John MacArthur on the Emerging Church

In an interview on the “Grace to You” website, Dr. John MacArthur sizes-up the emerging church, and here’s his bottom line: “I think it’s just another form of liberalism.” You can read or download the rest from the website or listen to it below.

[audio:http://webmedia.gty.org/sermons/High/GTY107.mp3]

49 Responses to John MacArthur on the Emerging Church

  1. Ryan McBride March 4, 2009 at 4:32 pm #

    I don’t understand why MacArthur continues to group the emerging church as a whole, as liberal, when clearly there is a reformed wing of the emerging church. The part of the movement MacArthur is referring to is the “emergent” church, with guys like Mclaren. I really think it would be helpful for MacArthur to clarify which group he is addressing and not lump them all under the umbrella of the emerging church.

  2. bryan March 4, 2009 at 4:53 pm #

    Whatever you think of MacArthur he seems to be very uninformed and reactionary on issues like this.

  3. William March 4, 2009 at 5:02 pm #

    I agree with Ryan. Driscoll and others will often refer to themselves as part of the “emerging” movement. But Driscoll (and others like him) also agree with most conservative Christians on fundamental and ethical issues.

    I guess this just shows that all generalizations are bad. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. Scott March 4, 2009 at 5:06 pm #

    Anything MacArthur disagrees with falls under the umbrella of either liberalism or postmodernism. It might be helpful if he would actually avoid sweeping generalizations every now and then and intelligently engage an issue.

  5. John Holmberg March 4, 2009 at 6:25 pm #

    Good comment Scott. Everything MacArthur disagrees with is “liberal.” I find that a common term to use by conservatives when they don’t agree with something. Standard MacArthur though, I guess.

  6. Russ Ware March 4, 2009 at 6:49 pm #

    รขโ‚ฌล“I think [the emerging church is] just another form of liberalism.รขโ‚ฌย

    This kind of statement is a prime and very sad example of how MacArthur is completely irrelevant to the discussion.

    I say the discussion because I think this really is the discussion right now. What does the church look like after Modernity?

    Dr. MacArthur may think he is engaging the discussion with these types of statements, interviews, articles, books, and sermons to that effect (I’ve read and heard several of them). But the reality is that by his position he is effectively removing himself from the discussion and from relevance.

    It’s really very, very sad that such a brilliant and knowledgeable man would come to this place. Dr. MacArthur seems to have only one real message and it just doesn’t apply here the way he thinks it does, and frankly that is a real shame. I am sorry that he is missing it. It’s like he’s still trying to sell CDs in an iTunes world. He’ll still get some buyers.

    The ‘liberalism’ charge as a blanket statement (whether in terms of theology or politics) has itself lost relevance. There is no longer any cogent definition of what that even means in our present context.

    The emerging church is very dangerous. It’s dangerous to the thoroughly modern, MacArthur construct of what church and Christianity should be. And in another sense the emerging church is dangerous in general… just like Christianity is.

  7. Scott March 4, 2009 at 7:56 pm #

    “When I was in college I…I took advanced European philosophy and studied the flow of philosophy. It didn’t matter what the philosophy was and you could go through the whole thing starting in the pre-modern area with Socrates and Plato and Aristotle, and Phaeles(???) And you can march your way through the whole deal and you can come all the way to Decarte and flow through Haegler(?) And Kant and Kierkegaard and all that kind of stuff, it was all wrong. It was always wrong and it kept being wrong and even though it kept building on itself and altering and shifting and moving, it was all bogus…it was all error. And post-modernism is just another form of human error, another way to wrongly understand the universe, to wrongly understand reality.

    And for the church to accommodate that is bizarre. If you were in the New Testament time, for example, if you wanted…let’s say you wanted to be an Emerging Church in Paul’s day, what would you do? How would you be an emerging Church then?
    Well, you would say this is a world where everybody worships a lot of gods, so let’s put up a bunch of idols in our church. Let’s do this. This is a world full of homosexuality. The Roman world was rampant with homosexuality. So we’ve got to embrace that. There was, according to historians, there was a very, very far-reaching feminist movement where women were running around bare-breasted and carrying sticks and acting aggressive. If we want to really reach this world, this is how people in this world think, let’s do that. That will be a good thing to do. Or maybe we could even go back further and let’s say you’re living in the Old Testament. What would you do in the Old Testament time to accommodate the culture? You’d put up idols, right? Maybe you’d have one of the priests of Molech come and talk in your meeting. Hey, let’s have a priest of Molech come over and tell us how he does mysticism. “Well this is exactly what the Bible forbids. This is exactly what God condemns. And in the New Testament this is exactly what John…keep yourselves from idols, you don’t do that. It’s all about separation. How can we come in this age and say what we want to do to really reach this age is bring in all the gods of this age, all the idols of this age and bring them into the church.”

    Where did he study philosophy, and where in creation did he come up with “the women running around with sticks?”

  8. James March 4, 2009 at 11:35 pm #

    MacArthur nailed it. That was one of the best critiques of the Emergent Church that I’ve heard. Whether or not you agree with the term “liberal” or not, the leaders of the Emergent Church movement are sometimes vague and sometimes completely unbiblical in their stance on issues such as the eternal destiny of unbelievers, whether or not homosexuality is a sin, the authority of scripture, and whether or not Jesus is the only way to the Father.

  9. Russ Ware March 4, 2009 at 11:40 pm #

    The level of ignorance displayed in Dr. MacArthur’s explanation of what is really going on and driving emergence is truly staggering. His characterization of what this is really all about at the very beginning of this interview is truly offensive. There seems to be absolutely no attempt being made on his part to really understand what is going on. Of course there is good, bad, ugly and beautiful in this thing, but it doesn’t seem like he sees any of it. He doesn’t even really get the bad and ugly part right.

  10. James March 4, 2009 at 11:53 pm #

    Russ, what would you say are the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful of the Emergent Church movement?

  11. Russ Ware March 4, 2009 at 11:55 pm #

    James…

    I made my last post, which looks like it might be a response to yours, before reading yours. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Now, I will respond…

    As you say, sometimes leaders in emerging circles are off base. No argument.

    But, if this interview represents the best critique (which implies the best understanding) of the emerging church you have come across, I beg you to look further.

    Even strong critics like Carson and Wells (who don’t get it quite right either) do a much better job and display a much better understanding than MacArthur.

    I would also encourage you towards progressive but well grounded emergent thinkers/leaders like Dan Kimball or Scot McKnight and many, many others. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Darius T March 4, 2009 at 11:58 pm #

    Russ, you have made two comments and neither have explained how MacArthur is so “staggeringly ignorant,” instead you’ve just claimed that he is. The essence of a good rebuttal is an actual argument for it, not just an ad hominem retort. You may very well be correct, but you have done your position a disservice by appealing to name-calling rather than evidence or reason. It’s not terribly convincing.

    For example, you say that the “liberal” shoe doesn’t fit. Yet from a 20 second perusal of “liberal Christianity” on Wikipedia, I find this: “The word ‘liberal’ in liberal Christianity denotes a characteristic willingness to interpret scripture without any preconceived notion of inerrancy of scripture.”

    It would seem that liberal is very much appropriate to large portions of the Emergent church.

  13. Denny Burk March 5, 2009 at 12:00 am #

    Mark Driscoll wrote a helpful little article for the Criswell Theological Review that I think accurately describes the spectrum of emerging churches. Here’s the link: http://criswell.wordpress.com/2006/03/27/hello-world. I think the “liberal” moniker most aptly applies to the Emergent wing of the movement.

  14. Derek March 5, 2009 at 3:05 am #

    The sound bites that have been posted/quoted above don’t really do justice to the whole interview.

    Russ, have you listened to the whole interview/podcast? I agree with Darius, it would be more helpful if you would respond to specifics, and to not do so in a straw man fashion.

    Ryan, MacArthur does make a distinction between emergent and emerging and addresses them both. I don’t think he took a lot of time to explain the differences because he was assuming his audience was already aware of them.

    Actually, I was kind of surprised that he was as circumspect as he was in this interview format. His aim was in large part to help leaders understand that many evangelical churches have opened themselves up to the criticisms coming from the emergent leaders and that many of their critiques are valid.

    The connection he made between the seeker friendly movement and the emergent one was in my view, stronger than any argument/connection I’ve heard before, though this is obviously not an original concept.

    He also addresses a common criticism against him and those of his generation, particularly that he is stuck in a modernist mindset. I had that question myself and am glad he took the time to address it.

    Russ is probably right that D.A. Carson and David Wells may be the most effective critics of the emergent movement, but I think MacArthur has also laid out a pretty strong case and has done so in a constructive way.

  15. Derek March 5, 2009 at 3:21 am #

    Russ,
    One other comment you made that I would like to respond to – the common complaint from the emergents is that “no one understands us”. It reminds me of myself when I was 14. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m really getting quite weary of this refrain – trying to nail an emergent down on anything is like nailing jello to a wall.

    What is it specifically that Carson and/or Wells still do not get (that is fundamental to understanding the emergent movement)?

  16. Ryan McBride March 5, 2009 at 8:53 am #

    Derek,
    “Ryan, MacArthur does make a distinction between emergent and emerging and addresses them both.”

    Where?

  17. Derek March 5, 2009 at 11:07 am #

    Ryan,
    If you listen to the audio, there is a general flow where he first addresses the theological components and then in the second part he addresses the practical and he acknowledges that there are some in the “emerging movement” who are grounded to Biblical orthodoxy.

    To those who are in this latter category, MacArthur validates the importance of understanding that we are now addressing a postmodern audience, but he cautions churches to be very careful about not mimicking or pandering to the philosophy of the day nearly so much as we should proclaim the timeless truths of God’s Word. He said that this is particularly true in the media age we live in, when the half life on cultural trends is shorter and shorter.

    And he actually agrees with those who say that people of his generation were overly preoccupied with addressing the modernist.

    Like I said above, he could have or should have defined the difference between emergent and emerging, but I think he understands that his audience already understands these distinctions.

  18. Andrew M. March 5, 2009 at 11:12 am #

    Russ,

    I agree with Darius T. Please enlighten us as to how MacArthur’s argument is so terribly inferior that you have had to shed light on this inferiority multiple times. I’d like an actual argument, not a loud opinion tossed out for us to swallow without question.

  19. Russ Ware March 5, 2009 at 12:06 pm #

    Guys…

    I’m going to confess that I have not listened or read the full interview here. I read the first part and skimmed the rest and it looked like the same old thing from Dr. Mac to me. I will listen to the whole thing today and try to respond accordingly if I have the time.

    I do think that one of the points that Dr. Mac seems to miss is that this in not about reaching or communicating to post-moderns, and it wasn’t about reaching and communicating to moderns. It’s about the fact that we (they) were moderns and we are are post-moderns. You can make the case that the essence of (or mere) Christianity stands outside of those distinctions, but none of us do, including Dr. Mac. And I would argue that Christianity doesn’t stand completely outside either.

    Also, I’m pretty comfortable in this blog arena, as one who has been fairly engaged with this thing, simply saying that MacArthur gets it wrong and leaving it at that. Denny and others do essentially the same thing when people make supposed mischaracterizations of their tribe. If that makes me sound like a 14 year old, so be it. I have the gray hairs to prove otherwise. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  20. Derek March 5, 2009 at 12:45 pm #

    Russ,
    It probably is true that we need to recognize that we are part of the cultural fabric, not aliens to it (I think this is your point, correct me if I misunderstand). Seems like a fair point/distinction.

    I think that this is actually where I found MacArthur’s input on this subject helpful. He admits that many dismiss him as anachronistic for a variety of reasons, including those that you mention. But as I understand his larger point, he is saying, “look – there have been more cultural trends (other than modernism and postmodernism) that I’ve seen come and go in my years of living and of ministry. If you want to avoid becoming a relic of the past, don’t get overly caught up in identifying or demonizing the trends of the day. Focus instead on proclaiming the timeless truths of Scripture. This will help us to avoid getting rolled up into the larger fabric of constantly changing cultural trends and will keep us relevant.” I thought his cautionary tale about Oral Roberts University was very memorable and illustrated this point excellently.

  21. Jason March 5, 2009 at 9:24 pm #

    It is strange to me how defensive people are over this. Complaining about taking a wide swath using an “emerging” rubric, while naming a handful of purportedly faithful teachers who are happy to remain under the rubric with the least faithful seems to be complaining about using a rubric that both the faithful and virulently unfaithful are happy to don.

    If using a wide swath using the moniker “emergent” is offensive, even when a majority of emergent leaders are anything but orthodox, then please tell the purportedly faithful to get out from under the rubric.

  22. Jason March 5, 2009 at 9:25 pm #

    Russ,

    Can I say it?

    Citation, please.

  23. ryan March 5, 2009 at 11:59 pm #

    Hey John and Russ,

    Why is it that when Scot McKnight makes “sweeping generalizations” about made up groups called “neoreformed” he is spot on and insightful, and when Jonny Mac does so he is ignorant? Care to explain?

    Also, I agree with those who think it is important to distinguish between emerging and emergent, but I am puzzled how anyone could define Emergent Village as anything else than young liberalism. Tony Jones kind of put that discussion to bed.

  24. Russ Ware March 6, 2009 at 2:28 am #

    I guess if I thought MacArthur was spot on and McKnight was ignorant I would be a reformed baptist. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Tony Jones is ‘off the reservation.’ No argument there.

  25. Ryan Kearns March 6, 2009 at 9:39 am #

    So are you saying Russ that since you think McKnight is right for making sweeping generalizations and MacArthur is wrong for doing so, that your only just telling us what team your on?

    I might be reading you wrong so I am really just trying to clarify. But if this is the case how do we have conversations with those who we disagree? Do we each just uphold one standard for others and let it slide for those we like? If that is the case than we really have to find a a better way.

    For the record, I think they both do more harm then good by not discussing specifics and trying to lump entire movements into single mindsets and categories.

  26. Russ Ware March 6, 2009 at 12:56 pm #

    To some extent, yes. From my observations, not the least of which is this blog, McKnight’s characterization of what he calls the neoreformed seems pretty accurate. And I think the numerous attacks in numerous forms that MacArthur has launched against the phenomena/discussion/movement of emergence over the last several years have been overly defensive and reactionary. His approach to this has demonstrated that he does not understand what is going on. This isn’t just some other little fad or emphasis in the church that he can write a polemic on and then move onto what’s next. This interview, at its best, does actually show a possible dawning on his part to this reality.

    We are all emerging from modernity, and we have been for some time. This is not just a church thing. I think a better way to frame the discussion is simply to say that there is a significant movement in the church right now to figure out what the implications of this emergence are for us.

    It would be great if a leader like Dr. MacArthur would have the ability to understand what is going on on a deeper level. If Dr. MacArthur thinks he has seen other cultural trends in his lifetime besides modernism and post-modernism, then he is really missing what is going on. And, his position makes more sense in that light.

    Dr. Mac’s ministry focus has been highly polemic for a long time. Over time the tone has gotten more strident, and this emphasis seems to have consumed more and more of what he is all about over the years. He’s attacked numerous things in his books over the years, and it seems he is always on the lookout for what is next. But emergence isn’t just another ‘what is next’ in that context. The truth is that he really hasn’t seen anything like this in his lifetime, unless he was around in the 16th century. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    There is always a degree of what we do and say in the context of disagreement that is unhelpful. Scot McKnight is not immune to this. I think that the tone and approach of Dr. Mac has gotten less and less helpful over the years to be sure.

    For the record, a couple of years ago I was at Wheaton for a conference where Tony Jones presented a very, very poor paper. Then we hopped over to Pilly to hang with Jones, Richard Kearney and John Caputo (two imminent philosophers) and talk about God. It was an amazing time, but Jones was about as frustrating as ever. His defensiveness, bitterness and baggage was in full display. My friends and I had actually listened (with much disgust) to a presentation by Dr. Mac on the way there on the ’emerging church.’ After the conference, on the way home (a long drive), I suggested that Tony Jones was the John MacArthur of the emergent movement. NEITHER are being helpful. Both seem to be driven by a certain measure of anger and hurt that is below the surface. Both come across as strident and arrogant and neither really seems to listen.

    Subsequently, Jones has progressed himself out of relevance, even to many in the emergent movement. Scot McKnight is a welcome change as a prominent leader (same with Phyllis Tickle). They’re not perfect, but they are a vast improvement from the likes of Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt.

    I hope that with the shifts going on there, people in the Reformed camp, who seem to have always been the first to write-off emergence, will give a second and more thoughtful look at what is going on.

    Maybe Dr. McArthur will. We need all the voices working together and correcting each other, not setting up camps and lobbing missiles.

    But it’s hard.

    Huh… Ryan, I think I might be agreeing with you.

  27. Russ Ware March 6, 2009 at 1:00 pm #

    Let me bounce this out…

    It seems to me like Reformed/strict Calvinist theology is kind of the consummate theology of modernity. It’s very logical, scientific in a sense, deterministic, and void of much mystery and tension. It’s very ‘black and white.’ And that is a good description given the fact that the term ‘black and white’ wouldn’t even have meaning before the print age.

    This has implications for where the battle lines get drawn between those firmly rooted in Reformed tradition and those emerging from a period that spawned that theological construct in the first place.

    In terms of more traditional camps dealing with emergence, Lutherans, for instance, don’t seem (as a general rule) to push back as much. Perhaps because we were never as modern or Reformed in our understandings in the first place. Sometimes us Lutherans joke that we still believe in the ‘magic.’ ๐Ÿ™‚

    What we mean is that we have retained a more robust sense of mystery and tension and paradox and sacramentality that some sectors of Protestantism have sought to totally remove.

    The reformed baptist or neoreformed phenomena seems tome to embody that idea. I also see it as a direct reaction to emergence.

    I also see it as part of the process. ๐Ÿ™‚

  28. Russ Ware March 6, 2009 at 1:01 pm #

    Oh goodness. My apologies for the bold text. I failed to close an html tag properly. Denny, if you can fix that, that would be great.

  29. Darius T March 6, 2009 at 2:12 pm #

    I’ve read Johnny Mac’s Truth War and Carson’s Becoming Conversant… it’s pretty fair to say that Carson is significantly more gracious (while no less demanding) toward Emergents than is J Mac.

  30. Adam Barr March 6, 2009 at 3:01 pm #

    Russ… I appreciate you sharing your impressions of Calvinist theology with us. I’ve gotta be honest with you, bro: Not sure how you arrived at them.

    For instance, if you read Calvin, you’ll notice that one of his perennial themes is mystery. He was constantly saying things like, “we can’t penetrate this veil of mystery.” The Institutes are filled with examples. His doctrine of accommodation was an early, explicit recognition that any human speech about God is on a different order than God’s own thought (though maintaining Divine authority).

    The generation following Calvin (called “Reformed Scholastics”) explicitly built “mystery” into their theology of God’s knowledge. They said there is NO WAY IN THE WORLD we can know God fully, or even know things about God in the same way God knows them (called the archetype/ectype distinction).

    The Westminster & Belgic Confessions along with the Heidelberg Catechism(17th century) unashamedly celebrate God’s “incomprehensibility.”

    Herman Bavinck (a 19th-20th century Reformed theologian) claimed that ALL HUMAN LANGUAGE about God is in some sense analogical and metaphorical.

    Cornelius Van Til (1900s), who taught apologetics at Westminster Seminary, actually went to the mat with another theologian over the issue of divine incomprehensibility. Van Til famously said that to posit one point of convergence in our knowledge with God’s is to posit one point of convergence of our being with God’s (heresy).

    Not trying to “go to town” on the history of this thing. But I think it’s a shame that such an historical myth seems to get a lot of play in certain circles. If you’d like to get some context for this comment, give this lecture a listen:
    http://borderlandsweb.com/blog/2009/02/26/revel-in-the-mystery/

  31. Adam Barr March 6, 2009 at 3:03 pm #

    Russ, one more link for you. I recently gave a 9 week course on the emergent church from a Reformed perspective. Don’t know if you’ve heard of Kevin DeYoung (author of “Why We’re not Emergent”), but he gave it an endorsement. All online for free. I’d love your thoughts on it:
    http://borderlandsweb.com/blog/spring-education-2008-the-church-in-emerging-culture-3/

  32. Ryan Kearns March 6, 2009 at 8:01 pm #

    Russ, I actually think we do have a lot of common ground here. The key is us as brothers and sister in Christ to find better ways to communicate with each other when we disagree. To me that means that things like sweeping generalizations are rarely helpful or needed, regardless of which side they originate from.

    As someone who identifies with the emerging reformed movement, I read McKnight’s assessment and probably felt the way many feel when they here MacArthur speak about the emergent church. I struggled to understand who these extremist neoreformed were, when I hear guys like Keller, Carson constantly extend the olive branch to those outside their reformed tribe. And could not imagine either one saying others who did not hold to Calvinist teachings were not Christians.

    And while I am sure if you did deep enough you can find some fringe follower shouting such things, but not the leaders of the persuasive, church planting, missional reformed movement that has seemed to garner such steam in the last few years.

    My point being that we can always make arguments about the fringe, but it is dangerous to then extrapolate that fringe as the center and core. No matter which side.

  33. Russ Ware March 7, 2009 at 12:04 am #

    Adam,

    I appreciate your comments. I knew I was going to hear it! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I have some very good pastor friends who are conservative, liturgical Presbyterians. They model the lineage you describe. We agree on a great deal.

    Nevertheless, I still would submit that modern thinking is a key component to the framework of Calvinistic theology/philosophy. And I think that may be why its trajectory has lead to the more extreme positions we see from leaders like Dr. Mac.

    After the passing of Pope JPII there was a lot of sympathy towards his legacy and the Catholic Church in general from many Evangelicals. In distress Dr. Mac preached a ‘sermon’ on the Roman Catholic Church that was nothing short of slanderous. He was virtually seething in this message – it’s hard for me to listen to – but I still have it on my iTunes. One of the things he said in that ‘sermon’ was… “the greater the ritual… the greater the apostasy.” *sigh*

    The greatest thing that emergence has done for this boy (who grew up Southern Baptist) is show me that the Modern, Evangelical flavor of Christianity I grew up with isn’t all there is. There is much, much more. And, so many of the questions I was asking that that form had such unsatisfying answers for were answered far better by a more historical understanding of our faith. Short of that enlightenment (ironic!), I am almost certain I would no longer be in ministry, and I fear that I might not have even held to the faith.

    I have often described my journey to folks by saying that after my dark night of the soul I’ve come around to hold to all of the core things I was taught growing up. But just for different reasons. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I will try to find time to check out the links you posted.

    Thanks.

    Ryan…

    Good words.

    If Scot ever writes a book called “The Truth War” as a polemic against the neoreformed, I won’t hesitate to call him out. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    But, seriously. You’re right. Thanks.

  34. Derek March 7, 2009 at 6:23 pm #

    Russ and Ryan,
    Do you guys think that our culture is in the beginning, middle or end of a postmodern mindset?

    It seems like MacArthur thinks we are near the end of it, which I definitely don’t agree with (on this).

    Still, it does seem like comparing postmodernism and modernism might have limits. Don’t you feel at some level that people are ultimately going to seek out objective answers to their deepest questions and that postmodernism leaves them even more hungry for objective truth?

    To take this outside the evangelical community, don’t you think this might account, at least in part, to the popularity of the “new athiests” (Dawkins, Hitchens, etc), who argue that there is a need for objective answers and truth?

    I’m not entirely sure what the answer is, just throwing this out there for feedback.

  35. Russ Ware March 7, 2009 at 6:53 pm #

    Derek…

    Good thoughts. If you’re talking about postmodern philosophy specifically, yes I think it leaves people hungry for the Truth.

    I actually think that it is most helpful to view the transitional period of postmodernism as essentially over. My take is that we have been solidly in ‘postmodern times’ culturally speaking since my parents were kids in the 50s and 60s. In terms of philosophy, science, art, etc… longer than that.

    Neither the internet or digital technology in general are the media of postmodernism in this model. Postmodern media is broadcast: radio, TV, arena rock shows, Willow Creek Church, etc…

    In other words, the boomers (like Dr. Mac) are the original cultural postmoderns. Surprise! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I like to think that while modernity is over (and in that sense we will all be postmoderns from now on), we should now move beyond thinking in terms of that transition.

    Call it digital age, information age, whatever… but we are in it.

    That’s where I think guys like Dr. Mac still miss it. They seem to think that the passing of the postmodern ‘fad’ will yield something of a return to modern thought. That is simply not so.

    The print age IS OVER. And this has epic implications for a form and approach to Christianity that was driven by print media – that is, Protestantism in general.

  36. Derek March 7, 2009 at 7:28 pm #

    Interesting way of looking at this, Russ. Maybe you’re right.

    I’ve always thought of postmodernism dating back to the post WW2 era, but that it didn’t really come into full cultural bloom until the boomers entered middle age and began to assert authority (the 80’s and 90’s).

    Several years ago, I heard someone posit the notion that postmodernism was going to fall out of favor and be replaced sooner than most people thought. Honestly, I thought this was a ridiculous notion at the time I heard it, but the popularity of Hitchens, Dawkins and Mark Driscoll (never thought of those three grouped together, did ya?) causes me to re-think this. That is, maybe modernism is making a comeback, albeit in a different, more aggressive form.

    Not sure, just wondering aloud.

  37. Darius T March 7, 2009 at 11:56 pm #

    Postmodernism is probably here to stay for a long time. However, that doesn’t mean that modernism won’t still have a stronghold, since postmodernism is so utterly self-refuting in so many areas of life.

    The Emerging/ent/ed church, on the other hand, is going to fade out sooner rather than later (in my opinion). For one, they aren’t generally growing much in numbers. Two, they are merely one of the last logical steps on the road out of the town called Christianity (I have a friend or two who tried Emerging churches as the last gasp in their faith before rejecting it entirely). A significant portion of Emergents are just passin’ through (mostly towards greater and greater apostasy), which doesn’t bode well for the sustainability of the movement as a whole.

    People don’t last long in a movement where you don’t have to really believe anything. So, to modify Chesterton, once people begin to lose faith in God, they will put their faith in anything. That’s why the Anglican church is shrinking so fast… they’ve rejected the Bible as God’s standard, and once you do that in Christianity, only the kooks still hang out in the sanctuary. It’s kind of pointless to call something “Christian” when it rejects all basic tenets of Christianity. It’s kind of like referring to an old boys country club as a “men’s club” when it mostly consists of women. Or a gay/straight alliance club if everyone in it is homosexual. Deep down, people understand the silliness of it all.

  38. Russ Ware March 8, 2009 at 2:05 am #

    Derek…

    This is good discussion.

    I think your grouping together of Hitchens, Dawkins and Driscoll is insightful.

    We have to remember that postmodern does not mean anti-modern.

    Part of the result of emergence in the church context is a re-alignment of sorts not so much along denominational lines, but along the lines of major theological and philosophical constructs.

    These are fascinating times.

    Darius…

    I have long thought (and I told Tony Jones this a couple of years ago) that we’ll know the emergent discussion/movement has been a ‘success’ when it can basically go away. I’m not sure he liked that. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    But I still believe that, and I think it’s already happening.

    The emerging phenomena is not best represented by Doug Pagitt’s Solomon’s Porch or the like. It is the change afoot in thousands upon thousands of churches and the way they are thinking about the faith and how to be the church. You might not identify these churches as ’emerging churches’ by looking at them. You can’t measure the numerical growth numbers. They aren’t making headlines. But it is happening.

    That’s where the action is. ๐Ÿ™‚

  39. Ryan Kearns March 8, 2009 at 2:38 pm #

    Wow some really great ideas getting bantered around here. Just like the rest of you I can only speculate as to what might be going on and where we are headed.

    Truth is postmodernism erupted from a disillusioned reflection on WWII. It was the collapse of viewing education and rationalism as the savior of humanity. Since then it has taken many different permutations but that was the original gist of it.

    Currently, and within evangelicalism, it seems to have evolved more into a mood about authority than anything else. A strong distrust of history (chronological snobbery to borrow from CS Lewis) and past institutions. The problem is though as this anti-authoritarianism plays itself out it involves people getting up and speaking in front of others and the founding of groups, institutions, or conversations, and the irony begins.

    On a broader note, the two biggest themes emerging in culture and Christianity are specialization/niche and extremism.

    Our economies have become more specialized so has our entertainment, social circles, interests, hobbies, and even our metaphysical worldview beliefs. We live in a world now where if you are a one legged polish midget who only likes to eat meat while howling at the moon, you can find a like minded cohort on the internet in a short period of time. Point being here that Christians have also been effected by this radical specialization, or ease of networking if you will, to build niche movements often around a mood of anti-authority that is common among young people but because of cultural specialization of our culture it can garner more steam.

    So with tribes better able to connect then ever before, we get the next phenomenon that Keller has done such a great job highlighting; extremism. We our in a world that is getting more religious and more secular at the same time. In a post-Christian culture the lines are often drawn tighter than ever and you see the rise of the “four horsemen of New Atheism” and at the same time evangelical churches thriving. In a culture of both religious and secular advancements there is a gravitation toward picking a side and rooting for them to defeat the other. And don’t think this is just an American issue, replace Christianity with Islam and you have even a more explosive situation in the UK.

    Pull this influence into the church and you get the same thing in the evangelical community. You get McKnight v. Carson, McLaren v. Driscoll, and so on. You get extremism as people feel pressured to pick one side and defend them against the other; Even when it might prick their conscience to do so. Their side is always right and the new villain has become the other. Going through seminary I felt this tension. I felt obliged at times to defend some crazy things said by reformed guys because that was my “team” and even if it made me squirm I could not give an inch to the other side. And I saw this in my more liberal counterparts with their hero’s also. My breakthrough came in deciding to opt out. To realize that I had something to learn from the voices I had at one time considered to be toxic, and move past the extremism to being faithful to Jesus.

    This does not mean I do not have strong theological convictions, they are actually stronger than they have ever been. I just don’t feel the weight of having to be so defensive for my theological position or its leaders.

  40. jeff miller March 8, 2009 at 11:51 pm #

    Denny,
    why do I think it would be so much more fruitful to critically examine your take on Matthew 5:17-19, than it would be to, with a fair amount of paranoia, try to determine whether or not you are “emergent” or “neo-reformed”?
    Does anybody knoe what I mean?
    -Jeff

  41. GLW Johnson March 9, 2009 at 8:45 am #

    Adam
    Your take on ‘Calvin vs. the Calvinists’ has been taken out behind the woodshed and given a good thrashing by the likes of Richard Muller and Paul Helm-and your take on Van Til sounds like you pulled it down from wiki-p.

  42. Adam Barr March 9, 2009 at 12:15 pm #

    GLW
    Bro…I can deal with disagreement. In fact, it’s always a good thing to wrestle through things with other thinkers. But I have a question for you: Did you even read my post?

    At no point did I forward the “Calvin vs. the Calvinists” thesis. Since I don’t subscribe to such a view, that would have been impossible!

    The entire POINT of my post was to emphasize the unity of Reformed thought (Calvin thru Van Til) on the concept of “mystery.” I specifically argued that there is a direct line connecting Calvin, the Reformed Scholastics, Bavinck and Van Til.

    Muller is sitting on my bookshelf (along with Turretin). My post, though brief by necessity, rests on PhD level research. If you want me to throw in a Van Asselt quote next time, let me know. But, I’d prefer that you at least try not to turn the thesis of my post on its head!

    Re: my take on Van Til. I question whether you know what it is (having already reversed the POINT of the entire post). If you’d like me to send you some of the papers I’ve written on him, shoot me your e-mail address. I’m not sure what you mean with the wiki slam. My understanding of Van Til has been formed by reading him (a lot), reading Bahnsen & Frame (others as well), and studying him at Westminster with Scott Oliphant and Lane Tipton. Based on my classes with them, my take on Van Til isn’t a wiki-cut-and-paste.

    Legitimate debate has to start with a basic grasp of the other person’s point, GLW.

  43. Adam Barr March 9, 2009 at 12:46 pm #

    Hey Russ,

    Thanks for your response. I seriously appreciate the reality you bring to this discussion.

    re: Modern elements in Reformed thought. Without a doubt, they’re there. Some of them are inevitable. When you’re responding to a particular movement in the culture at large, you’ll articulate things in the language of that culture.

    I’ve just always thought that the pomo critique practiced by the likes of McLaren et al tends to oversimplify things and winds up being reductionistic. The use of certain “modern” vocabulary in explicating a concept doesn’t mean the entire concept rests on “modern” assumptions. It’s not an “either-or” thing here. Old Princeton might have had a love for elements of Scottish Common Sense Realism, for instance, but admitting this is a far cry from claiming that the entire idea of inerrancy is a strictly modern phenomenon. (I’m only referencing a perennial pomo claim that verges on canard).

    RE: finding a broader theological world than a lot of more “rationalistic” elements in evangelicalism. I get that. I grew up in a non-denom, non-confessional context. For me, discovering Reformed theology was anything BUT a leap into a limiting box. It was like walking through the back of the wardrobe into Narnian spring.

    I guess that’s why I have such a passion for communicating the rich history of this movement to those who are identifying with the emergent critique of modernity. Personally, I think it’s not as simple as: Think “modern” or think “postmodern.” I think that there is a heritage of thought in the Reformed world that runs deeper than those cut-and-dried categories, addressing the concerns of each.

    Anyway…thanks again for the chance to engage on this stuff.

  44. Russ Ware March 9, 2009 at 7:19 pm #

    Ryan and Adam…

    I’ve just been catching up. Good stuff! What a fine discussion this turned out to be. Great points.

  45. GLW Johnson March 10, 2009 at 7:45 am #

    Adam
    I went back and reread your comment-perhaps I did misunderstand your point-but the way you described/contrasted Calvin’s approach and that of the Reformed scholastics stills strikes me the same way. As for CVT, I was a student of the great man, as well as a friend of the late Greg Bahnsen. Maybe we could discuss our respective takes of this subject in a different format.

  46. Adam Barr March 12, 2009 at 2:10 am #

    GLW, Thanks for taking the time to reread my post. If, after a second read, you still detected some kind of contrast between Calvin and the Scholastics being drawn, mea culpa. That was certainly not the point.

    As someone who helped launch the “Das and Kees Society” at Westminster, I am a lover of Van Til as well. If you perceived a slight on him in my post, again…mea culpa. I was simply pointing out that Van Til was a staunch defender of the concept of God’s incomprehensibility. He, as do I, saw no contradiction in embracing this great doctrine and promoting the propositional, systematic truth of Scripture. My hope was simply to point out that the Reformed heritage provides a more comprehensive approach to “mystery” than the one you’ll find in the “emergent” groups and, at the very same time, celebrates propositional truth and doctrinal clarity.

    If you have the chance, check out the links I posted in my first reply.

  47. GLW Johnson March 12, 2009 at 8:07 am #

    Adam
    I could not find your email address on your blog-get in touch and we will pick this up later.

  48. Rick March 15, 2009 at 1:39 pm #

    I am just curious. I know this is a forum that is primarily for academics, but I wonder what changes becasue of discussions like this. Whether, Calvinist or Catholic, Baptist or Reformed, Penetcostal or Emergent, what does it really matter? It is the simplicity of things like 2 Peter 1:3-4 His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

    I don’t read anything in verses like this that speak to modern, post-modern or anything else that has to do with societal or cutlural relevance. And compared to “…His divine and precious promises…”, who is DA Carson, Scot McKnight, John MacArthur or Brian McClaren? Don’t we just need to study and be taught, not the wisdom of men, but the simple truths of scripture?

    I know this sounds so simplistic as compared to the brillance of the scholarly post here (and elswhere) but is there “simplicity” in our devotion to (not our thoughts or scholarship but) Christ?

    So, do we really need to understand cultural relevance to be able to participate in the preaching of Christ and Him crucified? Can we not follow the non-controversial parts of the scripture and just love God and love others?

    These are honest questions as it seems to me the American church has fallen into the trap of being just a little too given to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think? Could it be that we are really just attempting to feed our need for importance and value by demonstrating how skilled we are in evaluating the various thoughts of the “great thinkers” of our day. Maybe we stand the risk of becoming like the Corintians (1 Cor 1:12-13
    Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul ,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ .” Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?) only our Paul and Apollos is named Scot or John.

  49. Ben April 23, 2009 at 1:44 pm #

    I apologize, on lunch break so can’t read all of this. If this was said before… sorry.

    The “emerging” church is seem so much as liberal in it’s generalization and that people like McLaren and Jones are spokes people for all of it… BECAUSE that’s what the critics decided.

    Those and the people the Critics jump on. Those are the people they identify with the movement. Therefore, they are what people who listen to speakers like McAuthor identify with the movement and can say “Amen, McAurthor is right.” Because they disagree with McLaren, Mac identified him as representing the emerging church and called him out.

    In reality, it’s much more broad… as people have been talking about here a lot.

    Bottomline: If one wants to understand it so they can really respond to it they have to look past the main critics because they (quite frankly) do not understand it, and misrepresent what it is.

    I would echo the suggestion to check out Scot McKnight and others like him.

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