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The Emerging Church is Dead(?)

February 8th, 2010 | 4 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

Or at least on life support.

Andrew Jones suggested that 2009 represented a decisive year for the movement, and he's been as careful observer of it as any.  Of course, people disagree with him--but then, when it comes to that conversation, everything is up for grabs, isn't it?  Which, I gather, has been one of the central problems.

At any rate, Ben Simpson (whose blog I have been enjoying of late) pointed me this afternoon to this promise to take-down the emerging church by Jeremy Bouma, a 29-year-old participant in the movement who has grown a bit disenchanted with it.  Jeremy's only one person, of course.  But he is an insider, and he's not exactly going to hold back.

First, I am posting a series based on a theological examination I undertook for my Early Church Th.M class called, “Pagitt and Pelagius: An Examination of a Neo-Pelagianism.” Many have suggested Doug Pagitt is dishonest about his Pelagianism, an early church teaching that was declared heretical. I thought it would be interesting to read all of Pelagius‘ known works (including an interesting, little read commentary on the Book of Romans) along side Pagitt’s. These posts will explore their writings on human nature, sin, salvation, discipleship, and judgment. It will drop Wednesday, February 10.

Second, I will post on the soon-to-be released book by Brian McLarenA New Kind of Christianity. In it he discusses the top 10 questions facing the Christian faith. In some ways it’s a tell-all that should finally give his critics what they’ve asked and wanted for years: answers. From what I have read so far in an advance copy, this is truly going to be a line in the sand that will determine where people are in their understanding of the nature of salvation and commitment to the historic Rule of Faith, which is why I want to tackle it question by question. Along the way I will provide a theological assessment in order to understand his take on human nature, sin and rebellion, the nature of Jesus Christ, the cross and salvation, resurrection, judgment, and God. Look for this interaction at the start of March. (A friend of mine has already begun such an interaction, here.)

I've stood on the outer fringes of the emerging church conversation, rarely interacting with it directly but always cognizant of its critiques of traditional evangelicalism.  For evangelicals, the emerging church has moved the window of conversation the last decade by focusing our attention on the questions and problems of truth, social justice, and 'post-modernism'.

In that sense, one way of understanding what I've tried to make happen at Mere-O is against that backdrop.  We have attempted to offer a different, m0re substantive remedy (see: G.K., Lewis, and the rest of the Christian tradition) than that offered by the dehistoricized, subjectivist, anti-creedal approaches of many in the emerging church, while also trying to model reflective engagement with culture and politics that is captive to neither.

But the advantage we have is that if the emerging church conversation goes away, we'll still be around, doing our thing. Our aspirations, thankfully, don't have to die with the original motivations for them.  They can be constantly renewed and deepened, as we continue to explore the depth and grandness of the mere orthodoxy of the classical, conservative Christianity.

"The universe," C.S. Lewis once wrote, "seems to be sharpening to a point."  So also the conversation about the emerging church.  A hipper, cooler form of Protestant liberalism will still be as vacuous and unfruitful as Protestant liberalism has been.

But then, I should leave those lines of direct critique to Jeremy.  But you can bet I'll be reading with interest and curiosity as he makes his case, and with optimism and joy that a renewed, historical orthodoxy is alive and well in Grand Rapids.

(I also feel obligated to point out to readers that he has some lectures on Bioethics and Christian Spirituality by Nigel Cameron that promise to be interesting.  I haven't listened to them yet, but Cameron is a fantastic ethicist who is worth taking very seriously.)

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.