I recently finished R. Scott Smith’s book, Truth and the New Kind of Christian. In it, Smith tackles the theological and philosophical underpinnings of postmodernism, what is sometimes called post-conservative evangelicalism, and the Emergent church movement. In many significant ways, we discover in his book, they are all of the same family.
Ultimately the book is very well done, written in an irenic tone (one of the back-cover endorsements is by Tony Jones, one of the Emergent leaders Smith engages and critiques), and is finally an overwhelming critique of the postmodern philosophical underpinnings of Emergent.
Philosophically, Smith’s work is aimed at the postmodern language games endorsed and played by post-conservatives and Emergent authors. Smith knows whereof he speaks. He deals fairly with their works, as far as I can tell, and concludes that they all assert the philosophical belief that we are all “within” language and can’t get out.
At this point it is worth noting that most Emergent reactions to that kind of assertion is that they are only engaging in dialogue, are not trying to take a hard-and-fast position on something so philosophical, and therefore are not susceptible to that kind of critique. But, as Smith so adeptly and trenchantly notes, “I propose, however, to show that their views are inconsistent with orthodoxy, by trying to take their views more seriously and consistently than I have seen them do.” (pg. 143)
One critique in his book I had not run across before was the charge of idolatry. If reality for every individual is the result of linguistic and/or communal construction (as he shows they believe), then we cannot know God as he really is, but instead we construct him through our language. Hence, postmodern Christians “must be idolaters” (pg. 145) because they cannot but make God in their own image. If either there is no objective reality or we cannot know objective reality, God cannot be revealed; he must be constructed, thereby violating the first two of his own Ten Commandments.
The conclusion? A Christian faith that is postmodern in its theology is far from orthodox and leads to these kinds of absurd conclusions.
It is one thing to reflect seriously on postmodernism as a descriptive context for certain segments of our culture (I still don’t believe it is as all-encompassing as sometimes described) and as a pastoral exercise. The step from cultural description and pastoral concern to ecclesiological prescription, however, is completely unwarranted and ultimately disastrous.