From Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) in the chapter entitled, “Modernism: The Boogeyman Cometh”, Kevin DeYoung states:

The biggest irony about the emergent church may be just this: For all their chastisement of all things modern, they are in most ways thoroughly modern.  Many of the leading books display a familiar combination of social gospel liberalism, a neoorthodox view of Scripture, and a post-Enlightenment disdain for hell, the wrath of God, propositional revelation, propitiation, and anything more than a vague moralistic, warmhearted, adoctrinal Christianity.

Much of what I have read of the Emergent Church is very reminiscent, in my mind, of turn-of-the-century (20th) liberalism – just repackaged.  Perhaps there truly is nothing new under the sun.  I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially from those who disagree – how is it different? 

Before you comment, I do recognize that not every person who embraces the emergent movement believes the same things.  The quote above is a summary of emergent movement “leadership” positions based on their writings.

9 comments
  1. Interesting perspective. I do think we have to recognize we say that something is “post”-modern that we are both saying that it is something that comes after modern, but yet still very connected to it.

    As someone who tries to participate in the emergent conversation myself I see elements that I can only describe as in some ways post-conservative, as well as in some ways post-liberal. I agree that there are modern liberal influences in the conversation, but I would make a distinction between the liberal and the post-liberal.

    I think other influences, everything from evangelicalism to monasticism, has infused the liberal elements with a whole new perspective (as well as the other way around). I agree with some of the list of common “disdain” of liberalism that is present, but I would disagree in particular that post-liberals are “moralistically vague” or “adoctrinal”.

    I think the emergent conversation has shown signs of having a very strong sense of Christology which influences both doctrine and morality. There are doctrinal values, particularly concerning the person of Christ, which fuel the morality. This is why terms like “incarnational” and “missional” are becoming popular because they are connected with who Jesus is (in the incarnation) and who he is in us as the church (missional). I also think when it comes to things like a return to an interest in “social gospel” that this too has a much stronger Christology than the modern liberal’s version.

  2. Thank you for your thoughts. I do appreciate the missional nature of the emergent movement. I'm going to post a couple times on the emergent perspective of the Kingdom as well.

    I'm concerned that within their Christology the crucifixion and resurrection are being downplayed though.

  3. Thanks Shane, I disagree thought that the “crucifixion and resurrection are being downplayed”; especially the resurrection which I am not sure how it can even be accused of being downplayed.

    As for the crucifixion, I think I can understand the misunderstanding why some may perceive it as being downplayed. I think the emergent conversation has leaned into almost an eastern orthodox perspective in this regard; a perspective that starts with the incarnation in its theology rather than the cross.

    The evangelical perspective seems different, it focuses on the cross as payment almost exclusively and the incarnation is only seen as the vehicle in which God came to make that payment- nothing more. He was only born to die.

    This does not mean that the cross is absent from the emergent conversation, but rather it is put into perspective. The idea is that the cross is an extension of the incarnation. God “with us”, the “Word becoming flesh” is the good news as God enters into and shares in our very humanity. The reality of this though is that by doing so he would also share in the worst of humanity which includes suffering its injustice, sin, and even death. The resurrection is also vital as it demonstrates that their is victory from our old humanity as God brings us a new humanity through Christ.

    I actually think this is a much stronger and holistic Christology that focus more on WHO Jesus is and not just on what he did.

  4. I don't disagree that we should look to who Jesus was, but I guess I've seen some problems with how Jesus has been painted by some within the emergent movement.

    Should we learn from his teaching, yes. Should we learn from His ministry, yes. I wholeheartedly agree. I don't know what evangelical church you've been to that doesn't do that though. I certainly do in mine.

    Jesus Himself said he came to seek and to save that which was lost. How was that to be done? Via the cross. Paul said that he preached Christ and Him crucified.

    I think Scripture is pretty clear that the cross is the means by which our sin is paid for. Jesus is our propitiation. He is our substitute. The resurrection demonstrates His victory over sin and death.

    Those who place their faith in Him, die to themselves and are new in Christ. But this collective “old humanity” and “new humanity” happening… what exactly do you mean by that?

  5. Shane,

    I hear what you are saying, but the cross is more than just a payment, and the resurrection is more than just our “proof of purchase” or our receipt.

    It is not that we have the cross and Jesus' teaching (ministry) as two separate things. But, they both spring from the LIFE of Christ. His very life as God incarnate is as much part of his coming to “seek and to save that which was lost” as the cross is. Like I said before, the cross is actually an extension of the incarnation. When Paul says it is by the cross the context of that is the fact that God became a human being to the same extent as us and thus bore the sins, injustice, suffering, and death that comes with being human for us all.

    Paul points to Christ as the “second Adam”, the first born of a new and restored humanity. A new birth through the resurrection of Christ.

    I just read your comment more carefully where you ask what I mean by the “old humanity” and “new humanity”. Perhaps some of what I just said helped to clarify what I mean, but I will try to elaborate a bit more.

    What I mean by this is that the work of Jesus in the world is a work in humanity itself. It's far more than just “picking up the tab” for where humanity has fallen into debt (though that analogy certainly still is true). This salvation isn't merely individualistic (though certainly everyone has their own responsibility) but rather not only is humanity restored to God through Jesus, but we are restored to one another. Community is being re-birthed where we are connected to one another again too.

    This is why early followers of Jesus were known as people of the WAY. Christianity wasn't just a belief, it was a WAY to live into this new humanity, this Kingdom of God present in our broken world. Early followers of Jesus did not compartmentalize the cross and Jesus' teachings into two separate categories- the cross was as much about the WAY as any of Jesus' teachings.

    I think as evangelicals (and that's my background too) we have a tendency to compartmentalize the cross as something separate from his life and teachings- especially when we read Paul. But I think we are transferring this onto Paul as we read his letters and the rest scripture through of our evangelical filters.

    When Paul talked about giving to the poor, caring for the orphans and widows, that isn't something we do in addition to the WAY of the cross, that IS the WAY of the cross.

    I think the saddest thing in our world today isn't that people have turned away from God (or failed to turn back toward him), it is that thinking they have turned toward God they have turned away from humanity.

    The incarnation of God in Christ shows us that these things are inseparabley connected. The very life of Jesus fulfills the whole Law in its efforts to describe righteousness, in the WAY the life of Jesus loves both God and neighbor.

    The message of the cross isn't just about believing our debt has been paid in full, it is about living the WAY of the cross ourselves. A WAY that lays down our lives for others, that so embraces the humanity around us that we are willing to share in the suffering, and injustices placed on our neighbor. A WAY so radical that it strives to be connected with our neighbor at all costs, even if we must bare our neighbors sin, or even if our neighbor sets himself up as our enemy.

    Any understanding of the cross that has reduced its meaning to just removing our “spiritual debt” from God's score card, and fails to embrace humanity itself, as God himself embraced humanity on the cross, as a WAY of becoming a transforming agent in humanity, has missed the depth of the meaning of the cross all together.

    Ok, that was a really long sentence, and a long comment all together. I hope I have answered your question in all of that. I'll try to keep any further comments shorter.

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