Is Emergent Biblical?

I just got done reading this review of the book An Emergent Manifesto of Hope over at Open Source Theology. If you are familiar with the recently released book or if you are interested in its content, this review is very insightful and highlights something that I think needs to be addressed concerning the emergent church. The author basically questions whether those who are leaders in the emergent church can argue their points biblically. I have long thought about this very issue, because for awhile now I have read blogs, articles, and books on the emergent church and by its leaders and have questioned their ability to construct an argument based on the biblical narrative. Now, lets get some things straight before moving on. I think that they do speak a lot about the biblical narrative forming their views on such topics as grace, the kingdom of God, and social justice. However, this is not always defended by using actual texts and letting it frame their points. Also, as much as I believe emergent has opened up discussion in new ways, it has also silenced some things that are very good, such as doctrines like salvation and atonement among others. This review offers a good critique but also supports the book in a way that gives a balanced view of things as they are. Personally, I am tired of so-called “outsiders” criticizing the emergent movement, and I hope more people like Scot McKnight and others will give some “critique from within” that is needed. It was the writings of Brian McLaren and others that helped me embrace a form of Christianity that I could relate to, I just hope that he and others can give an account for their beliefs based on biblical themes.

 Tell me what you guys think…

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Is Emergent Biblical?

  1. Daniel,

    I haven’t read the book yet, but it is on my to read list, but I did scan through the review. I think the concerns are probably valid, but I think when reading through the book we probably have to keep in mind other books that are influencing the undercurrents of the Manifesto. When I hear about an absence of “Biblical support” it doesn’t alarm me as much, because I tend to read other authors, whom I know have influenced much of Emergent thought, into some of the thinking of Emergent. I feel confident that these people have thought through and have have written a more maticulous biblical analysis on some issues. People like N.T. Wright, Scott Mcknight, Leslee Newbigin, Walter Bruggeman, Stanley Hauerwas, Stanley Grenz, Kevin Vanhoozer, Eugene Peterson, Richard Hays, Leron Schults, Dallas Willard, Robert Webber, Ron Sider, Mark Knoll, Jurgen Moltman, Volf, Nancey Murphy, Ryan Bolger, Karl Barth ect.

    While I/we may not agree with some of their conclusions they at least are approaching and engaging the texts.

  2. Word to this. Where I’m struggling right now is between the traditional “prooftexting” which I’m sure we all fall into from time to time and trying to grasp a feel for the overarching grand narrative, the whole story of God, the gospel — not just one pet doctrine or story or whatever. So, yeah, that’s where I’m at.

  3. Jared

    While I see the influence of Wright, et al on some of the emergent thinking and see that they are following in the foot steps of exegetes and theologians of very high skill and talent, I can’t help but see a parallel with what Ben Witherington sees in what has become of Wesleyan/Arminian thelogy. Witherington sees two movements that began with talented exegetes but became theologically lazy as they grew.

    I hope that’s not where emergent thinking will be in twenty or thirty years. Will it go from the more academic Missional movement to an esoteric and anti-intellectual emergent. It’s hard enough now to get most American Christians (of any ilk, emergent or otherwise) to respect the need for biblical and theological scholarship. If we base our thinking only on the work of people like Richard Hays (who is a very capable scholar) and don’t seek to bring exegeis into our communities, we’ll see laziness grow as time goes on.

    Just as an aside; I find it intersting that the emergent movement began as a movement from mainstream and free church traditions into Roman Catholocism, Eastern Orthodoxy and some of the high church Protestant traditions. It’s inteesting to me because now there are many who classify emergent as strictly a trendy post-modern form of Christianity that seeks only to fight modernism; even where it doesn’t exist. I think that D.A. Carson did a good job of dealing with that way of thinking.

  4. Jared a few comments and questions.

    I don’t think emergent is something that can be concretely defined at this point, because there is such diversity of folks from many traditions..which I think is a good thing.

    One of the things Emergent is doing is calling for the need to have a robust theology rooted in deep ecclesial practices.

    Some questions:

    “If we base our thinking only on the work of people like Richard Hays (who is a very capable scholar) and don’t seek to bring exegeis into our communities, we’ll see laziness grow as time goes on”

    I am not sure what you mean by that. Do you mean that Emergent is only looking exlusively at the works of Ricahrd Hays? Or that Richard Hays is not good at exegesis?

    “Witherington sees two movements that began with talented exegetes but became theologically lazy as they grew.”

    Are you saying that current Weslyan/Arminian theology is poor theology? Or those that followed Wesley and Arminus were theologically lazy? Or are you saying that Emergent is currently lazy theologically, or is becoming that way?

    “I think that D.A. Carson did a good job of dealing with that way of thinking.”

    How can one say D.A. Carson did a great job of critiquing Emergent when he never once interviewed a person associated with Emergent, nor has been to a church that was asociated with Emergent?

  5. anglopressy

    Well, I can’t say I know who Carson did or did not speak to or where he’s been for that matter. But he critiqued them on the merits of their books. There is a need for someone who is not a part of that group to assess what they’re saying. And the truth is that there are some who are stereotyping certain kinds of churches and using what amounts to abusive language with regard to their brothers and sisters.

    Hays is a very good exegete. That why I said he is “a very capable scholar”. He was just an example from your list. I picked one at random and used it to say that people base their thinking on the work of some scholar and a generation or two later that person’s work tends to be abandoned. Wesley is a good example of that. He was a very capable exegete, but many of his followers foiunded denominations or movements that use experience, rather than scripture, as their main point of understanding God, faith and creation.

    Much of what has resulted from Wesley’s followers is the result of either indifference or laziness with regard to theology and exegesis, something which is only now being rectified by paying attention to Wesley’s work.

    You’re right, emergent is a multifarious movement, but there are common threads among some of its proponents; some of which need to be examined. Like the penchant to accept postmodernism almost carte blanche.

  6. I certainly think Emergent needs to be critiqued from the outside and inside, I have heard Tony Jones and others invite and welcome criticism.

    The point with Carson is here is a well respected scholar, who when professionally critiquing a group didn’t seem to take the time to interview, attend any of the churches, nor truly dialogue with those he was critiquing, nor respond to an invitation to do so. He made some sweeping generalizations that many people who now probably won’t take the time to actually read anything that smells of emergent because of his respected professional opinion, which I think is unfair.

  7. Jared

    You brought up some great examples. I think that what you’re basically saying, which I would agree with, is that currently there is not much of a bridge between the thinking of the academy and the thinking of the average churchgoer. Often, I think it is the responsibility of the leadership of churches to be that bridge, but at the same time I think that members should also feel the call to engage in reading and biblical exegesis to help foster dialogue in place of lectures. Emergent is great at transmitting certain ideas (e.g., Michael Frost’s Exiles which is based mostly on the work of Walter Brueggemann), but they are not always the best at transmitting actual biblical themes or narratives (e.g., McLaren’s Secret Message of Jesus, which relied mostly on N.T. Wright’s books). I think at times it is a tad sloppy, and I would hope that in the future more emergent books have closer ties to the actual biblical texts. That is pretty much my argument.

    Dino

    As always I love your questions, and I agree that Carson’s book is rather narrow in content and critique. From what I can tell of the book, which I have only read a little, it is mostly a criticism of Brian McLaren. Which to me is rather short-sighted and misguided when one really wants to grasp a broader view of emergent. McLaren is not the emergent pope, so he is not really THE representative of emergent but is just a louder voice in the movement. I would hope that in the future the critique from the outside would come from those who have seen its inner workings. And we need both critique from the outside as well as from the end. Those who have ears, let them hear!

    Great conversation…

  8. Daniel,

    I agree…there seems to be a disconnect or perhaps disinterest in the pews with thinking theologically. In my estimation, if emergent is anything (the US form anyway) it is at least calling into question the religious pragmatism of the Western Church and the theological implications and problems within.

    What I hear from emergent as a whole is a call to be more theological in our approach not less. I also think that we have to keep in mind that many of us were formed in a tradition where the hermeneutical lens were biblical inerrancy, biblical prooftexting, and a more literal reading of the Bible, at least at the local church level. Many in emergent, while holding a high view of scripture, approach the biblical text much differently.

  9. Jared

    I agree with what both of you have to say. I suppose I’m jst afraid of emergent becoming the “christian way” to rebel against those silly old people who raised us. In short, it may become an excuse of idolatrous rebellion in the name of post-modernism, some of what’s going on in Houston at Ecclesia. There’s an attitude, held by some, that they’re some new kind of Christian. A better, newer model. I suppose idols pop up everywhere that people exist, but that dosn’t negate my concern. If NT Wright, Richard Hays, Walter brueggemann, et al are people worth reading, then people need to read them, not McClaren just re-writing what they’ve said. I’m only using that as an example because I know that he did that.

    It would probably be wise of me to just write my own post of what I think.

    Grace and Peace,
    Jared

  10. Jared

    Also, I don’t think that looking at criticism as an insider-outsideer thing is wise. If we make that distinction we are volunteering Jesus’ church to be divided and that is not a place I want to be. If emergent churches are that far removed from the kind that Carson is a part of, then more than critique is necessary.

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