Wednesday, June 3, 2009 | By: Zachary Bartels

Another Example of Emergent Fruit

So confessional Christians like to lurk and troll around emergent blogs. The opposite is also true. There are a couple in particular who can be counted on to consistently weigh in on Don't Stop Believing, a blog which (like the book by the same name) offers a very welcome corrective to the pendulum swings of the emergent church. During the last couple of weeks, the way some of these interactions have played out has shone a light on a huge disconnect in the emergent "conversation."

Let me give you some background: the post in question was a comparison between a quote by Fosdick (a classical Protestant liberal) in the 1920s and a quote by an emergent leader a couple weeks ago on Twitter. They both said essentially the same thing—the similarity was actually uncanny. Of course, Mr. Emergent chimed in with some standard talking-points, capped with the dismissive proclamation, "To poke at one’s twitter comment as serious theology is a bit lacking."

Now, I have to give this blogger huge points for patient endurance. He's a brilliant seminary professor and could easily humiliate these emergent keyboard warriors without breaking a sweat. After all, the majority have no idea what they're talking about, can't put a sentence together, and I don't think one in a hundred has a seminary degree (not that one needs a seminary degree to know Scripture and sound doctrine, but it helps when one is attempting to engage a celebrated Ph.D. on his own turf.) Yet my friend shows restraint and controls his tongue like I pray I someday will. Yeah, I wanna be like Mike.

But I digress...back to my point. "Poking at one's twitter comment as [if it were] serious theology" is apparently quite a silly thing to do. But wait—that's where emergent types do their theology. They don't proclaim from the pulpit or in peer-reviewed theological journals; more often it—s from Facebook or a blog entry. Many of them have a large following and can communicate quite efficiently to their minions via these web services. Why, then, are these comments free from accountability?

Answer: Because the emergent "movement" as a whole sees itself as free from accountability.

At a seminar on the emergent church, I once heard Ed Dobson (oh, how I love Ed Dobson) ask Brian McLaren straight out: "We know what you're against, but what are you for?" McLaren's answer was, "Hey, we're just a new movement. Every new movement is defined by what they're against. Just look at Luther and his 95 theses. Give us some time..." Well, it's been a decade and more. By this time, the Lutherans had produced the Augsburg Confession. Besides, Luther never defined himself by what he was against. He was for grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone.

McLaren is an academic (his M.A. is in Literature, not theology, but brilliant and highly educated all the same) and even he wants to be able to shoot from the hip at the "colonial, patriarchal, homophobic, institutional, xenophobic" Western church, while ducking any cross examination with the "we're a new movement" dodge. Most of his theological offspring, though, are less smooth about it. Rev. Doug Phillips, at a workshop at Lansing South Church, summed up the emergent philosophy thus: they write books asking all sorts of questions and making all sorts of accusations, but when you challenge them on any point, they respond, "Chill out, man. I'm only 24."

Question: How is that a "conversation?"

Back to the emergent commenter at Don't Stop Believing. Curious about his background and affiliation, I finally clicked over to his blog a few days ago. Same old stuff you'd expect: the doctrine of original sin is bound up in a misunderstanding of biological processes, we don't know God through propositional truths, etc., etc. Yawn.

Then I came upon the classic duck-n-dodge to end all dodges: a re-hash of Peter Rollins' resurrection evasion. It begins with someone trying to tie down an emergent to a propositional, historical fact. "Do you deny the resurrection?" to which the emergent responds, "Yes, I deny the resurrection every day. Every time I fail to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, give shelter to those without."

Ultimatum: Answer the question for real or my eyeballs are going to explode, shooting blood all over your expensively indie shirt.

I tried to harness my friend's biblical self control, clicked "comment," weighed in with a pretty harmless Scriptural observation, and clicked "submit."

Comment moderation is turned on. Your comment must be approved by an admin.

Yeah, welcome to "the conversation." Confessional Christians need not open their mouths, as they will not be permitted to speak. (As of this moment, there have been further posts made and comments moderated, but mine is nowhere to be seen.)

Most of you are probably familiar with the Pyromaniacs and their "Po-Motivator" posters (parodies of those inspirational posters that feature a breathtaking nature photo, a single word like "VISION" and a brief, pithy description of what vision is--only these are about "contextualization," etc.) Some of them are pretty harsh. Most are very insightful. Admittedly, they all make me laugh. Two in particular hit the nail on the head. One reads, "COMEDY: When Post-Evangelicals Diss Their Critics" and the other reads, "CRUELTY: When Critics Satirize Emerging/Postmodern Values" and features an emergent guy with a single tear running down his face.

That about sums it up. They duck and dodge, only popping up to fire at the lame old failing traditional church, but if someone challenges them with Scripture, points out the flaws and heresies inherent in their teachings, or even asks a simple straightforward question, they'll just stand there looking hurt, contort their face, and mouth the words, "Why...? Whyyyyyyy....can't we just...get...along--*"

It reminds me of the tactic of militant homosexuals. If anyone suggests that their behavior is sinful, unhealthy, or abnormal, they respond with, "You're not just attacking my behavior, you're attacking me." Likewise, calling out emergents on their innovations and retreads of old heresies is repainted as an assault on their persons and an attempt to--in the words of my fellow Don't Stop Believing commenter--"kick siblings out [of the church and] tell them that they no longer are family members."

But that's not what we're trying to do. At least not what I'm trying to do. Because, buddy, if I thought you were outside the church, I wouldn't give a rip what you wrote.


5 reader comments:

ZSB said...

I suppose it's tacky to make the first comment on one's own blog entry, but I was just scrolling through the rest of the pomotivators and found two more that are very relevant (heh) to this topic.

1. "CIVILITY: Just Quit Arguing With Us, OK?

2. "DIALOGUE: I Talk, You Listen."

Ted said...

Zach, this is excellent...and the Dialogue po-motivator is one of my favorites. So true. Though be warned that after a similar exchange Randy took his traveling roadshow to KDY's blog, where he set up semi-permanent residence for a few weeks. The upside: You're getting a lot of comments. The downside: they're all from Randy.

mikewittmer said...


Good post. I try to avoid responding directly to Randy, as 1) it hasn't worked in the past and 2) I think his comments are generally self-refuting, so that most readers can figure out the score without my help. He has been spelling much better lately, so all is not lost.

humanitasremedium said...

Really astute observations here. Thanks so much for this post. Completely agree with you and it was a real joy to read.

Rachel said...

Zach, I really enjoy your blog. I don't ever take the time to comment, but I appreciate the fact that you make me think. You're good for the brain. Keep it up.

-Rachel in Taiwan