For the sake of this blog entry, I will be focusing on the issues that I see as negative (though there are a few positive facets to the movement). The movement is not monolithic or fully blossomed, but some defining elements appear to be emerging.
Central to the belief of the Emergent movement is the idea that the current incarnation of Christianity has been heavily influenced by scientific reductionism and modernism. Searching for the true meaning of Biblical texts has led to a schism between liberals and fundamentalists. This schism is viewed as hurtful and Emergent practitioners desire to heal the rift by not focusing on the underlying meaning of sacred texts. By focusing too intently on the meaning of scriptural texts, we practice the horrible heritage of our modern, western ideals.
The Emergent church desires to deconstruct theology. Per an article in the Wikipedia, “The Postmodern church resolves this issue (the issue of establishing an identity and worldview) by encouraging followers to deconstruct each element of their faith experience and reassemble the pieces according to his or her own unique journey of deconstruction” (For an uncritical review, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emerging_Church). In other words, faith becomes even more intensely personal and non-universal. An Emergent’s experience is their own and no one elses.
Many have been drawn to the Emergent Church due to its focus on the mystical rather than the rational. Post modern Emergent members believe that the intellect has taken too much preeminence in the Church. They seek to end the opposition between science and faith by simply not addressing the issues of science. Instead, mystery will be embraced. We will simply leave the larger issues of creation, the Fall, and a global flood to those who have always had our best interests at heart; the evolutionists.
Emergent church-goers love symbols. Through the use of symbols, Emergents believe that they unite members of the Church Universal by evoking their lineage. Though the symbols had specific meaning in their historical context, an Emergent uses them to create a new cohesive center and meaning for post modern believers. In doing so, they destroy the historical nature of the symbols.
The movement also challenges long-standing doctrine. Recently, I heard one of the leading spokespersons of the movement, Brian McLaren, speak about his view on hell. In his words, those who believe in a literal hell are sinning. They ascribe to God the creation of something that God would never create in His goodness.
In McLaren’s own words:
Because if the cross is in line with Jesus’ teaching then—I won’t say, the only, and I certainly won’t say even the primary—but a primary meaning of the cross is that the kingdom of God doesn’t come like the kingdoms of the this world, by inflicting violence and coercing people. But that the kingdom of God comes through suffering and willing, voluntary sacrifice. But in an ironic way, the doctrine of hell basically says, no, that that’s not really true. That in the end, God gets His way through coercion and violence and intimidation and domination, just like every other kingdom does. The cross isn’t the center then. The cross is almost a distraction and false advertising for God (http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/brianmclaren.htm).
McLaren denies not only hell, but also our ability to have a hermeneutic (interpretational principle) for studying the Bible. In an Emergent’s world, the text does not have one central meaning. It has a variety of valid interpretations feasibly as numerous as the individuals who encounter the text. Generally, Emergents do not believe that a text of scripture has the meaning intended by the author (author-centered meaning or, in this case, God centered meaning). As an individual on a religious journey, the pilgrim brings unique meaning to the text.
Emergents are also consumed with pragmatism. If something appears to work it should be modeled by everyone. If throwing away the rational mind, systematic theology, doctrine, ecclesiology, science and author-centered meaning draws thousands to our churches, that is viewed as a good thing. After all, anything that draws large numbers can’t be wrong. Can it?
How these individuals refer to themselves as Evangelicals is beyond me. Words rot. Over time, the term Evangelical has become so packed with meaning that it has become meaningless. Perhaps the time has drawn nigh to coin a new term to refer to believers who assert the primacy of the Bible, absolute truth and author-centered meaning. Might I suggest “Douloi” meaning "servants" (Philippians 1:1)? It might sound strange at first, but so did "fundamentalist" and "evangelical" many years ago.
The lines have blurred once again just as they did during the birth of liberalism. Emergents will think they are ploughing new ground, but it is merely the same harrows created by the liberals. The liberal/fundamentalist split occurred slowly; mainly because the liberals were still developing their theology and the conservatives were always trying to catch up to the latest heresy. It took time to get it wrong so badly. Hopefully our day and age will not have to wait forever for this new movement to define itself. The longer it takes, the more ingrained the Emergent ideas will become in everyday thinking. Perhaps they should be pushed to develop faster…
We might need to revive adherence to creeds and perhaps the appellative “heretic”.