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August 30, 2009

Why He’s Not Emergent, by Someone Who Used to Be…

Todd Hunter has been through just about every expression of American evangelicalism that exists and has come to rest in the Anglican Mission in America (AMIA). His journey has included stops at Calvary Chapel, Vineyard, Allelon, the Alpha Course, and the Emergent Village.

In the latest issue of Christianity Today, Todd was asked about his time with the emergent church movement (“The Unlikely Anglican,” interview by David Neff). In his answer, he offers two critiques of the emergent church movement that I found helpful and unique. In his own words:

First, the emergents are so sensitive to issues of community, relationship, egalitarianism, and being non-utilitarian in their relationships, that evangelism has simply become a synonym for manipulation — a foul ball relationally. If you and I were work colleagues and I built a relationship in which I could influence your journey toward Christ, that would be considered wrong in these circles. I cannot be friends with you if I intend to lead you to Christ.

I find that a very interesting point, though of course we are talking here of those fully within the emergent movement (not those who are placed into that camp wrongly because they are just trying new things. . .). It is the full embrace of postmodern epistemology by emergents that creates this dilemma — how can one try to lead someone to embrace their faith when there are no grounds from which to be certain of it? Further, influencing another to embrace Christianity smacks of the marginalization of other faiths which, according to postmoderns, was one of the more destructive aspects of a Christianity shaped by modernism.

Hunter continues:

Second, after 10 or 12 years of the emerging church, you have to ask where anything has been built. Evangelism has been so muted and the normal building of structures and processes hasn’t moved forward because there’s no positive, godly imagination for doing either evangelism or leadership. Such things are by definition utilitarian, and so they were made especially difficult.

This is precisely the point Os Guinness made about postmodernism in general in an interview from the Mars Hill Review. Postmodernism is not a constructive worldview. In fact, it is best understood by what it is not rather that what it is: anti-metanarrative, anti-certainty, anti-modern, anti-exclusivity, etc. And, this same sort of negativity characterizes much of the emergent thinkers and writers as well. Thus, their work is heavy on critique but light on offering anything constructive.

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  • March 07, 2010 // 08:19 pm //  # 
    Bill Dean's avatar Bill Dean

    This is an excellent assessment of postmodernism.  The rejection of modernism has allowed Christians a place at the cultural discussion table, but we may be compromising our calling if holding that spot makes us forget that if God exists, he really, really matters!  The emergent folk rightly ditched a Christian faith molded by modernism, but instead of a transcendent understanding of a God who really matters, they settled for a Christian faith molded by postmodernism. It is like escaping from quicksand only to fall into the bog.

  • May 24, 2010 // 09:55 pm //  # 
    Tim K.'s avatar Tim K.

    “If you and I were work colleagues and I built a relationship in which I could influence your journey toward Christ, that would be considered wrong in these circles.” ?????????????

    I’ve never seen this lived out, or even implied with “Emergents”. Not at all sure where he gets this… If anything “Emergents” wish to live a life that is the gospel message, which goes back to a quote, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.?

  • June 16, 2010 // 11:09 am //  # 
    Renee's avatar Renee

    I understand the sentiment of “Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary use words.”  But the fact is, the gospel requires words.  Otherwise it’s just a nice life lived.

  • June 16, 2010 // 01:13 pm //  # 
    Tim K.'s avatar Tim K.

    Aside from the quote… I’ve NEVER EVER seen anyone believe that using the influence of a relationship to steer someone towards Christ as being wrong. Or, “I cannot be friends with you if I intend to lead you to Christ.” These statements are ridiculous and completely off-base. I don’t think he knows any “emergents”.

  • July 06, 2010 // 01:09 pm //  # 
    Rich's avatar Rich

    Tim, note the context of that sentence established in the previous sentence, that if the primary reason for the friendship is evangelism, then it is manipulation. It comes from that desire for authenticity in the motives for the relationship, which is its own tangled web.

  • July 06, 2010 // 09:02 pm //  # 
    Tim K.'s avatar Tim K.

    @Rich, I still disagree with you. While the context does say that “they” [emergents] think that evangelism is manipulation; I still believe the following sentences stand on their own. And are completely dishonest.

    “If you and I were work colleagues and I built a relationship IN WHICH I COULD influence your journey toward Christ, that would be considered wrong in these circles. I CANNOT BE FRIENDS WITH YOU if I intend to lead you to Christ.”

    But maybe we have a skewed view of evangelism to begin with…

    “You will not find a verse in Scripture where people are told to “bow your heads, close your eyes, and repeat after me.” You will not find a place where a superstitious sinner’s prayer is even mentioned. And you will not find an emphasis on accepting Jesus. We have taken the infinitely glorious Son of God, who endured the infinitely terrible wrath of God and who now reigns as the infinitely worthy Lord of all, and we have reduced him to a poor, puny Savior who is just begging for us to accept him.

    Accept him? Do we really think Jesus needs our acceptance? Don’t we need him?” - Pastor David Platt in RADICAL

  • January 29, 2011 // 04:11 pm //  # 
    Jeff Ludwig's avatar Jeff Ludwig

    A communist colleague of mine was promoting one of his views. He quoted Deuteronomy, “Man does not live by bread alone….”  I reminded him that he only quoted half the quote, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”  Would that make me an emergent church type or an old-fashioned Christian type?....

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