Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be), Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck, Moody Publishers, 256 pages.
Reviewed by Howard Merrell
"[Pastor Cory] is taking me on a driving tour of Passaic, New Jersey . . . you get the distinct feeling of being in another culture. Cory drives me through the housing project where he almost got mugged delivering a pizza. . . .
If Cory wasn’t so busy “living missionally,” he would probably have time to read all of the books on missional living, which would tell him to intentionally get a house in an urban area, get some kind of job that would allow him to rub shoulders with “regular people,” and then “do life” with them. My feeling, though, is that Cory is living missionally by default. He took the job delivering pizzas because he was at the time, The Poor.”
‘I have a cousin who never smoked until he started going to an emergent church,’ [Cory] says, half joking. . . . [F]or a lot of people it’s still just about those peripheral things. It’s been a safe harbor for people who either have been wounded or think they’ve been wounded by mainstream evangelical churches.’” (230-31)
The quote above, from and about a friend of Ted Kluck, sums up a lot of the book.
Kevin and Ted write alternate chapters in the book. Kevin is a pastor in a conservative reformed church—solidly evangelical and committed to communicating the Bible. Ted is the member of a conservative reformed church, a sports-writer and ex-football player. They are longtime friends, so while their articles are completely separate they are writing from the “same page.” As one would expect Kevin’s writing is more heavy-duty on the theology, while Ted’s is more human-interest. As the title would imply, both of these guys are in the age-demographic, and both grew up in a conservative (at least sometimes legalistic) evangelical environment. They also appear to have at least some of the “with it” quotient. They are prime suspects to be emergent, yet aren’t. While their reasons are many, it appears to me that mostly Kevin has concluded that emergent thought isn’t right from a Biblical perspective, while Ted observes that it isn’t satisfying from the viewpoint of what my soul needs. In spite of the “bad coffee,” he likes his church.
Probably a good many of you who read this are like me. You have a general idea of what the “Emergent Conversation” is about, you have read a book or two, seen some articles and blogs and have heard about it from your kids, but you don’t have a real good handle on the movement. Coming from that position, I found the book helpful. It would be less helpful to people who have done a lot of reading on the subject. I found a lot of information that would guide me if I choose to do some further reading.
Some of the points the authors make that stand out to me:
- There is the obvious observation that those who call themselves emergent, or who are called emergent, represent a very broad spectrum. Some are evangelicals who see the need to be more relevant, others are heritics.
- There is a need for clarification. It is incumbent on the emergent crowd to separate themselves from the more radical elements included in the descriptive title. These are my words, “If you are not heretical, draw some lines that show how you are different from those in the movement who clearly are.”
- The authors observe an elitist mentality about many emergents. Ted and Kevin weren’t heavy-handed in pointing this out, but their illustrations make it clear. I could see Frazier and Niles Crane joining an emergent church, while still continuing to look down on their dad, Martin. They would wax eloquent over a pint of Guinness about the need to become immersed in culture, just not his. (see 228-230)
- There is great danger in emergents becoming just another flavor of what they are rejecting. Instead of the Republican, SUV driving, steak from the grill crowd; they might do nothing more than become the Prius driving Democrats who crunch granola and drink good coffee.
- The authors point out a definite lack of emphasis on the core issues. From McLaren’s refusal to give an answer about hell, to Bell’s making light of the importance of the Virgin Birth, to the de-emphasis of the necessity of saving faith—the need to come to a point of trusting the Lord as Savior from sin, there is a danger that cardinal doctrines of Christianity are being discounted or ignored. How much of what makes us Christian can one throw out and still be Christian? Here is a quote: “. . . 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 . . .” (120) The authors rightly point out that this is very similar to old Theological Liberalism.
- Like many of us, the authors are frustrated with all the talk of dialogue, conversation, doubt, and uncertainty. They point out that there are things we can know. Why is it that Rob Bell can make precise pronouncements about the Rabbinic/Talmudic-derived meanings of many texts (DeYoung, points out the inadequacy of much of this, p.121 >) yet we can’t figure out what the scripture says about issues that impact our current world, like homosexual practice?
- If we are going to follow Jesus we have to know who He is, and which way He is going. There must be doctrine.
While it is clear from the beginning where the two authors will land—their title makes that plain—I thought they were fair in their treatment of the subject. They weren’t the opposite of “I’d rather be wrong with Brian McLaren than right with D. A. Carson.” (This is a quote that Ted gives from a conversation with Carson. I did a quick look to see if I could find it on Sweet’s website, I didn’t. I do remember being shocked—not doubt the intention—reading the statement a couple of years ago in Relevant Magazine. Whether the magazine was quoting Sweet or not, I don’t know.)
The authors point out that some of the criticism of Evangelicalism that fuels much of Emergence is valid. The Epilogue challenges both sides of the argument to become more of what the Lord wants us to be.
I thought it was a good read. I encourage others to get a copy.
BTW. I found this article online, which covers much of the same material as the book in this review, http://www.apologeticsindex.org/612-emergent-epistemology