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from "What's Emerging in the Church? Postmodernity, The Emergent Church, and The Reformation," Themelios 31:2 (January 2006): 20-39. [PDF]

What's Emerging in the Church? 

Jeffrey Jue

In 2001, I returned from studying in Britain and landed a teaching position in Washington, D.C. My transition to the metro D.C. area was eased greatly by an old friend whom I had not seen in five years since his seminary graduation from Dallas Theological Seminary. He was a fresh, young, newly wed youth minister, ready to tackle the challenging demands of pastoral ministry. Like the majority of DTS graduates, my friend was theologically precise, socially conservative, and winsomely evangelical. Five years later the clean-cut youth pastor now sported a fashionable goatee, had shed the “traditional” ministry career track in favor of opportunities which he described as “out of the box”, and was fascinated by progressive theologians wrestling with the ideological challenges of postmodernity. My friend had undergone a radical transformation and what emerged was my first confrontation with a self-conscious postmodern Christian. His experience, like many others, was an awakening stirred by the unassailable effects of a massive intellectual and cultural paradigm shift.

I. The Emergent Phenomenon

    Postmodernity began as an intellectual discussion reserved for the halls of the academy.[1] Yet in the past decade we have seen it trickle down to more popular levels, including the evangelical church. Carl Raschke claims that the result of this trickle down effect has left evangelicalism in a state of crisis. Evangelicalism is facing “an intellectual challenge of a magnitude it had never before confronted”.[2] The crisis has impacted many evangelical pastors, like my friend, who count themselves among a growing number of pastors/para-church workers/scholars/writers who are convinced that the evangelical church is ill equipped to handle the challenge of postmodernity. In response, these church leaders are attempting to address this challenge with a new Christianity, suited for the postmodern environment. D.A. Carson writes, “At the heart of the ‘movement’—or as some of its leaders prefer to call it, the ‘conversation’—lies the conviction that changes in the culture signal that a new church is “emerging.”’[3] As Carson goes on to describe, the “emerging” or “emergent” movement connotes something which is connected with what preceded it, yet fully engaged with the progress of the present.[4]

What impact is the Emerging Church having? This is the question that inspired the recent cover articles of many prominent evangelical magazines.[5]The Emerging Church is undeniably a voice gaining great attention.[6] The most recognized Emergent pastor, Brian McLaren, was named one of the twenty-five most influential evangelicals in America by Time magazine.[7] Likewise the plethora of Emergent publications – including internet websites – is generating a phenomena that is beyond the infant stage. As in the case of all new movements, careful evaluation must follow.

II. Church History and the Postmodern Reader

 The purpose of this article is not to provide a comprehensive critique of the Emergent Church.[8] Instead I would like to give a somewhat narrowly focused evaluation from the perspective of a historian and then offer some suggestions from church history to help address some of the concerns expressed by Emergent leaders. At first it may seem misplaced to invoke a primarily retrospective discipline while commenting on an extremely prospective movement. Moreover some readers might be anticipating a predictable traditionalist critique that eschews anything progressive. After all the Emergent Church, like all postmodern thinkers, is attempting to move beyond the past and discard the shackles of modernity.[9] While many within this movement prefer to engage current issues or anticipate future challenges, the motivation for insisting upon a “new Christianity” is deeply historical.

Postmoderns agree that the age of modernity is declining and with it many of the modern assumptions, convictions and propositions. All of the Emergent leaders insist upon this historical periodization between modern and postmodern as a necessary starting point from which to evaluate the Christian message and practice, and reformulate a Christian faith that is suitable for the postmodern culture. As a result, the Emergent Church claims that many of the so-called “modern” Christian distinctions are no longer appropriate.[10] According to McLaren, modern distinctions that separated Charismatics from non-Charismatics, Arminians from Calvinists, Liberals from Conservative Christians, and even Protestants from Roman Catholics must be revised in favor of a more generous orthodoxy.[11] Those in the Emerging Church advocate an orthodoxy that is not entrapped by the assumptions of modernity that were tainted by the rationalism of the Enlightenment.[12] We must be careful at this point to describe the Emergent Church accurately. They are not suggesting that Christianity has no positive historical roots or that the form of Christianity needed to address the postmodern culture must be constructed de novo. In fact certain leaders are returning to the “ancient faith and practices” for Christian examples which pre-date modernity. Thus, some writers are deeply interested in the history of the Church Fathers and Medieval Christianity.[13] It is difficult to argue against the premise that the study of history has played a crucial role in the intellectual formation of the Emergent Church.

In his book A Generous Orthodoxy, McLaren writes:

My quarrel with accumulating orthodoxy does not mean I advocate a “know-nothing” approach to church history. The very opposite is the case. The orthodoxy explored in this book invites as never before to study not only the history of the church, but also the history of writing the church’s history.[14]

As a historian this quote excites me. I believe that understanding church history is vitally important for today’s Church; and likewise the responsible method of studying church history is to examine judiciously both the primary and secondary sources. However, it is on this very point that McLaren, and many other Emergent thinkers, fail to follow their own suggestion. Earlier we described the Emerging Church’s attempt to move beyond the era of modernity and many of the theological polemics associated with that period. Again, modernity is characterized by rationalism, primarily exemplified by the Enlightenment, which postmodernity now questions. When did this period begin? Many Emergent thinkers date the beginning of modernity with either the sixteenth or seventeenth century.[15] Consequently, the Protestant theology of the Reformers, and the Roman Catholic theology affirmed by the Council of Trent were both modern constructions. I am confident that Roman Catholic historical theologians would protest this description; and I will let them defend their tradition. But it is historically irresponsible to claim that the Protestant Reformers believed that human reason and science were the sole means to obtaining absolute truth and certainty.[16] This is a claim that must, at the very least, engage the substantial scholarly work of Reformation historians who have given us a much more complex and nuance history of Protestant Christianity.

Reading about the history of the church does matter. Although many Emergent leaders recognize the value of this and consider the study of church history fundamental for understanding the present culture, they have not moved beyond a superficial reading. To be fair, one could argue that I have taken McLaren’s statements out of context. His point is that we should study church history as well as how church history has been written, because he recognizes that all historians have biases. He is concerned with many who have written about the past in light of their present convictions, and thereby confirm the old adage: “those who win the battles write the history”.[17] Again, on this point I have no quibble with McLaren. But how do we assess historians’ biases? To answer this question we need to place the historians and their work in a historiographical context. Following this approach reveals an interesting intersection where the seemingly divergent paths of Reformation historical studies and the Emergent church surprisingly cross.

III. History and Those Who Write It

By the early twentieth century scholars committed to a neo-orthodox agenda dominated Reformation studies.[18] These scholars attempted to read the writings of the Reformation through their neo-orthodox theological lens.[19] The result was a reconstruction of Reformation theology that resembled certain neo-orthodox assumptions concerning revelation, Scripture and the central function of Christology.[20] Likewise this historiographical approach erected a divide between the untainted theology of the early sixteenth-century Reformers and the rationalistic theological systems of the seventeenth-century Protestant scholastics. Ostensibly Calvin’s theology was lauded, but Calvinism (as perpetuated by men like Theodore Beza, William Perkins, John Owen and Francis Turretin) was denigrated.[21] At this point one might notice that this neo-orthodox historiography is very similar to the postmodern periodization. Neo-orthodox historians and Emergent leaders place the blame on the seventeenth-century as the precise historical moment when Christian theology was corrupted by the rationalism of modernity.

The implications of this historical analysis are staggering for today’s evangelicals. If the Reformation and post-Reformation signal the beginning of modernity, and postmodernity questions the modern intellectual and cultural assumptions, then one could argue that the theological heritage of the Reformation is obsolete.[22] What do we do now with the confessional standards of our churches which were written in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? How do we assess the continual ecumenical dialogue between Protestants and Roman Catholics or any other post-sixteenth-century division? This historical analysis potentially calls for a complete postmodern revision of Protestant theology as we know it.[23]

Before we dismiss all of the theological output of the seventeenth century, we must return again to McLaren’s comments about those who write history. The neo-orthodox reading of the Reformation must be evaluated as well. The thorough historian must explore two contexts: the specific sixteenth and seventeenth-century context and the twentieth-century context of the neo-orthodox historians. From the perspective of postmodernity, both the historical period that these neo-orthodox historians sought to study and neo-orthodoxy itself are in fact thoroughly modern.[24] Thus the way history was written by neo-orthodox historians (rationalistic, euro-centric, metanarratival, etc.) is vulnerable to the same modern shortcomings that are supposedly found in the historical subjects they were studying.[25] To be consistent, McLaren’s postmodern approach should be equally suspicious of the modern influences in the neo-orthodox method.[26] Yet, McLaren’s and other postmodern Christians’ blindly accept this periodization and historical interpretation without carefully investigating either the theologians of the seventeenth century or the historians of the twentieth century. Postmodern and neo-orthodox historians agree that the rationalism of the seventeenth century, in philosophy and theology, marked the dramatic shift from pre-modern to modern.

What McLaren and other Emergent leaders and scholars have failed to do is carefully examine the historical sources as well as the writings of other historians who have contested the neo-orthodox historiography. The study of the intellectual history of the Reformation and post-Reformation first begun by Heiko Oberman and then continued by David Steinmetz, Richard Muller, and others is an attempt to introduce a new historical methodology. This method seeks to understand the Protestant Reformation and post-Reformation in its own historical-intellectual context, without the neo-orthodox premises. The studies from this new methodology paint a very different picture of the past.

IV. Protestant Scholasticism: The Modern Culprit?

Did post-Reformation theologians like Theodore Beza, John Owen, and Francis Turretin depart from the teachings of Calvin and the other Reformers because of their positive appropriation of scholasticism? After all, was not scholasticism a form of theological rationalism perverted by Aristotelian philosophy?[27] Stanley Grenz and John Franke accept this reading in their postmodern assessment of the “modern” theology of Charles Hodge at Old Princeton, since Hodge was so dependent upon the seventeenth century. They write, “Hodge’s own understanding of theology is generally derived from the scholasticism characteristic of post-Reformation Protestant orthodoxy and its emphasis on rationalism.”[28] At the end of this sentence Grenz and Franke cite the monumental work of Richard Muller. They are correct in citing Muller as the foremost authority on post-Reformation theology, but his four volume magnum opus entitled Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, in no way substantiates Grenz and Franke’s claim. In fact it proves the very opposite. Muller’s work disproves the neo-orthodox historians’ claim that seventeenth-century Protestant scholasticism broke with the sixteenth century and moved in a rationalistic direction.[29] A few examples will illustrate this.

Historically the Protestant scholastics were contemporaries of early Enlightenment thinkers, but they held a particular view of the relation between faith and reason that did not anticipate the Enlightenment. Muller states,

The rationalization and intellectualization of theology into system characteristics of the orthodox or scholastic phase of Protestantism never set the standard of scriptural revelation and rational proof on an equal par and certainly never viewed either evidential demonstration or rational necessity as the grounds of faith. Quite the contrary, the Protestant orthodox disavow evidentialism and identify theological certainty as something quite distinct from mathematical and rational or philosophical certainty. They also argue quite pointedly that reason has an instrumental function within the bounds of faith and not a magisterial function. Reason never proves faith, but only elaborates faith towards understanding. There is, moreover, underlying this traditional view of the relationship of faith and reason, an anthropology in which sin and the problematic nature of human beings plays a major role – in significant contrast to the Enlightenment rationalist assumption of an untrammeled constitution of humanity.[30]

Scholasticism referred to a method for arranging and communicating theology, and not the content of one’s theology. Post-Reformation theologians were not abandoning the theology of the early Reformers in favor of a more rationalistic approach, but expanding, clarifying and codifying that theology. Take Francis Turretin as an example. Turretin was professor of theology at Calvin’s academy in Geneva from 1653 to 1687. In his Institutes of Elenctic Theology, he frequently used scholastic distinctions and arrangements. Yet Turretin was careful to differentiate between reason as the foundation or principle of theology and reason as an instrument or means for constructing theology. The first, Turretin adamantly denied. Turretin explained that reason is never the foundation or principle of theology, but rather it is useful as an instrument for illustrating and collating theological doctrines.[31] It is interesting to note Turretin’s precision on this issue. He was not saying that reason is unequivocally antithetical to faith. Instead he clarified,

[f]or a thing to be contrary to reason is different from its being above and beyond; to be overthrown by reason and to be unknown to it. The mysteries of faith are indeed contrary to corrupt reason and assailed by it, but they are only above and beyond right reason and are not taught by it.[32]

Turretin, and other Protestant scholastics, were not propagating a rationalistic theological agenda. Scholasticism was a pedagogical method for teaching a full Protestant theological curriculum in the first Protestant universities.[33]

Likewise seventeenth-century (as well as sixteenth-century) theologians saw themselves in continuity with a wider Western Christian tradition. While defending the absolute authority of Scripture, they went to great lengths to demonstrate their theological dependence on the Church Fathers, and their measured appropriation of certain aspects of Medieval theology. Irena Backus, David Steinmetz, and Anthony Lane have written numerous volumes detailing the substantial use of patristic sources by Reformation and post-Reformation writers.[34] Protestants were eager to establish their theological continuity with the past and thereby demonstrate that the Protestant church was not a new invention. They looked to Irenaeus, Tertullian, Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Bernard of Clairvaux, and John Duns Scotus to confirm and refine their theological positions. Their intention was not to start a new church, but to recover the true “catholic” or universal church. Consequently, it is very difficult to sustain the argument that either the sixteenth or seventeenth-century Reformed theologians were making a radical “modern” break from their past.

In failing to take into account the current state of Reformation scholarship, McLaren and others have allowed their own postmodern presuppositions to shade their interpretation of the past. But are the results so problematic? The simple solution would be to shift the starting date of the modern age forward and possibly narrow the intellectual roots to the early Enlightenment philosophers. This correction would keep their critiques of modernism intact while maintaining a more accurate historical reading. While this may be an easy solution, the implications for this adjustment are significant. The Emergent Church is not introducing a new Christianity completely detached from any historical roots. Yet the postmodern periodization of history has contributed to the utter neglect or at the very least gross distortion of Reformation and post-Reformation history and theology. Other than a hollow view of Semper Reformanda, the Reformed tradition is abandoned as a meaningful theological partner in their “emerging conversation” with postmodernity. My purpose is not to deny the importance of addressing postmodernism, nor to insist upon a blind traditionalism that seeks to return to some past “golden age” of the church. I agree with D. A. Carson’s assessment: one positive contribution of the Emergent Church is their desire to present an authentic Christianity that moves beyond a formal religious faith. This desire has lead many Emergent leaders to see the problems with nineteenth and twentieth-century evangelicalism and seek to offer something with more integrity. But is this “new Christianity” using all the resources available to address the postmodern questions? A more careful investigation of the sixteenth and seventeenth-century theologians reveals a pre-modern theology that bears little resemblance to the intellectual assumptions of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thinkers. In fact this pre-modern theology provides a number of helpful theological tools for addressing the concerns of the Emergent Church.

V. The Reformation meets Postmodernity

Let me offer three modest examples of the usefulness of Reformation theology for addressing the concerns of the Emergent Church. These are tentative examples, which should be explored more fully, but I propose them as a positive contribution in this discussion. First, in his article entitled “From the Third Floor to the Garage,” Spencer Burke describes his dissatisfaction with evangelicalism and his eventual “emergence.”[35] Burke writes about his discontentment with what he calls “spiritual McCarthyism.” Historically what he is describing is the legacy of Fundamentalism within the evangelical church. Burke laments the authoritarian approach of many pastors that stifles theological investigation (because it automatically leads to Liberalism) but claims doctrinal absolutes with little intellectual substantiation. Emergent leaders take seriously the need for Christians to engage the culture intellectually. This was not always the case in the history of evangelicalism. For much of the twentieth-century evangelical Fundamentalism was on the retreat intellectually.[36] Yet Emergent thinkers are riding the tide of intellectual rediscovery within evangelicalism and moving forward within a postmodern context.[37] Still D. A. Carson is convinced that much of the thinking within the Emergent community is intellectually lacking.[38] One way for the Emergent Church to address Carson’s concern is to look for examples of theological engagement in a pre-modern context like the Reformation.

Intellectual engagement was and continues to be a hallmark of the Reformed tradition. Reformed theologians were the leading intellectuals in early modern Europe. They taught at prestigious ancient universities like Oxford, Cambridge, Heidelberg, Geneva, and Utrecht. Their writings engaged a host of disciplines beyond just theology. In fact the seventeenth-century theologian, Johann Heinrich Alsted, wrote an encyclopedia which attempted to summarize the corpus of all human learning.[39] But what is most applicable for the Emergent concerns is the Reformers understanding of epistemology. One of the most popular postmodern criticisms of modern evangelicalism, including Fundamentalism, focuses upon the foundationalist approach to epistemology.[40] Foundationalism, as described by postmodern thinkers, seeks to establish an incontrovertible ground for absolute truth through rationalistic methods. Emergent thinkers reject this approach, arguing that such a method is no longer tenable in a postmodern context.[41]Instead they offer an approach that has been characterized as intellectually shallow and relativistic.[42]

Nancey Murphy has argued that nineteenth-century Reformed theologians, specifically the theologians at Princeton Theological Seminary, were foundationalists shaped by the commonsense philosophy of Thomas Reid.[43] However the Reformed confessions of the sixteenth and seventeenth-century do not reflect the same commonsense philosophical influence. While the confessions and the Princetonians shared the same material understanding of Scripture, as authoritative and infallible, they differed somewhat on how they formally defended Scripture’s authority. Princeton was influenced by the modern intellectual priority on scientific method, while the Reformers emphasized the self-attesting nature of Scripture.[44] Scripture is the Word of God because it carries with it the authority of the author, God himself. This is not a rational construct, though it does not contradict reason. Instead the Reformers offered an approach that distinguished carefully between God as the principium essendi (essential foundation) of all theology and Scripture as the principium cognoscendi (cognitive foundation) of revealed theology. The authority of Scripture as the cognitive foundation is not found in a rational method for demonstrating reliability; but Scripture presupposes God, the essential foundation, while at the same time teaching us who God is.[45] Thus the foundation for theology is not a scientifically verifiable Scripture, or the consensus of a community, but God himself as he has been revealed in his inscripurated Word. For those in the Emergent Church who seek an alternative to modern foundationalism, the Reformed confessions offer a historical pre-modern standard.[46]

Second, Spencer Burke goes on to describe his rejection of “spiritual isolationism.”[47] This isolationism is demonstrated in the flight of evangelical churches to the suburbs and away from the pressing socio-economic and cultural issues of the secular urban centers. Burke laments the lost of an authentic Christian community. Evangelicalism in both its message and method emphasized the individual. The message was a simple Gospel, narrowly defined by the “Four Spiritual Laws”, and offering Jesus as one’s “personal Savior.” Built into this message was the urgency for individual conversion. The popularity of classical dispensational pre-millennialism and the special blessing of a secret rapture for believers can explain part of that urgency. The practice of massive evangelistic crusades gave way to the mega-churches and a corporate model for ministry. Instead the Emergent Church seeks to establish a community, both theological and ecclesial, that breaks down the isolation and integrates Christian faith and life. But their reaction to evangelicalism’s radical individualism has led them to emphasize the community at the expense of the individual. The writings of McLaren and other Emergent leaders focus very little on individual salvation and doctrines associated like justification, final judgment and hell.[48] In fact, when McLaren does comment on soteriology, he is woefully confusing.[49]

Christianity addresses both the individual and corporate/communal issues. Emphasizing one over the other is equally problematic. Reformed theologians in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century attempted to balance these two extremes. In the context of Roman Catholic/Protestant polemics, the issue of justification was central. The doctrine of justification by faith alone was at the very heart of the Reformation’s message. Yet, the Reformers would address corporate issues alongside of this important individual doctrine. John Calvin’s Reformation project touched nearly every aspect of city life in Geneva.[50] I recognize that the social, cultural and political context of sixteenth-century Geneva was very different from the twenty-first century; however, it is undeniable that the Reformers carried out their work in the urban centers of their day. These were the cities setting the pace for intellectual, social and cultural exchange.[51] They did not isolate themselves in Medieval monasteries, or limit their message to a simple gospel; instead they worked to reform their cities according to their Christian convictions. It is important to note that I am not attempting to declare with John Knox that “Geneva was the most perfect city since the time of the Apostles.” I am only highlighting the intent of the Reformers, while fully recognizing their depravity and need for grace; and consequently their intent was not always carried out in the most Christian manner. Nevertheless the example is still valid.

Finally, Burke labels his third issue “spiritual Darwinism”.[52] Again Burke is describing the capitalistic/marketing approach found in many evangelical churches, often identified as “church growth” methods. Evangelicalism fostered a culture of upwardly mobile professional ministers, looking for the latest method to increase their congregation’s size and public profile. For Burke, success was measured quantitatively, and the pressure to succeed was overwhelming.[53] In response to this “spiritual Darwinism,” Burke and other Emergent pastors are right to ask some fundamental questions: how do we define the ministry of the Gospel and how should that ministry be conducted? Once again I believe the Reformed tradition has something helpful to contribute.

I admit that Reformed Christians are not immune from Burke’s “spiritual Darwinism.” All prominent ministers to some degree face the temptation to be “superstars.” Power and authority must be exercised with great humility. But again some of the emphases of the Reformation can help us avoid the cycle of spiritual Darwinism. The ministry of the Gospel for the Reformers was utterly ecclesial. Ministry was conducted within the context of the church, and characterized by the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments. The ministry of the Word and sacrament became the primary function of the church and the priority for those who were called to serve as pastors. The pulpit was central to the life of the church and ministers labored diligently to craft substantive sermons that would instruct and encourage their congregations. In describing the preaching of the puritan pastor, Richard Baxter, Paul Lim writes,

In exhorting his ministerial colleagues, Baxter called preaching “the most excellent” part of the work. At the same time, preaching was a difficult task since it was “a work that requireth greater skill, and especially greater life and zeal, then any of us bring to it.” Furthermore, it was “no small matter” to stand before the congregation as well as before God, but it was no easier “to speak so plain, that the ignorant may understand us, and so seriously, that he deadest hearts may feel us; and so convincingly, that the contradicting Cavilers may be silenced.”[54]

Contrary to this model evangelical and Emergent churches alike have turned preaching into multi-media presentations complete with dramas, video clips, and light shows, claiming this is the only way to reach effectively the sophisticated image-dependent postmoderns. Gone, like the dinosaurs, is the old Reformed model of preaching. Many have claimed that it cannot survive and communicate in a postmodern world. Yet in New York City, arguably one of the most culturally progressive urban centers, thousands gather each Sunday at Redeemer Presbyterian Church to listen to a pastor, without any visual aids, simply preach. Now these sermons are not the old reductionist evangelical Gospel, but they profoundly engage the contemporary culture with the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Finally, the dominant corporate mentality of the evangelical church must be redirected back to the biblical understanding of the covenant community. The Reformers recognized that the sacraments helped to reorient Christians and shift their focus from themselves to Christ and his visible church. The sacraments identify an individual as united with Christ and likewise a member within the covenant community. Clarifying this was crucial for the Protestant Reformers as they sought to define the role and function of the church. The Westminster Confession of Faith, 28:1 reads:

Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and his benefits, and to confirm our interest in him; as also to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the church and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to his word.

Baptism is the initiatory sign and seal of God’s covenant promises, and the Lord Supper is a regular confirmation of that reality. Church members are not opportunistic employees, self-gratifying consumers, or anonymous faces in the audience. They are participants in the covenant community, who need and desire the grace of God given in Christ. A recovery of the Reformed understanding of the sacraments can help address the spiritual Darwinism that Burke rejected.

VI. Conclusion

    What’s emerging in the church? According to many Emergent leaders, something old and new. But without accurately understanding the old, the new lacks the rigor and depth which can only be achieved through years of testing and refinement. Meeting the challenges of our contemporary culture is not an easy task. We must have the humility to admit that we cannot meet this challenge alone. Thankfully we are not historically isolated. We have a rich history of theological reflections and writings from which to draw from.

[1] Kevin J. Vanhoozer (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology (Cambridge, 2003), pp. 3-4.
[2] Carl Raschke, The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity (Grand Rapids, 2004), p. 11.
[3] D. A. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications (Grand Rapids, 2005), p. 12.
[4] Ibid. 12. The labels Younger Evangelicals, postconservatives or postevangelicals is also used to identify this movement. See Roger E. Olson, “Postconservative Evangelicals Greet the Postmodern Age”, Christian Century 112 (May 1995), p. 480, and Millard J. Erickson, Paul K. Helseth & Justin Taylor (eds.), Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern Times (Wheaton, 2004), p. 21.
[5] Andy Crouch, “The Emergent Mystique”, Christianity Today (November 2004), pp. 36-41; Scott Bader-Saye, “The Emergent Matrix”, The Christian Century (November 30, 2004), pp. 20-27. Likewise articles have appeared in smaller denomination journals: Chuck De Groat, ‘A Growing Hunger for Honest and Authenticity: “Younger Evangelicals” in the PCA’, By Faith (January/February 2005), pp. 26-29.
[6] Recently PBS aired a two-episode documentary entitled: “The Emerging Church”. See:
[7] Time (February 7, 2005).
[8] Two more comprehensive resources are: D. A. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, and Michael Horton’s comments in Leonard Sweet (ed.), The Church in Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives (Grand Rapids, 2003).
[9] An example of this postmodern program is the work of postfoundationalist theologians like Nancey Murphy, Stanley Grenz and John Franke. See N. Murphy, Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy set the Theological Agenda (Valley Forge, 1996); S. Grenz & J. Franke, Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context (Louisville, 2001).
[10] John Franke, “Generous Orthodoxy and a Changing World: Foreword to Generous Orthodoxy”, in B. McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids, 2004), p. 9.
[11] McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids, 1999).
[14] McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, p. 29.
[15] Brian D. McLaren, A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey (San Francisco, 2001), pp. 14-22; Rascke, The Next Reformation, p. 26; Stanley Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism (Grand Rapids, 1996), p. 58.
[16] McLaren, A New Kind of Christian, p. 17.
[17] McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, p. 29.
[18] Hans J. Hillerbrand, “Was There a Reformation in the Sixteenth Century?”, Church History, 72:3 (September 2003), p. 525-552 . For examples see W. Niesel, Theology of John Calvin, trans. Harold Knight (London, 1956) and J. B. Torrance, “The Concept of Federal Theology – Was Calvin a Federal Theologian?”, in W. H. Neuser (ed.), Calvinus Sacrae Scripturae Professor: Calvin as Confessor of Holy Scripture (Grand Rapids, 1994), pp. 15-41.
[19] C. R. Trueman and R. S. Clark (eds.), Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment (Cumbria, 1999), p. xii.
[20] Muller, After Calvin: Studies in the Development of a Theological Tradition (Oxford and New York, 2003), p. 63. Muller writes, “This neoorthodox historiography not only shifted the discussion of Calvin away form the nineteenth-century models that had placed him in continuity with the Reformed orthodox [seventeenth-century Reformed theologians], it also added to the discussion a series of highly debatable dogmatic premises that have served to cloud the understanding of the Reformation”, Ibid. 66.
[21] For examples of this approach see Basil Hall, “Calvin Against the Calvinists”, in G. Duffield (eds.), John Calvin: A Collection of Distinguished Essays (Grand Rapids, 1966), pp. 19-37, and Brian G. Armstrong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy: Protestant Scholasticism and Humanism in Seventeenth Century France (Madison, 1969).
[22] See John Franke, “Reforming Theology: Toward a Postmodern Reformed Dogmatics”, Westminster Theological Journal, 65 (2003), p. 1-26.
[23] This is precisely what McLaren is seeking to do in Generous Orthodoxy. For more a more scholarly attempt see Stanley Grenz, Renewing the Center: Evangelical Theology in a Post-Theological Era (Grand Rapids, 2000).
[24] Some theologians who embrace postmodernity claim that neo-orthodoxy, particularly the theology of Karl Barth, was a proto-postmodern approach. See Stanely Hauerwas, With the Grain of the Universe: The Church’s Witness and Natural Theology (2001) and John R. Franke, “God Hidden and Wholly Revealed: Karl Barth, Postmodernity and Evangelical Theology”, Books and Culture: A Christian Review, 9:5(Sept/Oct. 2003), pp. 16-17, 40-41. However, this positive appropriation of Barth is debatable amongst postmodern theologians. Nancey Murphy writes, “Barth is certainly open to being read as a scriptural foundationalist, even in passages quoted by those arguing against this claim”, N. Murphy, Beyond Liberalism & Fundamentalism, p. 95. Moreover I believe Cornelius Van Til’s critique of neo-orthodoxy as a “new modernism” is still relevant. See C. Van Til, The New Modernism: An Appraisal of the Theology of Barth and Brunner (Philadelphia, 1946).
[25] Millard Erickson identifies a “new historicism” in the postmodern agenda, M. Erickson, “On Flying in a Theological Fog,” in Erickson, Helseth and Taylor (eds.), Reclaiming the Center, pp. 332-337.
[26] As far as I am aware neither McLaren nor any other Emergent writer has commented in detail on Reformation or post-Reformation historiography. But I would imagine, given their generous orthodoxy, neo-orthodoxy would not trigger the same theological red flags. Still, they would need to account for the modern influences on neo-orthodoxy and its implications for writing history.
[27] See Armstrong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy, p. 32.
[28] Grenz & Franke, Beyond Foundationalism, p. 14.
[29] Muller argues “it is no longer sufficient to note that the post-Reformation orthodox used scholastic method and that some of their theological and philosophical views stand in contrast with those of presumably nonscholastic or antischolastic Reformers”. Muller, After Calvin, p. 72; Trueman & Clark (eds.), Protestant Scholasticism, p. xiv.
[30] Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, Volume One: Prolegomena to Theology(Grand Rapids, 2003, 2nd edition), pp, 141-142.
[31] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume One: First through Tenth Topics, edited by J. T. Dennison Jr., translated by G. M. Giger (Phillipsburg, 1992), pp. 25-27.
[32] Ibid. 27.
[33] Richard Muller, After Calvin, pp. 27-33; idem, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, p. 62.
[34] Irena Backus, (ed.), The Reception of the Church Fathers in the West: From the Carolingians to the Maurists (Leiden, 1997); David C. Steinmetz, “Calvin and the Patristic Exegesis of Paul”, in D. C. Steinmetz (ed.), The Bible in the Sixteenth Century (Durham, N.C. and London, 1990), pp. 100-118; Anthony Lane, John Calvin Student of the Church Fathers (Grand Rapids, 2000).
[35] Spencer Burke, “From the Third Floor to the Garage”, in Mike Yaconelli (ed.), Stories of Emergence: Moving from Absolute to Authentic (El Cajon, 2003), pp. 27-39.
[36] See David Wells, No Place for the Truth or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (Grand Rapids, 1993) and Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, 1995).
[37] Alan Wolfe, “The Opening of the Evangelical Mind”, Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 286, no. 4 (October 2000), pp. 55-76.
[38] Carson writes “The almost universal condemnation of modernism, and of Christianity under modernism, is not only historically skewed and ethically ungrateful, but is frequently theologically shallow and intellectually incoherent”. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, p. 68.
[39] Johann Heinrich Alsted, Encyclopaedia (Herborn, 1630). For more details about Alsted see Howard B. Hotson, Johann Heinrich Alsted: Between Renaissance, Reformation and Universal Reform (Oxford, 2000).
[40] Again see Grenz and Franke, Beyond Foundationalism and Nancey Murphy, Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism.
[41] McLaren, Generous Orthodoxy, p. 117. For an assessment of the foundationalist/post-foundationalist discussion see J. P. Moreland and Garret DeWesse, “The Premature Report of Foundationalism’s Demise”, in Erickson, Helseth and Taylor, Reclaiming the Center, pp. 81-107.
[42] Ibid. 89.
[43] Murphy, Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism, p. 5.
[44] Westminster Confession of Faith, 1:4.
[45] Belgic Confession, VIII, Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, vol. II, p. 152.
[46] This alternative to foundationalism is recognized in the nineteenth and twentieth-century Dutch Reformed tradition which did not follow Old Princeton. See George Hunsinger, “What Can Evangelicals and Postliberals Learn from Each Other: The Carl Henry-Hans Frei Exchange Reconsidered”, in T. R. Phillips & D. R. Okholm (eds.), The Nature of Confession: Evangelicals and Postliberals in Conversation (Downers Grove, 1996), pp. 134-150 and Michael Horton, “Yale Postliberalism: Back to the Bible?”, in M. Horton (ed.), A Confessing Theology for Postmodern Times(Wheaton, 2000), pp. 183-216.
[47] Burke, “From the Third Floor to the Garage”, p. 32.
[48] McLaren, Generous Orthodoxy, pp. 99-101; 112-114.
[49] When asked a question on universalism, McLaren responds, “each road [universalists or exclusivists] takes you somewhere, to a place with advantages or disadvantages, but none of them is the road of my missional calling … Inclusivism says the gospel is efficacious for many, and exclusivism says for a comparative few. But I’m more interested in a gospel that is universally efficacious for the whole earth before death in history”, McLaren, Generous Orthodoxy, pp. 113-114. By calling for a prelapsarian gospel (which is already confusing, for why would salvation be necessary before Adam sinned?) - McLaren has confused the probationary period with the necessary redemptive plan of God, culminating in the work of Jesus Christ. This confusion is illustrated in another place. McLaren affirms that salvation is by grace through faith, yet at the final judgment Christians are not judged according to the meritorious work of Christ, but by “how well individuals have lived up to God’s hopes and dreams for our world and for life in it”, McLaren, The Story We Find Ourselves In: Further Adventures of a New Kind of Christian (San Francisco, 2001), pp. 166-167. D. A. Carson points out how similar this is to certain strands of the New Perspective on Paul approach within Pauline studies, Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, p. 181. Carson is correct in identifying the similar theological conclusions reached by the two movements. In many ways the New Perspective on Paul compliments the Emergent agenda. As we have been arguing, the Emerging Church seeks a postmodern revisionist Christian theology that is not conditioned by modernity, but informed by pre-modern sources. The New Perspective on Paul supplies a pre-modern revisionist Christian theology based on a reconstructed history of early Christianity in the context of Second Temple Judaism. Addressing the Emerging Church’s concern, this Second Temple context predates Christianity’s captivation with Greek rational philosophy.
[50] See Robert Kingdon, T. A. Lambert, I. M. Watt, J. R. Watt (eds.), M. W. McDonald (trans.), The Registers of the Consistory of Geneva at the time of Calvin, Volume 1: 1542-1544 (Grand Rapids, 2000).
[51] See Euan Cameron, The European Reformation (Oxford, 1991), pp. 210-266 and Berndt Hamm, “The Urban Reformation in the Holy Roman Empire”, in T. A. Brady Jr., H. A. Oberman, J. D. Tracy (eds.), Handbook of European History, 1400-1600: Late Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation, Volume 2: Visions, Programs, and Outcomes (Grand Rapids, 1995), pp. 193-227.
[52] Burke, “From the Third Floor to the Garage”, p. 34.
[53] Ibid. 35.
[54] Paul Chang-Ha Lim, In Pursuit of Purity, Unity and Liberty: Richard Baxter’s Puritan Ecclesiology in Its Seventeenth-Century Context (Leiden & Boston, 2004), p. 27