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The Emergent Church: We’ve Heard It All Before (part 2)

The Emergent Church: We’ve Heard It All Before (part 2)

Someone once said that trying to get an emergent church (EC) leader to clearly state his beliefs is like trying to “nail Jell-O to the wall.” EC leader Tony Jones, for one, finds the Jell-O analogy amusing. It doesn’t occur to him that not being able to define your beliefs or at least answer direct questions about them is not the sign of a well-ordered mind.

But in the postmodern world, muddled thought is not a vice. So when Jones says, “We must stop looking for some objective Truth that is available when we delve into the text of the Bible,” I wonder if he realizes that, using his own logic, I have no way of knowing if what he states is true and, in any case, I shouldn’t bother trying to find out? What is objective? What is the text? What is truth?

EC leaders paint themselves into a corner and don’t want you to notice. They want to tear down objective reason by telling you it doesn’t exist then replace that reason with their own beliefs (disparate as they are), which they then want you to accept as objective reason.

All this might be as important as a pimple on an elephant except for one thing: These leaders’ feigned or (God help us) real uncertainty is especially appealing to young people, who, caught up in the postmodern flavor of the times, prefer their spiritual elders to be as confused as they are.

In a play for young people, the movement’s leaders toss aside doctrine, the connection to fellow Christians through the ages, and any common sense they might have stumbled upon in their thirty-, forty-, or fifty-something years. (As an aside, there aren’t many things sadder than a forty-something man chucking much of what he knows in order to impress the young. What’s the point in being forty if you haven’t learned anything more than what the twenty year old you’re talking to knows?)

 It’s no accident that the terms “emerging” and “emergent” are labels for the movement. Or that EC leaders write books with titles such as The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier (Tony Jones), Church in the Inventive Age (Doug Pagitt), and A New Kind of Christianity (Brian McLaren).
“New,” inventive,” “frontier.” Are you sensing a theme? Can’t you just hear some TV pitch guy saying, “It’s new! It’s great! It’s better than that old stuff!” Young people aren’t interested in anything old. New is good, old is bad.

Stroking egos. It’s how advertising works, and why advertising focuses on teens and twenty-somethings, most of whom are still forming their likes and dislikes and desperately want to be different from their parents.

It’s why ages ago the Who had a hit with the song “My Generation,” which told a bunch of kids born in the 1940s how cool and different they were so a bunch of much older folks could make a lot of money. It’s why the emerging church woos young people with comfy couches, candles, and pastors who look and sound like them.

I became a Christian as a teenager in the 1970s, during the Jesus People movement. We were new, too. And postmodern. We had couches and candles and guitars. We didn’t like what the old church looked and sounded like—and some said that was good.

We were going to change Christianity for the better—or so we were told when our egos were being stroked by those who were old enough to know better. Our candles and conversations and disdain for doctrine were going to batter down the tired old walls of Christianity and make it relevant again. Thank the Lord most of us became “mere” Christians, just like our brothers and sisters in centuries past.

When I’m tempted to get agitated about the EC movement, and angry with its leaders for deceiving people, I stop and consider that the emerging church is just one more passing novelty in a long history of novelties.

As people have grown weary of postmodernism in literature, so they will of postmodernism in the church. The movement is not, as Tony Jones says, destined to push the church in “new directions.” Because in reality it’s nothing new, and it will not prevail.

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