I’ve been listening to this radio show broadcast with a man named Mike Horton. He is a professor at Westminster Seminary who has written quite a few books on reformation theology. He’s the editor in chief of Modern Reformation Magazine. I’m posting a link to a radio interview he did concerning the Emergent Church. To find the interview click here and go to July 31, 2005 Radio broadcast. You will have to register to listen to the broadcast but these guys seem OK and I don’t think they’ll sell your email address.
This is an interesting conversation. I really enjoyed it, even though they seemed to spend the entire time dogging the Emergent Church, it’s leadership and McLaren. I think it’s very ironic that one of the main criticisms I hear about Emergent stuff is that they attack other parts of evangelicalism. I’ve listened to that McLaren interview several times and he wasn’t really attacking anything…he was offering different interpretations of scripture and other ideas, but he didn’t seem defensive or overly critical of anyone. It’s just very enlightening to listen to both approaches sort of “side by side” and see the reformed Calvinist side as the aggressor, not the emergent one.
It seems like their main point of contention with the Emergent Church is connected to an embracing of Post-Modern epistemologies by those involved. Horton & the host are both pretty critical of McLaren and other leaders of the EC. He describes Generous Orthodoxy saying it “doesn’t really meet its target” meaning it is neither generous nor orthodox – though he doesn’t really say why. They say McLaren is “hard to pin down on anything.” The host’s take on McLaren is that he is either “disengenuious, stupid or lying.” They do the general slam of the EC’s portrayal of their interactions as a “conversation,” saying it is evolving into a denomination and will be political and powerful. They sound thoroughly disgusted the EC might learn anything from liberalism – as though it would have absolutely no value for anyone. They are critical of the EC’s use of liberal interpretations of scripture. They are critical of the view that “redemption is following Christ,” and say this view essentially comes from a weak doctrine of sin which inevitably produces a weak doctrine of Grace.
It was hard to really discern early on where they were coming from. They are very critical of Derrida and Lyotard. At one point he said “Derrida just carried forward and modernized that Modern Kantian thesis…shows you a kind of superficial view of history.” This is a pretty bad characature, perhaps even a misrepresentation of Derrida, but by the host’s own admission he doesn’t understand Derrida.
Horton seemed to understand him but I don’t think he was quite playing fair with his ideas. My guess is that he just didn’t want to get into the heart of it on the radio – I bet this guy can lecture his pants off. He’s right that Derrida was working forward the Kantian ideal in one sense, sort of a new “you can never know the thing itself” approach. But this is what everyone says when they want to knock down Derrida. His basis wasn’t as much w/Kant as it was with Saussure and linguistics theory which is not a modern construct per se, though it does hold some Modern conceptualizations in view while forging forward. But this is not a good enough reason to simply discount Derrida. Just because he used some modern concepts while working in the Post-modern, post-structuralist field isn’t a reason to discredit him. Were I to engage Derrida and cite some differences I have with him it would be on the grounds of presence which is the concept of whether or not there is an actual reality to which our language corresponds. He didn’t think so, I really think there is. Horton finally gets to that in the end and when he does he admits that not all people who are in the Emergent conversation believe there is no epistemological certainty. Epistemological reletivism is the whipping boy even though they acknowledge the subjectivity of all knowing – all knowledge is anological. This itself is a paradox. It is this paradox WHICH REQUIRES A NARRATIVE APPROACH! However they dog the narrative approach. His criticism here is a good one and I think this is an important point that we need to assert that God entered history, it takes a body to know God, creation ex nihilo…those sort of things. But I just don’t agree that Westminster Confessional orthodoxy is the answer to this paradox. I like the narrative approach better. I’m not a radical on that, it just seems to play fair with both sides.
The host said at one point “w/regards to the emergent church I personally am in a Defensive Posture…They have bought into an aspect of PM that is deeply hostile to Christianity,” then went on to say something to the effect of “I don’t want to find common cause with them, I want to protect the church.” I just don’t think that is a helpful approach.
I could not agree more w/Horton’s his assessment that if this movement is going to progress, it needs to come from those who are well versed in church history and theology. I don’t agree that it is characteristic of emergent leadership that it lacks this at all. McLaren is brilliant. Tony Jones went to Dartmouth, Fuller (Mdiv.) and Princeton (Phd.). Pagitt has an Mdiv and is a voracious reader of Science and politics. These guys are not dumb ex-youth ministers, they are smart and they know their stuff. If anything I think they are a little to intellectually exclusive, but I love that because I love to compare brainpans and see mine get blown out of the water…it’s fun for me but I’m not convinced that is a helpful approach either.
They are critical of the EC saying that they are just arriving at good old modern liberalism from a post-modern approach. I hear this criticism all the time and I just think it’s a flawed assumption. First of all, they resist the idea of “arrival” at all costs. What is it about keeping a sort of elastic theological approach that just makes the Calvinists so mad? This criticism may well end up being true, but I think it’s too early to tell.
I also agree with Horton that we need to affirm the creeds. I just think we need to acknowledge that this must also be an elastic enterprise. My Roman Catholic friends who say the creed and acknowledge we believe in one catholic and apostolic church take a very different view of the word “apostolic” than do my reformed Calvinist friends. But they can stand side by side and recite it in most circumstances. That is a good thing. I have a real problem with the “descended into hell” part of the Apostle’s creed. I just don’t know what I think about that part, but the Westminster guys will go to the mattresses for it
I’m going to listen to it again and I might have some more thoughts. I’d love to see what you guys think….