Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Emergent Church

Greg Koukl says that Brian McLaren was recently "dis-invited" to an evangelism conference. Koukl agrees with the decision, calling the Emergent Church movement "the most theologically corrosive view/movement/trend in a long time."

The Emergent Church is the practical outworking of the Postconservative Vision. The former is the ecclesiastical manifestation; the latter is the academic version. Our book Reclaiming the Center primarily focused upon the academic side of the issues. For further explanation of what these movements are, who their leaders are, and why this is important, you can see my introductory chapter. For an alternative vision of the direction the church and the academy should be going, see Millard Erickson's chapter on "Flying in Theological Fog." I'm grateful for the kind works of Scott Oliphant (apologetics professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia), who writes that "This is a book, perhaps the main or only book, that one needs to read in order to ferret out the primary problems of postconservatism that face evangelicalism currently."

Again, our book doesn't focus upon McLaren and Emergent as much as it does upon Grenz and Postconservatism. For those who want to learn more about the former, I'd recommend checking out Don Carson's forthcoming book Becoming Conversant with Emergent. This book is based on a series of lectures Carson gave at Cedarville College. Based upon those lectures, those within Emergent have been highly critical of Carson's take. (See, for example, this critique by a professor in attendance. For more responses--positive and negative--see here.) Before moving on, let me make four quick comments about such criticism: (1) Just because we might highly respect someone like Carson, we shouldn't assume that he always gets it right--hence, we should listen to the critics, even if we agree in the main with Carson. (2) Some critics need to remember the nature of a summary lecture. It's not a dissertation. Generalizations are part of the genre. A broad lecture or book cannot always contain every nuance. (3) In my experience, too many proponents of Emergent, Open Theism, and the New Perspective on Paul claim "No one understands us!" I'd say in response: "No, some understand you quite well, you just don't like the critique." (I'm not equating these three movements by any means, but I do think that all three have revised some historic language, spoken in confusing terms or categories, and think that unless you agree with them you simply don't understand them.) (4) Some Emergent proponents seem to have the notion that if only a critic would talk to them, they would understand. And if you don't talk to them first, you aren't being biblical or charitable. In response, I'd say that this is often wise--but not required. If something is published or said in the public sphere, it's entirely appropriate to publicly critique or respond, without talking first to every single person you criticize. Emergent proponents need to be careful not to advocate a naive "everything-I-need-to-know-I-learned-in-Kindegarten" approach to theological debate.

The book to watch for, though, will be R. Scott Smith's Emerging or Submerging: Postmodernism in the Church. (Smith is an ethics and apologetics professor at Biola.) He contributed a great chapter to Reclaiming the Center. He is a brilliant guy with a pastoral heart. Two of the chapters have been posted online. I'm not certain when the book will be out, but I'll let you know when I hear a definite word.

Finally, on March 6 and March 13 the Reformed fellas at the White Horse Inn will be interviewing McLaren, Grenz, and others on the Emergent Church.

Update: Dr. Smith's book will be published by Crossway Books in September. It will be entitled Truth and the New Kind of Christian: Accessing the Emerging Effects of Postmodernism in the Church.