Scot McKnight writes in a Christianity Today article, Five Streams of the Emerging Church, “the emerging movement is radically Reformed. It turns its chastened epistemology against itself, saying, ‘This is what I believe, but I could be wrong. What do you think? Let’s talk.'”
But is it really Reformed? It does not appear to be Reformed in the historic sense. Sure the Reformers were very willing to turn their own epistemology upon themselves, but their epistemology was not “chastened,” full of self-doubt. It was biblical. And that seems to be the critical difference. The motto of the Reformers was “back to the sources!” They returned to biblical Greek and Hebrew and translated Scripture themselves to find out what it said and what it meant.
The motto of the Emergents, on the other hand, seems to be, “What do you think?” They are not seeking answers as much as conversation. Rather, than studying at the feet of great Christian masters who have left an abundant library, they blog about their own spiritual thoughts and feelings. Theirs is a movement of new Christians and young people — nothing wrong with that except that it lacks maturity and experience. Being confused by the plethora of competing voices that all claim to be Christian, they seem to have opted to take a position that won’t hurt anyone’s feelings.
McKnight laments that Emergence may turn out to be cut from the cloth as Rauschenbusch’s Social Gospel of the early and mid 1900s, which itself turned out to be leftover, warmed up Liberalism from an earlier age. I suspect that he’s right. That always seems to the nature of the newest Christian fad. By the time that young people learn that lesson, they aren’t young anymore.
The Emergent theological position seems to be that everyone is right, from their own perspective (of course) — or that no one is right and it doesn’t matter. Unlike most people in most churches who have opted not to discuss theology at all because people get too emotional, Emergents love to discuss it. They love to get emotional about their perspective and to hear others argue from their hearts. They enjoy rattling the status quo. But at the end of the argument, they don’t want to leave and find another church — they want to go have a beer with their theological combatants.
Continuing fellowship is a good idea, and I applaud it. What concerns me, however, is the willingness to compromise, the dialectical methodology that guides their spiritual journey. It’s not that I’m just itching for a fight, but that compromise and truth don’t go together. Truth doesn’t seek a compromise, a middle way. I have the boldness to believe that I, like all true Christians, actually understand God’s truth — not all of it, but enough of it. And if you disagree with me, then you must think that your understanding of God’s truth is better than mine, or that God’s truth cannot be sufficiently known. Theological discussion is very important, but it shouldn’t lead to a fight, nor to compromise. Rather, it should lead to genuine learning and to Christian unity. Eventually it will.
The problem with emerging — the actual process of emergence — is that it doesn’t last very long. The caterpillar spends a lifetime weaving his cocoon, sleeps another lifetime, and finally emerges as a butterfly — weak, helpless and soaked in slobber. The process of emerging only lasts a few hours before the emergent engages another lifetime as a butterfly. The process of emerging is difficult and messy, and the result little resembles any actual stage of life. It is also important to note that the emerging butterfly isn’t focused on the process of emerging very long. His real concern is becoming a mature butterfly. At every stage the catterfly (caterpillar-butterfly) is focused on the next stage in his development. He is guided, not by the journey, but by the goal.
While we can “know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:20), every farmer knows that the seed planted becomes the plant harvested. If you want to know what the Emergent Movement will become, look to the seed.