about the idea of creating heaven on earth; he said that the mental gymnastics required for the maintenance of such an idea were so extreme and so strenuous that they usually produced dementia.