(Because I am in Omaha and don't want to
get up early Monday morning to post. Plus,
it'll take you some time to digest this.)
by Phil Johnson
ere's eighty-eight minutes of video that is at various times stupefying, thrilling, maddening, amusing, and intriguing. And that's just the opening statements. The key players on this video (in roughly the same order as those adjectives) are Tony Jones, Kevin DeYoung, Scot McKnight, and Brett-and-Alex Harris (Josh's younger twin brothers, barely out of their teens and highly likeable). They're all discussing and debating the Emergent/ing Church Movement. This is a panel discussion that took place two weeks ago at the Christian Book Expo in Dallas:
HT: Joe Coker
My own first impressions:
- Kevin DeYoung, as always, was right on. I love his patience, courage, clarity, and firmness. Pay attention to him; he is an important voice. At the end, he coined an expression I'll definitely use: "Postmodern squishitude."
- Scot Mcknight was unusually irritating. Especially his churlish chiding of DeYoung for (of all things) being "uncharitable" in his opening statementand then McKnight's stubborn refusal to get past that issue and talk about substantial matters. He comes off as cranky and irasciblenot anything like his blogging persona. (More like mine, frankly.) He must've been having a really bad day.
- Tony Jones (he of the "chastened epistemology") cracked me up with his bold (and visibly irritable) insistence that "I absolutely know Augustine." It turns out he "absolutely" knows the Reformers, too, and Pilgrims Progress. (He wrote annotations for an edition of Bunyan's allegory, you see.) He made this stunning declaration about his absolute knowledge of church history immediately after saying that until "a couple of years ago" he never even heard of anyone who believed that Scripture has a "plain meaning." Somehow, Jones gained his uncanny knowledge of Bunyan and the Reformers while remaining blissfully unaware that they all believed in the perspicuity of Scripture. Hmmm. Worse yet, Jones is basically denying that Scripture is capable of being known as thoroughly as he knows Augustine and the Reformers. Arrrrgh. (Epistemological humility turns out to be a really hard position to maintain when people keep pointing out that your arguments are full of holes.)
- It was likewise a high irony that Jones (who says he despises critiques based on caricatures) utterly misrepresented DeYoung's and other "young Reformed guys'" worldview, insisting that they naïvely think Christianity can and should be culturally neutral. Of course, the "Reformed guys" (especially the young ones) don't really believe such a thing. On the one hand, we don't believe Christian doctrine is so flexible that it can change like a chameleon to blend safely into any worldly culture. We also deny that it's necessary for Christianity to become something totally different for every culture and every generation. But we do believe Christianity should face every worldly culture honestly and confront them all, including our own. In other words, the gospel is about as far from "cultural neutrality" as possible.
- There is an unaccountable break at about 35 minutes into this video that destroys the flow and context of the discussion for a moment, but when the video comes back, Scot McKnight is working himself into a second diatribe against Kevin DeYoung for being "uncharitable" in his opening statement. Mark Galli (moderator) tries bravely to get the train back on track, pointing out that "uncharitable" involves a judgment of motives. He asked if Scot merely meant Kevin has been "inaccurate." Surely he didn't mean Kevin is deliberately sinning in his critique of Emergent/ing. Scot fulminates and sputters for a few seconds more, and then Tony Jones tag-teams him and pummels Kevin some more, saying (in so many words) there's no question about it: Kevin is behaving wickedly, and it's really ticking Tony off.
- I think it's funny to hear what criticisms of the Emergent/ing movement get under Jones's and McKnight's skin. McKnight seems to think all analyses of the movement should simply ignore the loudest, best-known heretics (or better yet, the critics should shut up altogether and let Scot do the analysis). Jones is clearly irked by how the critics of Emergent/ing criticize things like candles and couchesand yet in that very same context Jones himself reduces the significance of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Menno Simons to the fact that they were "doing things that were 'cultural.'" (He even "makes" the "quotation marks" with his "fingers"). Jones doesn't seem to grasp the legitimate doctrinal concerns that are at the heart of the major criticisms of the Emergent/ing controversy. I suspect Scot McKnight does understand that serious biblical and theological issues are at stake, but it makes him angry when that's what someone wants to talk about.
- Perhaps the most uncomfortable moment (in a discussion fairly filled with awkward poignancies) was Tony Jones's analysis of why the Mark Driscoll branch of the early Emerging Movement has renounced the rest of the movement. ("It's not just for doctrinal reasons.") One of the Harris twins (you've gotta like them, right?) later gently chided Tony, saying that remark was "unhelpful."
- I loved it when the Wesleyan liberal woman asking a question from the floor unwittingly sided with Kevin DeYoung, admonishing Scot and Tony that they need to understand and acknowledge and embrace Brian McLaren's prominence in the movement. (The lady also took a poke at Tony Jones for not including John Wesley in his list o' Reformers & Radicals.)
- For the umpteenth time Scot McKnight inveighed against Kevin DeYoung ("I told you these things on the phone!") and decried the unfairness of critics who keep bringing up Brian McLaren. Kevin responded by reading a paragraph from his book that answered that charge. Kevin then pleaded for the conversation to turn to something substantial. What are the distinctives of Emergent/ing and how can we assess this movement through the lens of Scripture? (I heard you, Kevin. No one who was actually there in the room seemed to get it, though.)
- I would like to have eavesdropped on Scot McKnight's thoughts when a questioner from the audience asked Jones about his epistemology. Jones had already said that his discovery of postmodernism at Fuller Seminary was the turning point that thrust him into Emergent/ing-style thought. McKnight usually bristles when critics suggest that postmodern epistemology lies at the root the Emergent/ing movement's agenda. But in answer to this question from the floor, Jones went so far as to say that the quest for certainty engenders "power and violence." ("That could be Christian, or it could be . . . Hitler!"Jones's very words.)