Updated Saturday Noon (see below)
imply put, the so-called "Emerging Church" has no way to fend off heresy. The movement itself grew out of postmodern presuppositions about truth and assurance that make any kind of vigorous, biblical defense of the faith impossible.
Scan the Emerging neighborhoods in the blogosphere, and you'll see profoundly disturbing doctrinal notions being floated more frequently and more brashly. Here are three samples:
The main problem with the dominant Emerging approach to dialogue, debate, Christian fellowship, and truth itself is this: the ground rules for the conversation apparently rule out ever identifying any ideas as heresy (except in the way Spencer Burke employs the term: either in jest, or with a tone of smug arrogance.)
The problem is obvious in Scot McKnight's review of Burke's book. McKnight recognizes several serious errors underlying Burke's universalism. But he can't seem to bring himself to recognize that Burke's views are not even legitimately Christian ideas.
In fact, McKnight's review commences with this: "To begin with, I simply don’t like that he chooses the term heretic to describe himself." McKnight then argues that in order to qualify as a heretic, a person would have to deny the ancient ecumenical creeds. "And it can almost be reduced to the doctrine of the Trinity (Father, Son, Spirit)," McKnight says.
But even on that count, McKnight is forced to give a less-than-ringing endorsement to Spencer Burke: "As I read this book, I’m not sure that he has denied the Trinity. . . "
It seems no Emerging Conversationalist who really wants to fit in would ever dream of pronouncing any anathemas on another Emerging person's beliefs. In fact, anathemas in the Emerging subculture are generally reserved for people who think they have epistemological justification to be certain of anything. Thus in effect, every Christian doctrine is on the table for discussion and fair game for skepticism or outright denial.
Yes, I realize that Mark Driscoll might seem to be a rather conspicuous exception to that rule, but 1) he clearly isn't trying to "fit in" with the Emergentsa fact I greatly appreciate; 2) his plainspokenness has already relegated him to the outer periphery of the "conversation"; and 3) the larger Emerging movement is clearly not going to follow Driscoll's lead.
Some conversations simply aren't worth joining. Sometimes we just need to contend earnestly for the faith. In fact, some people's mouths really do need to be stopped (Titus 1:10-11).
I'm not proposing that we literally bust out the meat chubs and go to work against the Emergent heretics. But I do think it's time to stop all the gratuitous deferential language and drop the pretense of being "brothers and sisters" to people who profess to be Christians while rejecting Christ's exclusivity and doubting or denying other essential tenets of gospel truth.
A Coda for Roger
Why I don't necessarily accept Mark Driscoll's taxonomy of Emerging Christianity
oger Overton at the A-Team blog finds "a number of problems" with the above post. He doesn't enumerate those problems but says my foundational error lies in a failure to distinguish Emergent and Emerging the way he does.
Short answer: I agree, and have said so repeatedly, that Emerging and Emergent shouldn't be used synonymously. I didn't do that. What I did do was treat Emergent as a major, influential element in the "Emerging conversation," which it is. (It sometimes seems to be the most influential segment of the larger movement.)
I do realize, of course, that there is a world of difference between McLaren and Driscoll, and I have made that point at every opportunity, too.
But it's premature and ill-advised to try to spin the Emergents off and pretend they constitute a whole separate movement with absolutely no relationship to the larger "Emerging Conversation." Even Driscoll doesn't try to do that (though we could hardly blame him for wanting to).
Apparently, some in the American evangelical mainstream would like to cede the expression "Emergent" to McLaren's universalist/Socinian/liberal wing of the "missional" movement, and reserve the word "Emerging" for people who are more or less evangelical. (As if it were suddenly possible to make such a neat dichotomy in a movement that has always been deliberately amorphous.)
Evangelicals would like that, because it gives them a way to make their analysis of the Emerging Conversation mostly positive. (Evangelicals love to make positive evaluations of religious fads.) Trendy evangelicals could even climb on the "Emerging" bandwagon without the need for any vigorous analysis and discernment. They could pretend they are able to make certain pragmatic concessions to postmodernism without seriously compromising sound doctrine, and go right on with business as usualin essence adopting postmodernism as the Next Thing in a long string of worldly fads evangelcals have mindlessly embraced.
Driscoll himself would certainly like to define the term Emerging in a way that sets him as far apart from Emergent as possible, for obvious reasons. That's not meant as a criticism. Just the opposite. I'm glad he doesn't want to be associated with the various strains of Emergent Socinianism. For the umpteenth time, I'm not trying to paint him with that broad brush.
But Driscoll's own explanation of the "Emerging/Emergent" divide and the various styles of "Emerging" Christianity glosses over the fact that most in the middlethose in the "Emerging" (not Emergent) communityare just about equally uncomfortable with McLaren's Socinianism and Driscoll's quasi-fundamentalism.
(Incidentally, I would suggest that Andrew Jones at Tall Skinny Kiwi is actually a more fitting figurehead for the mainstream "Emerging" culture than Mark Driscoll is.)
Those multitudes in the middle, I believe, represent the true mainstream of the Emergent Conversation. They are probably the rightful claimants to the term Emerging. And very few (if any) of them are as willing as Driscoll is to call heresy what it is, or to contend earnestly for historic evangelical distinctives. Driscoll's characterization of these mainstream multitudes as "basically evangelical" is overly optimistic in the extreme.
And Driscoll's dream that "Reformed" doctrine can be successfully blended with postmodern epistemologies and/or dialectical methodologies is likewise hopelessly naïve, in my estimation.
There's more I could say about this, but here's the point: It seems to me there's a heavy dose of "spin" in Mark Driscoll's taxonomy of Emerging Christianity, and it's a serious mistake for critics of the movement to adopt Mark Driscoll's or Ed Stetzer's perspectives on this issue blithely or uncritically as if these guys have given us the definitive and canonical insiders' explanation of how the movement breaks down.
It's an even greater mistake to imagine that the movement as a whole might ever go in the direction Driscoll is leading.
By the way, I have addressed Roger Overton's objection in several places, most recently right in the meta of this post.
I realize comments often go unnoticed. (I rarely read comments on other blogs myself.) So because the point Roger makes is an important one, and since I've already addressed it, I'm bringing the following remarks up out of the meta: