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

The Point John StonestreetTodd 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 Accidental 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.