Emerging From Criticism?
Recently I have been taking a break from blogging in order to enter the world of the blogosphere. This may sound strange, but what I mean by this is that I have been blog-hopping -- commenting here, reading there, assessing so-and-so's arguments, and critically evaluating my own views in light of what I have been reading. Over the past couple of weeks I have been visiting Brent Thomas's site, Colossians 3:16 quite often as he has been commenting about Emergent and the greater Emerging Church movement (ur...conversation). As usual, someone who is a part of the "conversation" stopped by to attempt to set Brent straight and remind him that "when a criticizm [sic] seems to resurface over and over in the same tired fashion, it doesn’t mean that that criticism is somehow more valid." Now, Brent is a smart guy. He holds a Master's from Southern Seminary and Bachelor's from Grand Canyon University, two schools that are anything but lightweights academically. But somehow guys like this just seem to speak as if Evangelicals who criticize Emergent are backwoods rednecks who need a good "edumacation." And that, to me, is terribly irritating, especially given my natural Southern drawl.
But, what I find most irritating is that it seems that Emergent-types folks are always disturbed by criticism. Brian McLaren loathes it. He wrote a whole chapter in A Generous Orthodoxy entitled, "For Mature Audiences Only," in which he shined a light on every potential weakness of his book in what seemed to be an attempt to "head [criticism] off at the pass." And just recently he wrote an article that appears on his website called, "A Friendly Note to My Critics" in which he criticizes the way his critics have criticized him (I shall now refrain from using that word for the rest of this paragraph). He asks his detractors to be fair and consider eight ways of doing so. Even the entire leadership of Emergent has responded to their naysayers in a June 2005 article posted on virtually every Emerging Church website in the free world.
So, why does it irritate me that these guys can't seem to stand being criticized? It's because the very nature of the Emergent movement is a criticism of Christianity in its present forms, most notably, Evangelicalism, from which virutally all the leaders of the Emerging "conversation" originate spiritually. Take, for example, these two paragraphs from the EmergentVillage.Com under the heading, "EXPLORE: THE EMERGENT STORY":
To rip out of context the words of the author of Hebrews in 8:13 (but only to borrow the logic behind them), "When He said, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear." Whoever wrote this clearly points out that there must be something "new" in Christianity. The "old" is just not cutting it apparently in their opinion and thus is "obsolete." And notice that in the second paragraph, the writer says, "a small number of Christians across the globe have begun taking on this challenge" (emphases mine). It seems clear that these guys think they hold the key to the future of Christianity. Even Brian McLaren, the humble pied-piper of Emergent reflects this attitude in his writing. In the introduction to A Generous Orthodoxy he writes,
This complex and many-faceted transition calls for innovative Christian leaders from all streams of the Christian faith around the world to collaborate in unprecedented ways. We must imagine and pursue the development of new ways of being followers of Jesus … new ways of doing theology and living biblically, new understandings of mission, new ways of expressing compassion and seeking justice, new kinds of faith communities, new approaches to worship and service, new integrations and conversations and convergences and dreams.
In recent decades, a small number of Christians across the globe have begun taking on this challenge, and now they are beginning to find one another to share insights and encouragement and hope. Growing networks in Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe, and North America are coming together in person and online for thoughtful conversation, prayer, worship, and action as part of this transforming mission.
The real purpose of this book, and much of my writing and preaching, is to try to help us relign our religion and our lives at least a little bit more with Someone. Doing so, I believe, will be good for us and good for our world. Christianity is the biggest and richest religion in the world, and if it goes anemic or compromised, backward or confused, aggressive or passive -- everyone loses. Christian and non-Christian. If its heart is right and its vision clear, everyone wins. In my own feeble and flawed way, I hope I can contribute to the church's health and vision . . . with your help, and of course, God's.Clearly, McLaren think that something is amuck in Christianity and needs to be fixed. Like any good writer, he makes clear the problem and hints at the solution. To be fair (as McLaren asked in his "Friendly Note"), let me post his next paragraph, which balances what he says, but still reveals his belief that Christianity, in its current expression, is flawed and, as such, must be in some way "re-formed":
For some reason my name is often associated with a book I wrote, A New Kind of Christian. That title might suggest a claim to understand and even exemplify a *New! and ***IMPROVED!!! kind of Christianity. In this book I hope to people will understand how a new kind of Christian is also an old kind of Christian, a person who knows and embraces our shared Christian history (the sweet, the spicy, the sour, and the smelly), and who seeks to move forward into the future resourced by the church in all its many current and past forms.I think what I am most perturbed about when someone like Zach (the "defender of all things Emergent" on Brent Thomas's blog) writes what he did in an attempt to discredit Brent's critique or deflect attention away from glaring problems in some of the Emerging Church's theological positions (or lack thereof), is that I agree with Brian McLaren and the other Emergent guys quite a bit. In fact, I think they are on to something, especially when as it relates to the practical exhibition of the Gospel in the postmodern culture. I think they are right-on to criticism an Evangelicalism that associates itself more with the Republican party than it does with the persecution of the saints in North Korea or when it boasts more about helping to elect a President than in helping provide for the poor. But, I am critical of the movement (read "conversation", for those who are sticklers about this) when it dismisses historical tenets of the faith or at least reduces them to mere non-necessities for fellowship or even salvation. And unfortuntely for those like Zach, who seem to want to dismiss such criticism, there are plenty who are smack-dab in the middle of the "conversation" who at times feel the exact same way as Brent or I do. Guys like Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller, Joe Thorn, Steve McCoy, and Ed Stetzer have all critiqued the Emergent conversation (or at least a participant or two in the conversation) at one time or another because of something theological that they believed was mishandled or irreverently pushed aside.
So maybe I am that dumb backwoods redneck who just doesn't get it, but shouldn't a group of people drawn together, intent on being "A New Kind of Christian" by calling for reform among fellow Christians be mature enough spiritually, Biblically, and philosophically to handle criticism and answer those who question their theological positions and praxis without resorting to tactics of dismissal and avoidance? I think we will know that the Emergent conversation has arrived at maturity when it can indeed deal with such criticism and even begin to critique itself.