The Apologetical Value of the Emergent Church Movement
I think we in the Reformed community, rather than picking fights with the Emergent church movement, should really be thanking them for their apologetic enterprise. Unfortunately, there are too many times when I start listening to one of my favorite podcasts hoping to be edified by my Reformed brethren, only to be hear them speak poorly of those who are part of this “movement.” If only we had the capacity to recognize the great service that the Emergent Church is doing for us, we could better cultivate the ground that they have laid down for us by their blogs, vlogs, “sermons,” and published books. It may strike my Reformed brethren as odd that I’d be saying this, but give me a chance to explain myself.
Firstly, the name itself stands in direct opposition to itself as it freezes, fixes, and essentializes what the movement claims to be about: becoming, flux – in a word, differánce. It’s our ignorance that’s kept us from seeing that the movement is not serious about its aims at all, but is instead playfully deconstructing the very idea that what is becoming may be identifiable/identified. The terms “Emergent Christianity” are purposefully ironic, conveying to the reader that postmodernity’s emphasis on differánce has turned in on itself and has become metaphysically oppressive, an ideology of epistemological violence that seeks to marginalize believers in absolute truth (as expressed propositionally in the sixty six books of the Bible). This was staring us in the face, yet we missed it all along. This veiled criticism of the unconscious metaphysic of a becoming that can be nothing other than itself (i.e. always becoming) and, thereby, never becomes anything at all but merely dissimulates, presenting an appearance of otherness/heterogeneity that hides a relentless sameness/homogeneity. In addition to the irony of a becoming that never becomes anything but itself, we encounter the subversion of the postmodern conception of becoming in the juxtaposition of the words “Church” and “Christianity” to the word “emergent.” The monotony of the postmodern, in effect, is overturned by the constant triumphal reappearance of orthodox Christianity; hence, “Emergent Christianity” does not signify a Christianity that is always “becoming other” but signifies a Christianity that is constantly resurfacing in the midst of a culture that hides its love for the demagoguery of the same under a veneer of love for becoming/otherness/multiplicity/etc.
Far from being an attack on historic Christianity, therefore, the name itself, “Emergent Christianity,” is a brilliantly sharpened two-edged sword. One edge of this sword has been designed to cut through the postmodern metanarrative of ceaseless change (a contradiction in terms which those in the Emergent conversation have cunningly capitalized on), while the other edge deftly cuts through the totalitarianism of “the same” by reasserting the constant re-emergence of historic Christianity. The emergent church movement is not an attack on historic Christianity; it is a playfully ironic criticism of postmodernism’s attack on historic Christianity. In other words, the Emergent Church movement is a subversive defense of the faith once for all delivered to the saints, ironically appropriating the concepts of a culture it detests in much the same way that Søren Kierkegaard appropriated the prevailing Hegelianism of his day in order to overthrow it from within by exposing its false presentation of itself as a “system of becoming” when in reality it was nothing more than an oppressive system of sameness/homogeneity/episteme-ontological totalitarianism. 1
It only stands to reason, therefore, that the second major attack on postmodernism that the Emergent Church has consistently provided for us concerns the effectiveness of language. The brilliance of these apologists is especially evident here in their ironic profusion of literature, sermons, blogs, and vlogs which frequently mention the inability of language to effectively communicate truths universally – in a variety of media, languages, and all of this – on the internet! This self-contradictory message is not meant to be taken seriously, let’s remember; rather, it’s meant to be an implicit mockery of the self-referentially absurd claims of postmodernist “thinkers,” like Jacques Derrida, who have written countless books on the inability of language to effectively communicate universal truth universally. Therefore, the Emergent Church’s emphasis on language’s communicative impotency pushes us to understand that, contrary to the teachings of postmodernism, language is supremely effective at communicating universal truths universally. Simultaneously, however, the Emergent Church is also reminding us that it is the Word which suffers at the hands of those who wish to suppress what it communicates (the Truth) in order to communicate their own attacks on the Word. In this apologetic enterprise of theirs, they are also pointing us to the Substitutionary Sacrifice of Christ, the Word who stood condemned by and for sinners. For the Emergent Church, language has this imprint of the Logos since it (language) suffers at the hands of speakers (sinners) who, although they attempt to suppress its ability to communicate the Truth (Christ), are all too aware of the fact that their attempts are self contradictory and futile. In a word: Truth Wins.
There is much that can be said, but I fear that the technical jargon might lose many who are not familiar with the anti-postmodern traditions of the Emergent Church. So I’ll cut to the chase: The Emergent Church is not a serious attempt at doing theology and church differently, but a mirror image of the dry and useless postmodern philosophies of days gone by – with an apologetic purpose, of course. The Emergent Church reminds us that “ceaseless change” is a contradiction in terms, that the historic Church is always (re)emerging victoriously over its enemies (for Christ her Lord is Mighty and Powerful, Wrathful and Sovereign), that God’s Word cannot be suppressed, that God’s Truth is universal, and that language is an extremely effective tool for communicating God’s universal Truth universally. Rather than mistaking the Emergent Church’s superficial marginalization of orthodox historic Christianity,2 let’s thank God for the apologetic work that the Emergent Church has done for us and cultivate the fertile ground God has provided for us.
If you haven’t caught on by now, this article is satire.
1. The parallels here are actually quite striking, as both Kierkegaard and the Emergent Church Movement are “Orthodox to the core,” disrupting the langue of their oppressors by their parole.
2. Jonathan Brink, for instance, subversively marginalizes Reformed & Evangelical Christians in his blog entry entitled Fighting for the Soul of Evangelicalism. One immediately should note the similarity between this blog’s title and the name of Missouri Synod Lutheran Chris Rosebrough’s apologetics podcast Fighting for the Faith. Make no mistake about it, the manifest content of Brink’s blog is meant to stir up confrontation, but what is latent is his fully approving recognition of the validity and necessity of Chris Rosebrough’s apologetical enterprise.
Hiram Diaz has written 18 post in this blog.
Hiram Diaz is a New York native currently residing in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and children. His interests are philosophy and presuppositional & exegetical apologetics. He maintains Involuted Speculations, a blog about pretty much anything that pops into his head and can't find its way out until it's written down.
Contact Hiram Diaz at [email protected]
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