cot McKnight's Christianity Today article on the major streams of influence within the Emerging movement acknowledged that the political drift of the movement is leftward. Most Emerging Christians are fed up with the evangelical movement's thirty-five year dalliance with Republican-party politics.
OK, let me say first of all that I have great sympathy with the concern they are expressing. For more than twenty-five years, I've been voicing disapproval of the way right-wing political activism often seems to eclipse gospel ministry on the agenda of some churches and evangelical organizations. Some in the religious right seem to think the primary duty of the church in secular society is political lobbying. Evangelical politicians have displayed a frightening willingness to compromise spiritual principles, forge partnerships with unbelievers, and shift the focus of their message away from the gospel in favor of more broadly-appealing moral and political themes. Some seem willing to take whatever pragmatic means are necessary in order to influence the vote—as if the advancement of Christ's kingdom depended on the American electoral process.
Several of the best-known leaders in evangelical politics are former pastors who have left church ministry behind in order to become full-time lobbyists and political commentators. The evangelical movement as a whole has mirrored that trend for the past couple of decades, I fear—abdicating the teaching ministry in favor of more worldly affairs. Judging from the books that typically rise high on the Christian best-seller lists, evangelicals nowadays are a thousand times more concerned with politics and public relations than with studying and proclaiming Scripture. And it's no accident that the elevation of worldly entertainments in evangelical megachurches has gained popularity right alongside evangelicalism's obsessive craving for clout in the political arena. I'm convinced these trends are closely related. Perhaps I'll blog about that one day.
Anyway, Emerging Christians are convinced evangelicalism's close affiliation with conservative party politics in America actually undermines the clarity of the gospel message. I agree with them about that.
We generally don't agree on a solution to the problem, however. Liberal-minded Emergents don't want the church to get out of politics completely; they simply want the pendulum to swing back to the left. Their proposed cure turns out to be worse than the disease. It's like drinking strychnine to cure oneself of a hacking cough.
Of course, not all Emerging Christians are left-wingers. (Scot McKnight doesn't mention that fact in his CT article, but I know that if I don't mention it, we'll have forty-five angry, insulting, or otherwise unnecessary comments in response to this post. So let's just remember that on this issue as well as everything else, there is a lot of diversity in the Emerging Movement.) Nevertheless, according to McKnight, most of the movement tilts leftward. He characterizes them as "a latte-drinking, backpack-lugging, Birkenstock-wearing group of 21st-century, left-wing, hippie wannabes. Put directly, they are Democrats."
McKnight acknowledges that he himself is a political liberal at heart, but he also say he is concerned that if Emerging Christians get too caught up in politics, they will repeat the error of the modernist churches who embraced the social gospel and abandoned the biblical gospel in the process. To his credit, McKnight says he is wary of that tendency. He seems to sense, however, that a large segment of the movement is already barreling that direction. ("Sometimes . . . when I look at emerging politics, I see Walter Rauschenbusch, the architect of the social gospel," he says.)
McKnight himself is clearly conflicted, though: "I don't think the Democratic Party is worth a hoot, but its historic commitment to the poor and to centralizing government for social justice is what I think government should do." He's not completely comfortable with the leftist agenda, because he doesn't support abortion or homosexuality. But still, that hasn't kept McKnight from voting Democrat, and he really doesn't offer any strategy for making sure the Emerging Church movement doesn't fall into the same devastating error that destroyed the mainstream denominations.
That point, in microcosm, illustrates the main reason for my deep and continuing concern about the Emerging Church movement. There are countless parallels between the Emerging Church movement and classic religious modernism. Both movements were sparked by massive paradigm shifts in secular thought and culture. Both are undergirded by a conviction that the church must change in a fundamental way or be rendered irrelevant: she must adapt her perspective of truth and certainty in order to fit better with the way the world is "progressing."
Exactly like early modernism, the Emerging Church movement is being defended vigorously by a group of mostly-sincere people who really do envision themselves as completely evangelical and who insist that they have no agenda to do away with any essential doctrine.
Meanwhile, within the movement are numerous other people who are simultaneously attacking essential evangelical truths, starting with a handful of truths that are especially hard to receive. They want to re-imagine the atonement to do away with the penal aspect, for example, because they think it makes God look harsh. They question the doctrine of eternal punishment. They despise the doctrine of original sin. They diminish the importance of sound doctrine completely. And they blithely pretend that their critics' only possible motive is an utter lack of charity toward them. Their favorite, and practically their only, defense is the claim that they have been misunderstood and misrepresented.
We are seeing history repeat itself.