Emergent (un)dialogue

I’m not a hardcore disciple of the emergent church. I think there’s a ton of beauty and a lot of honest intention among guys like Tony Jones, Tony Campolo, Brian McLaren, etc. I don’t always agree with them on everything, but they’re on the right track. So when someone takes cheap shots at them or at the movement, I feel obligated to throw in my 2 cents.

I spent some time Friday discussing “emergent church” stuff with another blogger. Originally, I stumbled across his post that sharply critiques the emergent church. The only problem was that I felt the complaints were based on poor reasons or misconceptions. So first, you should read the original post. … … … … Ok, have you gone and read it? Good.

I left him a comment, but he has to approve (censor?) it before it shows up with his post. So just in case I get censored and he refuses to publish contrary opinions, I have cut-and-pasted my submitted comment below. Please make sure you’ve read the original post, so you see I’m trying to be even-handed and not misquote anyone. I’m not trying to trash this dude, but I really do think that he brings up some discussion-worthy points, and it would be a shame to have his post canonized for lack of discussion.

Like I said, I’m not a die-hard emergent, but I think they’re doing a lot right, and I don’t like to see them get unfairly bashed.

Without further ado, my comments on the original post (you did read it, didn’t you?):

“Hello! Your post came across in my WordPress tag surfer. I think you raise some great points here, but this post shouldn’t be canonized just yet. I’ve offered my thoughts on a few excerpts, and would love to dialogue with you about them… I’ll quote you in bold and insert my plain-font response after that.

in order to make the Church more “real,” they have suggested throwing out absolute truth and doctrine.”
This is a weighty allegation. Where’s an actual citation of a key voice like McLaren making this suggestion? I don’t think that most emergents want to throw out absolute truth. It is a response to communication barriers with our surrounding culture, though. Emergents acknowledge that the world around us no longer gives weight to absolute truth, so emergents realize they can’t appeal to absolute truth in making a case for the Gospel. You have to communicate in ways that make sense to them. Paul –the Jew of Jews– communicated in ways that made sense to his culture, Peter did this as well. Jesus did this for all of us; he told stories, and those are what capture our imagination. Stories are what “clicks” deep down inside, what has historically motivated us to stick our necks on the chopping block for the cause of Christ. This reminds me of a tangent on the importance of narrative theology: When Stephen was brought before the Sanhedrin to justify his actions, what did he do? He didn’t appeal to logic, to apologetics, to accusations of the Jews’ own wrongdoing (“plank in your own eye…”). He spent 53 verses telling the story of God’s involvement among us. And as far as throwing out doctrine: that’s bogus. Centralized doctrine handed down from a denominational office… yeah, that’s being thrown out. Ask an emergent church what they believe, and they’ll probably recite to you the Apostle’s Creed, or something similar. There are categorically emergent churches like Jacob’s Well (Kansas City), Church of the Apostles (Seattle), and Vintage Faith (Santa Cruz) that stick only to the Apostle’s Creed; they’re a few of many many.

Emergents are turning away from modernism (belief in absolutes and certainty) and embracing the philosophies of postmodernism (no absolutes or certainty).
Again, arguing with modernist logic to postmodern unbelievers is like speaking Portuguese to a Tibetan. Yeah, I do hear and agree with you, parts of cultural postmodernism do suck indeed! Now-days, we actually have to work hard to engage culture! We no longer can enjoy the luxurious assumption that the rest of the world already speaks the language of Christendom…

Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
I completely agree. This will never change. It’s how we communicate this truth that must change.

To them [emergents], being absolutely sure about a doctrine leads to spiritual pride.
Not this emergent commenter. Provide a citation that covers the bulk of emergent believers, please. Then you’re right, we’ll have a real problem.

[Rob Bell] insists that Christians make their theology like springs on a trampoline that can stretch and bend. This is scary!
I think it’s scary too! It means we have to trust our fellow Christ-followers. Your neighbor-in-faith just might want explore a heretical vein of (un)theology… But that’s why you’re in their life; engage them in grace-saturated conversation and try to sort it out! Anything less is just taking the slacker’s easy way out. Grace is hard work. Grace allows room for heresy, but doesn’t endorse it. An analogy from the U.S. Constitution: the KKK and other hate groups are allowed to have meetings and generally exist; they’re constitutionally protected just as much as the Red Cross or a war veterans’ association. But as soon as those hate groups act, they’re justly opposed and stopped.

do you see the Scriptures calling us to stand firm (2 Timothy 3:10)? […] God calls us to “meditate on it day and night” (Joshua 1:8) so we may “rightly divide” it (2 Timothy 2:15).
I agree with your Scripture citations, I affirm the action they admonish us towards… but they don’t refute Trampoline Theology. By the way, have you actually read Velvet Elvis? Rob Bell is a good man with a true heart for the one divine Son of God. Maybe if you understood Bell more accurately, or even in context, the springs wouldn’t trouble you so much. Allow me to offer supplementary citations surrounding the spring principle:
“The springs are statements and beliefs about our faith that help give words to the depth that we are experiencing in our jumping. They aren’t the point. They’re a a means and not an end.” Or, “Only God is absolute, and God has no intention of sharing his absoluteness with anything, especially words people have come up with to talk about him.” I like this one: “The springs only work when they serve a greater cause: us finding our lives in God… The springs are huge – they hold up the mat – but they aren’t God. They aren’t Jesus.”

it is not humble to throw away years of theological study by faithful and godly men only to replace it with mysticism (italics added by commenter)
So everything that the emergent movement is about can be boiled down into “only” mysticism? I think emergents honor and want to revive a ton of history that the modern church has discarded. Meditation, fasting, contemplative prayer, lectio divina, etc.

the Emergent church is pridefully throwing away years of biblically faithful theology
Not really.

While the motives behind some in the Emergent Church may be pure, their method is profoundly dangerous.
News Flash: Luther’s rolling over in his grave. Isn’t reform in and of itself dangerous? “Sterile reform” is a contradiction in terms.

The Word of God equips us for “every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17) and with it we lack nothing. God does not use experience to change human hearts, He uses His Word. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17)
I agree! Emergents like myself don’t discount the Bible at all, and no emergent would tell you that the humanitarian reasons to love transcend the Biblical reasons to love. I hereby cry, “Straw man!”

Jesus tells us how in John 17 verse 17, “Father, sanctify them by the truth, your word is truth.”
I still have Velvet Elvis open on my desk so let me quote Bell (who apparently emergent critics see as a spokesman for all evils emergent) once more: “Truth always leads to… [wait for it…] more truth. Because truth is insight into God and God is infinite and has no boundaries or edges.”

We must “contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
Ah, yes, the saints. The saints who modeled better than anyone how to live in Christ-centered community? The saints who, surrounded by an angry and powerful Sanhedrin, told the story of Christ instead of appealing to logic? These are the same saints who held to truth, the same saints who stood firm because they had tasted Scripture as “honey on their tongues”… What I’m trying to say is that both emergents and their critics can make a great case that they’re each “contending for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.”


3 responses to “Emergent (un)dialogue

  1. wow… he really made you mad, huh? Good response to some interesting and not unusual criticisms of emergent church.

    In the West Wing a Christian Senator asks Toby (a Jew) ‘Do you believe the Scriptures are true?’ Toby responds ‘Yes I do, but I don’t believe either of us are smart enough to understand them fully.’

    I think Toby’s point of view is where many people in and around the emergent church are. I believe this, I think it is true, but I don’t fully understand it so I want to talk about it, test it and see how it works in my life and in the world. That’s what theology is. It is about discussing how God interacts with us and how we interact with Him, and what happens in and through that interaction.

  2. great respons russel. no wonder he didn’t let it slip past the ‘censorship’ umm i mean valid approval process… I have a hard time with blogging because of the lack of interaction, or maybe it’s just the choice of which interaction you would like to engage.

  3. I’d love to sit around a table with folks and discuss this kind of stuff! I completely sympathize with your ‘interaction’ thing… Sadly I more often than not surround myself with people I already agree with, and my profession doesn’t help hahaha.

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