By Bill Easum
This might not be the most popular article I’ve ever written but I feel the need to write it.
Brian McLaren has been a long time friend of EBA and has contributed much to the Christian scene. But lately I have been reevaluating my view of the Emergent/Emerging movement and I find it to be disturbing and potentially hazardous to Christianity.
I call your attention to a new book just out by R. Scott Smith titled Truth & the New Kind of Christian (you remember that McLaren wrote a book titled A New Kind of Christian). Although this book is tough reading, it does a superb job of showing up the fallacies in the writings of Brian McLaren and Tony Jones and has helped me put my finger on something I’ve long suspected but couldn’t put into words – the theme of the emergent movement is hazardous to the health of Christianity.
The Key issue I have with the emerging movement is this – Does the message of the Gospel correspond to reality, or is it nothing more construct of our own language within the community of faith? The emerging movement says we can never really know the reality of the Gospel apart from our community language- that is our talk within the community constructs the gospel- which brings us very close to relativism.
Both writers insist that in order for Christianity to survive in a post modern world Christian must adopt a new view of faith, namely a postmodern faith where truth is no longer absolute and all of us are caught within the confines of our own language. Our language constructs reality only with the bounds of the Christian community.
The author nails McLaren and Jones on their linguistic/constructionist view of history and shows how adopting their form of Christianity will ultimately cause the demise of Christianity.
Even though I’m a friend of McLaren’s I urge you not to take him too seriously. We must listen to observations of how modernity has negatively affected Christianity and reduced much of it to a shallow form of its real self, especially its elitist and passionless attitude toward the world. Still we shouldn’t allow ourselves to throw the baby out with the bath water and resign ourselves to never being able to really know the real Jesus apart from the language of our community. Christians can know ultimate truth without having boomproof evidence as McLaren demands.
If we take McLaren’s and Jones’s arguments to their conclusion: we can never know God as he really is; Jesus is nothing more than the construct of our community language; and the resurrection never happened because language cannot make a dead person live again.
One sentence from the book sums it up: “The faith cannot survive a transformation into being a linguistic construction of how Christians talk” (p.155).
We shouldn’t be duped into believing we must adopt a postmodern faith in order to reach the postmodern world. We also don’t have to adopt a postmodern faith in order to address the issues raised by these emerging leaders. However, I do agree with them that we must adopt new methods of reaching the new world. Like we’ve heard many times- we must be in the world but not of the world.
I agree with the authors that we can’t come on to postmoderns like gangbusters with an elitist attitude as if we have THE truth. I agree with them that the four spiritual laws no longer work. I agree with them that if we lead from the big story we are dead in the water. I agree with them that the new world sees everything in shades of gray. But I do not agree that Christians must feel they have to be two steps removed from the reality of the Gospel in order to reach this new world. In fact, I think it is just the opposite. The clearer a leader is about the reality of gospel and the direction of their calling the more likely that person is to lead a growing and thriving community of faith.
Now here is the clincher- look at most of the emerging churches-they are small and you seldom here about them. Then look at some of the thriving congregations who are actually changing the world around them, like The Dream Center in Los Angeles. That one church is doing more to change the world and reach the postmodern than all of the emerging churches rolled into one. And the pastor of that church is clear- Jesus is the hope of the world for every living creature. That’s his reality and it’s not because his words make it so; it’s because God makes is so.
Not long after reading Brian’s book, A Generous Orthodoxy, I sent him an email to which he never replied. The email went like this.
Brian, I just finished you book A Generous Orthodoxy. I must admit it raised many of the questions that haunt me from time to time. I thank you for writing it. However, my friend, I must give you a word of warning – Please don’t let your theology evolve any further. For I’m afraid, my friend, if you do you will wind up outside of the bounds of Christianity. I fear for you and for our mutual hope for the world. I know you deeply care about bringing people to Jesus.
Your friend Bill.
I still feel the same way about Brian – I count him as a friend (I don’t personally know Tony Jones, wish I did). I still know Brian loves Jesus and prays everyday people will come to know him as he does. Still, I disagree with the direction he is going. I still get the urge to reach for the aspirin bottle every time I think about the conclusions of the arguments.
The emerging movement causes me much angst. I know, I’m getting old, but I really don’t think that has anything to with it. I have been on the forefront to sounding the alarm about the changing world long before Brian or Jones appeared on the scene. My book Dancing With Dinosaurs was one of the very first Christian books to talk about the crack in history. No the problem lies at the heart of postmodern thought – it is categorically opposed to everything about Christianity. And there is no way in Hell we should adopt a postmodern view of Christianity.
Well, those are my thoughts. I really do have a headache now. Where is that aspirin bottle?