McKnight on the Emerging Church Movement

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While driving to and from a presbytery meeting tonight, I listened to Scot McKnight's address on the Emerging Church Movement from Westminster Theological Seminary's Emerging Church Forum.  I highly recommend the address as a friendly introduction to the topic.  Here are some of my reflections: 1.  In general, this address reinforced my belief that while the emerging folks are mistaken about a lot of things, there is a great deal of benefit to listening to them.  In this respect, I have long been sympathetic to the emerging people, despite my lack of sympathy for so many of the things they say.  The reason is that they present a stinging but beneficial critique of evangelicalism.  In short, we should all read at least one emerging/emergent tome while promising not to get mad at anything goofy or unfair that we read.  Just listen to what they say about us -- it will do you good.

2.  McKnight devotes a huge amount of time at the beginning to complaining (I would say "whining" but that would not be deemed charitable) about misrepresentation of the emerging movement.  His foil is our dear friend Don Carson, at whom who he is clearly pretty peaved.  What is noteworthy is that while McKnight complains that it is unfair of Carson to base almost his whole critique of the emerging phenomenon based on the writings of Brian McClaren, McKnight sees no problem in basing his compliant of critics of the emerging church movement solely on a critique of Don Carson.  McKnight may or may not have some points about unfair misrepresentation, but I am always nervous when someone spends so much time complaining about it.  It makes it sound like they really just don't like the critique.

3.  McKnight insists that the emerging people do not have a theology.  I always laugh when I hear something like this.  Everyone has a theology.  Even my dog Durango has a theology (he thinks I'm God).  Again, I get nervous when advocates deflect attack by insisting that they really are not a movement (just a bunch of people with a common cause and common beliefs and who work together for common goals).

4.  McKnight states that the emerging non-movement can rightly be defined by four "rivers".  The first is postmodernity.  He says that some of us minister to postmoderns and some even minister with postmoderns.  But the emerging Christians minister as postmoderns.  While I disagreed with his endorsement of postmodernity, he did it pretty well.

5.  A second river flowing through the emerging "pond" is praxis.  Here, he kept insisting that Christianity is not what you believe but what you do.   Again, this section presents a good critique of evangelicalism.  But when McKnight argues that one is a Christian if he lives rightly, regardless what he believes (I'm not sure McKnight was really advocating this, but rather stating that this is what emergings believe) one wonders if they have a version of the New Testament that is missing the Gospel of John (and Romans and 1 John and lots of verses from practically every other NT book).  Again, this is a good section to listen to after vowing not to criticize but only allow yourself to be criticized.  But this will not be easy.

6.  A third river is being "missional".  Emergings don't evangelize but only stroll through the world as the church.  Here is an area where they are clearly operating hugely in reaction to the dispensational Bible churches of their youth.  One sympathizes, but one does not buy it (McKnight doesn't really either).  More than that, they see being missional as their perspective on everything.  Much good in this.

7.  A fourth river is being "post-evangelical".  What was so funny here is that having devoted about 20 minutes of his precious time to complaining about how evangelicals misrepresent emergings (he must have pointed out that we must let a movement define itself about twenty times), McKnight is postively gleeful in presenting the most harsh and cynical generalizations about the evangelical movement.  Practically no single evangelical would think themselves represented by this description of evangelicalism.  It's a helpful critique to hear, but pretty funny that McKnight would talk this way about evangelicalism after his strident claims that fairness and charity are central to "doing the way of Jesus."

But McKnight atones for this sin by very candidly speaking against the emergings' hatred of the in-out mentality of evangelicalism.  He presents some pretty damning emerging quotations to the effect that they care very little about personal conversions or about whether someone is a Christian or not.  "Unless we are evangelizing, we are not faithfully serving Christ," he stated emphatically, rightly urging that this is true of the Reformed as well as the emerging.

8.  McKnight's fifth river (hey, I thought there were only four, but I've got five) is leftist, Democratic politics.  He admits that he is basically a leftist Democrat, but flatly criticizes the emergings for representing a monolithic leftist political position.  I appreciated his honesty and candor here as in the point above.  He concludes this by warning that the emerging movement runs a dire risk of falling into the old-style social gospel, skillfully working out the baleful results of this.

Again, I recommend this address to everyone interested in the topic of the emerging church movement.  I doubt that McKnight's address will sway anyone either way, but will help those already leaning in one way or the other what this is all about.
Posted November 7, 2006 @ 11:37 PM by Rick Phillips

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