Emerging church respectfully critiqued
A recent column at Christian Week:
A couple of years ago I became disappointed with books critiquing the emerging church. The emerging church has been an easy target for some time, but most of the critiques seemed to be focused on one or two writers, simplistic, and sometimes even mean.
The emerging church’s influence has grown, and it may have even gone mainstream. Even grandmothers are watching Rob Bell’s Nooma videos and reading Blue Like Jazz or A New Kind of Christian. This year I’ve started to read predictions that the emerging church is beginning to recede. Yet I’ve never found a critique that fit. A good critique would need to be provocative yet respectful, conversational and funny, thoughtful and yet accessible. I’ve never found one like this – until now.
Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) is different. Its authors are young and not dissimilar from many who are part of the emerging church. They admit that they like parts of the emerging church, and worry a little bit about coming off as more negative than they want to be. It’s the first critique I’ve read that advances the conversation in a constructive way, and points to how we can both learn from the emerging church but also avoid its weaknesses.
The book is respectful. “We love Jesus and love the church. We believe emergent Christians love the same. The shape and substance of that love is what we disagree on.” The authors work hard at avoiding straw men, and genuinely seem to enjoy those they encounter within the emerging church. This leads to a much more civil discussion than I’m used to.
Provocative and Passionate
It’s also provocative. “Emergent writers are often provocative and passionate, and so are we. We take this to be a good thing, on both sides. Why not, especially in this soft, limp-noodle age, believe in what you write and write like you believe it?”
It’s also broad. Some books tackle Brian McLaren and one or two others. Not Emergent recognizes that no one person speaks for the emerging church. It’s careful to distinguish between the various leaders and writers, and they even understand the difference between emerging and emergent. They paint with a fine brush, not a broad one.
It’s also a funny and authentic book. Kevin DeYoung is the academic author. His chapters are more theological and propositional, although very clear and accessible. Ted Kluck writes chapters that are more experiential and full of stories. Each author’s voice is clear, and some of what they write is laugh-out-loud funny.
Their book, however, covers some important ground. They argue that uncertainty is not the same as humility, question the value of questioning everything, and explain why we should love the person and propositions of Jesus. They gently poke fun at emergent jargon its fads. They also defend the importance of doctrine and boundaries, correct some common criticisms of modernism, and suggest that we need the doctrine of God’s wrath. They even put in a word or two for uncool churches and uncool pastors.
The epilogue examines Jesus’ letters to the seven churches in Revelation. “Emergent church leaders need a vision for the church that encompasses all the letters of Revelation,” they write. “They need to see and talk about the problems of over-tolerance and under-definition as well as the problems of lovelessness and listlessness.” In other words, the problems with the modern church will not be solved with the problems of the emerging church.
Advancing the Conversation
This book is a good primer for those who don’t know much about the emerging church. It’s also helpful for those who are wondering what all the fuss is about. The authors don’t expect to change everyone’s mind, but I hope that it will at least advance the conversation and lead to further discussion and some self-correction.
If those in the emerging church read this book with an open mind, it will lead to some interesting dialogue. If those in the traditional church read this book thoughtfully, it will also lead us to consider how to be both culturally relevant and gospel focused. It’s a helpful book for all of us.