Maybe ‘Emergent’ Is Not So Complicated

Sez early Emergent Village inspiration Brad Cecil:

“I hear comments like: Defining emergent is like “nailing Jell-O to the wall” and “postmodernism means a hundred different things”, I disagree – it isn’t all that hard to describe if you are listening and reading. Here are the simple basic ideas of what fueled the emergent conversation and friendships:
1. Post modern refers to the period after modernity. It appears to “us” that a significant epistemological shift is occurring – the likes of which we haven’t seen in 400 years.
2. Language is limited
3. Human concepts are limited
4. There is no place of irreducible certainty (foundation)
5. Considering the above it would be very difficult to convey absolute meaning using language and human concepts
6. Christian theology has become enslaved to the 1st order assumptions of modernity and is far more Cartesian than Christian and has become ashamed of faith
7. A Reformation of recognition and repentance is needed
8. New theological thought is needed to free Christian theology from the enslavement of modernity and enlightenment assumptions and conversation and friendships would be more productive than developing imperatives.
9. This is just the beginning of the transition and a great deal of work and theological thought lay ahead for those who desire to join the conversation.”

Read more in his review of Why We’re Not Emergent. (By the way, I don’t see this as backing down in my vow to Wayne, as I’m just quoting! 🙂 )

HT: Steve Knight in the EV Weblog

9 Responses to Maybe ‘Emergent’ Is Not So Complicated

  1. Brittian Bullock April 9, 2008 at 10:59 pm #

    Hmmm…I connect with most of those assertions.
    But point four leaves me cold. I’m curious if you might share your perspective on that–what does that particular treatise mean to you? You may remember that McLaren said in A Generous Orthodoxy that he was fundamentalist–in the sense that he believes in Jesus Christ as the foundational underpinning of the Faith–central and supreme. It would seem to me that point four couldn’t possibly agree with that statement in a definitive way. Would you agree with McLaren?
    I suspect point four is where Emergence looses people–even many of it’s friends…
    what are you thoughts?

  2. zoecarnate April 10, 2008 at 12:12 am #


    I’ll answer your question with a question: What did you think of the chapter in Tony Jones’ book The New Christians on foundationalism?

    And, have you ever read Grenz and Franke’s Beyond Foundationalism? What about Daniel Taylor’s The Myth of Certainty? I too am a fundamentalist when it comes to the integral centrality of God’s disclosure in Jesus, but is my knowledge inviolable? I think Cecil’s point has more to do with the limitations of certainty rather than the ultimate unreliability of the Source of said knowledge. I can have weak, imperfect faith in One who is the most-substantial-there-is.

  3. Brittian Bullock April 10, 2008 at 12:47 am #

    I loved the chapter in the New Christians that you referred to, though hadn’t read the other ones. I agree deeply with the idea the arrogant absolutism is deplorable…however, as I said, I think this is where emergent may tend to leave many evangelicals feeling cold at best and completely detached at worst…I suspect that many would view this as a set up point for accepting “any ole diety” in the name of Jesus…”You call him Lord Shiva and I call him Jesus, our perspectives just may be different…” etc…radical constructivism as the education world would say.

    However, if it could be clearly stated: we start with the centrality of Jesus Christ and the absolute certainty of God, a God who is Mystery and hidden in impenetrable light, and (to quote the orthodox) we can can really know very little of him but we can enjoy him–and love him…if that could be stated clearly in the PS footnote of that Point 4 I think that more people could get on board with that. Though…who knows–even that may prove too extreme for folks.

    Thanks for responding…
    hey check out the discussion on Scripture relativism now in progress over at:

  4. Peter April 10, 2008 at 7:09 pm #

    He is totally reliable and we are mostly ignorant–I think that sums it up pretty well.


  5. Andrew T. April 14, 2008 at 6:45 pm #

    I think these things might be true in theory. But in practice, I would say that emergent Christianity tends to be more akin to modern liberalism a-la Adolf von Harnack than it seeks to be free of “first order assumptions” of modernity.

    In other words, as C.S. Lewis once said (and said rightly, in my view), “A great many ideas about God which are trotted out as novelties today are simply the ones which real Theologians tried centuries ago and rejected.”

    I’m not saying that the whole thing is a bad idea, I’m just saying that emergent/ing Christianity is not introducing as much “new theological thought” as it might think and that much of what it does introduce is more akin to modern liberalism or pelagianism (which, if we take church history and tradition even remotely seriously) were rightly renounced as heresy.

  6. zoecarnate April 14, 2008 at 7:06 pm #

    Wow! Strong words Andrew, particularly from someone whom I take to be friendly with the work of folks like McLaren, Jones, Pagitt, etc… Care to unpack?

    Particularly, I wonder if you disagree with the assertion that faith in the past 400 years has become particularly beholden to the modern era? Or do you think that Reformation-era (16th-century) faith is a faithful once-and-for-all retrieval of Biblical (or Patristic, or name your favorite era) Christianity?

  7. Andrew T. April 14, 2008 at 7:27 pm #

    After reading over my comment, I realize that it is quite open to misunderstanding and that there were some pretty huge qualifying statements in my head that didn’t quite make it to my fingers on the keyboard.

    I think what I should have said is that, among folks I meet who claim the moniker “emergent” (especially seminary friends), many of the ideas expressed are more akin to heresies which were renounced centuries ago (in particular, a sort of demythologization of Christianity that connects much of what Jesus said and did more to politics and society than to faith as well as a focus on “practices” that removes the need for teaching actual doctrines). I guess, in this way, I would say that there is much in Reformation-era Christianity which I think was a great idea. But I also think that much was left out by the magisterial reformers which many these days point to as “bastions” of truth (which is why the Anabaptists and Pietists are some of my favorite figures from that time).

    What gets scary for me, though, is what Lewis (I’ve been reading a lot of him lately) called “chronological snobbery.” In other words, I see operating in emergent Christianity a sort of “If it’s new, it must be true” mentality. Just because something happened to be developed in the 16th or 17th century does not mean that it *needs* improvement or even change. This is where I think the reality of “change” and “progress” (at least with regard to doctrine) gets particularly troubling and is more a reflection of modern liberal thought (a la Harnack) than any sort of faithful living out of Christian belief.

    I am certainly a friend of *much* of what emergent authors have to say but I am quite wary of the practical implications of some of the emergent foci. “Practices,” for example seem to take on the character of “let’s do these things without any thought for the doctrinal basis (foundation, maybe) of our practices.” In other words, I think I reject total non-foundationalism because I think that the Ancient Christian creeds, particularly the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds, should at the very least form the doctrinal foundation of our practices.

    I do, in fact, agree that faith has become beholden to modernity but I don’t think that post-modernity is necessarily a shift away but is, often, a deepening or furthering of the modern impulse. In other words, emergent is often too heavily tied to postmodernity (just as liberation theology is often too heavily tied to Marxism) to endure. I think emergent/ing is a good start but I’m afraid it’s beginning to take on the character of an institution instead of a movement of God’s spirit in a new culture.

    Thanks for pushing me a bit. I can’t wait to have coffee sometime.


  8. Andrew T. April 14, 2008 at 7:31 pm #

    Dangit! I left out another thought…

    In other words, some “friends” of emergent/ing Christianity are often too heavily tied to postmodernity (just as liberation theologians were often too heavily tied to Marxism) to endure or be helpful in our current cultural malaise.

  9. Madison Richards April 20, 2008 at 1:52 am #

    Isn’t relationship fun?

    Sometimes it takes what seems like forever to learn each other’s language, only to find out we were speaking about similar themes all along!

    Tomato, to=mah=to, agree, disagree…just don’t call the whole thing off!

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