Why We’re Not Emergent: (By Two Guys Who Should Be)

Why We’re Not Emergent: (By Two Guys Who Should Be)

By: Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck

(Summary By: Jason C. Helveston)

Emerging out of the contemporary paradox of cultural relevancy and reformed theology, Pastor Kevin DeYoung and friend, sportswriter Ted Kluck respond to the growing segment of postmodern Christianity known as the emergent church. From the outset DeYoung and Kluck submit that one can be young, passionate about Jesus Christ, surrounded by diversity, engaged in a postmodern world, and reared in evangelicalism and not be an “emergent” Christian. In fact through out the pages of Why We’re Not Emergent, the authors argue that it would be advantageous for readers to join their abstinence. Through the pastoral and scholarly perspective of DeYoung and the profound cultural wit of Kluck, these writers lay out the theological implications of subscribing to the movement known as the emergent church. In questioning the viability of said movement, they advance an orthodoxy closely associated with reformed tradition.

Introduction 1: Submergent after All These Years (Kevin DeYoung)

Kevin DeYoung begins the book primarily by seeking to define the “emergent church” under investigation.  While acknowledging that “emergent” is an amorphous category, he Still nevertheless argues that it is often associated with (but not limited to) an affinity toward U2, Guinness evenings, Mac laptops, Henri Nowen, Jim Wallis, Bryan McLaren, Rob Bell, Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, candles, couches, finger painting, indie rock, ancient-future, egalitarianism, narrative theology, and play-doh.  Conversely, the “emergent” movement often seems to include an aversion toward D.A. Carson, George W. Bush, The Left Behind Series, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, CEO salaries, consumerism, linear thoughts, propositional truth, and hierarchies. DeYoung uses such issues as not only a way to define the elusive group, but a test case as it were for readers to survey their own lives and decide if they too belong within the parameters of the emergent movement.

Introduction 2: Maybe—the New Yes (Ted Kluck)

Chiming in, forming the book’s secondary introduction, Ted Kluck admits that Why We’re Not Emergent is an attempt to join the conversation of the emergent discussion. Through sarcastic banter and smart caricatures the author balances a sharp critique and an acknowledgement of brotherhood before painting a picture of his personal theology in simple brush strokes. By highlighting the necessity of truth, a virtuous God of consequence, a Savior in the man Jesus Christ, and a Holy Word that is prescriptive and vibrant, Kluck insists certainty can be found in a world of maybes, a world that he claims the emergent church is comfortable accepting.

Chapter 1: Journey: Are the Pilgrims Still Making Progress? (Kevin DeYoung)

“The Christian life is about the journey not the destination.”  Reacting to such a postulation, DeYoung offers two initial critiques of the emergent movement. The first problem with the emergent journey is that it undermines the knowability of God. Rooted in the understanding that God’s knowledge of himself is archetypal, perfect and infinite and that, conversely, human cognition of God is ectypal, dim, and finite the emergent movement has a loose grip on theology. Personal knowledge is impossible without some degree of abstract, rational understanding, the author suggests. The mysterious immensities of God should not lead to jettisoning responsibility for our beliefs, but rather remind us of our finitude. Additionally, the emergent movement often confuses uncertainty and humility as synonymous ideas. The author is quick to remedy the false dichotomy by arguing that it is not necessary for one to know something omnisciently in order to know something truly.

Chapter 2: Rebel Without a Cause: What is Worth Submitting to? (Ted Kluck)

Fighting with the growing practice of repainting and reframing the faith, Kluck responds to the tendency of the emergent movement to avoid concreteness. From his perspective the author sees an exchange of definitive doctrine and corporate fidelity for hipness, relevancy, and passivity. He calls on the example of a Jim Stark (James Dean) to support his thesis, that believers need something in which to believe.

Chapter 3: Bible: Why I Love the Person and Propositions of Jesus (Kevin DeYoung)

Propositional truth is a battleground of the post-modern mindset. The necessity of specific biblical propositional truth is defended over and against an idea of a Word that is above propositions, beyond inerrancy, and behind the text. Arguing that emergent thinkers are neglecting the truth claims of Scripture, DeYoung highlights three specific and crucial issues: faith in Christ (Jn 8:24), life in Christ (15:7), and joy in Christ (17:3). Each issue is based on a particular, propositional understanding of reality found in the authoritative, trustworthy Word of God.

Chapter 4: Thank You for Smoking: On Dialogue, Futurism, and Hell (Ted Kluck)

Tolerance is the enigmatic ally of the emergent discussion. However, Kluck sees this friendly view of tolerance as a dangerous exaggeration that blurs the lines of faithful and faithless. Using D.A. Carson as a guide, the author highlights the epidemic that views the idea of tolerance as simply a refusal to say someone is wrong. Tolerance, in the emergent mindset, is that place where everyone’s views are authentic. Kluck submits that the authority, and authenticity, of the bible negates such a reality; for instance, although it is divisive, hell exists and awaits those not found in Christ regardless of their beliefs on this issue.

Chapter 5: Doctrine: The Drama Is in the Dogma (Kevin DeYoung)

“Just give me Jesus” is a commonly-used phrase in the emergent experience. The seeming beauty of this stand-alone phrase is quickly marred by the subversive negation of the need for additional doctrinal pursuits. Such an overstated simplicity is addressed in this chapter with a call back to embracing the wonder and elegance of doctrine. DeYoung invites readers to a discernible knowledge of God that is rooted in biblical doctrine. As a result DeYoung makes a sweeping summary of the gulf between historic evangelicalism and the emergent movement. He places historic evangelicalism under the banner of faith in Jesus Christ and the emergent church under the banner of a lifestyle that walks in a manner similar to Jesus.

Chapter 6: A Funeral for a Friend: On Churches, Story, and Propositional Language (Ted Kluck)

Pulling back for a moment from the sensitive landscape of “the conversation” Kluck visits his old church. There they celebrate a man’s life that has made an impact on a small town. His impact has been possible without an authentic platform of relevance.  Joe’s life was influential because authenticity was something he was, not something he put on in the morning. Joe loved Jesus, he loved truth, and he loved the Holy Scriptures.

Chapter 7: Modernism: The Boogeyman Cometh (Kevin DeYoung)

Modernism is the evil antagonist of much of today’s Christianity.  The emergent response has been to move away from what they perceive to be modern concepts which have pervaded church and are inhibiting the success of Christianity in the present climate. Consequently the church must make the difficult shift from modern ministry to post-modern ministry. DeYoung argues, however, that we must refuse dichotomies that unnecessarily force wedges between rationality and faith, truth and experience.

Chapter 8: Where Everybody Knows Your Name: Dialoguing for the Sake of Dialogue (Ted Kluck)

Some emergent thinkers speak about trying to figure things out or processing certain thoughts.  Kluck doesn’t believe it and sees discussion for the sake of the discussion as a prevalent practice in the emergent movement. Even in areas of seemingly clear-cut doctrine, many claim to be in dialogue and avoid the responsibility of taking a stand, claiming to choose love over dogmatism. However, Ted retorts that often love is clearest when it is delivered with hard truth.

Chapter 9: Jesus: Bringer of Peace, Bearer of Wrath (Kevin DeYoung)

The Kingdom becomes a central point of discussion as some emergent leaders suggest that to join the Kingdom one must simply move in practice as apposed to move in status. Emergent thinkers offer a reading of the Kingdom of God that invites people to a new way that follows Jesus’ teachings and his messianic way of living.  This is not enough, says DeYoung. The kingdom Jesus initiated is concerned not only with a change in practice but also with an acceptance of the victory that Jesus had over sin and death. The emergent view of Jesus has led the movement into the political square with ambitions to spark “kingdom” initiatives of social justice and clean energy. Concerned with a new imbalance that swings away from the Jesus that died for sinners and towards a Jesus of friendly platforms and smart ideas, DeYoung is cautious about celebrating such a shift. Instead, he advocates a celebration of the uniqueness of what Jesus has done and warns against the realities of ignoring a central theme of his life and work.

Chapter 10: Real Topeka People: In Search of Community (Ted Kluck)

The semantics of the emergent movement are key to its flavor.  Titles such as “associate pastor” are morphed into “Experience Designer,” creating a more holistic and virtuous connotation of one’s actual role.  This transformation of words overflows into services, church names, locations and music (Kluck describes U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” as the most over-ridden pony in the entire emergent movement). This intentional relabeling drives much of the movements search for relevancy and yet sacrifices the truth of the gospel.

Chapter 11: Why I Don’t Want a Cool Pastor (Ted Kluck)

Emergent leaders tend to carry themselves in particular ways: hip in an intellectually relevant way, desiring to connect with the world in an intentional light and yet remaining humbly ignorant. But if this is cool, then this author demands that his pastor not be cool, calling on the examples of common, uncool heroes of the faith to highlight the true qualities of humility and knowledge of God.

Epilogue: Listening to All the Churches of Revelation (Kevin DeYoung)

While focusing on community, authenticity, and inclusion the emergent church has become focused on a particular flavor of Christian spirituality and has in turn missed a large part of what Jesus came to accomplish. DeYoung suggests that the emergent church focuses on the problems of lovelessness and listlessness while ignoring other issues like over-tolerance and under-definition. A whole vision of our strengths and weaknesses must be taken into account when the church is reframed. The closing thesis articulates again the need to know God, which infuses such a vision with not only a true view of the illness, but also a vista of its remedy.

Discussion-Starter Questions

1.) What about the inherent nature of the emergent movement makes it difficult to discuss?

2.) What is the positive influence of the emergent conversation upon contemporary evangelicalism?

3.) Does responsible biblical exegesis necessitate a presumption of propositional truth?

4.) What is the relationship between ignorance and humility when it comes to the development of personal and corporate theology?

5.) How does understanding the kingdom of God influence one’s reception of the emergent church?