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Evangelicals Engaging Emergent: A Discussion of the Emergent Church Movement Paperback – May 1, 2009
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About the Author
Bill Henard is senior pastor of Porter Memorial Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. He is also president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, former trustee chairman for LifeWay Christian Resources, and assistant professor of Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Henard and his wife, Judy, have three children and two grandchildren.
Adam Greenway is assistant professor of Evangelism and Applied Apologetics and associate vice president for Extension Education and Applied Ministries at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He also directs Research Doctoral Studies at the seminary’s Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth.
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Back in 2008, I wrote about how the Emerging Church had begun to "recede." Shortly thereafter, some key participants in the conversation began abandoning the title altogether.
Today, much of the debate centers on correctly identifying "Emerging" as a diverse movement that includes some who are more traditionally evangelical and others who are not.
Regardless of the current state of the debate, evangelicals should at least ask this question: What insights can we glean from the Emerging Church conversation? Such a question presumes that there are both positive and negative aspects of the movement. It takes little thought to condemn the movement outright or to embrace it wholeheartedly. What is needed is a careful engagement of the Emerging conversation so that Christians can distinguish between the wheat and chaff.
The new book, Evangelicals Engaging Emergent: A Discussion of the Emergent Church Movement (2009, Broadman and Holman) features a collection of essays from notable authors and scholars like Ed Stetzer, Norman Geisler, Darrell Bock, and Mark DeVine. The contributors to this book seek to examine the Emerging Church fairly and then weigh the positives and negatives of the movement in light of Scripture.
Mark DeVine starts off by differentiating between the two streams of the Emerging Church - the more traditional evangelical stream and the more liberal stream. DeVine focuses on defining the Emerging Church by the questions and criticisms of its proponents, not their doctrinal commitments.
DeVine believes that D.A. Carson's influential critique of Emerging was helpful in its assessment of Brian McLaren's epistemology. Yet in the long run, by treating McLaren as the main spokesperson for Emerging, Carson's book caused a good deal of confusion and consternation among those on the more evangelical wing of the spectrum who did not want to be lumped together with McLaren. So DeVine broadens his engagement of Emerging by taking into account the other voices.
My only concern with DeVine's definition is that, while definitely an improvement over Carson's, it suffers from the opposite problem. It is almost too broad to be helpful. I am not sure in what way Tim Keller, Mark Chandler, and Mark Driscoll can be considered "Emerging." Would these men not be voices within the Reformed Resurgence?
DeVine's contribution could have been strengthened had he illuminated the fact that the young Reformed movement seems to be the flip side to Emerging, in that many of the people he mentions are asking the very questions being raised in the Emerging Church and yet offer different answers.
Ed Stetzer contributes a helpful chapter that looks at Emergent from a missiological perspective. He follows Tony Jones' terminology in describing the Emerging Church. He divides the movement into three categories - Relevants, Revisionists, Reconstructionists - and insists that each group be dealt with on its own terms.
Norm Geisler writes about a postmodern view of Scripture. There is little engagement of the Emerging Church here. It would have been helpful had Geisler shown why some of these questions about Scriptural authority are being raised in the first place. Instead, the chapter serves as simply a rebuttal of the views of Stan Grenz and Brian McLaren.
I enjoyed R. Scott Smith's work on the importance of truth. Smith understands the objections to evangelicalism, and he actually does business with Emergent criticisms. He admits that evangelicals can demonstrate a tendency toward Christian rationalism. We have too often used truth as a weapon instead of expressing it with grace and love. Smith's chapter is helpful because he remains robustly orthodox, and yet believes this discussion can provide us with something of value.
Darrell Bock looks at the Christology in the Emerging Church and excels at providing a fair analysis. Recognizing that Christians need to think through Emerging criticisms, Bock contends:
"My point would not be to pit the conventional and emerging story against one another as McLaren is prone to do but to consider how these features combine to do a better job of filling out the full scope of what the biblical call to experience the gospel means." (183)
My friend, Robbie Sagers, has a terrific chapter on the Emerging views of the atonement and conversion. He engages different authors on their own terms, advocating caution in some areas and acceptance in others.
John Hammett looks at the ecclesiology of the movement and makes a strong case for evangelism:
"A mission that stops short of ultimately bringing people to the cross to receive forgiveness and eternal life is not the mission to which Christ calls His church." (237)
Hammett also poses an important question for those in the Emerging camp:
"If we guide our practice of worship solely by the principle of engaging culture, could we not be in danger of creating another set of consumers, with the only difference being that they are postmodern consumers rather than modern?" (241)
Danny Akin offers an insightful chapter about making ethical choices. The issue he focuses on is alcohol. Overall, it seems a bit out of place in a book of this nature, which is more theology/philosophy-driven.
Chuck Lawless and Jim Shaddix assess the Emerging views of evangelism, advocating some of the positive aspects of the movement while critiquing others in light of Scripture.
Overall, I heartily recommend Evangelicals Engaging Emergent for being an evangelical contribution to the conversation that actually lives up to its title. The essays (for the most part) engage the Emerging Church thoughtfully and biblically.
This book provides a wide and comprehensive evanluation of the Emergent movement. It is not merely critical in the negative sense. It offers a realistic view of where the traditional church continually comes up short and where the Emergent churches are meeting the need of many in the culture for relevance. It also provides a careful analysis of the theological shortcomings, and even failures of the movement.
A local pastor who is unaware of the movement, and its implications, who genuinely seeks to protect and meet the needs of the church, while also wanting to reach the lost would benefit greatly from this work.
Bad form in terms of author choice. This book needs to learn to love unity in diversity and be more accepting of other communities of thought beyond Baptist roots.