Part 2 in a series.

emergent JesusWhen surveying the Emergent movement it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that what started off as a creek has become more like the Amazon River.  And as it happens with every movement that experiences substantial growth, the emergent river includes several tributaries.  An expert on the movement, Scot McKnight, identifies five streams of influence and eight characteristics within the ECM.  One blogger writes, “Of course those within the movement would cringe at being called a movement preferring the term ‘conversation’.  However, many would agree that the emergent church now has too many followers, published books and meetings to be called simply a ‘conversation’.”  The movement is vast no doubt.  And it is varied. 

The witty G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition. Thus we have two great types—the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins. He admires them especially by moonlight, not to say moonshine. Each new blunder of the progressive or prig becomes instantly a legend of immemorial antiquity for the snob. This is called the balance, or mutual check, in our Constitution.”  Chesterton was speaking of the British political system of course when he uttered those words, but I find them applicable when it comes to differences between various groups and factions, political or not—as to why movements pop up in the first place.

Some of us decry the “D” word but I’m of the persuasion that as long as there is Christianity there will be denominations for the simple fact that we have differing ideas.  And Christianity isn’t going anywhere, so we might as well try and learn from one another.  I’m going to ask some tough questions but let me say this: I’m not here to promote an anti-emergent position, that should have been clear in my 1st post in this series (which you might take a few moments to read if you haven’t yet)…  although I do have what I consider to be serious concerns about the movement.   But questions aren’t bad in and of themselves and since the emergents seem to have a few of their own, I figure I can ask some too. 
 
Not attempting to compare Christianity to politics, but there has always been different political parties since the days of cavemen, it keeps things in check as Chesterton pointed out.  It helps keep the truck moving if anything.  What’s the chances the ECM may need us evangelicals as I think us evangelicals may need the ECM?  There are those who demonize the other.  And some argue that there is no distinction, but I am awful leery of such a position.  The concern I have when it comes to the ECM and its various streams is: Could they just be spinning their wheels?  Or, do I need to wake up and get a clue, is the ECM an undiluted form of Christianity and I am just blind as a bat?  Do evangelicals like myself need to toss our old school delusions and just start over? 
 
I can relate with the emergents if it is a better way they seek.  My way and my church’s way of doing things surely isn’t the only way.  For instance, folks on the other side of the globe have a far better way of “doing community” than we do on this side (and since I’ve been there, I’ll go ahead and say they do, persecution and the church being forced to go “underground” has been a huge catalyst as the missiologists tell us). 
 
One thing that I am wondering is if the movement is a sub-culture within evangelicalism?  Is the ECM an all out rejection of evangelicalism?  Or, is the ECM a different version of Christianity?  I am an evangelical, but if some guy on the other side of the theological street says he’s by no means an evangelical but states that he acknowledges his sin and subsequently deserves the wrath of God and that he has faith in the finished work of Christ and he denounces his works as his pass into God’s good graces—by all means I will receive him as a brother in Christ.
 
It seems to me that the growth the ECM is experiencing and the people it is attracting is due in large part to a sort of push back if you will (I use the word “growth” only and hesitate to use “success” being that it is such a subjective term and growth doesn’t have to equal success, malignant tumors tend to grow).  Are the emergents predominantly dissenters of the greater evangelical establishment with its addictions to bureaucracies and excess—is that the main cog in the emergent wheel?  Many who are indeed emergent or consider themselves as such will gladly tell you of their skepticism if not outright contempt for all things mainline evangelical (let me mention the likes of Driscoll, who is certainly on an altogether page than Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, and Brian McLarenDriscoll makes the distinction that he and those within his camp are “emerging” vs. “emergent”). 
 
I ask myself, “Why can’t I be both reformed in my theology and progressive about it—or emergent?”  Now, I wouldn’t define “progressive” to mean embracing things such as homosexuality as acceptable forms of behavior just because it’s not popular to hold a position that draws a line in the sand and says something is wrong (before I get burned at the stake for being a bigot—one of my closest friends is a practicing lesbian and our friendship dating back to 2003 never has been based on our sexual preferences nor the lack of such, and our friendship hasn’t and will not implode over the issue).  I don’t propose that heterosexual sins, gluttony, drunkenness, and gossip are activities which God condones.  Although I can and do commit these sorts of sins as well as a litany of others, my sin is no different than the sin of the 1st century Christians.  I am a wretched sinner and I need a Savior who is suffiecient in terms of shielding me from the penalty I deserve. 
 
Some things change, most things don’t.  Sure, Christians can look differently today than say one hundred years ago, let alone a thousand years ago.  What makes us think we should keep doing things the same worn out way if there are more effective means for reaching the culture we find ourselves living amongst?  But the attempt to be faithful to biblical doctrine doesn’t have to be sacrificed on the altar of misguided and detrimental assumptions that state you have to throw out the parts of the bible which postmoderns can’t stomach in order to be effective.  Paul was emphatic, the gospel is an offense to those who are perishing—did I miss the memo?  Are there no longer folks who are at enmity with God, and were we suppose to stop preaching the cross with the dawning of some new era?  Do the emergents even believe that those who don’t know the forgiveness which only can be found in Christ are lost, or do the emergents contend that they are just a little misguided and it’s no big deal? 
 
Do the emergents believe in the love of God as demonstrated by the atoning work of Christ (atonement isn’t my idea or a new one btw)?  Do the emergents propose that going green and even doing community service should take precedence over a doctrine that keynotes justification by faith alone?  Is Ephesians 2:8-9 a text we can break bread over? I may seem facetious, but these questions matter to me.  Does the grace of God and his priceless riches in the person of Jesus Christ trump debates over a Christian version of evolution vs. creationism?  I feed the poor, I honor God’s Creation, I condemn such things as human trafficking, and I pray, but those priorities are not enough to constitute a healthy and vibrant Christian community for me.  I can have fellowship over those things with a support group for my hang ups. 
 
I want to celebrate life and freedom in Christ in the company of others who rejoice in the redemption of their souls and not just sip on a cup of coffee together talking theology.  My picture of Christianity entails more than sharing a shovel building a shelter for the homeless (granted these are wonderful things to do but they are by no means the vehicle by which I have peace with God, nor the height of Christian mission).  I think it’s fair to ask if Jesus Christ crucified and triumphant over death, hell, and the grave is being proclaimed by the emergents (that is nothing less than the power of God unto salvation, according to Paul anyways—unless he’s changed his opinion?). 
 
Those things are a part of the Kingdom that Christ establishes within the hearts and minds of the redeemed that I’m not willing to part with that I’m wondering if the emergents get.   
 
My sampling of reading has left me a bit confused as to what the movement is really passionate about besides social justice, redefining Christianity, and taking on modern day evangelicalism.  I have noticed that they are pretty good at undermining, poking fun at, questioning, and even attacking evangelicalism (and I will heartily agree that much of what passes for evangelicalism is an easy target, comical, sad, needs questioning, and needs no defending but rather condemnation).  I will say that it is apparent that social justice is more than a buzzword for true blue emergents. 
 
But what I can’t say says even more.  When it comes to the person of Jesus Christ, I can’t say that it’s clear what the emergents believe besides that he is the supreme example to follow, sort of like Buddha (I plan to expound on this train of thought in more detail in another post).
    
Thoughts?
 
More to come in Part 3.
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