Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Emergent Church, Apologetics and Stanley Grenz: Pt 1

Part 2 Part 3

This article by Stanley Grenz in the Enrichment Journal (the pastoral journal of my denomination) got me thinking about the emergent church, postmodernism and apologetics again. Without rehashing some of my previous thoughts on this subject, I would like to discuss one particular issue: has the EC movement set up a kind of a straw man? Are they barking at a scarecrow?

The typical line, and the one that Grenz takes in his article, is that the church of the last century was held captive to Modernism and the Enlightenment. The apologetic task in particular was molded in many ways by the faulty principle of the superiority of reason and failed to recognize a fuller breadth of thought and life that was available in Christianity. Ultimately, in their view, that captivity has lead to the irrelevance of traditional apologetics in our postmodern world.

To clarify the burden of this post, let me quote from the end of Grenz’s article conclusions with which I mostly agree:

First, we must move to a more invitational approach. We must invite people to join with us and together pursue a relationship with God rather than seek to win intellectual arguments.

Second, we must move to a conversational approach. We must refrain from confronting those who are destitute of truth with dogmatic declarations of the truth we possess. We must become more intentional in listening to their stories to see where our narratives intersect.

Above all, we must move from being well-equipped apologists to becoming a believing community.

I agree with the relational, conversational, and communitarian components. It is the “rather than”s that I find to be false dichotomies based on a trumped up history of apologetics. For a detailed and scholarly look at the historiography of emergent thought, see Reclaiming the Center.

Grenz begins his brief survey of modernist apologetics with this claim:

The first approach [to apologetics as a result of the Enlightenment] followed either classic liberalism or an evidentialist Christian apologetic.

I find that an interesting, if not odd, classification. It is true that both of the approaches he mentions contain either “reason” or “rationalism” as major components, but they differ in some vital and fundamental ways. Liberalism (the attempt in the 19th century to remove embarrassing supernatural references in Scripture) was guided by Rationalism, the principle that reason is the end all and be all of knowledge. As a result, the Bible got “demythafied” and the supernatural was stripped from theology.

On a very different hand, the apologetics of people like Josh McDowell (the apologist Grenz mentions as a typical example) followed a philosophically distinct path. Instead of being bound by the Naturalism resulting from Enlightenment rationalism, this other strain of apologetics recognized the unity of truth and the universality of reason. Utilizing reason and being captive to Rationalism are two distinct philosophical positions. The evidentialist apologetics that Grenz lumps together with theological liberalism comes from a very different, and more ancient source.