How innovative is emergent?

tssbooks.jpgThe new Relevant magazine features a full-page mug of Rob Bell on the cover. Flip to page 64 and the article opens with these words:

“It’s estimated that every week, more than 10,000 people pack into Mars Hill Church [not to be confused with Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church], a growing congregation tucked into a nondescript former mall in Grand Rapids, Mich. What happens in this icy corner of the Midwest every Sunday morning impacts more than just the surrounding metropolis; its weekly service has become a major force that is influencing the global direction of the world’s largest religion.”

This globe-sweeping-rage hyperbole is not unfamiliar to Bell. Media outlets continue to paint the emergent movement as innovative and fresh, a culturally relevant means of correcting all the fatal wounds we evangelicals have inflicted upon the church (in this article Bell says the American idea of church is “an absolute total failure”).

But others keeping up with the emergent writings and speaking tours are not so easily convinced of the pessimistic Bellancholy attitude, nor are they sharing the giddiness over the rage. And this is simply because many are not convinced the emergent ideology is as crisp and relevant as pushed in the media. In fact in many ways―some may wish to cover their eyes now―the emergent distinctives may less resemble fresh baked postmodernism and more appear like moldy modernism!

This, at least, is the conclusion of Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. The two have completed a forthcoming title, Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be (due out from Moody on April 1, 2008). The book is a discerning, witty, and well-written attempt to make concrete the public distinctives from contemporary emergent leaders. It’s a helpful step in identifying the contours and concerns of the movement.

While I don’t agree with everything they say, it’s one of the better books I’ve read in a while and I think it will be a book0802458343.jpg especially helpful for pastors trying to discern the strengths and weaknesses of the emergent movement. (There are a few strengths.) Within broad criticism, the authors are careful to distinguish various leaders.

But what I found especially helpful was DeYoung’s perception that this overall “emergent” movement reflects modern theology we’ve seen come and go. DeYoung, a pastor and Gordon-Conwell grad, puts it well:

“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 neo-orthodox view of Scripture, and a post-Enlightenment disdain for hell, the wrath of God, propositional revelation, propitiation, an anything more than a vague moralistic, warm-hearted, adoctrinal Christianity. … The emergent church may not be identical with the theological modernism of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries, but many of the similarities are striking.

… The preference for ethics over doctrine, the reservations about God’s wrath and judgment, the perceived need to retranslate the Christian faith for a new time, the devaluing of propositional truths, the chastisement of firm doctrinal boundaries, the understanding of missions as social compassion and not conversion – these are all impulses of the modern world. So are the broad tolerance of general religious sentiment that is lacking in specificity and definition, the unwillingness to assert the Bible’s complete truthfulness, the downplaying of original sin, and the direct appeals to bettering the world apart from the call to repentance and be born again.

As emergent leaders talk of the boogeyman of modernism in conservative evangelicalism, it needs to be pointed out that he lurks within their own house, too, not as a creature hidden under the bed here or in a corner there, but as their own shadow, standing next to them, in the dark perhaps, but always there. There is nothing new under the sun, just the same shadows in different places across the centuries” (pp. 160, 165-166).

Or to put it another way: If Rob Bell is relevant, J. Gresham Machen is relevant.

But most importantly, Why We’re Not Emergent will give readers a greater appreciation for the Gospel and its centrality to the church. There can be no ministry faithfulness where the Gospel is not found at the center.

Preachers will have their faith boosted in the transforming power of Scripture, and the church will be challenged with Revelation 2-3 to re-read the ancient letters that define ministry faithfulness.

“If we had to distill our advice for the emerging church into one sentence, it would be this: Listen to all the churches in Revelation. Emergent leaders need to celebrate all the strengths and shun the weaknesses of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 – and admit that Jesus’ prescription for health is more than community, authenticity, and inclusion” (239).

Just from the creative element, this book will capture your attention. For example, the authors compare emergent ideology with the official beliefs of the Unitarian Universalist Association (178). And there are some unforgettable lines, too. For example, “For every fundamentalist who loves the Bible more than Christ, I’m willing to bet there is one emergent Christian who honors the Bible less than Christ did” (81). Or “In the postmodern world of spiritual journey, authenticity and sincerity have become the currency of authority, and dysfunction, inconsistency, and idiosyncrasy are worn as badges of honor” (35).

DeYoung and Kluck have written an excellent response to the emergent concerns and the globe-sweeping-rage hyperbole being flung around. Why Were Not Emergent is a book to add to your reading list.

12 thoughts on “How innovative is emergent?

  1. Thanx for the article. It’s interesting. But one question: who are the authors of this book? Sorry if the question may be obvious to other readers, but I would like to know a bit more about the authors.

    Thanx again.

  2. Great question. The primary authors are not readily known in the church community. DeYoung is a pastor in Grand Rapids and Kluck is a writer known more for his sportswritting. The forward is written by David Wells, though.

    Hope this helps,


  3. “For every fundamentalist who loves the Bible more than Christ, I’m willing to bet there is one emergent Christian who honors the Bible less than Christ did”

    Can you the love the Bible more than Christ?

  4. Hi folks,

    I’m looking forward to this one…Kevin DeYoung, by the way, is the lead pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mi. I know because I was blessed to be a member of that church while I went to Michigan State Univ, which is right across the street. Kevin is awesome!


  5. Kevin was also an associate pastor at First Reformed Church in Orange City, IA after seminary. He was responsible for sparking renewed interest in the sovereignty of God, the gospel and the authority of scripture in that church as well as the broader community. He was (and it looks like still is) a prophetic voice declaring the way of the Lord in our culture.

    Praise God for Pastor’s like Kevin DeYoung

  6. Hello Matthew! Great to hear from you, my friend. I was not aware of DeYoung’s connections to IA. Thank you! Tony

    PS- encouraged to see you teaching on worldview at SGF. Cant wait to hear the audio for myself.

  7. Thanks for the article. I am currently about half way through Deyoung and Kluck’s book and have found it to be very well written, extremely informative, and they definitely did their ‘homework’ on reading up on the major ‘voices’ within the emergent movement.

    I highly recommend it….

    thanks again for your thoughts, I look forward to reading more…

  8. Hey, has anyone heard about the forum on the emergent church that happened recently? Go to to see the vid of it.It is under the “blog” section of the site. It’s really long,(about 80-something minutes) so watch it a chunk at a time. Kevin DeYoung is on the panel, so I thought people would find it interesting.

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