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We’re Not Emergent
Authors: Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck
Publisher: Moody Publishers
Paperback: 256 pages
Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck open their book with a G.K. Chesterton quote: “There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there.” It’s instantly apparent why they aren’t “emergent” in Why We’re Not Emergent; if you already understand your relationship with God and have a firm foundation, why try to reinvent the wheel? And that may be their strongest argument: the traditional model of what the Gospel is or is not doesn’t need to be reinvented for post-modernity; it has been time tested for the last two thousand years through all kinds of revolutions in thought.
Why We’re Not Emergent may the most fair-minded critique of the emergent church movement to date. It’s conversational and simple to understand. It isn’t aimed at theologians or seminary students but the average guy who’s trying to find out what this whole emergent thing is about. It’s written by a pastor (Kevin DeYoung) with a modest church and a sports journalist (Ted Kluck). It also isn’t aimed at skewering the emergent church for the sake of spits and giggles.
To be sure, there are excellent concerns that emergents raise. Kluck and DeYoung note a few of these without trying to explain them away or minimize their importance. For instance, DeYoung speaks of how emerging (in some ways a synonym for “emergent”) leaders are refreshingly self-effacing when speaking of their own authority. DeYoung says later in the same chapter, however, that “this book is Why We Are Not Emergent and not An Evaluation of the Emerging Church, [so] we will not take much time to list what we appreciate about the movement, though we could.” The distinction is good to note.
Let’s be clear, though: Why We’re Not Emergent sees the emergent church movement as the second best option to the traditional model for church and Christianity – and, at times, a dangerous second option. According to DeYoung, a concern with some emergent authors, for instance, is the use of the buzz words “mystery” and “ambiguity” at the expense of conviction; that is to say that some emergents play down the knowability of God. On big issues such as biblical inerrancy, sexual practice, and the exclusive claims of Jesus emergent leaders can skirt the issue or dismiss a need to take a stand citing a need for humility in light of such “ambiguous” subjects. This is a problem considering DeYoung’s point that we can know things about how God feels on certain subjects and speak from conviction without having exhaustive knowledge of God. If we speak of gray areas too much, DeYoung seems to say, then we fall into the trap of saying, “Can we know anything about God at all?”
Kluck gives anecdotal evidence to bolster the idea that Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, and various other traditional denominational and non-denominational churches are just as relevant today as they ever were, doing good things in their communities, catering to a wide variety of cultures and populations.
If Why We’re Not Emergent has a weakness it is that Kluck uses sarcasm and humor effectively but mostly at the expense of emergents. While some comments fall in the “all in good fun” category, others seems snarky and even hurtful – though in many cases no less true; however, on such a subject, it would have been advisable for Kluck to be a bit more careful with his words.
In discussing emergence, DeYoung and Kluck cite important caveats: each emergent leader speaks for themselves. This means Brian McLaren doesn’t necessarily agree with Tony Jones here there and everywhere who doesn’t necessarily agree Peter Rollins. It also means that the meaning of emergent shifts depending with whom you are talking to. And this is a point of concern that Kluck and DeYoung tackle deftly.
If nothing else, Why We’re Not Emergent does an excellent job of discussing various ideas, views, and leaders of the emergent conversation. It doesn’t lump the bunch together when a view is not indicative of the whole, but it also draws conclusions about similar thought patterns and communication. Critiquing the emergent church is a monstrous task since it doesn’t really lend itself to critique because of its mercurial nature; however, Kluck and DeYoung complete the challenge with wit and wisdom.