Do emerging church critics have a point?
August 15, 2006, 7:15 am
Filed under: uncategorized

So, at the conference I attended in New Mexico last week, some silly and uninformed remarks were made from the main stage about the “Emergent Church” (a term which, I believe, hints at a lack of understanding to start with).  No big shocking surprise that people in my denom would be freaked out and feel threatened by what’s going on.  Frankly, it fits the pattern – make some inflamatory cheap shot at something you don’t understand . . . and if you’ve got a few “amens” coming from the congregation, you’ve done your job.

Anyway, the typical things were said about the emerging church movement.  “Blah, blah, blah Brian McLaren, blah, blah, blah, Donald Miller, blah, blah, blah, liberal wackos, blah, blah, blah, run for the hills, dig a hole in the ground, and hide out until Jesus comes back.”

When I returned from my trip, and made a pathetic attempt at catching up on some of my blog reading, I noticed a few posts floating around the blogosphere about Spencer Burke’s new book, A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity.  Looks interesting – I’ve met Spencer a few times, and been in round table dialogue type situations with him.  He’s a very cool, gracious, witty, creative, and fun guy.  Oh yeah, he’s also thoughtful and insightful.  Buuuuuut, apparently his book (I haven’t read word one of it, mind you) is on the “liberal” side. 

I’ll just say here that I find terms like “conservative” and “liberal” and at times, even “orthodox” to be really problematic.  The categories tend to be arbitrary and overly contextual. 

However, on the heels of hearing what I heard last week, seeing Spencer’s book out there got me to thinking.  While I’ve definitely been around this emerging church thing quite long enough by now to have met a ton of people who would line up more theologically “conservatively” than Burke, McLaren, Pagitt, Jones (Tony, not Andrew), et al, it does seem a little bit peculiar to me that a relative few of the most prominent voices within this small pond represent the more conservative side of theology.  Mark Driscoll definitely qualifies there, as does Scot McKnight (it’s particularly unfortunate, though, that even the conservative Driscoll finds ways of offending people through his abrasive “humor”).  There are others out there, I know.  But it does seem to me that when thinking about the emerging church rock stars, they line up in that direction.  Maybe that’s just the nature of the movement.  And maybe that’s a really good thing.

The problem it presents, though, is that when the critics – almost all of whom represent a very conservative theological position – pop up and gripe about the emerging church, they point at the most prominent spokespeople, and say, “You see, they’re all a bunch of liberals!!”  For the most part, the critics can be put in their place easily enough.  But I do have to wonder why the movement in general, and the actual organization of Emergent, in particular, has more theologically “liberal” voices at the forefront.  Given that one of their apparent goals is to promote conversations, etc. (through publishing contracts?), it seems they would be wise to elevate some counter-balancing theological voices within their conversation to places of prominence, just to trip up the critics a bit, and give tangible evidence that the “conservative” voices do exist. 

I’m not completely sure that makes sense . . . and I’m not completely sure that if I come back and read this post next week I’ll agree with it.  These were just some thoughts.  I think it’s coming from a place in me that’s tired of having to listen to pseudo-wannabe-experts blowing a bunch of hot air and saying untrue things.  Obviously, that’s going to continue for a long time to come.  But it might be nice to remove some of the more petty and most visible points of accusation.

Feel free to push back on this if you think I’ve got this wrong.  Again, I may come back and push back myself.


3 Comments so far
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Yeah, seems like most of the critics are slightly off. We know you can’t paint this thing with a broad brush. Its up to us to benefit from what the critics have to say even if they’re not accurate. I for one think Spencer’s off base but I wouldn’t have any trouble having…what’s that Baptist word?…oh yeah, fellowship. I could fellowship with him. 🙂

Comment by Bill Bean

I think both books represent more extreme views. Neither are entirely wrong though.

Comment by Bill Bean

Found out a friend had written about Burke’s book, I think he’s right.

Comment by Bill Bean

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