About a week ago a man passed on a book to me that had been given to him by his pastor while he served as a member of the elders board of his church. Presumably the book was the basis of discussion about how to process the changes that are occurring in the church in these times. I don’t know what happened in that discussion but I commend the pastor for seeking to inform his elders about current church ministry issues by using this book. I think it is an excellent resource for helping church leaders navigate the maze of post-modern and emergent terminology that is affecting ministry in the church today.
It doesn’t take too much critical observation to conclude that church ministry has changed a lot a recent years. Besides the obvious cosmetic changes of casualness in worship form and preaching that characterizes so much church ministry today something else is affecting change at a much deeper level perhaps not readily apparent. As an extension of post-modern philosophy, emergent thinking is currently having a large influence in Christian practice and ministry. Here is a book that quite fairly, I think, addresses the nature of emergent thinking and why Christians and Christian leaders should be concerned.
Though authors Deyoung and Kluck fit the post-modern demographic and recognize the potentially positive influence of emergent trends they here offer a well-reasoned and sometimes humorous critique of the not-so-subtle attempts of the emergent movement to depart from orthodox Christianity. As a pastor, Deyoung is more academic in his analysis and writing style than Kluck who writes as a church lay leader and popular sports journalist. Though their perspectives and conclusions are complementary their different approaches in alternate chapters are insightful and refreshing.
Not only do Deyoung and Kluck provide good references to the main leaders in the emergent church movement, they also systematically point out how orthodox Christian belief is compromised by new terminology and fuzzy definition. The emergent church movement ends up, they demonstrate, like the old liberalism of the last century. Consistent with post-modern trends and as a reaction to modernism, emergent thinking deconstructs established ways of understanding history and reinterprets biblical revelation with ill-founded historical ideas — as Deyoung points out. Anti-structuralism also extends to a disregard for the Bible as God’s revelation of propositional truth with the outcome, among emergents, that God is a mystery that can’t really be known, that faith is an experience of a journey, more than a fixed assurance, and that Christians are bigoted to think God can only be known through Jesus Christ.
These are heretical trends that have serious implications regarding faith and practice. In emergent thinking, Jesus is presented to us more as an example of love and compassion for people in need than He is as the atoning sacrifice for sin. Being a disciple of Jesus, by emergent ideas, is getting serious about caring for the poor. Being missional is understood as practical help for those who have been impoverished. Though ministry to the poor is a legitimate biblical concern, emergent leaders speak of it as the essence of faith which amounts to a moralizing view of trying to connect with God.
Deyoung and Kluck, on the other hand, argue for the Bible as God’s propositional revelation by which we may come to know God and eternal life in Him with assurance based on faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ. They emphasize, contrary to reinterpretations of emergent thinkers, that heaven is an important destination to be desired beyond this life and hell is in fact an eternal judgment to be feared.
This book, recognized and promoted by New Testament scholar heavy-weights like Don Carson, is a most welcome contribution to the important debate that is now current among evangelicals about the very nature of faith, evangelism, and church ministry. I’m sure it will be useful in helping to avert a subtle kind of apostasy that could serve to beguile many sincere Christian believers. Hopefully it will also serve to deepen conviction among Christians about the importance of doctrine without compromising how to sensitively relate to the real world of our day.