Why We are Not Emergent - A Summary / Critique

Updated: Mar 24

Deyoung, Kevin, and Kluck, Ted. Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should be). Chicago, Illinois. Moody Publishers, 2008.

The entire premise upon which this book is built is the proposition that it would be better if you weren’t an emergent Christian (15). The authors come at this proposition from a personal perspective revealing why they are not participants / players in the emergent world of religious expression, but based on multiple criteria (age, upbringing, religious tradition, etc.) should be. Although this book does engage the “what” of the emergent church experiment it seeks to primarily deal with the “who” of the movement (18). This book is written as a critique of their stated beliefs (22). The “whos” are primarily identified as Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, Peter Rollins, Spencer Burke, David Tomlinson, Leonard Sweet, Rob Bell, and Tony Jones (19).

The main arguments used to support their premise are a series of observations about the movement (e.g. the spirit of the movement - disdain for certainty and the unknowability of God, and thus objective truth [chapter 1], the anti-doctrinal nature of the movement [chapter 5], the historical foundations of the movement [chapter 7] as epitomized by some of the chief voices of the movement.

They begin by speaking of the ambiguity that is prevalent in the movement as a whole. From there they move on to the issue of the Bible and how the emergents do not view it in its propositional aspect, but rather see the Bible as a universal, cosmic family history. In fact Emergents generally disdain the propositional aspect of the Bible (73). They see the Bible not as a foundation to build upon, but as a book that spurs us on to new ways on imagining and learning (70).

Some might say that Ted’s contributions in this book are rather minimal. He really doesn’t have strong lines of thought, and arguments, and usually his contributions are rather difficult to follow. He states, himself, that it would be best to concentrate on Kevin’s chapters, and he also realized that he will probably be called the “not thinky and academic enough” contributor. He is the more “experiential” writer who is just making observations (27). Having said that, I must also mention that one of the best parts of the book, actually came in one of Ted’s chapters where he records his correspondence with a friend. He states, “Emergent is just a new set of conceits - A love of philosophy, leftist politics, and a theology that is more man-centered than God-centered. Emergent… is a story from which ethics are gleaned, rather than a life saving proposition” (141).

Although I do agree with the general proposition of this book (that it would be better if you were not an Emergent Christian - p. 15) as well as the author’s prescription for the emerging church (248); and, although I feel that the authors do a relatively good job providing data that describes the problems of the Emergent movement, I have discovered a foundational problem with this book which weakens its authors ability to combat what they obviously have identified as a problem. Their desire to find common ground and not appear too antagonistic (19, 22), in my opinion, blunts their impact.They state that they approve of some things in a movement that they are rejecting (for what purpose?), as if “playing nice” may somehow help the Emergents see the error of their other ways. If the Emergent Church is a perversion of that which God established, then it should be clearly stated as such and proven.

In the 1980’s, the Contemporary Church movement invaded the religious landscape. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the Emerging Church movement grew out of that perversion of religious expression. Today we are witnessing a decline in the use of the term Emergent; However, the movement has not died. It has properly merged into what might be called the “Neo-Emergent” movement. In order to properly understand where this liberal and leftist movement is going (Neo-Emergent) we must understand where it came from (Emergent / Contemporary - Seeker Sensitive).

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