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Why We're Not Emergent (by two guys who should be) (4)

Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck

(Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008; 256 pp.)

Part Four

In Chapter Seven, DeYoung sets his aim on the emergent perspective on modernism and postmodernism. I suspect that many of you will find that a bit tedious, and I can understand why. You’ll be relieved to know that since I addressed many of these same issues in Parts 2 and 3 of my seven-part review of D. A. Carson’s book, I’m going to forego any additional comments here (you can find those articles at my website, www.samstorms.com, under Recommended, in the Book Reviews section).

What is of special interest in this chapter, however, is DeYoung’s excellent discussion of the role of preaching, both in the emergent and non-emergent world. With tongue firmly planted in his cheek, he has labeled this section, “Dialogue the Word, Timothy!”, an obvious reference to Paul’s famous exhortation in 2 Timothy 4:2.

DeYoung reminds us of Paul’s tireless exhortation to his young disciples that they teach and preach and rebuke and encourage others, and that they guard themselves and the flock of God against false doctrine (see 1 Timothy 4:6, 11, 13; 5:17; 2 Tim. 2:1-5; Titus 1:9). These texts notwithstanding, “many in the emerging church lament the central place preaching has received in Protestant worship services” (155). Actually, the objection is less about preaching and more the style or manner in which it is engaged. It is the notion of a ministerial monologue in which one ordained Christian speaks a message to a congregation of unordained, passive listeners that evokes their negative response.

The purpose of preaching, they tell us, is not informational but transformational. Communal communication, in which all are invited to somehow participate, is needed in today’s world. Uni-directional, discursive sermons, delivered by seminary trained pastors, is a reflection of an Enlightenment mentality that is out of touch with the postmodern, image-driven, participatory culture of our day.

But DeYoung is right to point out a number of false dichotomies that lie beneath this criticism, namely, “that discursive communication is only interested in information and not formation, that it is a mere lecture isolated from family and community, and that it is purely pedagogical instead of celebrative. This is not helpful. We must refuse false dichotomies that force a wedge between head and heart, rationality and faith, truth and experience” (156). “I’m no big fan of the Enlightenment either,” continues DeYoung, “but it is simply wrong to attribute every hint of linear thinking, propositional preaching, or discursive communication to some modern Enlightenment corruption” (156). And he proceeds in the next few pages to give copious counter-examples of such to the emergent claim.

I think DeYoung is right when he contends that “much of the emergent disdain for preaching is really an uneasiness about authority and control” (159). But he also argues that “the decline in preaching goes hand in hand with a lost confidence in the importance of truth claims. Preaching presupposes there is a message that must be proclaimed and believed. The very act of verbal proclamation by one man to God’s people assumes that there is a word from God that can be ascertained, understood, and meaningfully communicated. This is what is being objected to in preaching, not simply the specter of modernism” (159).

And may I add to this that what may be driving much of the emergent disdain for linear, discursive preaching is their own regrettable experience of having been raised in churches where the proclamation often turned to legalistic oppression in which little if any voice was given to the congregation as a whole. No one, I hope, would endorse the insensitive authoritarianism that has characterized much of the preaching in western fundamentalism. But the abuses of this otherwise sacred ministry are no excuse to discard the practice or to ignore the biblical commands that we teach and preach the Word.

Following a brief analysis of Rob Bell’s misuse of (Jewish) history (as well as comments on the same in the writings of Doug Pagitt and Brian McLaren, see pp. 160-65), DeYoung closes this chapter by arguing that many emergents are equally as shaped by modernism as those they criticize. In fact, when one looks carefully at some of the distinctive ideas and emphases of emergent authors it is difficult to differentiate their concerns from those of nineteenth-century theological liberalism. Says DeYoung:

“The preference for ethics over doctrine, the reservations about God’s wrath and judgment, the perceived need to retranslate the Christian faith for a new time, the devaluing of propositional truths, the chastisement of firm doctrinal boundaries, the understanding of missions as social compassion and not conversion – these are all impulses of the modern world. So are the broad tolerance of general religious sentiment that is lacking in specificity and definition, the unwillingness to assert the Bible’s complete truthfulness, the downplaying of original sin, and the direct appeals to bettering the world apart from the call to repent and be born again” (166).

Before concluding this installment, a brief but passionate comment is in order about one item that appears in Chapter Eight (much of which is given to a discussion of Peter Rollins’ book).

If there is one undeniable common link between the theological liberalism of the last 150-175 years and contemporary emergent thought, it is the disinclination to discuss (if not an outright denial of the existence of) hell. Many emergent believers, Brian McLaren being chief and most outspoken among them, aren’t preoccupied with hell. They dislike the way this biblical reality compels them to speak of “who’s in” and “who’s out”. They feel it requires an act of discernment and judgment that only the arrogant and self-assured can make.

Let me be brutally honest and forthright: I am unapologetically preoccupied with hell, and for two simple reasons. First, the Bible says it is quite real, and second, the Bible says people are going there. I lie awake at night thinking about “who’s in” and “who’s out”. I’m utterly and unashamedly obsessed with hell because I believe it is real, and because there are people I know and love who persist in their rejection of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and who, apart from repentance and faith in him, will spend eternity there.

That’s offensive language. But it’s biblical language. And I’m obligated to be biblical even if it offends. One simply cannot affirm any concept of biblical authority and deny that it speaks often of those who are “in” and those who are “out”. The language it uses is of the sheep and the goats (Mt. 25:31-46), the wheat and the tares (Mt. 13:36-43), believers and unbelievers (1 Cor. 14:22), the righteous and the wicked (Malachi 3:18), those “who are being saved” and those “who are perishing” (2 Cor. 2:15), those who receive the crown of life as over against those who suffer the second death (Rev. 2:10-11), and those who are granted access to the New Jerusalem and those who “will never enter it” (Rev. 20:22-27).

One must never read such texts or ponder their meaning with anything other than fear and trembling and a realization that if one is “in” it is altogether of sovereign grace and mercy shown unto otherwise hell-deserving sinners. To avoid, diminish, or, God forbid, deny such texts and the eternal destinies they affirm is the epitome of selfish disdain and lack of concern for lost souls. Either one is branded with the name of the Lamb or the mark of the Beast (Rev. 13:11-14:5) and our approach to life and ministry and preaching and the Christian faith as a whole must be governed by that inescapable reality.

What would have become of countless native Americans had David Brainerd (1718-47) not been preoccupied and obsessed with who’s “in” and who’s “out”? I dare say he would not have written in his diary, on Monday, April 19, 1742, these words of love and commitment to their eternal welfare:

"God enabled me so to agonize in prayer, that I was quite wet with sweat, though in the shade, and the wind cool. My soul was drawn out very much for the world; I grasped for multitudes of souls" (The Life of David Brainerd, Yale:162).

On the next day, Brainerd wrote:

"I think my soul was never so drawn out in intercession for others as it has been this night. Had a most fervent wrestle with the Lord tonight for my enemies" (162).

I praise God for people like David Brainerd and William Carey and Lottie Moon and Hudson Taylor and countless others who refused to turn a blind eye to the reality of eternal punishment as if to do so were a badge of “epistemological humility”. I praise God for those who care deeply for lost souls and are willing to speak the truth, harsh and offensive though it be, that others might have eternal life.

This isn’t the last time the subject of heaven and hell is addressed in this book. It appears again in Chapter Nine, together with a discussion of other basic biblical truths that many in the emergent movement either misunderstand or reject outright. To those we now turn our attention.

Sam