Matt directed me to this DA Carson article, which is one of the best summary/critiques of the Emergent Church conversation/movement/whatever that I have encountered. Carson summarizes some of the main books and thinkers in the movement and the general gestalt of the whole thing.
One of his best thoughts, I think, is when he points out that most of this is a clear reaction against “seeker sensitive” and “megachurch” models of Christianity. Much of the literature (although certainly not all of it) tends to ignore the more traditional churches that aren’t doing some of the things they are reacting against. He points this out particularly with Dan Kimball, when he says “some of his suggestions—such as insistence that sermons should be theocentric and not anthropocentric, that they should not insult the intelligence of the hearers, that instruction in the Word should go on throughout the week and not be confined to public services on Sunday, and what we should aim for in kingdom living, one could easily find in Reformed exhortations.” Indeed.
I also think Carson’s suggestion for a closer examination of the assumptions about postmodern culture that underlie the emergent movement is right on. A rigorous look at what, who and which ideas we mean when we say “postmodern” is important. Some thinkers, most notably Grenz and some others involved in Radical Orthodoxy are doing good work in this area, the trouble is much of this is too complex or esoteric for the laity. But, as Carson says, “the difficulty of the task… cannot exempt us from making an attempt.” I hope to continue in this vein here and elsewhere.
Carson’s most important concern is this: “Is there at least some danger that what is being advocated is not so much a new kind of Christian in a new Emergent Church, but a church that is so submerging itself in the culture that it risks hopeless compromise?” And I imagine some might suggest that most of modern Protestantism is equally submerged in the culture of Western Philosophy – based in Plato and Descartes. The Platonic tradition, I would argue, is not inherently holier than the Sophistic one. The truth often lies between two extremes, and swinging too far toward relativism is also a concern. But I wonder if we need the sophistic pole, particularly in the present culture, where the Christianity that gets the most press is dogmatically Cartesian.
I think Carson’s concerns are important, and I think he would agree with me that these are warnings for an imperfect vision, in hopes that we get closer to the truth.