Sunday, March 02, 2008

Good Short Discussion on Truth and the Emergent Movement

This is a great video of three very solid thinkers discussing postmodernism and the emergent movement. They say several things that need to be said and heard about the necessity of truth (what Schaeffer called “true truth”) for a Christian worldview and the inability of the emergent movement to handle it.

Much of the emergent reaction I have seen to this clip is a little silly. Many accuse the presenters of having never read any of the basic emergent literature when they, in fact, discuss what they read specifically in the clip. I have also found that to be an emergent tactic when you find a soft spot—“you didn’t really read what he wrote.” And even more emergenty is the smarmy sigh of disappointment that the presenters were not irenic or circumspect in presenting their views on the matter.

But this is one of the core problems with an emergent point of view. Because of their postmodern commitments, they are unable to take a serious stand on anything except a stand against anyone who takes a stand on anything. To them, a catch phrase like “irenic” is synonymous with, “you can’t make judgments.” And that, to be sure, is a really bad place to begin building serious and life-transforming theology. Not only is it a view that commits suicide (it is itself a judgment), it is not what any emergent thinker actually believes or practices.

What the world needs is not more fuzzy thinking about god-in-general or spirituality-in-general. It needs Christians who know how to speak the truth in love—beginning with the truth, and also beginning with the love.

I read a commentary on Mark 8 the other day that I thought summarized well one of the places where the emergent movement is going wrong. In the context of Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus’ acceptance of the title, Jesus’ description of his life and then his description of the life of the disciple, the scholar wrote, “A false view of Messiahship leads to a false view of discipleship.” In other words, if we are unable to come to grips with the truth Jesus spoke about himself, our life of following Christ will miss the mark.

But that doesn’t sound irenic to me.


Shane Ogle said...

I think it funny that so many are afraid to speak up and say of the Emergent/ Missional Church -- "The Emporer isn't wearing any clothes!"

Meanwhile the Emergent/ Missional Church has its say -- all day long.

Thank you so much for posting this -- I am personally not a Mohler or Sproul fan -- but respect their honest and thoughtful answers on the subject.

God Bless,


Phil Steiger said...


I am also not the biggest Sproul fan in the world, but I do deeply appreciate his sense of the need for truth in the Christian worldview, and the reality (even necessity) of doctrinal disagreement.

The Gyrovague said...

"It needs Christians who know how to speak the truth in love—beginning with the truth, and also beginning with the love."

As someone whose sympathy lies in the emergent realm I ask what has the church done for the begiining with the love? All I have heard all my life is anti homosexual, anti abortion anti anti anti and more anti. This is church as usual and well... it is tiresome. I am tired.

I like the emergents for trying to ferret out the life and the way of Jesus. Start with the LOVE factor, Love thy neighbor, Love thy spouse, LOVE and more LOVE. When you work from that and quit being so darn judgmental of peoples behavior at the outset you start to get the inroads to a persons heart. When you are there you can speak JESUS and HIM CRUCIFIED.

I do not think emergents have all the answers, I think some of them are actually quite flaky. But I DEFINITELY do not think the old way is the future. More burecracy, more departmentalization and more sqashing of the Holy Spirit and his activity in and through his church.

Sorry for the soapbox, I have a great respect for your thinking. I look forward to a possible response.

Phil Steiger said...


I think I feel your frustration with bureaucracy and the bottleneck it can create for churches and seemingly for ministry. I also appreciate your take on the Christian life and certainly don’t mind letting you know where I stand with the emergent movement.

A while ago, I openly disagreed with some of the theological moves coming from their supporters, but was supportive, like you, of their missional attitude. I have since decided that because their theology is becoming so thin, even their desire to be loving to the rest of the world is on a collision course with obscurity. Let me explain.

Whether or not a movement wants to acknowledge it, theology determines the content of behavior as well as belief. Because the emergent movement shows a growing distaste for any kind of serious and basic theological work, their behavior will also become hollow.

Loving the world requires loving it the way God loves it. If we are afraid to deal with the doctrines of God’s nature, human nature, and the atonement of Christ, we do not have good content for Christian love. If we neglect these topics, or give really shallow answers to them because we have a distaste for uncomfortable doctrine, then our display of love is no different in substance than the love the Shriners show.

We do not need the emergent movement to know what a good display of love means. As one example, there are thousands upon thousands of theologically conservative Christian missionaries around the world showing love to a world that needs a cold cup of water and needs to hear about the grace of Jesus Christ. It is a fundamental flaw in some emergent circles that they are somehow recapturing the true message of Jesus after a century or two of fundamentalist captivity. It’s really quite arrogant, actually.

So, if I can get both good theory and practice from a robust conservative evangelical theology, the emergent movement has very little for me.

Shane Ogle said...

Just to weigh in -- the Emergent Church preaches love but has embittered words towards the church overall (if it does not conform to their "anti-confomity"). Their mailers often times indicate that "church" outside of their slant -- is obsolete and illegitimate. They say things like -- "we started this church because we found that church (implication being "any other church but our own) is boring -- dead -- and lacks relevance. The problem with that line of thinking is that if a person comes and doesn't like their particular expression -- then they've already discounted all other churches in the area -- as useless and ultimately ... dead.

As far as the claim that the church just preaches "anti, anti, anti" -- I would remind that Jesus instructed us that the weightier matters are justice, mercy, and faith (Mt. 23:23).

Justice -- what is right?
Mercy -- what is compassionate?
Faith -- what pleases God?

You can't leave any one of these out.

True that Paul gave us three things that in the end -- remain...

faith, hope & love. The greatest of these being love.

Jesus demonstrats this well -- the lady caught in adultery. He says for the one who has no sin to cast the first stone -- everyone walks away -- He then asks her where are her accusers. She says they are gone -- there are none. Jesus says -- neither do I accuse you.


-but wait -- He says something further "Go and sin no more."

I submit, that that too, is LOVE!

Final thought -- I suppose I too tire -- I tire of the so-called Emergent Church telling me how evil the church is (and I admit the church has her flaws -- its a part of the human condition) -- but if you say it enough -- it becomes truth (at least it begins to sound like truth).

God bless.


The Gyrovague said...

Good food for thought from both of you. I appreciate the input.

One halmark of an emergent has to be humility. Sending mailers and saying that the church as we know it is dead is not humility, it is hypocracy of the deadliest sort.

What causes much consternation among denominations is that emergents are everywhere, in the Baptist tradition, in the AOG, in the Episcopalians... emergents are saying that the church and God are big enough for those denominational differences and we can still unify in our calling to follow Christ. That is something that the church of today (in broad terms) is not doing today. I can still sit down with my brother who is a believer and happens to be episcopalian, and I a baptist, and not get hung up in all the theological differences.

In the end we try to do as Jesus prayed that we would be as one, as God and Jesus were one.

So much to be said, maybe over coffe sometime.

Shane Ogle said...


I would whole-heartedly agree with that.


Phil Steiger said...

Absolutely. Too often we let our denominational differences define the Kingdom of God for us instead of the other way around.

I would love the coffee idea.