New Horizons

Why We Are Not Emergent

Dale A. Van Dyke

Have you ever wished you knew more about the so-called emergent church? Maybe you were listening to a fellow believer rave about the latest emergent book and, though your inner theological warning light was blinking madly, you just didn't know how to enter the fray in a thoughtful, helpful way. So you smiled weakly and wished there was something you could read!

Well, your wish has come true. Put Why We're Not Emergent (by Two Guys Who Should Be) (Moody Publishers, 2008) on your reading list. The two guys are Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. DeYoung, a good friend of mine and the pastor of University Reformed Church in Lansing, Michigan, tackles the theological issues with chapters on the knowability of God, the authority of Scripture, the importance of doctrine, modernism, and the real Jesus—one who brings peace, but also promises wrath. Kluck, a member of DeYoung's church and a sports writer by trade, writes with a "man in the street" style, interviewing various pastors, scholars, and friends, while thoughtfully questioning the underlying dogmas of the emergent crowd: dialogue, story, community, and hip pastors.

Strengths of the Book

The authors know what they are talking about! They understand the emergent church culturally. They "should be" emergent because they are young, come from conservative backgrounds, and are culturally savvy. DeYoung explains:

I grew up in the evangelical ghetto of conservative West Michigan. I should be joining many of my peers in decrying the evangelical "bubble" and its closed-minded, doctrinally rigid accounting of the Christian faith. After having my evangelical faith deconstructed by many of the faculty at the middle-of-the-road denominational college I attended, I should have tried to make peace with my conservative upbringing and the more liberal Christianity of my professors by veering off into the emergent world of mystery, journey, and uncertainty—the perfect porridge of not quite fundamentalist, not quite liberal. (p. 14)

They "get" what makes the emergent movement move, socially as well as theologically:

You might be an emergent Christian if you listen to U2, Moby and Johnny Cash's Hurt (sometimes in church), use sermon illustrations from The Sopranos, drink lattes in the afternoon and Guinness in the evenings, and always use a Mac; ... if you don't like George W. Bush or institutions or big business or capitalism or Left Behind Christianity;... if you want to be the church and not just go to church; if you long for a community that is relational, tribal, and primal like a river or a garden ... (pp. 20-21)

I have to confess that I don't get the emergent church. As a sheltered and hopelessly modern (that is, linear and rational) baby boomer, I find that dialogue, mystery, and paradox give me indigestion. I enjoy red meat and answers. I have never seen a single episode of The Sopranos, don't know who Moby is, have never tried a Guinness, and am stuck with a PC. I could easily just write off the thousands of people in my town who flock to listen to emergent rock star Rob Bell (at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan) tell them we can't know what the Bible means. But I want to understand this movement because I want to reach the churched culture here in Grand Rapids that is rapidly embracing its own demise.

DeYoung and Kluck understand the movement because they have done their homework. After reading many emergent books and articles, they know who's who and engage the leading authors accurately and pointedly. In the blizzard of all the outrageous things emergent writers say, they have honed in on the most significant and pervasive outrages and have exposed those errors clearly and biblically.

Indicting

This book is the most thorough and helpful response to the emergent church that I've seen, because it understands and then has the courage to clearly indict the emergent errors. Without being inflammatory, DeYoung and Kluck boldly call the emergents to account. For example:

Because of the emergent church's implied doctrine of God's unknowability, the word mystery, a perfectly good word in it's own right, has become downright annoying.... It's some combination of pious confusion and intellectual laziness to claim that living in mystery is at the heart of Christianity....

Mystery as an expression of our finitude is one thing. Mystery as a way of jettisoning responsibility for our beliefs is another. Mystery as radical unknowing of God and His revealed truth is not Christian, and it will not sustain the church. (pp. 37-39)

The central chapter of the book may well be chapter 5, "Doctrine: The Drama Is in the Dogma." DeYoung deals with the emergents' confusing of the core elements of the Christian faith. For instance, they refuse to draw theological/ethical lines in the sand. They detest confessional statements. Tony Jones, formerly the national coordinator of Emergent Village, is quoted as saying, "Statements of faith are about drawing borders, which means you have to load your weapons and place soldiers at those borders.... That is simply not the ministry of Jesus.... [Statements of faith are] a modernistic endeavor that I'm not the least bit interested in." And when Jones was asked whether lesbian pastors were welcome in the emergent church, he answered, "We haven't yet found that there's anything that justifies us breaking fellowship with somebody else who loves and is trying to follow Jesus" (pp. 117-18).

Spencer Burke, in A Heretic's Guide to Eternity (with a forward by Brian McLaren), denies not only faith statements, but the necessity of faith itself: "Faith is many things, but it is not a requirement. It is faithfulness, the giving of oneself, trust in God, and belief that something greater than the material world exists for all of us.... In reality, nothing stands between us and God's grace" (p. 120).

DeYoung wisely applies Machen's insight—"When men talk thus about propagating Christianity without defending it, the thing that we are propagating is pretty sure not to be Christianity at all" (p. 107). He accurately notes:

This is maybe the biggest difference between emergent Christianity and historic evangelical Christianity. Being a Christian—for Burke, for McLaren, for Bell, for Jones, and for many others in the emerging conversation—is less about faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ as the only access to God the Father and the only atonement for sins before a wrathful God, and more about living the life that Jesus lived. (p. 120)

That is exactly right, and it is precisely why we need to understand and oppose this movement. The leading authors of the emergent church get the Bible wrong, the gospel wrong, Jesus wrong, and the Christian life wrong. Let's have the courage to mark these false prophets and the love to challenge professing believers who are in the movement! Emergent theology is sending people to hell. Are we willing to say that?

Weakness in the Book?

There is very little not to like about this book or its authors. They write alternating chapters, with very different but complementary styles. However, while I enjoyed Kluck's chapters, I eagerly underlined and devoured DeYoung's—probably a sign of my addiction to propositional "meat." I found Kluck a bit less sustaining, but I did appreciate his insights and I'm sure his chapters make the book accessible to a younger, hipper, postmodern readership.

Summary

This would be a great book to study with a young people's or college group. It addresses the issues they are facing in a relevant, clear, and engaging manner. Both writers have a great sense of humor and use it well, so that I found myself chuckling heartily as I was being taught.

This book would greatly benefit anyone concerned with the future of the American church. I don't believe the emergent movement is just a passing fad; it is too closely wed to the spirit of the age. Like their liberal forebearers, these men are well on their way to gutting an already impoverished American evangelicalism. For the sake of Christ's glory and men's souls, we need to be ready to answer the heresies of our time and to express the hope that is in our hearts.

The author is pastor of Harvest OPC in Grand Rapids, Mich. Reprinted from New Horizons, January 2009.

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