Henard, William D. and Adam W. Greenway. Evangelicals Engaging Emergent: A Discussion of the Emergent Church Movement. Nashville: Broadman Academic, 2009. 344 pp. $24.99. Purchase at Westminster for $16.24.
In the last decade or so, there has been a fresh, bold movement in Christianity. This movement is commonly called the “emergent movement” and is usually depicted as some guy preaching from a stage sans pulpit wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt with props strewn about the stage. The music in the service has a rock flavor to it and the absence of time-honored hymns is noticeable. Most of the congregation tends toward the 20-something crowd most with piercings and tattoos and also wearing blue jeans and t-shirts.
Fair or not, that is the stereotype of the emergent church at the surface level. For many in leadership in the local church, the issues are much deeper than that. The issues drive to the core of the faith. Who was Christ? What must we do to be saved? Can we believe the Bible? Greenway and Henard have edited a book that seeks to take on these questions from a historical biblical perspective.
Evangelicals Engaging Emergent actually sets out to tackle the seemingly impossible. It is extremely difficult to define the emergent church movement is extremely difficult because no one inside the movement has actually defined it. The term “emergent” is being used to define those who are asking tough questions that need to be asked but giving answers that lie outside a historical understanding of orthodoxy. The editors are not looking to attack this movement; rather, they are seeking to dialogue with it.
The book is divided into three parts. The first part looks at the view of the Bible. In this section, the emergent’s view of the nature of Scripture is discussed as is their hermeneutic (biblical interpretation) and their understanding of the nature of truth. Part two looks at the theology found within the movement. From Christology (who is Jesus Christ?) to the nature of salvation and the role of the church in the kingdom, we learn that the emergent church quickly falls outside the realm of orthodoxy. Finally, part three looks at the practical side of the emergent church. This section includes discussions on ethics, preaching, and evangelism.
The various writers, for the most part, achieve the goal of being a discussion with and not an attack on the emergent church. They are to be commended for their efforts as this has not always been the case. It is easy to attack a movement or the face of a movement that is “different from the rest of us.”
Taking an honest look at the movement through the lens of the scriptures helps the reader to understand the fads from the heresies. For example, Jim Shaddix warns that the preaching fad of the emergent church will more than likely fade away when the new and greater fad comes along…if it has not begun to do so already. Yet Robbie Sagers, in his chapter on salvation, warns that we should call a spade a spade and renounce the false teachers in the movement (and really in Christianity in general) while listening humbly to those who point out legitimate deficiencies with the modern church’s understanding and application of the doctrine of salvation.
While the contributors to the book are very solid both in theology and orthodoxy, I personally wish there would have been a larger denominational pool from which they came. Of the fifteen contributors, nine are Southern Baptist, two are from Dallas Theological Seminary and two from Southern Evangelical Seminary. There is one contributor each from Beeson Divinity and Biola University. I am unashamedly Southern Baptist, but in a book that is seeking to engage such a widespread movement as the emergent church, having so many Southern Baptists involved in the discussion seems to work against the idea of evangelicals as a whole wanting to engage the emergent.
Instead, one almost feels as though the Southern Baptists are leading the charge and trying to get others to join in when appropriate. I am sure this is not the case, but being so weighted with Southern Baptist contributors does not really give the idea that all evangelicals are willing to sit down at the table as was the case of the councils throughout Christian history. What it does give the appearance of is one denomination wanting another denomination (can you call the emergent church a denomination or does that violate the definition of the movement?) to fall in line when it comes to doctrine and practice.
As has been stated by many, another unhelpful aspect of this book is found in Akin’s chapter on ethics. His chapter is excellent and keeps on task right up to the point he wants to talk about alcohol and the emergent church. Of all the ethical “dilemmas” to pick out, why in the world does he have to choose the issue of alcohol?
I am not sure why “one cannot examine the ethics of Emergent without dealing substantively with the issues of alcohol” (276). It seems that there are far more ethical dilemmas to choose from when examining the “ethics of Emergent” like abortion and gay marriage. From the beginning of this section, Akin sets up an emotional appeal to the use of alcohol. He cites historical precedents and moral reasons for affirming abstinence and then moves into the biblical reasons for practicing abstinence.
Note the change of language. He affirms abstinence based upon Baptist history and morality and then, after establishing precedents apart from the Bible, moves into biblical reasons to practice. It is my opinion that his evidence to practice evidence actually leaves a biblical argument and moves into a philosophical argument. Ultimately, I agree that leaders should not drink alcohol, but I do not believe that one can stand on the Bible in this case unless they are going to use the “higher standard” applied to the preacher/teacher unilaterally in all areas of living. For some reason, gluttony comes to mind in this instance.
Akin’s chapter notwithstanding, the editors have compiled a wonderful resource for the layperson and the pastor/teacher in Christendom. There is much written in denominational papers and in the blogosphere that have confused the issues. Some have even resorted to name calling which is never helpful or does it show Christian love. Evangelicals Engaging Emergent does much to set the record straight regarding what is and what is not at issue. The contributors help us all to see what we should be concerned with as opposed to what we should let slide.
Evangelicals Engaging Emergent has started the discussion using previous writings from emergent leaders. Unfortunately, to date, the emergent leaders have not responded. I highly recommend that every Christian read Evangelical Engaging Emergent due to the wide influence of this movement. More than likely, you have already come across some of these issues and did not know how to handle the claims being made. This book will change those encounters.
This was an assignment–I purchased the book.