Not Tickled

The Emergents and Postmodernism

When the church identifies itself with sinking cultural fads, they both drown! A clear example of this, next on BreakPoint.

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John Stonestreet

Maybe you’ve heard talk about “emergent” or “emerging” or “emergence” Christianity. What exactly do these terms mean? Well, it depends on who you talk to.

For some, emergent Christianity simply means removing unnecessary cultural trappings from the church and Christian witness that obscures outsiders’ view of Christ. That’s a critical and valid point.

But others who claim the title of “emergence Christianity” mean a lot more. In response to earlier generations who linked faith too closely with political power, they have done the same thing with the amorphous “cultural mood” called postmodernism.

Now defining postmodernism is kind of like nailing Jell-O to the wall. But basically, postmodernism is the rejection of any “dominant narratives” that attempt to explain how the world works. Truth is a matter of perspective, not claims that can be investigated. The pursuit of absolute truth, postmodernists say, is really nothing but a raw assertion of power. Therefore no single perspective or explanation should receive pride of place, or be considered better than any other.

Those Emergent Christians who have imbibed deeply at the well of postmodernism say that the Christian faith needs to do less declaring and more dialoguing, and that the Church needs to get off its “Constantinian” kick and take a more humble approach to the world.

While Christians should foster a desire to listen and to ask “why” before just accepting an answer, the rejection of propositional truth is unacceptable.  But just as Christians in the mainline who embraced modernism in the last century eventually found themselves irrelevant when modernism fell out of fashion, Christians who embrace postmodernism face the same risk.

For example, author and speaker Phyllis Tickle recently told a gathering of emergent Christians that the advent of the Pill and new opportunities for women to work outside the home changed our culture in huge and unexpected ways.  This, of course, is clearly true. But then Tickle added that not all of these changes were good, and that didn’t—excuse the pun—tickle her emerging audience at all.

She observed that the spread of birth control and workplace freedom undermined the transmission of religious values in families, because moms were no longer at home to do this. Again, the sociological truth—yes, truth—of this statement is well understood and documented by academics such as Mary Eberstadt.

But apparently, in postmodern gatherings like this one, even simple truth is unacceptable if it smacks of what is considered to be a “traditional narrative.”

As an emerging blogger complained, “I think many of us at the Emergence Christianity Gathering were shocked that … stories of hope were ignored in favor of one that piled on the same stale guilt that we have come to expect from traditional religion.”

In other words, if it smacks of “traditional religion,” it’s simply bad; even if it’s true. Look, I freely admit that the era when moms generally stayed home while dads earned the bread was far from the Ozzie and Harriet ideal, but to dismiss it and pretend that the massive changes that have happened to the family in recent decades had no negative consequences is bizarre.

Hitching Christianity’s wagon to any passing spirit of the age is a one-way ticket to irrelevance. Postmodernism’s denial of dominant narratives is in itself a dominant narrative. Plus, like it or not, the Bible claims a dominant narrative that sin has infected the entire world and requires the redemption of Jesus Christ. Postmodern Christianity, rather than being a new way forward, will just lead to another theological dead end.

During Christianity’s struggle with modernism a generation ago, Dr. Carl F.H. Henry offered a balanced way forward in his classic book

"The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism." “The Christian life,” he wrote, "must be lived out among the regenerate, in every area of activity, until even the unregenerate are moved by Christian standards, acknowledging their force.”

All who call themselves Christians—emerging or not—can readily agree on that.

Further Reading and Information

Happy 100th Birthday Carl F.H. Henry
Russell D. Moore | January 20, 2013

Emergence Christianity, Women, and the Fall of Christendom
Julie Clawson | January 14, 2013


What is emerging from what?

I don't know what the emergent and emerging movements are either. All I know is that the first time I saw or heard the word emergent used, it was a reference to the evolutionist, materialist (in the philosophical sense) view that consciousness emerged from non-conscious life forms in the process of evolution. It was used in this sense in an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation entitled "Emergence", which was about an emergent artificial life form that was found on the ship as the result of a computer malfunction.

BTW in case any reader of this page doesn't know what materialism in the philosophical sense is, it is simply the view that matter is all that exists, so the universe was not created by any being; it simply emerged from nothing, or always existed. This is opposed, of course, to the usual sense of the word, meaning a preference for material things over spiritual things, as exemplified by Esau and his descendants, the Edomites. If you had asked Esau whether God, angels, human spirits, etc. existed, he might have said something like, "Maybe. But who cares?"

I suspect that "Emergence Christianity" as discussed in this commentary uses the word emergence in a related sense, since postmodernism and evolutionary thinking kind of go hand in hand. But I'm still not entirely sure exactly what it means. It seems to be, as Mr. Stonestreet puts it, like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.
It is all very confusing, especially because there is so much material and information out there, as well as personalities in these movements who may differ with one another on some things.

I know at one point there was actually a distinction between the "emerging" and "emergent" movements. But I never could quite figure it all out.

What I do know is this. Any church/group/individual who labels themselves this way will be open to just about anything - anything, that is, *except* the traditional biblical views on whatever topic it is they are addressing.

In their efforts to be "relevant" to everyone and not offend anyone, they stand for nothing. (Again, at least nothing that can be recognizable as biblical!)
Being relevant
I understand what many are trying to say when they say that the Church needs to be relevant to the culture. Yet most don't know what that means or how to do it. As a designer I have had numerous churches ask me to design a logo or collateral and their only input is "make it relevant." Put 100 people in a room and you'll have at least 100 different answers to what that means.

Webster's defines relevant as "lending aid or support; being sufficient to support the cause." It come from a Latin word meaning to advance or to raise. So, ultimately when our focus is being relevant (aka fitting in) we end up supporting the very culture we are hoping to impact.

We confront culture best when we ourselves are being transformed into the image and likeness of Christ. Do go after culture first without a firm, deep foundation in the truth is at best futile and at worst supporting the work of the enemy.
The Word
What Bill Reed said.
Get Biblical!
Hebrews 5:11-14

11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

The Church today lacks discernment. The reason is simple-we are not trained properly. We need to get back to preaching and teaching the Bible and what the Bible says about theology and doctrine. I am speaking to the vast majority of churches about this. It is too easy to think the problem is the church down the street but it is most likely YOUR church.