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I have been a bit critical of Emergent, though I am still trying to maintain an open mind. I'd be curious as to your thoughts on these two posts that I wrote about Emergent:




Mike King

Hey Tony, great observation. I sat here thinking about it for several minutes and I would say about 75 percent of the crap I've gotten would be from Calvinists that would view Barth as a stinkin liberal...


You're right, Tony. Do you mean to suggest that it's not worth it to argue with them?

One of the surprising things to me was the outcry against contemplative spirituality. I work in a conservative church and I haven't found people to be particularly fearful of such things. They might be suspicious of practices that are older than a hundred years or so, but that's not because they involve contemplation.

Another big criticism, which I'm sure you've seen, is that the EC basically doesn't value the Bible at all. We've supposedly completely thrown out the authority of the Bible. Is is worth it to even argue over this? Is a pre-Barthian evangelical Calvinist ever going to be happy with my bibliology? Not sure, but I'm interested in the subject nonetheless.

I do think it's something the EC should possibly emphasize more...WE VALUE THE BIBLE. We read it, we refer to it, we love it, we hope to be transformed by the truth the Holy Spirit speaks through it, etc. For whatever reason, people (maybe just these people?) aren't getting that message.


I would agree with you that most of the critiques are coming from the Calvinist wing of evangelicalism, but I would disagree with your characterization that they (Calvinists) negate tradition. Of course there is the arguement that tradition is not authoritative, but there does exist a fair amount of understanding of the history of the church in Calvinistic circles.


In my conversations with Calvinists about EC, the biggest hurdle has been getting them to see that Calvinist Theology does not equal the Gospel/Scripture. Though they would never explicitely state this, their arguments boil down to: God could have either written the Bible as we have it or the Institutes/Calvin's Commentaries - either one would have sufficed.

How does one even begin to go about talking about possibilities outside of Reformed theology when the other person holds that anything outside of it is de facto unbiblical?


well, i wouldn't say that all of the critique is coming from evangelical calvinists. as a somewhat (2 years) new convert to eastern orthodoxy, i have encountered critique of the emergent movement by some in eastern orthodoxy. however, the terms of the critique are not at all (obviously) the same.

and, too, i would suggest that not all of the orthodox critique should be seen as 'bad', or to cause defensivenes. in part because i see in many places in the emergent movement a kind of discovery of the value of eastern christianity. because the terms, the milieu (so to speak) is so VERY different. there is a great deal to be offered, and so i would hate any real dialogue to be quenched simply because critique may exist. so let me see if i can clarify a few points:

most orthodox i've read or talked to can't see how emergent is anything BUT still a furthering of protestantism itself, in at least this way: internal protest and then reformulation leading to even greater fracturing of community, all somewhat locally-subjectively realized.

within even the various 'emergent' groups there seems to be many different and even conflicting attempts at 'doing church', with nothing really to form a greater unity. is it the case that emergent communities don't care about a larger unity?

'Tradition' and 'experience' is of course mentioned by emergent communities... but because the use of Tradition is a collage and pick and choose according to local desire, you'll have people borrowing theological concepts or practices from eastern christianity without any appreciation of how those individual elements inform the greater WHOLE of how we live theology. and so for us, Holy Tradition is not meant to be entered into based on individual desire, rather via a living surrender to something greater than yourself, connecting you through ascesis to Someone greater than you. so in this way, you don't pick and choose based on cool factor... but you submit and practice the entire whole. and of course, the orthodox see Holy Tradition as charismatic, alive, present-active, in fact, Tradition is the abiding of the Spirit among us, and not merely historical repetition of formulas.

so the critique is that orthodox see emergent churches borrowing icons, but not the greater theology of icons, or they will love the Jesus Prayer, but not the tradition of submission to a (heirarchical!) spiritual father to guide one in the Jesus Prayer, or will quote the value of communal-trinitarian and apophatic theology, but will do so from merely an ideological affirmation and not as a way to surrender to an entire lifestyle of praxis BASED on such theological concepts.

of course, not that there isn't anything at all that emergent people could offer in the way of critique of eastern orthodoxy... he says with tongue in cheek.

all this to say... i would love to see a greater dialogue between emergent communities and eastern christianity. but that is not to say that there wouldn't be (perhaps mutual and hopefully respectful) critique.

it will be interesting to see how fr. thomas hopko's time at the art/worship conference will go over.

welcome any thoughts.


J Decker


Howdy. I realize that it was just a parenthetical comment, but I'd be very interested to hear why you think that foundationalist epistemology betrays the heart of Calvinism. This is a strong and surprising claim.

In general, I'd be interested to hear why those that associate themselves with the emergent (proto)movement reject foundationalism. (Actually, is that even true?---I have only recently become aware of the emergent discussion, and I can't say that I really have any grip on it.) Presumably there is some sort of argument or reason in the offing.

As if I haven't already been greedy enough, what I'd *really* be interested to hear is a sketch of a positive epistemological position that better suits the emergent's tastes.

I underestand that this isn't an appropriate thread for any of these requests. But what would you expect from a pre-Barthian evangelical Calvinist? Just kidding, I have no idea what that means.



I thought it was just me. Then again, persecution of competing viewpoints is very much a part of Calvin's legacy.


another source of critique that I've seen is from evangelical fundamentalists, sometimes known as just fundamentalists. The category of pre-Bartian evangelical Calvinists are not only critical about emerging church conversations, most of them would be critical of all other stripes of Christian expressions. It seems to me that this group's perception is that they have the gold standard on theology and worship, in a similar way to how KJV-only folks hold their conviction that they have the gold standard in Bible translation.


I've had a similar experience to Tony's: I've gotten the most flak from pre- (or rather non-) Barthian Calvinists. Most take issue with anyone who challenges the Synod of Dort's 5 "Calvinist" points and feel bound to contend with anyone who rephrases anything, seemingly to defend such a version of Christianity so that religion of the book, by the book and for the book does not perish from the earth.

I think Bob Webber put it well: most evangelicals are Book-obsessed. Therefore, anything that backs off of that is seen as dangerous territory, slipping away from honoring, respecting and applying scripture. Such people do not value truth.

While some emergent types could actually be accused of that, most of us place great value in what is true (and noble and praiseworthy, etc.), and would shudder at the thought of shedding Nicene, apostolic orthodoxy.


It may be useful to distinguish between classical Calvinists and Reformed/Particular Baptists. (Rather than pre vs. post Barthian Calvinists). Classical Calvinists considered themselves protesting Catholics. They accepted Roman baptism, and considered the Catholic priesthood as true ministers of the Gospel (Even as late as Charles Hodge @ Princeton, this was the standard presbyterian view). They considered the Catholic Church their Church, and their people. Their reason for protest was that they believed the Roman/Papal party had gradually seized power and had introduced novelties which compromised the catholicity of the Church. Read Calvin's Response to Cardinal Sadoleto for a short intro to Calvin's catholic spirit and appreciation for the Fathers and the Church councils. See also the first chapters of the Institutes to discover why Calvin could not possibly be a rigid rationalistic 'foundationalist'. You'll also notice a distinct absence of the 5 points.

Reformed/Particular Baptists (also Southern Prebys are usually de facto Reformed Baptists), on the other hand, seem to pride themselves in being as anti-Catholic as they can possibly be. They disallow anything that even seems Catholic. These are the people who believe sola scriptura means that all you need is yourself and your Bible and you can discover THE PLAIN TRUTH. They measure their commitment to the truth by their level of sectarianism.

We ought not dismiss Calvinists off hand. Not all who take the name 'Calvinist' have a right to that name. Maybe we should notice that classical Calvinists have been among those most critical of modern individualistic, anti-sacramental, law based, narrow minded Evangelical Fundamentalism. (They usually call this pietistic revivalism - and blame it on Wesley and Finney). We should notice that old Calvinists like B.B. Warfield considered theistic evolution a serious option for investigation.

We should not dismiss thier critiques too quickly. One of the hugest problems with the emergent movement is that it has a built in inability to take deep criticisms thoughtfully. Either (1) criticism is side stepped - "oh, well we are having this emergent conversation over here, and if you don't like what we are conversing about that's fine, but leave us alone and we'll leave you alone". Or (2) criticism is dismissed as locked into slavery to modern categories which we in the emergent conversation have simply left behind. What if (1) is uncharitable, uncatholic, and individualistic? What if (2) is inaccurate?



I am glad that you have contexualized this criticism. I suspect that pre-Barthian Calvinists assume that Emergent is somewhere outside of Christian orthodoxy. Which raises the issue of orthodoxy. With that said I anticipate much more frustration over these issues. How will Emergent types deal with people that believe that Calvin and the apostle Paul thought just alike? This is the dilemma that I see when dialoging with Calvinists and fundamentalists. In my experience these particular traditions assume that they are in lock step with the witness of the early Church...without considering the centuries of evolving Christian thought and practice. The weakness and strength of Emergent is the understanding that all our readings of the text are 'our' readings of the text. But how do you talk to people that believe that 'their' readings of the text are 'not' their readings of the text...but either God's or the actual writers of the text?





You have made a distinction between the text and a reading of the text. This distinction is very helpful in many ways. However, you need to reallize that Calvinists (myself included I suppose) feel an obligation to think like Paul, or better, to allow Paul's authoritative inscripturated apostolic teaching to thoroughly affect their own thinking. Until you begin to more deeply think through what this means to Calvinists, your distinction between a text and a reading of a text will fit like a tiny jacket on their oversize shoulders. If you look into the traditions which come down from Calvin you'll find that there is an extended dialog over hundreds of years concerning the difference between Holy Scripture and one's interpretation of Holy Scripture. (Perhaps its not perfectly worked out, but it has a very honorable possition within basic Calvinistic orthodoxy). Latch on to this if you want to really communicate with Calvinists.

Concering fundamentalists - usually Reformed/Particular Baptists - most, but NOT ALL believe in a particular version of sola scriptura which states that "just me and my Bible alone in my bedroom" is all that is ever needed. It is for these kinds of people that their own interpretation of Holy Scripture is THE PLAIN TRUTH. It is the plain truth because their starting point ensures no other possibilty.

Quote: "I suspect that pre-Barthian Calvinists assume that Emergent is somewhere outside of Christian orthodoxy."

There is a good argument to be made that Barth himself would agree - ie. its outside. That's debatable. But that's my point. If you cannot even consider the POSSIBILITY that some communities within the emergent conversation are not orthodox (or are at least out on the thin branches) than you may begin to fall into the very trap you wish to warn the fundamentalists of. Try to think of things from their perspective. Use language that will not be missunderstood. To many people, the language of 'a reading of a text' vs. 'a text itself' makes it seem as though the text is robbed of its authority over the reader. You and I know that this is not necessarily the case. Nevertheless, think about what it sounds like to the ears of another. Also, consider whether or not our appropriation of this distinction has in fact, at times, robbed the text of its authority.




I appreciate your thoughtful rebuttal. As far as thinking like a Calvinist I have been down that road before. Except it was a Charismatic Calvinist situation (if you can believe that...a bunch of black folks speaking in tongues and reading Rousas John Rushdoony! theonomy/presuppostional apologetics...the whole shabang...lol). Anyways I do appreciate and understand Calvinist doctrine. My point was that Calvinist 'today' (especially those today that have harsh words for Emergent believe there is a direct line from the apostle Paul to John Calvin to the present. I do not believe Jesus nor the apostle Paul held particular positions on lapsarianism. Neither do I think Paul taught "TULIP". These are theological reflections after the fact. Now I am not suggesting that TULIP has 'no' truth to it I am just suggesting that there is a tendency in this camp to project "TULIP" on Paul. As if Paul is claiming to be a Calvinist. I do not believe Paul was a Calvinist. Paul was a first century Diaspora Jew that preached about a crucified Peasant that ruled the world in a very strange way. There is more to that, but I do not believe coming to the table assuming Calvinism to be 'normative' Christianity will be helpful. And that is what I am seeing with Calvinist critiques of Emergent. Calvinism is not 'normative' Christianity. If anything Catholicism is 'normative' Christianity. But I am sure we don't want to tread that water.




I know exactly what you mean - about those who have a freaky passion for the 5 points as if they were the Gospel. I live in Canada though, so I don't think I've run into to many people like that... but I've heard of them, read of them, and read them. The Calvinists that I continue to read with benifit do not believe that Paul was a Calvinist, or (more importantly) that the 5 points summarize Calvinism at all. People like Mike Horton, Alvin Plantinga, John Frame, H. Ridderbos, J.I. Packer, Peter Leithart, R.B. Gaffin (to name a few off the top of my head) all believe that the Reformation marked a decisive turn towards the Scriptural (especially Pauline, though not only) metaphors for justification, reconciliation, adoption, union with Christ etc.. But they don't pretend that Paul was a Calvinist. N.T. Wright says somewhere that if the Reformed (ie. classical Calvinist NOT Reformed Baptists OR Lutheran) doctrine of law, gospel, justification, salvation, covenant, etc, had ruled the day then the whole New Perspective on Paul would be practically unnecessary. My advice to you is to completely avoid (without rudeness) the "5 pointer" fundamentalists and read the stuff from either of the Westiminister seminaries or RTS. See especially Mike Horton's ongoing sereies on covenant with his application of speach act theory. There is plenty of wonderful innovation going on within the Reformed Tradition, and that's something we can both encourage and be thanful for.

Even people like Pipper and Carson are not complete idiots, nor are they of the close minded fundamentalist variety. Anyone who reads some of their non-polemical works will be able to see that. Each, in his own way, makes a significant contribution to the broadening of the narrowness of much of contemporary American Calvinism (Reformed Baptist style, though stretching beyond). If people like them missunderstand the emergent conversation its emergent's responsibility to gently and graciously educate them. It may take time and patience. Thats fine. Blowing up at them won't help. On the other hand, perhaps they do propperly understand certain elements of the emergent conversation and do rightly criticize these elements. Unless emergent demonstrates an authentic willingness to receive criticism (and not just swoosh it away as modern or fundamentalistic... or not allow it to actually affect emergent's theories or practices) then the favor will never be returned in kind. As of yet, emergent seems largely incapable of doing this in public view of the chruch catholic. Perhaps I do not understand how hard it is to live amongst all the American fundamentalists. Nevertheless, take up your cross. Its really really hard to admit you are wrong. Perhaps those in the emergent conversation need to be the first one's to admit they are wrong about a few things (specific things, not just as a general principle) as a demonstration of good faith - a first step in building trust. Given the kind of over blown rhetoric that is tossed out by many people in the emergent conversation, I think they have a responsibility to do this.

By the way, the term 'fundamentalist' has now lost all connection to its original use. According to its original usage, I bet both you and I would be fundamentalists. Just a pet peeve that I can't even myself begin purge from my vocab.

Quote: "If anything Catholicism is 'normative' Christianity."

Without a doubt, the catholicity of the church is normative (ie. a norm/law/obligation/commmand). We must obey the call of our Lord to catholicity. I happen to think that the presense of what I might call "catholic spirit" is what separates the magesterial reformers (ie what I call protesting catholics) from the anabaptists. Anabaptistic sepratistic tendancies (just me and my Bible starting from scratch... and if you screw up we must separate ourselves from you) rule the day in the North American church.

Quote: "Paul was a first century Diaspora Jew that preached about a crucified Peasant that ruled the world in a very strange way."

BTW - this is BRILLIANT. Seriously!



If people like them missunderstand the emergent conversation its emergent's responsibility to gently and graciously educate them.

Why waste the time? Do you really think you can ever "educate" people like this this? No way. They're not interested in dialogue. They want to defeat.



Quote: "Why waste the time? Do you really think you can ever "educate" people like this this? No way. They're not interested in dialogue. They want to defeat."

I'm not interested in trying to mentally arm wrestle you into agreeing with me. Unless there is some sort of minimal level of trust between you and I, talking more about this will probably only degenerate into yelling past each other. Nevertheless, since you bring it up I'll briefly comment on your point.

Maybe you not aware of how the emergent conversation sounds to those outside of it. There is very little doubt that Mohler genuinely believes that the directions it is heading in amount to a self conscious decision to abandon basic Christian orthodoxy. Not just 'Calvinism' or 'fundamentalist Baptistic theology', but the very basic stuff out of which the different Christian traditions drew upon before the acids of moderns burned everything raw.

Perhaps you disagree with this. Fine. Are you so sure of yourself that you believe your own position is incapable of being questioned? I doubt it. Surely not. Nevertheless you seem act as if this were so. In order for your actions to line up with your professed humility, you need to more carefully consider his concerns in public before the church catholic. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

From Mohler's perspective, the emergent are the one's who "want to defeat". If the only reason you can imagine for why he has this fear is that he is one of the 'bad guys' while the emergent are the 'good guys' that is sad. From Mohler's perspective, the emergent conversation's application of certain contemporary (postmodern) philsophies undercuts the very foundation upon which any civilized dialog can occur. Perhaps you disagree. Fine. Tell him why he is mistaken, with language that accurately communicates why, and does not simply throw fuel on the fire.

To refuse to dialog with someone is to treat them as less than human. To refuse to offer an accounting (of any kind) for one's words, thoughts, or deeds is a hidden power grab heading towards tyranny.



Mr. Pilgrim:

FYI, members of the Emergent Coordinating Group, myself included, have repeatedly invited many of these persons to our events, to dialogue with us in public or in private -- even to come visit our churches and stay in our homes. We have been turned down on almost every occasion -- I have met or corresponded with two of the dozen critics that I have contacted; they are R. Scott Smith and Duffy Robbins. The rest don't even return emails.

Honestly, you need to learn a little more about the emergent conversation and ethos before you accuse us of being ungenerous or inhospitable.




You sure are reading a lot into my two line comment. My point was that emergent shouldn't waste time arguing with people like Mohler because it won't do any good. They aren't going to listen or budge, and they only want to label, attack, and denigrate our faith (and the faith of anyone else who isn't in their box). Why waste our time and energy with people who aren't interested in anything other than proving how right they are?

Al Mohler and his like are largely irrelevant to emergent, and we don't need to account for anything to them. If they think emergent is unorthodox--who cares? We're accountable to God, not them. Let them play in their theological sandbox and waste their time railing at us. We'll focus on being faithful.


Though I agree with the difficulties of discussing issues with those outside the emergent community, I do not think that taking an 'us vs. them' attitude is helpful. It simply devolves into the very thing that emergent is trying to accomplish - a recognition of the gifts that ALL believers bring to the table. So, the dialogue must continue regardless of how much it is ignored, hated, or reviled. If they are believers who will be in heaven with us one day, then we are obligated to treat them as our family....if they are not believers who will not be in heaven with us one day, then we have a mission that CANNOT include 'leaving them to play in their sandbox.' Perhaps this is the first hard step of actually embodying Jesus' teachings?


Amen, Lee.

Pilgrim, thanks for you insights. We have to be able to put ourselves in our neighbor's shoes in order to truly love them. I think we need people like you to remind us how to do that.

I also think we need to figure out how we can feed those "enemies" who are hungry, even if they won't come to our houses! ;-) Seriously, I hope we can continue to figure out ways to love those who might attack us.


i'd suggest that not ALL critics are psycho calvinists - there still lie many critics outside the protostant abominations, i mean, denominations...your pal, norm



As a life-long Reformed Calvinist (okay, and to be honest, I never knew there were pre-neo-anti-pro-Barth-Luther-McLaren et al types of Calvinists, kind of you are one, or you are not one. So let me plead guilty on those charges.

For the past two years, the emergent dialogue has had a huge impact on my life; transformational I would say. But I think along the way I have tried to keep a healthy dialogue with other Calvinists and Emergent friends that has allowed me to embrace aspects of Emergent without letting go of Calvinism. And I suppose in my mind that is one of the beautiful things of Emergent. My frustration with Emergent, and with Calvinism, is that there are people who have said it is all or nothing. You either are Emergent/Calvinist, or you are not. But what is the point of that. This is where Generous Orthodoxy has made a big impact on me. Do I still feel I have healthy critiques of Emergent-yes, I think we always have to be asking questions-after all, it is a dialogue. Would I like to see a more Trinitarian perspective in Emergen? Yes, I would, but I couldn't really name that until I heard Stan Grenz speak three weeks ago in Vancouver. And my other fear is that now that I've laid one small criticism of Emergent, that there will be people taking up the Emergent cross and smiting me down.

After all it is quotes like this "Why waste the time? Do you really think you can ever "educate" people like this this? No way. They're not interested in dialogue. They want to defeat" that make me shudder.

Wes Allen

Yah, I've noticed this lately as well. The charge that I've heard most frequently is that the emerging church is undermining historic, conservative, PROTESTANTISM. To which I ask, "And?" I thought "always reforming" was part of the Reformation....

I've also come across in these critiques the statement, "Reformed theology IS Biblical theology." Frankly, that gives me the willies.

Our Orthodox brother who shared his communion's critique of the Emergent movement, on the other hand, was most helpful. I agree, contemplative prayer is a wonderful discipline, as is experiential worship. On the other hand, we really need to be doing some listening and thinking on the nature of submission - these spheres of discipline should go hand in hand.


Why is anyone focusing on the critics? Sometimes I get the sense that some in the conversation are excited to have critics. It feels like having critics lends credibility to the conversation. Honestly, it sounds like an testostrone-laced evangelical pissing match. It begins to look less than serious and more like the WWF if this turns into a pissing contest with other evangelicals. This is an opportunity to shine in the world and allow the "CHURCH" to take serious what is labelled as the emerging church. Don't blow it by fighting your critics. Why is anyone concerned with critics? Why give one's energy to what the critics are saying? Live you faith and be faithful to the life you feel called to live. This is an opportunity for many to live what they claim... rise up to the occasion and refuse to stoop to more church squabble and banter.

Best wishes on your becoming.


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