The emergent church proclaims that they are seeking to reach this generation of postmoderns. While I applaud that goal, I am quite concerned with the message of most of the emergent church. I mention four areas that I have noticed being promoted by emergent leaders.
First, there is an incredible naïveté at best, and at worst a selective and superficial presentation of culture and history. Everything they deem wrong with the church is from modernism, yet everything they are doing is right because it is not modern. For example, systematizing doctrines and things like expository preaching are said to be vestiges of modernity as opposed to being biblically grounded.
Most would agree that modernity runs roughly from 1789 and the fall of Bastille to 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall ((This exact time frame is put forward by Thomas C. Oden)). Emergents seem to be unaware of the systematizing of doctrine in church councils like Nicene (325 AD) and Chalcedon (451 AD), which predate the modern era by more than a millennium, and systematizers of theology like Augustine, Luther, and Calvin…all who lived well before the modern age. They fail to recognize the distinction between modern and premodern, the good of modernity as well as the weaknesses of postmodernity. We can even go back to the Ten Commandments, as well as the Levitical laws, which were codified by God Himself.
The truth is that if you want to have more than a superficial understanding of an issue, the necessary information must be gathered and placed in an order that is conducive to learning. Moreover, those who remained faithful to the Scripture during the modern age were not the products of modernity, but classic theological liberalism, neo-orthodoxy and their offspring were, which is precisely whom the emergents immolate.
Second, they rail against propositional truth. Emergents like to cast stones at any teaching of or emphasis upon propositional truth. They proclaim, “we emphasize a relationship with God rather than the propositional truth about God…”
Of course, this sounds good—a relationship vs. a cold hard truth—but like other such claims, it is dreadfully superficial and inaccurate. For example, a propositional truth is simply a claim that can either be affirmed or denied. “God is love” “Jesus is God” or “Jesus died for our sins” are all propositional truth claims. Now it should be obvious that it is impossible to have a relationship with someone without propositional truths. I love my wife Gina, and I have a relationship based upon the truths that Gina exists, she is the person I love, and she accepts my love, and all of these are propositional truths.
Third, they have many logical fallacies. One that they commit regularly is the “either or” fallacy. They commit the “either or” fallacy when they create a false dichotomy—propositional truth or relationship—when it is actually “both and.” This is pervasive in emergent attacks upon the church, Scripture, truth, etc. They pose situations where one must choose between, for example, propositions or relationship, preaching or community, exposition or narrative, or a myriad of other choices when in fact one does not have to choose between them and one shouldn’t. While there are things one is forced to choose between like loving or not loving someone, many of the choices they put forward are artificial in that one should not—and at times really cannot—choose, but rather should embrace both. For example, a church can be committed to preaching the truth and thereby experience a deep sense of spiritual community.
Fourth, they are rather fond of arguing from analogy rather than propositional truth. To assure that they win their argument with those who are unfamiliar with their tactics or the Scripture, their analogies always use objects for their side which evoke pleasurable images and thoughts, and objects that are not so soothing for their opponent’s position. For example, they may use a “trampoline” for their position and a “brick wall” for their opponent’s. Of course in the presentation, there are only fun associations with the trampoline and the wall keeps people out, confines one, etc. It should be noted that analogies can illustrate but they cannot prove anything. Ironically, remember that more accidents are reported annually because of trampolines than almost any other toy.
This is just a glimpse into the tragic postmodernizing of the faith by the emergent. For a more in-depth understanding, I highly recommend the following:
D.A. Carson’s book, “Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church” (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2005) is an excellent scholarly look at the emergent church.
“Why we’re not emergent” by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2008) is equally insightful but written in a way that will be enjoyed without sacrificing theological acumen and easily understood by young adults with little theological background.