There is an interesting book that has circulated over the last year called “Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be)”. I personally have not taken the book that seriously, primarily because I think the reason they think they “should be” emergent is humorous. They seem to think that they “should be” emergent because they are young white guys in the U.S. that look the part. However, their solid grounding in Reformed theology and strong conservative views somehow seems to keep them from being “emergent”.
However there is a statement in the book I thought would be interesting to explore. The idea is one that I have heard other critics of the conversation use, and I can’t say that it has absolutely no merit. In the chapter entitled, “Modernism: The Boogeyman Cometh”, Kevin DeYoung states:
"The biggest irony about the emergent church may be just this: For all their chastisement of all things modern, they are in most ways thoroughly modern. Many of the leading books display a familiar combination of social gospel liberalism, a neoorthodox view of Scripture, and a post-Enlightenment disdain for hell, the wrath of God, propositional revelation, propitiation, and anything more than a vague moralistic, warmhearted, adoctrinal Christianity."
I found this criticism interesting. I also think it reflects a general misunderstanding about POST modernity. I think that sometimes we fail to recognize that when we say that something is “post”-modern that we are both saying that it is something that comes after modern, but yet still very connected to it. In other words in no way can we ever assume that post modernity is untethered from modernity.
As one participant in this massive conversation, I see elements that I can only describe as in some ways post-conservative, as well as in some ways post-liberal (and those are just two modern constructs out of many). Therefore I have to agree that there are modern liberal influences in the conversation, but I would have to make some distinction between the liberal and the post-liberal.
I think other influences in the emergent conversation, everything from evangelicalism to monasticism, has infused the liberal elements with a whole new perspective (as well as the other way around). I agree on some level with some of the things on this author’s list of shared “disdain” that liberalism and the emergent conversation may have in common. However, I would disagree in particular that post-liberals are “moralistically vague” or “adoctrinal”.
I think the emergent conversation has shown signs of having a very strong sense of Christology which influences both doctrine and morality. There are doctrinal values, particularly concerning the person of Christ, which fuel the morality. This is why terms like “incarnational” and “missional” are becoming popular because they are connected with who Jesus is (in the incarnation) and who he is in us as the church (missional). I also think when it comes to things like a return to an interest in “social gospel” that this too has a much stronger Christology than the modern liberal’s version.
This is not to say however that Christianity viewed through the lens of modern liberalism is completely devoid of any of these things. I just think, that the post-liberal perspective, as the post-conservative one, has a stronger Christology in the emergent conversation than either of their modern predecessors; particularly compared to the exclusive nature of those more modern views.
What do you think? I have not responded to every aspect of Kevin DeYoung’s statement so there is much more we could explore. What do you think is the difference in the “Post” ideas of the emergent conversation (even if only a slight shift) from the “modern” ones; whether they happen to be liberal, conservative, or whatever?