n a January CT article titled "Five Streams of the Emerging Church," Scot Mcknight suggests that emerging Christians tend to be more praxis-oriented than the rest of us. According to McKnight, to most in the Emerging movement, "how a person lives is more important than what he or she believes."
In other words, Emerging Christians tend to think good works generally trump sound doctrine. If our Emerging friends sometimes seem to sweep aside more conservative Christians' concerns about the soundness of their doctrine, this is the main reason. McKnight writes, "Here is an emerging, provocative way of saying it: 'By their fruits [not their theology] you will know them.'"
But that presents a horribly misleading false dichotomy. Biblically, our theology is an important aspect of our fruit. "Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son" (2 John 9).
Moreover, the notion that what people do is ultimately more important than what they believe flies in the face of the very same proof-texts that are normally used to support it. McKnight, for example, quotes James 2:20: "Faith without works is dead" But that verse doesn't suggest that what we do is "more important" than what we believe; James's whole point is that the two things seen properly are perfectly symbiotic. Both are essential.
And in terms of causal priority, faith does take first place over works, because any truly good works we do are the fruit of our faithand James expressly says so at the start of his argument: "I will show you my faith by my works" (James 2:18).
That's the same cause-effect relationship between faith and works that Scripture consistently stresses. Titus 2 describes good works as adornments for sound doctrine; not vice versa. According to 2 Peter 1:5-8, Christian virtues are the necessary accoutrements of authentic Christian faith.
McKnight anticipates that argument: "Many will immediately claim that we need both or that orthopraxy flows from orthodoxy. Most in the emerging movement agree we need both, but they contest the second claim: Experience does not prove that those who believe the right things live the right way."
In the first place, such an argument from "experience" is fallacious. It's precisely like the argument of the Arminian who insists true Christians can indeed fall away from Christ and be eternally lost "Because I knew a guy who I am certain was saved, and he became an atheist." First John 2:19 explains the "falling away" of such people: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us." Similarly, 2 Peter 1:9 says someone who lacks the virtues that flow from faith "is blind"not a true believer at all.
Likewise, James 2 is pointing out that someone whose life is devoid of good works is no true Christian. James is not suggesting that "how a person lives is more important than what he or she believes."
In the second place, whether McKnight is correct or not in claiming that "Most in the emerging movement agree we need both [right practice and sound belief]," that idea is hardly one of the driving convictions of the larger movement. In fact, I can certainly see how some readers of Emerging blogs and literature might get a totally different impression. The Emerging penchant for making orthopraxis primary over orthodoxy has produced all kinds of rhetoric and behavior which at times seem to imply that sound doctrine is almost wholly optional.
But that's not even the worst of it. The whole way of thinking is upside down. Take the notion that behavior always trumps belief to its logical conclusion and you will end up making a person's own works the ground of his or her hope for justification.
That's no trifling mistake. It's an absolute liea damnable lie; and it is the main falsehood that undergirds all false religionto suggest that what you believe doesn't ultimately matter very much as long as you are good enough.