Until recently I have been confused, even enamored, by the phenomenon formally known and often referred to as the Emergent Church. Seems everyone is… actually… and why not? I mean the student in me always tries to listen and learn – it’s what students do. First, let me be clear that there is much within the Emergent Conversation (a title they prefer) that I identify with. They are touching on some viable issues that Evangelical Christianity had better grapple with… or face extinction. I love some of their emphasis on historic church practices and thinking. This reverse forward thinking is what draws many of the post-moderns that are so frustrated with over-programmed church. We want it real. We want it raw. The Emergent Church has succeeded in stripping away some of the negatives that may be attached to the conventions of the contemporary church.
So I am not questioning the importance or even the success of their movement. I have always believed that when there is a question about someone (particularly when someone’s character is at stake) that it is best to go to the source. Ask questions. Get answers. I try to avoid unintelligent water cooler stuff. I do have serious reservations about the conclusions to some of the important questions Emergents are asking and answering. Leading Emergents seem to be for an open-ended Christianity. However, it seems to me, that this offer does not extend to those whose thoughts are more conservative than their own. Because of my curiosities I went with my wife to the Emergent Conference in San Diego. We were in for quite an education.
The main trouble that I have with the Emergent Conversation stems from their very moniker. I am not sure what they are emerging from… nor to.
In reverse order (dealing with the Conversation)… I’m pretty sure that they could not articulate (no one has yet to my satisfaction) the Conversation part. I have extensively read Emergent authors such as Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Dan Kimball, Doug Pagitt and even pre-Emergent writers like Stanley Grenz and Leslie Newbigin. It seems that they are in favor of a non-descript, amalgamated faith that has few if any borders to it.
And while I have found great challenge and conviction in their writings, I have also found a recurring theme that I cannot ignore. Though they are asking some good questions like, “What will it take to reach a post-modern… post-Christian generation?”… I fear that their answers fall short for one main reason and it has everything to do with what they seem to be “emerging from”. They have consistently been willing to abandon the Solo Scriptura position.
Wikipedia gives this simple (accurate) definition which explains my exuberance as well… Sola scriptura (Latin by Scripture alone) is one of five important slogans of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. It meant that Scripture is the only infallible rule for deciding issues of faith and practices that involve doctrines. The intention of the Reformation was to “correct” the Catholic Church by appeal to the uniqueness of the Bible’s authority, and to reject Christian tradition as a source of original authority alongside the Bible or in addition to the Bible. This is in contrast to Prima scriptura, which holds that the Bible is the primary source of doctrine, but that understanding can be improved by reference to other sources.
There are certainly elements of following Christ that we have eliminated from the church for cultural or personal preference reasons that can have benefit in our worship experience for today, but all of those same things must pass through the verification of Scripture to test their validity.