Apr 3, 2008

a loose book review: why we're not emergent

DISCLAIMER: This post may skip right over you if you don't understand some of the terminology I'll be using here... words like "Emergent" and "Evangelical." That's okay if it does, and I'm sorry to not include you in on this. I leave that on its own because it actually helps me prove the point I'm about to make.

Today I was hanging out in a bookstore and came across a rather intriguing read. By "read" I mean to say that I found myself digesting it as best as I could as salivating sales-people floated by like birds of prey, hoping I'd make the purchase. I'm usually able to read things fast, though, so I ripped through it and walked out of the store with my $14.99 + tax still in my pocket.


I share that because while I'd like to offer a thorough review of this book, I am only able to give you a recommendation from that context.

That said, I am very intrigued by the book Why We're Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. DeYoung serves as Senior Pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, while Kluck runs his own web site where he shares the latest things he's doing as an "author/speaker/screenwriter." Their collaboration on this book is an attempt to explain why ideas and people of the "Emerging Church" should be questioned, although most points made deal specifically with "Emergent Village."

Most people confuse the two.

Splitting the writing load by every other chapter, DeYoung hits the theology angles hard while Kluck's approach is more narrative in nature. They hold in common an attempt to tactfully deconstruct Emergent by exploring quotes from blogs, lines from books, and topics from conferences.

This could easily be something Emergents would raise their shields at.

Yet I wonder what would happen if instead the critique was embraced? Granted, not at face value for nothing should be treated as such. Nonetheless, what if Emergent Village participants - or any group of people who consider themselves theologians... Reformers, Calvinists, Arminians, etc - were more curious about the perception of the conversation than may normally be natural.

After all, for many people perception is often more powerful than reality. I wonder how much of our theology is merely one perception that a number of people have clung to for many years.

The truth is this book is geared to hit a unique target audience who is looking to dismiss Emergent. DeYoung pastors in midwest Michigan, an area I know from personal experience to be an evangelical bubble at times. Kluck resides in Orlando, Florida, another piece of geography known to be a hub for unique church empires. One could belittle their ideas as them merely trying to give the naysayers more "nay" to "say."

Yet what if behind it all is an attempt to explore their own concepts of God? And if Emergent is truly a diverse community, is there room to celebrate biblically-centered criticism in order to allow counterintuitive ideas to sharpen that which is dull, anchor that which is drifting, and simplify that which is wise?

I'd really like to think so.

It's like your crazy uncle at family gatherings. Everyone knows he's going to say something loony, and yet he's allowed to sit in on the meal. And yet every once in a while he says something profound... something that makes everyone stop and reconsider life. Until he belches.

Ever notice how when we use analogies like that we always know we're the sane ones. But... what if you're the crazy uncle?

If any of this has stirred up some interest, you can download the intro and first chapter for review. Also, Dan Kimball has written much more on this than I have through some personal interactions with the authors.

And again... if you didn't follow any of this...

good for you.


bjk said...

Maybe didn't follow all of it...and yet this sentence seemed to hurt??? in a good way as always but still kinda sorta stings....

..... is there room to celebrate biblically-centered criticism in order to allow counterintuitive ideas to sharpen that which is dull, anchor that which is drifting, and simplify that which is wise?

Tony Myles said...

That's fair... and it may have come across as one sided, but the bottom line is that we are in such a rush to develop theology at times that we forget to invite counterintuitive voices into our lives. Who will help us with our blind spots if we won't allow it?

So that line asks the question, "If I am studying the Bible in context as is this person across from me, can we help each other out?" Otherwise when we find something in Scripture that messes with our world, instead of skipping over it and "throwing in" a conclusion (which we often do but fail to admit), we can be buffed in all the right ways.

Even if it does sting a bit.

dan said...

I'm a complete stranger to this blog, just jumped over here from Emergent Village. And I haven't read the book in question.

My only comment, as an evangelical who considers himself 'conversant' with emergent-type folks and finds myself 50% agreeing and 50% skeptical, that I mostly just totall appreciate the attitude that you take toward the book in question. My own experience with emergent is limited, but all too often I find a very snide, condescending, sarcastic tone toward anyone who doesn't completely 'get it'--anyone who genuinely believes in a more traditional understanding of inspiration of Scripture, for example, and finds rich material for dynamic faith in that way, is obviously just an modernist Enlightenment dinosaur who is just too immature to venture into the exciting new vistas of emergent epistemology.

OK, I'm getting caustic here myself. Must calm down and apologize. :) Anyway, I appreciate the open spirit in this blog post. It offers me hope that there might actually be a more open conversation available.

Jesse said...

I picked the book up last week from the library, and blew through it only a few days - which is really good for me. I say that to highlight another great feature of the book: It's accessibility. It offers great exposure to Emergent (although as you mention, primarily the emergent village, with a strong dose of Rob Bell).

I appreciate your take on continued conversation and how we can help each other, instead of argue our points more vehemently. I found myself learning a lot from the book, and often thinking to myself, "Yeah, that a good point." However, it goes both ways. My biggest questions for DeYoung and Kluck is this: So you disagree with Emergent. Ok. Is it necessary to warn people of the perceived dangers? Do we have to convert everyone to our opinion and our standpoint, or can we recognize that we are different and appreciate those differences.

I appreciate DeYoung and Kluck's contribution and the apparent success and blessing of their ministry. I wonder if they can say the same of Emergent.

Tony Myles said...

Dan - thanks for those words... I hope what you've described is where things end up. With any shift in thinking there must be initial extremists who push past a bubble of thought, but over time that needs to become more centered. With Christianity it's even more difficult because we are constantly on journey with God who allows us to be confident in Him while continuing to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling."

Jesse - you pose a great question for the authors. For the sake of their book sales, I don't know that they can answer you just yet. ;)

Dave said...

Bought the book today (before reading your blog) and read the whole deal while my kids swam at the Water Park of America. Have to say I enjoyed it - I found I agreed with some of it, disagreed with some of it, and some didn't get (pretty much the same reaction I had to Velvet Elvis, New Kind of Christian, etc.) But it has added to my "ponderings" of faith. It is a worthwhile read...

Tony Myles said...

That's a great way to put this... reading about something theological in the midst of life happening all around you.

I'd argue that's the best context to digest any of this stuff.

Jeff Greathouse said...

I am always amazed why people are "concerned" in a sense.

I guess it kind of points back to your family illustration.

To me, it is sad that we can't all come to the table and listen to everyone's story and have appreciation for where they are at and for them to appreciate where we are at.

Hopefully, some day, bickering and "sniping" will stop and we can truly all be the hands and feet of Christ and follow his example of love, gentleness and peace.

Anonymous said...

how do these instructions fit your paradigm?

"I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people." Romans 16:17-18

“I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:6-9

“As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspect into Him, who is the head, even Christ...” Ephesians 4:14-15

“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form...” Colossians 2:8-9

“But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.” 1 Thessalonians 5:21

“But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.” 1 Timothy 1:5-7

“But the Spirit explicitly states says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons...In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following...Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”1 Timothy 4:1, 6, 16

Jeff Greathouse said...


I wanted to acknowledge your comments back to me.

A appreciate your concern and asking me how those scriptures play into my paradigm.

It is going to be a busy 24 hours but I will get back to you with the scriptures and share with you how those apply to me and effect how I live out my life.

I will say that i think it is very important when we look at scripture to see it in the context that it is written.

Also, i think that when you look at scripture and look at Jesus and his early followers, that they did not shun individuals who were different from them and held different beliefs.

they were always in dialogue. I think looking at Paul and how he related to the 'different cultures" can be a great example.

More tomorrow or Monday.

Anonymous said...

are we talking about different cultures or different truth claims? they are not, of course, the same issue.

To suggest that Christ, the Apostles and the early Church Fathers tolerated anything outside the bounds of orthodoxy is simply not true. This does not mean absolute conformity in secondary issues or cultural expressions, but when it came to the nature of God and His Gospel we are clearly instructed to have no tolerance for different perspectives.

(again) Ro 16:17 I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.

Tit 3:10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. Tit 3:11 You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

2Jn 1:10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. 2Jn 1:11 Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.

And for good measure, a passage which deals with both orthodoxy and orthopraxy:

2Th 3:6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.

I understand you are busy right now, I look forward to your more full response later, because this discussion is vitally important.

Jeff Greathouse said...


It is almost for the family to go out the door for our small group tonight. I will get to the new scriptures as well. Thanks for the appreciation of time restraints.

I recognize that culuture and truth are not "exactly" the same thing. But a lot of times, the culture is what produces the truth for individuals.

I am not sure what context (location) that you are in, so there may be some differences as I explaine items. If that occurs, let know so I can back up a few steps.

Hopefully, the blog allows the discussion on this "turf". I think the discussion will be connected to the post at hand.

I will be back on tomorrow night.

Anonymous said...

not a problem at all...and my intent is not to spit out as many passages as possible, making dealing with the context impossible.

when you state, "the culture is what produces the truth for individuals." it's clear that the point from which we are starting in this discussion is not the same, so we both ought to be mindful of that as we proceed (if Tony will allow us) lest we talk past each other. I start with the premise that God produces the truth for individuals.

Tony Myles said...

Have fun.

Please listen.

Be nice.

Sharpen gently.

(Also, it may be helpful to let go of the anonymity - remember I told you that you could visit here so no worries. That way he can link to your blog to understand your context as you can do the same for his.)

Jeff Greathouse said...


I am going to jump on for a little tonight. Small group went great and I just finished watching the Final Four with my son.

Definitions can be difficult nd as Tony has mentioned with you being "hidden", I do not know your story and context.

If you want/need to remain hidden, I understand just help me if our definitions or contexts are crossing paths that I am not aware of.

As I looked through the scriptures that you mentioned, I do notice one thing that is very different from us.

Please do not take his as a slam, it is just an observation. The scriptures that you use are mostly from Paul and NONE are from Jesus.

I do not discount those, please understand that. But, I think that Jesus ushered n "the Kingdom" and Paul (especially) was dealing with the struggles that came with the early followers trying to live the life Jesus called them to live.

You mention the following:

To suggest that Christ, the Apostles and the early Church Fathers tolerated anything outside the bounds of orthodoxy is simply not true. This does not mean absolute conformity in secondary issues or cultural expressions, but when it came to the nature of God and His Gospel we are clearly instructed to have no tolerance for different perspectives.

I disagree in the following manner:

I see Jesus calling them our and showing the example to have no bondaries on who you go to and meet with and fellowship with. In those experiences, those on the "outside" will see this new kingdom.

I also see words of Jesus where he tells his follower to have an "inclusive" style of ministry.

In that manner, I see a very important call for us to have "fellowship at many tables". For when we "accept" them, transformation would / could be possible and become a reality.

Especially, in the emergent / non-emergent debate, I see all of them following Christ. Thus, it is very similar to the words that Jesus had for his followers:

If they are not against us, they are for us.

I am not sure if this direction helps or hurts. This is a very difficult one to do in a comment section in a blog ( in my opinion ).

Also, hopefully as Tony mentioned, hopefully niceness came out because no evil inent is here.

irreverend fox said...

I have NO clue why I started this right now...I'm going to be unplugged from tonight till Friday afternoon, I'm going away for solitude, meditation and prayer.

I'm glad that you don't discount the instructions of an Apostle of Jesus Christ...and since you don't discount it I'm not sure as to the point of making the distinction. Seeing that I'm curious to know how in fact you do deal with these passages in particular. Let's bring them down to ground level...how do they apply to our daily lives?

I have not updated my blog for a while now…I’m hoping to come back from my retreat with fresh notes to put up. I need time to deflate, clear my head and write. But all of my diatribes against modernity and postmodernity are archived there if anyone is interested.