Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Book Review, Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be)

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,

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Wasting time:

The future, in about an hour, Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Morse:

I'm sitting in the Worship Center of South New Millford Baptist Church, just off of I 81 in PA, just south of the NY line. Over 35 years ago I went to school just down the road at Baptist Bible College in Clarks Summit PA.

I'm in the back of the room--hopefully, not wasting time--trying to occupy until the wedding comes. The bride and groom are following a practice that I always recommend, but that couples seldom do. They are getting their pictures taken before the wedding. So it is possible that some of you will see pictures--even on the other side of the world--of Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Morse before they are married. They assured me that they would follow-through.

(Speaking of weddings, my son, Chad, is engaged to Tanisha Lehman. Watch for further word, but an early fall wedding is being planned. Here is a picture of Chad's proposal. He surprised her at a meeting that her boss called. How's that for a fringe benefit?)

While I'm here trying to use my time well, I've been thinking about the almost 35 years that I have used at Covington Bible Church. When I tell people that I have been in one church for almost 35 years they almost always go into their "That's wonderful!" routine. Not necessarily. As I frequently respond, "Complacency looks an awfully lot like faithfulness."
Have I wasted my time.?
I'm not after an answer from you. The only one that matters is the "Well done . . . " from my Lord, or the lack thereof. I write, hopefully, to provoke some thought on your part. Even if I am wasting my time, perhaps my failure can serve to keep you from squandering this most precious of commodities.

Watching the couple before me has reminded of how time ought to be spent. Linda and Tim, Jacob's parents, were newly-weds when they first came to Covington Bible. Jacob was about 8 when he came to their home, as the result of a horrendous tragedy. Jake and Crystal plan to spend their lives serving the Lord. While occupying here, I received an instant message from my son who is serving the Lord on the other side of the earth. Time is to be invested in people.

Speaking of which, people are arriving for the wedding so I need to end this.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Last week I had the privilege of hanging out with this group of teens. They are the member of the Jr. Hi Sunday School class at Covington Bible Church. If you examine the picture you can tell that they got together to work.

Sure we took some basketball breaks and there was some serious visiting that went on--not to mention guys watching girls and girls trying to figure out guys (Sorry parents, but it seems inevitable.), but bottom line they youngsters did a good job.

They stained some picnic tables and benches.

Got some Mother's Day gifts ready.

Cleaned, discarded and organized.
Young people have always been an important part of what God is doing. David, Daniel, Esther, Phillip and John are examples of people who were far from gray-headed who accomplished great things for the Lord.
Some of you might look at that picture and wonder why the old guy is hanging out with the kids. Why would the Senior-Pastor take time to teach a bunch of kids?
I reply, "Why would I not?"
I won't be in Covington this Sunday, but the week after I expect to be in class with this awesome group of kids. I look forward with eager anticipation to seeing what these guys and gals will do for the Lord.
They'll paint something red!
Go guys.

It was a good day.

To those of you who are convinced that all of today's teens are no, good, useless, etc. I offer the kids in this picture as evidence to the contrary.

It has always been like this

Friday, May 9, 2008

Taking a Stand!

I have no doubt that many of you won’t get what I’m about to say.
Others of you with a similar background and position to mine will absolutely get it. Of those who get it, some will be utterly opposed to what I say. They will take a stand against me.
It is to those who get what I am saying and find some measure of agreement with my sentiments, that I primarily address these thoughts. I hope this article will provide some affirmation and encouragement:

I really don’t get criticized all that much. I serve in a smaller ministry in a small town, so I don’t get the attention of the watchdogs of whatever they are watching. But for years I have grown tired of the idea put forth by my more conservative friends (That is how they would likely describe themselves, though I often wonder just what they are conserving.) that they take stands, while people like me refuse to do so. We are "wish-washy," "soft," "compromising," "neo-whatever," and lacking in backbone.
“Taking a stand” conjures up images of knights, and war and nobility—standing on principle, a refusal to cave-in—that sort of thing. I’ll grant that the friends I speak of are great at taking stands. I’m just not prepared to grant them a monopoly on the matter; I take stands too:

  1. I take a solid stand on the Bible. The Bible is the word of God. It ought to be made available to as many people as possible. Insisting on using a translation of the Bible that is 400 years old, which uses a form of English that is unintelligible to a large portion of the English speaking world makes no sense. It is my stand on the Bible that compels me to use translations that both accurately handle the original languages, and clearly speak the lingua-franca of the people to whom I minister.
    The “King James Only” crowd does not stand for the Bible. They take a cultic stand for one translation of the Bible, a translation that has been very useful, but is no longer the best translation available.
  2. I take a firm stand on music. There are some other considerations, but basically it comes down to this. God could have given examples of acceptable and objectionable music. He didn’t. There is no music in the Bible. A variety of styles of music can be used in ministry.
  3. I am a staunch defender of the Bible’s teaching on Christian liberty. Those who place personal preference or group acceptance ahead of Biblical fidelity ought to be exposed and confronted.
  4. I believe in the unity of the Body of Christ. I am not negating the need for appropriate separation. I am saying that acting as if it is virtuous to slice and dice the church, for which Christ died, is not Biblical. (This extends to you more conservative brethren as well. I disagree with you, but I am determined to appropriately love you.)
  5. I stand clearly on the belief that God will fulfill His promises to Israel. I likewise stand firmly with the Old Testament prophets who proclaimed a message of justice. The modern state of Israel is not always right.
  6. I am totally against conservatism, when what is being conserved is a tradition that either never was Biblical, or one that no longer serves a Biblical purpose.
  7. I am absolutely opposed to Liberalism, when it encourages compromise on truths concerning which the Bible speaks definitively. Likewise, I stand against drawing hard, fast lines that keep others out, when Scripture invites them in.
  8. I take a strong stand on (and, I might add, often, in) ignorance. I am not only convinced that there are many things that I don’t know. I know that there are things that I can’t know. Furthermore, I know that some, who claim to know, don’t. (Deut. 29:29)
  9. One is neither more nor less spiritual, nor does he speak with greater or lesser relevance based on whether he wears a tie, or jeans. One is clearly out of step with Biblical Ministry if he allows personal preferences to interfere with ministry.
  10. Erring by straying to the right differs from erring to the left only in the direction in which one goes astray; one is as wrong as the other. I reject the distortion of the truth that arbitrarily says that one form of error is always better than the other. I strenuously object when this error infringes on the liberty of another.
  11. A prerequisite to pertinent, penetrating proclamation presupposes the purposeful, persistent purging of pointless plotting and pseudo “preacherly plans such as alliteration or the idea that lists must always be 3s, 7s, or 10s. I stand against that!