Thursday, November 06, 2008


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

In the Introduction, p.17, the authors refer to a lot of those in the emergent world as “talkers.” I’d like to work on that theme for a little while.

The emergent preoccupation with “conversation” is, in some ways, a reaction to ways in which conservative evangelicals talk past one another. We tend to state our point of view without listening carefully to either the questions, or to other points of view.

Call it conversation if you want, but I’m not sure that emergent leaders are much better at listening than are their more conservative counterparts. But, in the current environment, to question the conversation is rude, like ending a phone conversation when it was not you who called. So on it goes, and we find that there is much talking, but little is said. The booksellers are making a bundle, but few of the books are worth re-reading, or keeping.

I struggle to find a Biblical basis for this “conversation.” I’m much more comfortable and confident when a speaker says, “Thus says the Lord.” When God said, “Let there be light,” there was not a conversation. And when God said, “Thou shalt not,” again, He wasn’t asking, “what do you think?” God’s speech is to be met with confession, agreement, and obedience. Why all the conversation?

I understand that there can be fruitful interaction in discussing how to apply principles and graces in the grayness of this world. So I do find that conversation is helpful in this regard. But not in trying to reframe the Biblical material in some way that warps historical theology and redefines classic doctrine. In that case, conversation becomes perversity.

So there must be a difference between prophetic proclamation, and applicational conversation. There must be a difference between humble and ready response to the Word, and the sharing of creatively comfortable points of view that divorce the text from the author’s intent. We cannot be just “talkers.”

I cam across a fascinating passage in Ezekiel about prophetic speech, and the people’s contemporary (then, and now) response.

““As for you, son of man, your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, ‘Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the LORD.’ And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain. And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it. When this comes—and come it will!—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.”” (Ezekiel 33:30-33 ESV)

So I agree with the authors, that much of emergent-ville amounts to swarms of words. And incessant talking only serves to further cheapen words, and lead poor listeners to be even poorer.

But as I said in the first post in this series, my main goal is not to critique the group being critiqued, but to use the book to ask, “what can I learn about myself, and the weaknesses and dangers to which conservative evangelicals are prone?”

As a pastor, I’m a talker. I talk a lot. And I’m sensitive to the fact that people sit and listen to me talk. But I don’t want to be just a “talker.”

• We become mere talkers when we preach our opinions rather than the substance of God’s Word.

• We become mere talkers when we preach doctrine that is unrelated to life; when we dump loads of information without demonstrating its significance and application.

• We become mere talkers when we repeat our Biblical formulations and doctrinal statements by rote, without thinking about how this material is being received.

• We become talkers when we use philosophical or technical language that may impress, but does not lead to understanding. There is a certain kind of understanding that requires the work of God’s Spirit, but there is also a kind of understanding that happens when the speaker is speaking your language.

• We become mere talkers when we refuse to listen carefully to the questions people are asking. Now it is true that, at times, people ask the less pertinent question. And there is then the responsibility and opportunity to direct people to the better, more telling question. But all of this requires listening.

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