Last week, at the invitation of a friend, I attended an evening chapel at Grove City College. The evening was called “A Conversation with the Emergent Church” (note punny title). The speakers were BJ Woodworth (Pastor of The Open Door church in Pittsburgh) and Kevin DeYoung (Co-author of Why We’re Not Emergent- By Two Guys that Should Be). Although the men disagreed on some issues it was in fact a conversation, not a debate.
Over the last few months the emergent church has become a subject of interest for me. From what I’ve heard and read thus far I believe the emergent movement is asking some very important questions. It also seems to be emphasizing important issues that have been neglected by Christendom for too long. In truth, I’m probably more emergent than what I even realize. But I’m also a semi-cynic which means I still have some questions and reservations about the movement in general. I do realize that “emergent” is very hard to define because of the diversity within the movement, but most of my critiques are aimed at main-stream emergence (define that one as you like).
Politics- Emergents are typically critical of the religious right and everything that goes with the whole system. Amen. I have serious issues with the Moral Majority as well. However, I find it disturbing that some of the leading emergents (i.e. Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and Donald Miller) endorsed Pres. Obama during his campaign. All in the name of social justice of course. Is this really any different than what the religious right is doing?
Mood and style- Are emergent churches really doing church differently (pardon the usage) or do they just implement cooler terminology for traditional practices? I guess I’m just wondering how long urban will be hip.
Cultural relevance and contextualization- Modernism is a bad word among emergents. Yes, I believe Christendom in general embraced modernism too much. But if the church should address current cultural issues (as emergents believe), was the church wrong to speak the language of modernism to a modern generation? I also fear that an overemphasis on culture will overlook some people. What about the modernists and pre-modernists among us? Niche marketing will always leave out a certain group. I also wonder exactly how much the church should change with the culture? Where does non-conformity (Romans 12) come in? Separation? Peculiarity?
Truth and knowing- This is a tough one for me because I’m not exactly sure where I’m at on this issue. I do appreciate several points that DeYoung made. First, God did not call us to doubt, but to belief. Second, the blind-men-and-elephant analogy does not work when discussing God. This time the “elephant” spoke. Enough on that.
Gospel of Christ- “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’” (Matthew 10:34-36, ESV) These words of Jesus always shock me. With their emphasis on engaging the postmodern culture I fear that emergents do injustice the teachings of Christ by trying to make them more palatable. In effect this is no different than seeker-sensitive, suburban mega-churches (perish the thought).
In case anybody is wondering by now, I have much good to say about emergence/post-evangelicalism. But I don’t have time for that right now. Again, these critiques are directed toward a particular color on the broad spectrum of emergence. Sorry about the negativity, but I felt like quibbling. Plus, I’m trying to sort through some of this stuff. Feedback welcome.