As a young adult pastor I get a lot of questions about the Emergent/Emerging Village/Church/Conversation/. Given recent articles about its passing/death/transformation/emergence, I thought this was a good time to talk about it.
My first real experience with the Emerg_(insert ending of your choice here) was years ago at a Youth Specialties conference. I attended a Tony Jones workshop about ministering to postmodern youth. I didn’t know anything about Jones, but I knew that postmodernism was a big issue and that I wanted to know more about how to minister to our culture. So, I went.
The first part of the lecture was especially interesting to me. Jones gave a chronology of western philosophy that began with Immanuel Kant and led to Michel Faucault. I followed along as he traced through the centuries to contemporary thought. I noted that he conspicuously left out what I would call “objective thinkers” (philosophers who focused on objective truth as opposed to the knowing subject as the center of knowledge). Every thinker he cited seemed to focus on the knowing subject rather than on objective truth. Assuming his plan was to point out this underlying problem with modern and postmodern thought, I wasn’t concerned. Things didn’t go as I thought they would.
Background info: You might remember Rene Descartes’ famous quote, “I think, therefore I am.” The basic gist of his philosophy was that man’s source of truth is his own reason, not any outside authority. This ruled out general revelation and special revelation (The Bible and Jesus), among other things. His theory marked philosophy’s turn from objective to subjective truth, the beginning of the Enlightenment, and the elevation of human reason over divine revelation. Out of this came modern thought, out of which came postmodern thought. The ultimate root of both is man’s desire to trust himself rather than God’s revelation. It is the rejection of authority.
The modernist idea of reason was to impose human rationality on a universe of disorder. Truth was seen as amorphous and man’s role was to impose order upon it. Absolute truth was in the mind of the modernist. The post-modernists rightly pointed out a myriad of problems with modernist thought. However, rather than remove the root, the post-modernists hacked at the leaves by denying absolute truth in favor of skepticism. Both elevate self rather than God as the center of knowledge.
As Jones finished his overview, I noticed that he did not offer God and His self-revelation as a source for human knowledge. Instead, Jones finishes by saying that postmodern thought should be the basis of Christian thinking in the 21st century. No critique, no appeal to Scriptural authority, just complete acceptance of the latest western philosophical mindset.
This was strange to me. He had just described the constant changing nature of western thought. How could a philosophy that rejects truth and authority be seen as an authority on truth? This is my issue with postmodernism and emergent thinking: they trust the opinions of man rather the revelation of God. They are unwilling to fully surrender.
Do you know what is disturbing? Lack of surrender isn’t isolated to the emergent church. It didn’t start with them, and it won’t end with them. I don’t know if this is the end of the emergent church (I doubt that it is). Regardless, it isn’t the end of self-oriented theology. Every time I open the Bible, I am tempted to re-interpret it according to my preference rather than what I know it says. God calls us to read His Word and surrender. Instead, we read it and rationalize.
Have you ever re-interpreted a passage of Scripture to fit your theology or your comfort?