Most of us here at Modern Reformation like the Emergent Church folks. Frankly, it’s a bit of a relief to have someone within Evangelicalism making the same points we’ve been trying to make for the past fourteen years. We also like
their interest in liturgy, in church history (prior to 1972), and in engaging with Scripture in ways that take it beyond the “handbook for living” genre that so many of our own churches have adopted. And, truth be told, we were always the nerdy kids in the youth group, so now that the cool kids with their cool hair, tats, and body piercings are saying much the same thing we do, we can’t help but look around with some appreciation.
But the appreciation is a nervous one. As much as we are warmed by their insightful criticism of Evangelicalism, we just can’t shake the sense that these children of the megachurch are taking their postmodern angst and marketing it to the urban jungles just like their chino-wearing, cool hair dads did in middle America. That, of course, leads us to wonder if Emergent will really offer anything substantially different than what they are critiquing.
After reading their books and blogs, conversing with them, and attending their conferences most of us just want to grab a beer and talk with these men and women. I think we would find that we have much in common and I would hope that our own like-minded efforts might serve to keep the Emergent folks from swinging the pendulum too far in an unhealthy direction. We’re grateful to New Testament scholar D.A. Carson for making the same point in his article, which we’ve adapted from his new book Becoming Conversant with Emergent. Carson’s article is a good overview of the Emergent movement’s concerns with a few pointed observations about evaluating the movement as it grows into maturity.
Shane Rosenthal, the executive producer of the White Horse Inn, had a chance to visit the Emergent conference that was held in San Diego this spring. His first-hand report also helps those who are curious about the movement get a better idea of its strengths and weaknesses. Turning to critique, Reformed theologian and editor in chief Michael Horton takes a hard look at the theology and practices that characterize the Emergent movement. We’ve also included a transcript of a discussion by younger Reformed and Lutheran pastors on how our own churches are responding to the concerns we hold in common with the Emergent movement. To make sure that we’re not dealing with caricatures we’ve included interviews with Brian McLaren and the late Stanley Grenz as well as extensive reviews of the seminal books in the movement.
Will the Emergent Church be anything other than another passing evangelical fad? We hope so. But in order to be such the movement will have to acknowledge how their history as an evangelical institution (as the Young leaders Network and Terra Nova Project, arms of the Leadership Network) continues to shape their present course. In order to be a real force for good within Evangelicalism the movement will have to go beyond Evangelicalism and appropriate a churchly tradition that gives it real depth, not just an ecclesiological field guide. Otherwise, their efforts at reform will be truncated, for Evangelicalism can’t be reformed. By its very nature the movement is shaped not by confession or doctrine but by personality, culture, and circumstance. And thus far, that seems to be what is shaping the efforts of the Emergent Church as well.