by Phil Johnson
One trademark of theological liberalism for the past seventy years is a reduction of faith to 'courageous ignorance.'"Ronald Nash, Life's Ultimate Questions
omething that drives me crazy about the Emerging Conversation is the way endless disclaimers and qualifications are supposed to be piled onto every profession of belief. Even the most "conservative" Emerging types do this almost pathologically:
"I know some wonderful, sensitive people probably won't agree with me; and I certainly don't claim to understand everything about this doctrine perfectly; and I know a lot of people have gone overboard with it; and good people who are smarter than me see things differently than I do; and I admit that my opinion may be shaped too much by Western culture and Greek philosophy; but it seems to me that the Bible really does teach that God will punish evildoers if they won't repent."
Any assertion not so qualified risks being labeled "excessive confidence," which according to Brian McLaren is a "cancer" responsible for practically everything that's wrong in the world.
Except for one thing. When you start seeing what a noxious malignancy certainty is, then it's OK to be really, really confident about uncertainty itself. In McLaren's words, "Thinking along these lines, I became convinced that, yes, many of our world's worst atrocities were indeed the result of overconfidence" (Everything Must Change, p. 39).
You won't hear postmodernists or their Emerging-church cousins saying many things with that kind of settled conviction! But their doubts about certainty per se are unwaveringly emphatic.
No one nowadays can make biblical or evangelical assertions with such confident boldness without having every truth-claim subjected to deconstruction, slow torture, or strangulation at the hands of some post-evangelical critic.
What's worse, more and more of the loudest critics are pastors, seminary professors, Christian authors, and others who have teaching or leadership roles in the church. Most of them would never overtly "deny" biblical truth-claims, of course. (Such a denial would require more certainty than some of these guys are comfortable with.) But they seem to have a pathological need to smother every article of faith under a million and one qualifications.
"Hey, I'm not saying I don't believe in the virgin birth of Christ; I'm just saying if it turned out not to be true, it wouldn't really matter. So it seems like we just shouldn't make it an essential point of our doctrine. But who am I to say, anyway? And who are you to make such a big deal out of it? Instead of arguing about the relative importance of this or that doctrine, shouldn't we do something more profitablelike ministry?"
Uncertainty is the sole remaining cardinal virtue of postmodernism. The right to question anything and everything is likewise the only dogma postmodern orthodoxy accepts uncritically. And (as we see all the time in the meta here) it's one of a small handful of ideas Emergents and their admirers can always be counted on to defend militantly.
In other words, Emerging religion has canonized doubt. Andlet's be candid heremany who say they prefer the label "missional" are making the very same mistake. In fact, even in supposedly conservative and fundamentalist venues where "Truth and Certainty" are formally affirmed, you'll find no shortage of Christian leaders willing to palliate their supposed "convictions" almost to death in order to sound more "relevant" to postmoderns. The result has been a dearth of vigorous theological conviction which makes the whole drift instantly irrelevantbecause it's nothing but a thoughtless echo of what most of the world already believes (or disbelieves) about the knowability of objective truth anyway.
Ironically, the canonization of doubt as a virtue is also a clear echo of the very worst tendency of modernism (see the Ronald Nash quote above)which means, really, that the "postmodern" skepticism of our Emerging friends isn't technically postmodern at all. Their modernist ancestors were fine with so-called scientific certainties; but they despised spiritual certaintiesespecially certainties grounded in the conviction that the Bible is truly God's Word. Emergent Christianity has expanded (not rejected) the modernist mindset by insisting on uncertainty about everythingexcept, of course, the infallible dogma of uncertainty.
Which is why Brian McLarenwho is certain about virtually nothing elseis so cocksure in his conviction that everything must change.
It's also why the convergence of postmodern, post-evangelical and Emergent trends is just a big, noisy ride to nowhere.