Book Review: Why We Are Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be

EmergentThose of you who read here regularly and have seen Why We Are Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck on about five different Nightstand posts are probably thinking, “Yes! She finally finished it!” When I was trying to read a bit here and there in 10-15 minutes offhand segments, it wasn’t working, but then I committed to trying to read a chapter, or at least a section, as many mornings as I could right after my devotional time. Once I really got into it, I loved it.

I would say this is a highly valuable book to read even if you don’t know (or aren’t interested in) what the emergent movement is all about, because there are tendrils of it popping up all over the place, and it is good to have Biblical thinking about these issues.

This book caught my eye because some years ago, when I first heard anything about the Emergent or Emerging church, I was active on a Christian message forum online and asked if someone could tell me in 2 or 3 sentences what it was all about. No one could, or at least, no one did. All I got were book recommendations. I wasn’t interested enough to read a whole book about it at the time. Fairly recently I saw this mentioned somewhere with the comment that it was a fair treatment, so when it came through on a Kindle sale, I got it. But then it sat there until the TBR challenge motivated me to add it to my books to be read this year, and then until just recently.

I don’t know much about either author except that DeYoung is a name in the “young, restless, Reformed” crowd. None of those adjectives fits me, but I do enjoy reading some of those folks and can work around those areas where I disagree with a Reformed view of things.

The Emergent movement or church is kind of hard to pin down, because it is not a denomination and there is no national spokesperson. But DeYoung and Gluck have done extensive research into the books and messages of those who identify themselves as  emergent and addressed some common themes (there is a distinction between those who would call themselves “emergent” and “emerging,” but for the purposes of this book the terms are used interchangeably). They discuss, from emergent writings, the good points, the valid concerns the emerging church has, and the problems they see with some of the emergent viewpoints and practices and why.

I have so many areas highlighted that it is going to be hard to share just a few things.

The authors begin by acknowledging that defining the emergent church or movement is like trying to “nail Jello to a wall,” but after reading some 5,000 pages of writing on the topic, they’ve identified some basic trends. They’re quick to acknowledge that not everyone who calls themselves  emergent will agree on every point and that they even share many of the same concerns as those in the movement, but while they “affirm a number of the emergent diagnoses, it’s their prescribed remedies that trouble us the most.” The emergent church is basically what postmodernism looks like applied to church, valuing questions more than answers, mystery more than authority, Christian living more than doctrine.

Here are some quotes that stood out to me:

For emerging Christians, the journey of the Christian life is less about our pilgrimage through this fallen world that is not our home, and more about the wild, uncensored adventure of mystery and paradox. We are not tour guides who know where we are going and stick to the course. We are more like travelers…the destination is a secondary matter, as is any concern about being on the right path…The journey is more wandering than directional, more action than belief, more ambiguous than defined. To explain and define the journey of faith would be to cheapen it.

[To the emergent] Christian life requires less doctrinal reflection and more personal introspection.

The emergent view of journey…undermines the knowability of God…emergent leaders are allowing the immensity of God to swallow up His knowability.

 Mystery as an expression of our finitude is one thing. Mystery as a way of jettisoning responsibility for our beliefs is another thing. Mystery as a radical unknowing of God and His revealed truth is not Christian, and it will not sustain the church.

One emergent leader writes, “Drop any affair you may have with certainty, proof, argument – and replace it with dialogue, conversation, intrigue, and search.”

There is a place for questions. There is a time for conversations. But there is also the possibility of certainty, not because we have dissected God…but because God has spoken to us clearly and intelligibly and has given us ears to hear His voice.

It is not a mark of humility when we refuse to speak about God and His will except in the most ambiguous terms. It is an assault on the Holy Spirit and disbelief in God’s ability to communicate rational, clear statements about Himself in human language.

The mantra “God is too big to understand and the truth too mysterious to know with certainty” is not just a confused humility. It has dangerous pastoral implications…Uncertainty in the light of our human limitations is a virtue. Uncertainty in light of God’s Word is not.

[Emergent leaders] confess to having “mixed feelings” about the Bible…They don’t want to use the traditional terms – authority, infallibility, inerrancy, revelation, objective, absolute, literal…They would rather use phrases like “deep love of” and “respect for.”…[To them] the Bible is not the voice of God from heaven and certainly not the foundation (foundationalism being a whipping boy among emerging Christians of a philosophical bent). Rather, the Bible “spurs us on to new ways of imagining and learning.”

[Emergents] pit information versus transformation, believing versus belonging, and propositions about Christ versus the person of Christ. The emerging church will be a helpful corrective against real, and sometimes perceived, abuses in evangelicalism when they discover the genius of the “and” and stop forcing us to accept half-truths….Our fullness of joy is dependent on believing, embracing, and treasuring the sentences that Jesus spoke. The sentences do not save us. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus save us. But without truth-corresponding propositions like “this is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3) and “I have manifested your name to the people” (v. 6) and “I am praying for them” (v. 9) and “all mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them” (v. 10) – without these precious theological statements communicated and understood by verbal utterances, the joy of Jesus will not be fulfilled in us.

It simply isn’t true that orthodoxy as a right belief is nothing but a perverted Greek idea. John wrote his gospel..that people…might believe that Jesus was the Christ and by believing have life in His name (John 20:31)…There are certain truths that must be affirmed in order to be a Christian…There is no question that Paul believed in orthodoxy. “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus,” he told Timothy (II Timothy 1:13).

If the good news is an invitation to a Jesus way of life and not information about somebody who accomplished something on my behalf, I’m sunk. This is law and no gospel.

Yes, we do see through a glass darkly; we do not fully understand God…God is greater than we can conceive – but what about the 1,189 chapters in the Bible? Don’t they tell us lots of things about God that we are supposed to do more with than doubt and not understand? Aren’t the Scriptures written so that we might believe and be sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see and even proclaim this faith to others?

To the Emergent, Christianity is a story from which ethics are gleaned, rather than a life-saving proposition.

Christ was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. That is the heartbeat of the gospel. It is not the heartbeat of the emergent gospel.  Rather, the cross is a moral example.

Forgive me for not putting notations of where those quotes were: on the Kindle app is just says “Location 250” or whatever, and I started out putting that, but it was just too clunky.

One of the best parts of the book is the epilogue, where the writer sums up by discussing some of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 and their application to us. The church at Ephesus was praised for being doctrinally correct and intolerant of those who brought false doctrine, but they were unloving. The churches at Pergamum and Thyatira were loving but tolerated false teaching.  “Their love was blindly affirming. The big problem at Thyatira was tolerance. They tolerated false teaching and immoral behavior, two things He who has eyes as piercing as fire and feet as pure as burnished bronze is fiercely intolerant of (Rev. 2:20). Jesus says, ‘You’re loving, which is great, but your tolerance is not love. It’s faithlessness.'” Each church was praised for its virtues but rebuked for its weaknesses. The need is not be be doctrinally correct or loving, but doctrinally correct and loving. We have to be careful in addressing the faults of one side or the other that we don’t magnify those and minimize the virtues and swing the pendulum too far the other way.

There is so much more I wish I could share. I’ll close with one last quote:

As a Christian man, specifically as a husband and father, I need truth. I need to worship a God who makes demands on my character, with consequences. I need to know that Christianity is about more than me just “reaching my untapped potential” or “finding the God inside me.” I need to know I worship a Christ who died, bodily, and rose from the dead. Literally. I need to know that decisions can (and should) be made on the basis of Scripture and not just experience. These are things that give me peace in a world of maybe.

An excellent review of this book is here.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

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10 thoughts on “Book Review: Why We Are Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be

  1. Thank you so much for reviewing this book. I have never read a book on the Emergent Church but I’ve read several books recently that were laced with these ideas. The one that frightens me the most is the weakened view of scripture.

  2. Very interesting. I think the paragraph that really gave me pause was the one that started “Emergent leaders confess to having mixed feelings about the bible…” Yikes.

  3. Thanks for sharing this information – I have of course heard of the emergent church, but wasn’t clear on what it was really about. Sounds like a lot of confusion. God is not he author of confusion.

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  5. I think when describing emergent you must look at the individual that is emerging. Everyone comes from a different relationship with God. Luke 6:40 is my point of departure from Protestant Christianity. The hierarchal structure inadvertently sets people on a path that denies their son-ship or daughter-ship with God. The goal is compliant sheep, following an under-shepherd. Discipleship is more about making more sheep than becoming like Jesus. If one does not believe it is possible or understands that our Father believes we can be like our Brother, my question is, what is it we believe?

    When we awake (born to the Spirit) our Kingdom responsibility should be about the one we represent, God. Nevertheless, sadly the term kingdom as used by religious Christianity has very little to do with God’s point of view. It is all about the orthodox human interpretation of scripture and mythic beliefs. In my opinion, Protestantism is changing as fast as the melting polar ice caps and either belief will do.

    I am not sure if Emergent will become Christianity version 3.0, but at least all that make the move, understand that whatever they are emerging from is broke. As an ex-elder and 25-year member of my non-denominational, spirit-filled, word centered community, I tried to spur change. However, I had no choice but to leave, because we have one mandate and that is to love.

    It was hard to emerge but when one sees the Cloud by day or Fire by night (Holy Spirit) moving, all we can do is follow. Take consolation, most of the Emergent’ s I encounter in the wilderness want to return to Egypt (religious Christianity) and some have even taken up space in the basements and community rooms when the religious go home. Ask yourself, if Jesus were here today would he be overturning the money tables of capitalistic Christianity?

    Not all is bad and not all is good in either camp. However, after 2000 years, we can count on one hand the number of people who walk like Jesus and still have five fingers left. I am 55 years old. I was born as a Catholic then at 25 I was born again and fellowshipped with my conservative evangelical Protestant community. These last few years in the wilderness has been crazy for sure. I understand the comments and concerns of anyone who is thinking of jumping ship. I simply say Join us; the water is not cold, because we walk on top. However, you will never know till you get out of the boat …Forever in Christ, Larry

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