Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Self-Critical

Thinking through Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be), by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. Moody, 2008

First of all, this is not properly a book review. For a thoughtful review, please go to here - where Tim Challies authors a review of this book.

What I would like to do as I blog through this book, is to look for aspects in the emergent movement, discussed and critiqued by the authors, that should give “submerged” evangelicals (ch 1) pause. Why is it that this movement has “emerged?” Have there been things about the “old” evangelicals that are so stubborn and stupid, that some from a younger generation have been compelled to go start something “new?” I’m not sure that the answer is all that easy. Points of frustration with what is old have likely merged with points of curiosity that appeal to the young; and points of contextualization that may be theologically astute may have intermingled with points of compromise that are Biblically weak, or worse.

But what can we gain from this? What can we learn?

In the Introduction by David Wells, we are challenged with being self-critical. And here are six suggestions about which traditional, conservative evangelicalism may be justifiably self-critical:

1. We tend to be too rational; and not sufficiently engaged emotionally. We simply do not display the kinds of deep emotion described in the Bible, particularly in the Psalms, but by Paul as well. Both joy and tears are terribly subdued, or absent. Something is wrong when, due to the entrance of grace into one’s life, and discovery of the greatness of things divine, we are not often overwhelmed by a sense of joy and wonder. And something is also wrong when we lose sensitivity to sin, whether in our own lives, or the terrible evils of the world. God is not unmoved by these things, but strangely, we are.

2. I believe that two key indicators of spiritual vitality are prayer and witness. In that case, we are in trouble. It is like saying, “Other than the fact that his heart is not beating, and he is not breathing, everything seems just fine.” Whether or not emergents provide a solution, they have heard a couple of generations of evangelicals talk about the absolute importance of prayer and witness, but have witnessed their absence.

3. The Cross is more old news than good news. The old hymn says, “To the old rugged cross, I will ever be true.” But meditation on the Cross requires thoughtfulness – more than merely trotting out phrases made into cliches. Verbalizing a subconscious ditty about the Cross is not remaining true.

4. A religion that becomes routine must necessarily deal with small subjects. We’ve made our doctrines of God and sin manageable. And in order to be grasped by the wonder of grace, we must certainly realize that sin is anything but manageable. And any reading of Scripture with brains turned on will be instantly shocked by the unmanageability of God.

5. We, in our comforts, securities, and prosperities, have adopted a local, present-world orientation. “How’s it going for you?” We rarely think of heaven outside of funerals, and we generally ponder the wider world in terms of threats to security or opportunities for commerce.

6. We are beset by little-changed lives. The pursuit of holiness has been replaced by the pursuit of many other things. We are taught to affirm ourselves, and we assume that if we are satisfied, then God must be satisfied as well. This is tantamount to resisting the Spirit, and we seem content, having claimed the benefits of justification, to avoid sanctification altogether.

Now I understand that these are sweeping condemntations, and that none of these are universal. There are wonderful exceptions to each and every point. But if that is what they are, exceptions, then that would mean that the above points are the rule. I pray for the kind of renewal in local churches where the rule, not the exception, would be a revitalization of deep, heart-felt worship that expresses itself in prayer and witness – that digs deep into the Cross, and regularly experiences wonder and awe at being “loved to death” by Christ – and that then is seized by hope, and driven by love.

I wonder if, lacking these things, some from a younger generation have gone off to seek something better.

2 comments:

Craig Colas said...

Steve,

I think that you are raising some valid points. We do need to analyze our own hearts and deficiencies in our ministry approaches. However, I wonder if a couple of your points of self-criticism are developed deeper than they need to be. For instance, take the point about being too rational and not sufficiently engaged emotionally. The charismatic movement overall would be a contrast to this “behavior”, yet the emergent-type group probably doesn’t accept their regard to the literal propositions of scripture. While there certainly is deep emotion in the Bible, as you stated, is it giving us a false sense of guilt when we don’t display this more openly yet may still strongly appreciate God’s great work of grace? Is this really a valid reason that many are rejecting traditional church, or is it more the novelty and politically correct aspects of this new movement that are a direct contrast to the straight-forward propositions of God’s Word? Is it more of a case of “having itching ears accumulating teachers to suit their own passions”?
Just some thoughts…

swayz said...

Craig,

Yes, the self-critiques are broad, and thus may be unfair at some points or in some corners. Praise the Lord that there are exceptions. But.. regarding "rational," let me try to clarify, and defend my point.

I am certainly not against the use of the mind in our faith. The kind of "rational" that I had in mind was a "right answer" kind of rationalism that does not engage the heart or the affections. I am certainly not advocating a coerced emotionalism, and I understand that emotional responses can be deep in the heart, yet scarcely expressed physically or verbally. But that still does not get to the problem I see.

We talk about our great doctrines, but then we are often scarcely moved by them. We recite our definitions of, say, justification by faith, but we are not overwhelmed. Also, we read Scriptures of people, for instance, falling on their faces, and we identify ourselves with those people, but when have we literally been face-down before the Lord? Do we think that young Christians will not notice the gap between the emotional expression found in the Scriptures and the lack of anything similar in our lives? And one more step, we do the same things in our songs. "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever," but boy am I ticked if the church service goes over. Is it just poetic license, and is it OK if we don't really mean it, or live it?

So I am not talking about some need to manufacture emotions. I am talking about a casual Christianity which just doesn't fit with Biblical Christianity - things like being borne along by joy, overwhelmed by a sense of His love, crushed by repeated sins, angry at stubbornness and injustice, a reigning peace when rudely wronged. No, these things are not completely absent. We both know of wonderful examples in our own local church experience. But are they the exception, or the rule?