23 July 2007

If the Lyotard Fits, Wear It

by Phil Johnson

wice recently (here and there) I have mentioned Scot McKnight's article on the Emerging Church from last January's Christianity Today. The article sparked several thoughts when I read it earlier this year. At the time, I was busy preparing for Grace Church's Shepherds' Conference. Then I had a book chapter to write. After that, I taught a week of systematic theology in Italy. Next I went to Atlanta for the FIRE conference. And yadda yadda. By mid-May, blogging about a January CT article seemed so—yesterday. So I was going to let it go.



But every week, it seems, I encounter fresh references to McKnight's article. "Here's an article that will surely ease your mind about Emerging Christianity," someone recently told me (with a kindly pat on the shoulder). "It turns out that most of the movement is really, really good! You just need to understand how diverse it is. See: there are these Five Streams of Influence, and most of them are very positive and healthy developments. . ." And all the things I originally wanted to reply to in that article keep coming back to me.

So here's another one:

Scot McKnight grossly understates the influence of postmodern thinking in the Emerging Church movement. Notice (on the one hand) that McKnight himself can't even manage an introductory description of the movement without using the P-word over and over. But (on the other hand) he dismisses D. A. Carson's Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church with the patented Friends-of-Emerging shrug-off: "Carson's book lacks firsthand awareness and suffers from an overly narrow focus—on Brian McLaren and postmodern epistemology."

For whatever reason, McKnight hates it when the question of postmodern epistemology comes up in the emerging Conversation—regardless of whether friends or critics are the ones raising the issue. "Instead of epistemology, the EM is concerned with ecclesiology—how to 'do church,'" he insists.

But most (if not all) of the typical Emerging innovations in ecclesiology and methodology are in fact rooted in the postmodern epistemological shift, and McKnight is simply wrong if he seriously wants to deny that. In fact (and here's something you will rarely hear me say), on this point, McKnight is wrong and McLaren is right. Practically everything that makes the Emerging movement distinctive is closely related to postmodernism's cynical attitude about knowledge and truth—and that includes all five "streams" identified by McKnight.



Of course, there was no way for McKnight to deny that postmodernism is a major influence (if not the definitive ingredient) in the movement as a whole. Still, he tries to mitigate that admission every way he can think of. Instantly after listing postmodernism as "a second stream of emerging water," he reflexively takes a defensive tone: "Postmodernity cannot be reduced to the denial of truth."

Well, OK. That's true, but what serious critic ever said otherwise? Indeed, Postmodernists don't generally "deny" anything outright. Instead, the usual postmodern response to truth-claims is suspicious skepticism. But even so, it still wouldn't be right to "reduce" postmodernism to that. No credible critic would. So McKnight's comment sets up straw man—a caricature that backhandedly misrepresents why critics are wary of postmodern epistemologies. Perhaps he would benefit from another reading of Carson.

I'm certain Carson would gladly agree (as I do) that postmodernity cannot be "reduced" to the denial of all truth. On the other hand, postmodernists can legitimately be charged with a general reluctance to affirm truth unequivocally. That's the issue McKnight needs to come to grips with, because it does have a seriously adverse effect on the way lots of postmodernists—including several of the most vocal leading voices in the Emerging conversation—handle (and mishandle) the revealed truth of Scripture.

Anyway, after that brief, gratuitous remark about what postmodernism isn't, McKnight gives a not-particularly-enlightening explanation of what postmodernism is. He says (in typically postmodern terms): "It is the collapse of inherited metanarratives . . . like those of science or Marxism."

He seems determined to downplay the problems with Postmodernism's know-nothing approach to epistemology. He makes an offhanded reference to Jamie Smith's Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault To Church in order to buttress the preposterous suggestion that despite postmodernism's addiction to uncertainty, "such thinking is compatible, in some ways, with classical Augustinian epistemology."

What does McKnight mean by that, you ask? Just this: "Emerging upholds faith seeking understanding."

Yeah, right. "Doubt seeking justification" would be my own assessment of the dominant Emerging approach to epistemology, but let's not get sidetracked with an argument about that just now.



McKnight next borrows some categories from Doug Pagitt to classify three different categories of attitudes toward postmodernism within the Emerging Church. He says some in the movement want to "minister to postmoderns, others with postmoderns, and still others as postmoderns."

It is true enough that the attitude toward postmodernism within the Emerging movement is not uniform. Driscoll seems to belong to category one of the Pagitt/McKnight taxonomy and McLaren probably exemplifies category three. (Although these days, McLaren himself might very well describe himself as a Class-Two Emergent. In fact, I'd think most in the movement would want to place themselves in the center category, because people who are enthralled with postmodernism love those Hegelian syntheses, and they hate to be labeled. No true postmodernist would therefore ever admit to being one.)

McKnight suggests that critics of Emerging spirituality are usually preoccupied with the Class-Three Emergents because they stand out (and thus presumably make the easiest targets). In McKnight's words, "The third kind of emerging postmodernity attracts all the attention."



I think McKnight has misunderstood the critics' concern. My one complaint with our Emerging friends is that (whether they formally embrace postmodern epistemologies or not) they tend to be far too accommodating when they meet postmodernism face to face. Rather than answering postmodern skepticism and refuting it with biblical truth proclaimed confidently, they typically try to tiptoe around the sensitivities of the postmodern unbeliever.

But it is nevertheless quite true that Class-Three Emergents are by far the most problematic. In McKnight's words, "[They] have chosen to minister as postmoderns. That is, they embrace the idea that we cannot know absolute truth, or, at least, that we cannot know truth absolutely."

Now, judging from what's written in the Emergent/Emerging blogosphere, I think that is a far more popular perspective among the rank and file in the Emerging Church movement than McKnight cares to admit. But without George Barna's help, I don't know that it would be possible to cite actual statistics that would prove whether my pessimism or McKnight's optimism is more justified.

It's true, however, that the most troublesome voices in the Emerging Church movement are those who plainly and simply have embraced postmodern skepticism about truth, knowledge, and certainty. I would include Chris Seay, for example, in that number. (I wouldn't be surprised if Seay himself objects to that characterization and says I'm "labeling" him unjustly, but again, that's a predictably postmodern thing to say anyway. I'm sticking by my assessment for now, and hopefully what I quote below from Seay himself will be sufficient to explain why.)

Seay is a third-generation pastor in the Houston area. I can't resist mentioning in passing that one of his books is The Gospel According to Tony Soprano: An Unauthorized Look Into the Soul of TV's Top Mob Boss and His Family. That has nothing to do with any point I'm making, but it does illustrate that Emerging Christianity is no less tawdry and shallow than the seeker-sensitive approach that most "Emerging" Christians emerged from—and which they claim to be in rebellion against.

Especially Seay. He is legendary for the way he savages his own father's and grandfather's pragmatic styles of ministry.

So on one of Seay's recent podcasts, an interviewer was asking him about his struggle with youthful rebellion against the beliefs of his parents. Here's Seay's answer:
My bigger question was could we find truth, right? So, um, that we could believe it was true. But who's really to determine what is true? And I still am at a place that I question the reality of objectivity, and what "objectivity" really means. So who can say what is objectively true? Unless you could actually be objective, which none of us are capable of because we can't get to a third place beyond where we are.
That's actually a much better summary of the postmodern attitude toward truth than McKnight gave. But it isn't really a Christian position at all. Note: Seay can't answer the question "who's really to determine what is true?"

That's a serious problem, and it's a much more widespread problem throughout all streams of the Emerging Church movement than I think Scot McKnight wants to acknowledge. I do read a lot of Emerging and Friend-of-Emergent blogs. I see what the grassroots participants in the emerging conversation are saying.

Now, let's be clear here: The Friends of Emergent need to be at least half as fair with their critics as they want their critics to be with them. No intelligent, rational, serious-minded student of theology would ever insist that we have a "complete"—i.e., perfect—understanding of any doctrine.

Postmodernism thinks that admission is fatal to all knowledge. If we don't know anything perfectly, we can't ultimately be certain about anything, right?

That's not a question that suddenly occurred to the people of God now that the age of postmodernism has enlightened us about what true humility really is. Thoughtful Christians have contemplated that same question in every generation, and the historic Protestant confessions answer it plainly.

First, God's Word is truth. It is pure truth, revealed by God, and it is the sole and sufficient final arbiter between what's true and what's false.

Second, while we may not understand any doctrine exhaustively, we can nonetheless be confident that what we do know accurately is true. That's the beauty of propositions. They recognize that truth by definition includes facts, and even though no finite set of facts or propositions ever exhausts all truth about God, we can know lots of true facts about God, and we can even know God Himself (albeit through a glass, darkly) because those facts, and God Himself, have been revealed to us by God Himself in Scripture.

So (lo and behold!) I can actually affirm penal substitution without being guilty of "reducing" the gospel to only that one point.

Mark Dever was saying something very similar in a very fine article which McKnight objected to two Easters ago. Look how far we have come since then. The "conversation" is going nowhere fast, it seems.

Phil's signature

With this post, we introduce the first of several original motivational posters based on the jargon of Emerging Christianity. Sixteen are already in the pipeline, and we'll be releasing more in the days to come. Soon we'll post a link where you can view the full collection and even download hi-res copies suitable for poster-size printing. Watch this space.



80 comments:

Matthew said...

Without touching the content of this article, I must say that your spin on "de-motivators" is hilarious...

Stephen Dunning said...

"What is truth?", asked Pilate.

Jesus said, "I am the way, the TRUTH and the life".

He also prayed, "Sanctify them by the truth. Your word is truth"

[John 18,38, 14:6, 17:17]

Matt said...

Phil, this is an excellent post. You are right that Emerging types don't want to be labeled as being anything, and yet they are so engrossed with postmodernism that it affects practically all they say or do.

I guess the question for us evangelicals is "how do we witness to Emergents"? We are no more worthy of salvation than ECMers, right? So how do we reach out to them? I have been trying to carry on a conversation with a ECMer on my own blog, and feel like the chasm is just too wide to even carry on an intelligent conversation. How can we be faithful in getting Emerging "Christians" to see/love/accept the Jesus of the Bible in a way that is both loving and firmly committed to the veracity of God's perfect Word?

centuri0n said...

Because I am here to make the blog noxious, and to be pugnacious and arrogant myself, I'd like to play devil's advocate with Matt's comments here.

Is there a difference between witnessing to someone who is postmodern who will say openly that they do not know any authority they would willing take advice from and speaking to or encountering someone who claims to be a disciple of Jesus but still maintains a postmodern epistemology? If so, what is it? If not, why not?
__________

BTW, has anyone else noticed that the text box here on blogger is now scalable, allowing you to see more of the body of your post? I just noticed it in Safari ...

Jim Crigler said...

Ditto Matthew's comments on the posters.

Frank, I think that's Safari, 'cause I can't do it with Firefox.

Phil, great analysis.

donsands said...

"Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by Thy name, O LORD God of hosts." Jer. 15:16

"Love .... Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in, and with, the Truth". 1 Cor. 13:4,6

Excellent post. Thanks.
Makes me feel very grateful for God's grace in my life, so that I do have a hunger for His truth, and experience the joy of hearing His truth; and living it out in my daily walk with Christ my Lord.

centuri0n said...

Wow. It's a function of Safari and not something Blogger did.

Tyler said...

I think that most of us in the Emergent 'thing' tend to give the movement the benefit of the doubt in thinking that most Emergents are not like Brian McLaren or Spencer Burke, but are more like ourselves; i.e., not heretics. I think this is very, very naïve.

Brad Leber said...

Phil,

It all seems so reasonable and humble, to not be so arrogant as to "know" what is true. But knowing something is true and being able to explain every facet of it's proposition are two very different things. While saying we cannot understand every doctrine in it's complexity, we can still acknowledge that we know it is Truth. There is no humility in saying that one cannot know that what God's word says is True but rather a lack of faith that what God says is True is.

SolaMeanie said...

Funny you should make this post today of all days, when the media would have us reflect on the passing of Tammy Faye Bakker Messner. If there was ever a story that so encapsulates postmodern thinking and approaches to ministry, there it is (and all of the attendant bad fruit). And her son is carrying on the legacy, I am sorry to say.

I am sure the EC will howl with outrage at any comparison, but make the comparison I will. It's there for anyone to see it all of its garish glory.

centuri0n said...

Sola:

This is why I love it when you comment here.

Phil Johnson said...

OK, if you think those posters are clever, you should see Tyler's list o' Chuck Spurgeon Facts.

Don Fields said...

The posters had me laughing out loud! Thanks for a great article and for brightening my Monday with laughter!

Sewing said...

Brother Phil: It's leotard. (Don't mind that it's Oxford: it's the same in US and UK English.) I haven't read the article yet (in true critical-commenter fashion), but the typo in the headline jumped out at me.

Caleb Kolstad said...

Brilliant!

Reformed Pastor said...

Great post!

threegirldad said...

Sewing,

I'm pretty sure it was a play on words. Notice:

"He [Scot McKnight] makes an offhanded reference to Jamie Smith's Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault To Church..."

Jean-François Lyotard

Ryan said...

Phil, thanks for the link to Chuck Spurgeon Facts. It gave me a big smile on a Monday. Thanks to all Pyros for a great blog.

donsands said...

I just received a CD from a good friend, and just finished listening to it.
"What's So Dangerous About the Emerging Church?"

It's a very informative and edifying interview with John MacArthur. It's an excellent compliment to this post. Just in case anyone would want to check it out.
Well worth getting a copy.

threegirldad said...

FYI to Phil: the two "here" links at the top point to the same place.

Appreciated both the post and the link to Spurgeon Facts. Well said!

Phil Johnson said...

threegirldad: FYI to Phil: the two "here" links at the top point to the same place.

Thanks for the heads up. I've fixed it now.

bloggernaut said...

Phil,

Your persistent hammering of ECM is pretty grating. However, all the anti-ECM ranting has produced some good. So my compliments to you for being a part of that.

As much as "Category 3" brings out the lust for heresy-hunting in church trends that evangelicals find unfamiliar, I would hope that spending a little time blogging about the positives of so-called "Category 1" churches might temper your hell-in-a-handbasket view of gospel preaching in newer churches.

The Acts29 Network (by your admission as Mark Driscoll is "Category 1") is increasingly distancing itself from "Category 3" by slowly shedding the term "emerging" and "emergent" and replacing it with "missional" to better describe their churches' focus. Please check out Mark DeVine's blog in April about it:

http://www.theologyprof.com/gibbsbolger-emerging-acts29-and-missional-christianity/

It isn't really fair to say that all postmoderns object to your labeling by reasoning that objecting is a characteristic of postmoderns. That is only a set up by which you dismiss all emergent sympathizers as "Category 3." In your argument, you're not really combatting truth-relativism with the Bible; you're trying to combat it with modernism, as if you're belief in absolutes trumps their disbelief in absolutes. Here is where the missional church's stragegy is different.

Thanks for trying.

Sewing said...

Threegirldad: D'oh! Thanks for correcting me. This is an object lesson in the consequences of not reading a post before commenting!

Habitans in Sicco said...

Bloggernaut: "I would hope that spending a little time blogging about the positives . . . might temper your hell-in-a-handbasket view. . . .

It isn't really fair to say that all postmoderns . . .

. . . you're trying to combat it with modernism. . ."


Wow, Letitita. I'd say you've got the routine down pat.

trevan said...

Phil,

I lean on the Emerging side of most discussions but really appreciated your article. I thought you were gracious and reasonable in your critique which is to be commended.

However, I think the whole article was overshadowed and undermined by the "posters" placed throughout the article. They contain the usual cheap shots, with little accuracy, at the emerging church and have no value other than to fire up those who are on your side and enrage those who you disagree with.

You're right, most conversations between the EC and everyone else haven't been going anywhere and placing those vitriolic posters in the middle of a well-written critique are part of the reason why.

jbuck21 said...

Phil and pyros, et. al,

This is, without any doubt, the single funniest set of posters I've ever seen.

I nearly wet my pants.

With an idea this solid, you'd think it'd be worth marketing, but it isn't - there are only about 250 people on earth who would appreciate it and agree.

SolaMeanie said...

Trevan,

I didn't see the posters as anything else but humorous. And yes, I can even laugh at jokes where those of my theological persuasion are being ribbed. Mike Yaconelli and the Wittenberg Door did it for years (the late Yaconelli was an advocate of the EC if I remember rightly).

Perhaps you don't know it, but those in the EC aren't as lilywhite as you seem to think in terms of their criticism aimed at conservative churches. Many of them are disgruntled with the conservative evangelical churches to which they belonged at one time, and that comes out vividly in their public comments.

In fact, they started this argument. So they shouldn't be surprised if someone responds by taking up the gauntlet. Did Steve Chalke just assume he could publish statements attacking the substitutionary atonement, and the rest of us would simply sit back with glazed stares?

I think not.

Phil Johnson said...

"Vitriolic," huh?

Ouch, that's harsh.

threegirldad said...

Pocket OED defines "vitriol" as "extreme bitterness or malice". Talk about undermining one's own argument with "cheap shots"...

Daniel said...

He prolly meant "virtuoso" ...

centuri0n said...

All jokes are mean. They're not funny -- they're mean.

Stephen Newell said...

No, it's not because jokes are funny or because jokes are mean. It's because you're Calvinists and Calvinists can't be anything other than mean, right? ;-)

Candace said...

"All jokes are mean. They're not funny -- they're mean."

Stop it Frank, irony isn't funny either - it's mean. ;)

bloggernaut said...

My one complaint with our Emerging friends is that (whether they formally embrace postmodern epistemologies or not) they tend to be far too accommodating when they meet postmodernism face to face.

Phil,
Wow, just one? Having suspected the worst out of the ECM, are you now retracting your previous suspicions that emerging Christians are, in fact, embracing postmodernism, despite many objections to the contrary? Oh, wait wait..

But most (if not all) of the typical Emerging innovations in ecclesiology and methodology are in fact rooted in the postmodern epistemological shift...Practically everything that makes the Emerging movement distinctive is closely related to postmodernism's cynical attitude about knowledge and truth

Really? Everything? Therefore "most (if not all) of the typical" ECM is inherently flawed and beyond whatever is remotely recognizable as Christian--why? Because Scot McKnight says so? He's wrong anyway, so you say.

Lots of churches oppose postmodern thinking and still would be considered in the emerging vein, contrary to being "far too accomodating." Oh, you're not talking about THOSE churches? I can tell -- your one sentence that barely mentions Mark Driscoll by name says it all. The silence is deafening.

I can see that the more I push back on this spiritual blind spot, the more I get the response that postmoderns like myself WOULD say such things! Heh! And ironically, I'm not even postmodern. I'm mean.

solameanie - "lilywhite?" How ironic is THAT?

bloggernaut said...

I guess the question for us evangelicals is "how do we witness to Emergents"

Matt - by this statement, are you proposing that all Emergents are not even Christians?

US evangelicals; THEY the Emergents...

Conway said...

I found the following video clip that Mark Driscoll gave at the 2006 Desiring God conference helpful in understanding the many streams (some obviously liberal with need for correction) within the "emerging" church. I am hopeful that the reformed "missional" stream continues growing.



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcbnGXSYxuI

Louis and Vivian said...

Emergents preach a different gospel. There is only 1 gospel. Either our gospel or their gospel is wrong. One of us is dead wrong.

"If even an angel preaches to you a different gospel, let him be accursed"

Phil Johnson said...

bloggernaut: "Wow, just one? Having suspected the worst out of the ECM, are you now retracting your previous suspicions that emerging Christians are, in fact, embracing postmodernism, despite many objections to the contrary?"

Why would I retract that? The two things have a direct cause-and-effect relationship. The tendency of Emerging Christians "to be far too accommodating when they meet postmodernism face to face" is caused by their willingness to imbibe its ideas, presuppositions, rules of discourse, values, and whatever. Some do this consciously and deliberately (the type threes), and some do it thoughtlessly and unwittingly (the type ones). But they all do it to some degree, and that tendency is what makes them Emerging.

BTW, the point I'm making is capable of exposition from a thousand different angles with a hundred-thousand different sub-points, but it still all boils down to that one central objection, no matter how many ways I have already said it.

Please take some time and think that through carefully before you react again. You don't want to be like that guy who counted all my questions to Dan Kimball (plus several comments I made that weren't even questions) and then insisted that because the remarks he cited were all worded differently they were actually 63 (or whatever) different questions, rather than one question asked 63 different ways.

That kind of sloppy thinking and knee-jerk argumentation is far too common from the Emerging voices in "the conversation," and it makes the predictable complaint about Emergents' being misunderstood merely ironic.

donsands said...

"Rather than answering postmodern skepticism and refuting it with biblical truth proclaimed confidently, they typically try to tiptoe around the sensitivities of the postmodern unbeliever.'

This is what it all boils down to, and that's the bottom of the pot.

And Brian McLaren doesn't even tiptoe.

The thing that gets under my fingernails is that the tiptoeing is around God's Holy Scriptures. The Bible is such a holy treasure, that we should be willing to die for.
It's our Lord's words to us His people.

Dan Paden said...

The first Emergent blogs that drew my attention drew it in part because of the vicious attacks on Evangelicals and anybody else they didn't agree with.

I've had that in mind ever since. Whenever they complain about the vicious criticism (some of it is vicious; more of it just seems unwavering, and they call that "vicious") they endure, the old proverb about sauce for the goose comes to mind.

Nathanael Baker said...

Yes Jesus is truth, Yes Jesus is the centre, I pray everyday that people will come to understand that. God revealed in human form, bringing us back to him, bringing us in true relationship with him.

I think that the emergent conversation does have ideas or views to offer us as christians today. I disagree with streams in it, but I humbly listen to them and pray and ask where there hearts are. Some such as McClaren have gone off the deep end and have said some pretty stupid stuff. But people such as driscoll I beleive has his heart in the right place. Driscolls theology and his heart for people is real. He doesn't stear away from the truth. He his kicked me back into the right centre a number of times.

For me life is a journey, I am discovering Gods heart, trying to walk humbly following my lord and saviour. I stuff up, fall down, need to get up, need to repent, walk again, I desire to show my faith in ways that are relevent to those around me.

Lets humbly listen to Gods heart, critique when it is right, but also provide encouragement for those who are going right.

Phillipians 4:8
Finally my brothers whatever is true. Whatever is noble,whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - anything is praiseworthy, think on these things

Philippians 2:5-11
Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus. Who in very nature God, did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped, but he made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in the appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above any other name, that the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord."

Micah 6:8
He has shown you, O man, what is good, and what does the LORD require of you, to act Justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our LORD.

Micah 6:8
Finally what does the Lord require of you, to seek mercy, love justice and walk humbly with your God.

Question, how long did it take you to find the truth of scripture, who helped you along the way? My mum brought me to christ, I was a scared 7 year old going through some tought stuff, I needed someone to get along side me, show me the truth gracefully and humbly. I complained bitterly to God and God showed me the truth. I still beleive that I need to get beside people, help them through the hard times, not condemn them, care for them, even if they don'[t become christians and share the truth that Jesus is LORD with them.

donsands said...

" ... gave him the name that is above any other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord."

Amen Nathanel.

trevan said...

Fellas,

I never suggested that EC critique of everyone was lily white and didn't even reference it at all so that was surprising to see. If one of them put posters like the ones here I would challenge them on that as well.

I'm all about laughing at ourselves but the first poster was beyond a simple joke. It read "Because the pooling of ignorance just feels better than hard truth." So, the EC discussions are just a pooling of ignorance?

It's surprising to hear people suggest that because some of the EC guys engage in unnecessary and unfair criticism of your side they should expect it back and it somehow makes it okay to respond in kind. Come on guys, let's raise the level of the discussions and not fall into the negativity and unhealthy discussion that unfortunately characterizes a lot of these discussions.

Sewing said...

Nathanel wrote:

"For me life is a journey, I am discovering Gods heart, trying to walk humbly following my lord and saviour. I stuff up, fall down, need to get up, need to repent, walk again, I desire to show my faith in ways that are relevent to those around me.

Lets humbly listen to Gods heart, critique when it is right, but also provide encouragement for those who are going right."

Amen and God bless you. May each of us remember daily to repent before God for our sins, to keep a humble and loving heart, ask him to teach and guide us, and to remember that He alone is perfect.

david rudd said...

i hear a lot of criticism of the "ECM"-types for playing the "misunderstood" card too much.

Two thoughts which might be helpful here:

1) perhaps some who use this criticism could demonstrate that they do indeed understand the ECM argument by restating it accurately. i think phil has been trying to do this with his past few posts.

2) perhaps some who use this criticism could point to one or two misunderstandings you once had about the "ECM"ers. This could go miles in demonstrating a willingness to listen.

after all, whether or not you agree with them, a good number of them are your brothers and sisters in Christ!

BananaJackson said...

I sure wish you wouldn't refer to it as Emergent "Christianity." Emergents aren't Chrsitians... the so-called "Emergent Church" should be called the "Emergent Cult." Their beliefs are so far from genuine Christianity, they should be more closely aligned with Mormonism or the Jehovah's Witnesses. In a way, they're even more dangerous... because they are not recognized as so divergant from biblical, historical Christianity. (P.S. The posters are hillarious!!!)

Gummby said...

The Al Mohler radio program had a first-hand example of this "having a hard time finding truth" mentality. Guest host Dr. Russell Moore had Tony Jones on there, and they had a little "conversation." At times, I felt like Dr. Moore was perhaps trying a bit too hard to create fireworks, though in retrospect, that may just be his trying to pin Mr. Jones down (like jello to the wall, as I sometimes say).

I thought what Mr. Jones had to say was very interesting, particularly his notion of "local truth," but also how he goes out of his way to distance himself from Mark Driscoll. Someone correct me if I misunderstood, but it sounded to me like Driscoll's "reformed understanding of theology" disqualified him (in Jones' mind) from even being part of Emerging.

Show available for listen or download here.

david rudd said...

Gummby,

I listened to the interview also. I agree that Moore was trying far to hard to stir up controversy.

I often take issue with things Tony says, although in this case, I felt he did a good job of making his case that he was orthodox, just not evangelical (in the way we think of evangelical).

I think his point with Driscoll was that Mark, upon coming to a more reformed point of view, removed himself from the group that would eventually be called Emergent Village. This would be consistent with Mark's writings.

One last thing, and it might be important for you...

Jello is not made to be nailed to the wall...

david rudd said...

phil says: (emphasis mine)
That kind of sloppy thinking and knee-jerk argumentation is far too common from the Emerging voices in "the conversation," and it makes the predictable complaint about Emergents' being misunderstood merely ironic.

bananajackson says:
Emergents aren't Chrsitians... the so-called "Emergent Church" should be called the "Emergent Cult." Their beliefs are so far from genuine Christianity, they should be more closely aligned with Mormonism or the Jehovah's Witnesses.

.sigh.

jsb said...

Jello isn't made for writing theology, either.

Sewing said...

...But have y'all tried catching trout with a spoon?

bloggernaut said...

gummby -
I thought what Mr. Jones had to say was very interesting, particularly his notion of "local truth," but also how he goes out of his way to distance himself from Mark Driscoll. Someone correct me if I misunderstood, but it sounded to me like Driscoll's "reformed understanding of theology" disqualified him (in Jones' mind) from even being part of Emerging.

I listened to that program the day after it aired--I really wished Dr. Moore would have pressed Jones a little more than he did.

You're right about Jones and Driscoll. To Jones, Driscoll is a pest that constantly buzzes him about orthodoxy and biblical authority. (All you naysayers, listen up) Acts 29 is gaining momentum, so, while Emergent Village is still the 800lb gorilla in the room, in time they might get overtaken by Acts 29 churches all over the world. The McLaren/Jones type of church won't last--it's too theologically useless to withstand the passage of time.

And Jones' waving him off only shows that Driscoll is right on. If you examine the Acts 29 website, you'll see that the churches planted through it are all thoroughly evangelical (it's right on their belief statement under "Doctrine").

Nathanael, Trevan, david rudd - blessings on your comments. They reassure me there is still sanity left in Christendom.

SolaMeanie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SolaMeanie said...

Bloggernaut,

Ironic? Why is a term like "lilywhite" ironic? The point was that, for all their squealing about how conservative evangelicals are being "mean" to them in their critiques, the Emergent fellows themselves have been very harshly critical of conservative evangelicals. Their disgruntlement with these churches is what led them to start searching the labyrinths in the first place.

Despite their attempts at obfuscation, the "questions" they raise are going to keep coming back to bite them firmly in the gluteus, especially when said "questions" throw mud on biblical orthodoxy.

One more thing. I would love it if those within the Emergent or Emerging persuasions would please stop with the "all emerging are not emergent, one stream is not another stream" sort of schpiel. This gets thrown up ad nauseum. What we are interested in are the points where the movement that doesn't like being called a movement dabbles in or plunges headlong into the heretical. That's not really hard to understand, is it? If one's position is that truth is unknowable at the outset, that causes a whole host of problems. It doesn't take a Rhodes Scholar to see that. Or it shouldn't.

Tom Chantry said...

My nomination for the most egregious redundancy of the day:

This gets thrown up ad nauseum.

That is just too much. Thank you.

david rudd said...

What we are interested in are the points where the movement that doesn't like being called a movement dabbles in or plunges headlong into the heretical.

I so completely agree with this. I think this type of discussion could be so helpful and healthy.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to have this kind of discussion when so many sweeping generalizations are made which imply that anyone who has the label "emerging" is exactly like Tony Jones.

(the current poster kick doesn't help)

if we could get past the labeling and the generalizations, we could likely do exactly what you are suggesting...

donsands said...

"when so many sweeping generalizations are made"

That's just part of it. I am a Calvinist, and my best friends are Arminians, and we have at it with one another at times. We use the general statements that everyone uses to discribe Calvinists and Arminians and so forth, and we still are able to have some serious discussions of the deep doctrines of the Scriptures.

Robert M. Warren said...

I recall reading that article and I also recall wondering aloud "Has this man actually read Hebrews?"

verb said...

"I think that is a far more popular perspective among the rank and file in the Emerging Church movement than McKnight cares to admit. But without George Barna's help, I don't know that it would be possible to cite actual statistics..."

Based on Barna's previous research, I think the answer is instead that the Emergent church is simply a case of stated theology syncing up with what people actually believe. There's been a profound split between fundamentalist literalists (who DO insist that we can and do perfectly interpret scripture and formulate doctrine) and the whoops-I'm-a-postmodernist evangelicals, who lived without absolutes but tsk-tsk'd at those who questioned their formulation.

terriergal said...

Thank you thank you for delving more into the Evangelical Covenant Church and the results of their deal with the devil (emergent, social justice, purpose driven, contemplative spirituality, etc).

My husband and I are refugees from that denomination. I don't know how we didn't see the problem before we joined in 1999. It seems so obvious now.

bloggernaut said...

donsands -
I am a Calvinist, and my best friends are Arminians, and we have at it with one another at times.

Whereas, the Christianity of Arminians goes unquestioned, anyone who identifies himself as emerging or emerging-friendly is outright accused of being a heretic. I have not heard (nor would I personally dare) anyone to accuse an Arminian of being a heretic. As an aside, I would take Sproul's comment that Arminians are Christians...barely.

solameanie - the irony to which I am referring is that most emerging types openly admit their shortcomings. No one is "lilywhite." While some may have swung the pendulum way out to criticize the shortcomings of standard evangelical churches in a mean way, how does that justify an equally vicious response (if what you say is true?) While we're at it, why don't we examine those criticisms and see whether they might be true about churches? Even a little?

The inaccurate portrayal of the ECM on the posters is both disheartening and pathetic. The irony here is that the knee-jerk reaction doesn't belong to me but to Team Pyro. Nobody denies that Emergent Village indeed has gone theologically soft and lean way more postmodern in their thinking than they should. Acts 29, on the other hand, is the solid, evangelical balance to Emergent Village and doesn't think postmodernly at all (in fact, all pastors/elders must hold to reformed theology and biblical inerrancy). There's the answer to your question.

This gets thrown up ad nauseum.

Finally, someone said something truly funny!

Gummby said...

bloggernaut said: The inaccurate portrayal of the ECM on the posters is both disheartening and pathetic. The irony here is that the knee-jerk reaction doesn't belong to me but to Team Pyro.

The thing I find really ironic is that the ECM is all about inclusion and getting together until someone starts pointing out the problems, and then it's all that other guy's fault.

bloggernaut: you've either missed or are ignoring the vast amount of space given to ECM in the past, including (and I believe this belongs to Phil) the statement that the ECM has been spawned by what is wrong with evangelical churches, and its diagnosis of those ills is often dead-on. It's just how they propose to fix it that's at issue.

While we're at it, I'll just throw one other thing out for your consideration (and I don't presume to speak for the big guys--just myself).

Anyone who sets out to re-define truth is an enemy of God and His gospel, no matter what label he may wear. If we can't know truth, we can't know God.

It seems that when someone says ECM, you think Driscoll, while the criticisms are of (fill in the blank). But you yourself said that Emergent Village is "the 800 pound gorilla;" given that, perhaps those who are seeking to be biblical (and hopefully no one will argue that there are at least some doing this) should think twice about aligning themselves with a powerful, and frighteningly unbiblical group. And if people are thinking of giving up a historical term like "evangelical" because of labelling concerns, perhaps Emerging folks should consider doing the same.

donsands said...

"the Christianity of Arminians goes unquestioned,"

Not with me.

And the same goes for Calvinist.

I have a son-in-law who follows a lot the emergent types. He gave me Generous Orthodoxy to read, and I gave him DA Carson's book.

I don't really know if what I'm saying makes sense to you.
But what Gummy said was really good.
Blessings to you.

wordsmith said...

Bloggernaut: the irony to which I am referring is that most emerging types openly admit their shortcomings. No one is "lilywhite."

Emergents may admit their "shortcomings," but can they ever admit it whenever their "shortcomings" are in fact sin? I think that's one of the problems that we non-emergents have with the ECM - the semantics games, and the reluctance to affirm what Scripture says about the basics, such as God's holiness, man's sinfulness, justification, righteousness....

Rob Auld said...

Why is post-modernism worse then Modernism? I think it's because you don't understand it and you're afraid of the things you can't understand.

Rob

Daryl said...

Rob Auld...

Then again, maybe you fear truth and reasoned thinking because you don't understand that...that knife can cut both ways...

Daryl said...

Rob Auld,

The primary difference seems to be that non-post-modernists seem to have no trouble decrying the "modernist" way of thinking as being the spirit of the age, post-modernists are not so willing...

SolaMeanie said...

Rob my friend,

Au contraire. We understand postmodernism very well. That's why we have a problem with it. And, as I've told you before, Christianity is to confront modernism and postmodernism, not adapt to it or imbibe from it. Biblical truth transcends manmade philosophies.

Gummby said...

Not to be a link troll, but in fairness to the ECM, the struggle with calling a sin a sin isn't unique to them; the lack of discussion about sin is the bane of the evangelical movement, as well.

As far as understanding postmodernism, I'd say Phil's got a pretty good handle on it. You may disagree, but you'll have to offer corrections, not just assertions.

I also question any postmodern who makes any type of categorical assertion (read: truth claim), since truth doesn't exist--not in the way we simple-minded fundies think of it, anyway. The philosophy that truth doesn't exist in any way that's knowable sort of belies any argument or assertion of anything, don'tcha think?

TBE said...

Phil,

I just wanted you to know that I am holding you and the rest of the folks at Pyromaniacs personally responsible for replacing my laptop, since after seeing the "emergent-see" posters and the title of this post ("If the Lyotard Fits") while drinking Vault cola(which drinks like a soda and kicks like an energy drink, or so I'm made to believe), I was unable to prevent myself from spitting the entire contents of my mouth THROUGH MY NOSE and onto my computer.

That is all.

Sewing said...

But it was worth it, right?

bloggernaut said...

OK after running the entire gammut of discussion (again...), let's come to a kumbayah moment, if only for a moment.

First, Emergent Christians are right to challenge and criticize standard evangelicals for their faults. After all, no church is perfect and must always strive to overcome its sins. This does not justly predicate, however, a vicious retaliation by saying "they started it," solameanie.

Second, some Emergent Christians HAVE gone off the deep end in giving away too many core beliefs, but no worse than Descartes. Mocking them as demonstrated here is unhelpful on so many levels. (Someone came very close to hitting the nail on the head by saying something like a denial of the knowability of truth is a truth statement itself. Bravo. Here's your starting point. Jesus is the experience of truth that doubtful people are seeking, so attest to that instead of barking out modernist platitudes. Remember that postmodernism is the love child of modernism and hubris.)

Third, let's recognize that ECM has BOTH liberal and conservative elements, and the conservative element is striving to correct the liberal one.

The problem with Emergent Village is not postmodernism, it's that they are not postmodern enough. If they really took things to the logical end, they wouldn't CARE what evangelicals do. They wouldn't care about anything! Yes, Tony Jones is messed up (Spencer Burke is really messed up). But both still believe that they are correct in their approach to Christianity and that the rest of us are wrong by hanging on to the past. Aha. Let me give you a double bonus: they can change their minds--postmodernism allows for that.

Put into perspective, postmodernism isn't the Great Satan it's being made out to be. Choosing to combat it in the appropriate way is what we're all arguing about.

Sigh, so let the arguing continue...

Daryl said...

Bloggernaut,

You've made some really good points about pointing ECM'ers to Christ rather than only attacking their problems. That's good.

Where you miss it seems to be in your defense of post-modernism itself. Post-modernism, like modernism before it and whatever came before that, is just another indefensible permutation of the spirit of the age. It is not Christian and is not compatible with Christianity. Every generation needs to struggle to learn how to separate itself from the current spirit of the age. The difficulty we (I'll take the liberty of speaking for most ECM critics if I may) see the EC embracing the world rather than standing against it.

True, moderns didn't always (even often) do a good job of it either but just as you take issue with "us" going after the ECM as a movement, so we take issue with the EC's tendency to basically say "well you're just a bunch of moderns, what do you know".

Truth be told, the only voices most of us ever hear going after McLaren and others are the non-ECMer's. If you have an issue with the heretical brand of the EC, then speak up!! LOUDER!!

Phil Johnson said...

Bloggernaut: "Third, let's recognize that ECM has BOTH liberal and conservative elements, and the conservative element is striving to correct the liberal one."

Really? Where? Take Driscoll's contribution to Listening to the Beliefs of the Emerging Churches out of the equation, and I don't see a whole lot of evidence that what you suggest "the conservative element" is trying to do is really happening on any significant scale.

As a matter of fact, when I recently complained that a certain other ostensibly conservative contributor to that volume had made such a weak and reductionist case for "orthodoxy" that he was really adding to the problem rather than helping solve it, angry hordes of Emerging "conservatives" came over here to try to set me straight.

Where, precisely, are they investing that kind of energy in order to straighten out Jones, Burke, Bell, et al.?

And, by the way, if they are trying to "correct" the wing-nuts secretly and behind the scenes while continuing to extend the pretense of Christian fellowship to them publicly, that strategy isn't working. The wacked-out left end of Emergent is getting larger and crazier. The Acts 29 churches might also be growing, but I don't see any evidence that they are having any significant positive impact on the overall direction of the larger movement. What they are doing is (precisely what you are doing here:) trying to convince naive non-emergents that postmodernism really isn't all that serious a threat to the Christian worldview.

That is a huge mistake, and it might actually pose a greater danger than the rather extreme and obvious heresies of someone like Spencer Burke.

Selah.

Graeme Smith said...

Just discovered this post and what had potential as a valid critique of the Emerging Church quickly descended into the usual tirade of abuse that seems prevalent in the emerging church bashing circles. The reason?

Well the liberal use of de-motivator style posters that make more of a statement about the producer of them wanting to look clever, than they do a grace-filled Christlike response to the creators concerns.

Shame really as the article has some valid points!

Romayne said...

I just feel this is yet another ploy of Satan to distract and deceive Christians in this latter age of apostasy as the Lord predicted would happen. Why is what was good enough for Paul and those who'd known Jesus personally in the 1st century not good enough for us any more? Why do some Christians feel they have to continually 'update' the Gospel? Do they consider God was incapable of ensuring it would be as He told us - eternal! While the 'emerging' Church (pray tell WHAT is it emerging from anyway??) is supposedly going forwards, others are going backwards, but to pagan practices rather than to appropriate Christianity. We need to be more careful than ever what we allow ourselves to grant our allegiance to in these church movements. Too many wolves out there parading about in the whitest of sheeps clothing! Blessings, TKR. http://tikkiro.wordpress.com

hillschurch said...

Interesting post - and very good interactions. I'm new to the blog and came here to see the posters via a link from Tall and Skinny Kiwi (who thinks they are hilarious by the way). I like them too - but like most humor relies on exaggeration and stereotyping. I suppose I would categorize myself as a radical conservative, Evangelical but post-Christendom Christian.

As I read the post and the comments I often feel as if Emergent and Postmodern have become synonymous. I think most emergent people I know would say they are trying to respond to postmodernity with an effective biblical witness. But then my circle may not be very large.

I like a lot of what the emerging movement is saying and doing but as a reform movement it has a lot of extremism. Most students of Church History would (and probably will) see it as a minor blip. I don't think it has much staying power because it is a transitional phase for whatever will become the strong, biblical response to postmodernity.

It's value is in that "wonderful" concept of deconstructionism - but probably not in the way someone like Derrida intended it. I think the contribution of the EMC will be in its deconstruction of the church - simplifying it and removing from it every non-biblical element and structure to the point where, if we removed one more thing, it would no longer be the church.

Luther and the reformers started to do this but I think they lost their nerve and continued to keep many of the elements of Catholic ecclesiology. They reformed much of the theology but not much of the ecclessiology and certainly not much of the church and state, political/religious intertwining - they probably made it worse. But we live in a different age - an age where the church has been proclaimed irrelevant by a postmodern culture - and has lost its force. I think we can learn much about our current situation by looking at the theological wranglings of the reformation and the great awakenings (1500-1750). We sometimes see that period as a short moment in time but where do you think we will be in 250 years?

Our task is to steward a new reformation. What are its theses and who nailed them there? I think in some ways the argument about emerging is beside the point. I'm hoping I didn't miss the point with my comments.

kashenba said...

The emergent church is the logical conclusion of Sola Scriptura and private interpretation of the Bible.

If you don't have a living voice which can authoritatively say "This interpetation is true and this one is false" then you will inevitably have everyone following their own understanding of the Bible--the thousands of denominations of protestantism demonstrates this outcome. A protestant might say that the emergents are definitely wrong in their exegesis of the Bible, but if they see the woods for the trees, they'll notice that they've just set themself up as the living voice of authority they simultaneously decry in the Roman Catholic Pope. Either God left us with someone who can infallibly tell us what the book means or God has not--the emergents have simply become more obviously comfy with the latter of those propositions.

St. Francis de Sales gets to the root of this in his work THE CATHOLIC CONTROVERSY, which he wrote against John Calvin and Theodore Beza--

"That, in one word, is what all these reformers want—to take Scripture as judge. And to this we answer Amen: but we say that our difference is not there; it is here, that in the disagreements we shall have over the interpretation and which will occur at every two words, we shall need a judge. They answer that we must decide the interpretation of Scripture by collating passage with passage and the whole with the Symbol of faith. Amen, Amen, we say: but we do not ask how we ought to interpret the Scripture, but—who shall be the judge? For after having compared passages with passages, and the whole by the Symbol of the faith, we find by this passage: Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, and I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. Xvi.), that S. Peter has been chief minister and supreme steward in the Church of God: you say, on your side that this passage: The kings of the nations lord it over them…but you not so (Luke xxii.), or this other (for they are all so weak that I know not what may be your main authority): No one can lay another foundation, &c. (1 Cor. Iii. 11), compared with the other passages and the analogy of the faith makes you detest a chief minister. The two of us follow one same way in our enquiry concerning the truth in this question—namely, whether there is in the Church a Vicar General of Our Lord—and yet I have arrived at the affirmative, and you, you have ended in the negative; who now shall judge of our difference? Here lies the essential point as between you and me." (151-52)

In a letter to Zwingli, Martin Luther once wrote:
"If the world last long it will be again necessary, on account of the different interpretations of Scripture which now exist, that to preserve the unity of the faith we should receive the Councils, and decrees and fly to them for refuge"

To borrow a trendy phrase from emergent, Luther's observation is more "relevant" now than ever.

Piperfan said...

I don't know how anyone could classify Mark Driscoll as Emergent. He preached a sermon called "The Supremacy of Christ and the Church in a Postmodern World" at the Desiring God National Conference. In that sermon, he clearly states his position on truth and sound doctrine. I mean the very fact that Piper had him come to his conference should tell you something about his theology.

Now Driscoll does believe in being culturally relevant and he even goes so far as to call what he does "contextualizing." But just because he wants to reach out to culture does not automatically make him emergent. Listen to the sermon and you'll see what I mean. You can find it on-line.

Nicholas said...

Two comments...no actually three (I feel like the Spanish Inquisition..sorry)
First...Amazing post, thank you!!
Second...What really is the substantive difference between a Post-modern beleiver and unbeleiver?
Third...If we are incapable of knowing truth, then that effectively makes truth moot, doesn't it? So Emergents really do effectively reject truth. How am I in error thinking that way?

Thanks! (oops, that's five)