This is one of those posts that is going to come off as being filled with thinly veiled hostility and antagonism. So, I want to admit up front that though I am asking questions and thus would ostensibly positioning myself as an inquirer, this is full of my own prejudices. Yet, I hope I can also convey that I do sincerely want to offer these questions in the spirit of dialogue with the hopes for further clarification.
That being said, I want to begin by pointing out that I have often heard the emergent movement being described as "post-. . . " Granted, this comes mainly from reading Brian McLaren but I think it is fair to say that being "post-something" is a big part of the emergent movement.
I have heard it said that the emergent church is "post-conservative" and "post-liberal," i.e. it seeks to transcend the "modernistic" debates between conservatives and liberals. It offers a third way which critiques both conservatives and liberals.
The "post-conservative" part I get. It seems that, though emergent is still a movement in search of a definition and identity, it is clear in defining itself in opposition to traditional conservative evangelicalism. In other words I often read and hear emergent types speaking of how they differ with the church that has gone before them, and the particulars of the church they are different from usually sounds like the particulars of conservative evangelical churches. Fair enough, emergent says its "post-conservative" so they are being consistent with themselves.
What I haven't heard the emergent folks do is describe wherein they differ from liberalism. It may be that, being a conservative, I have blinders on and am only paying attention to the things they say about my team, and am missing something. And if so, then I would like to know in what ways the emerging church is "post-liberal?"
This is the part where I let my own prejudices run wild. When I speak of conservativism and liberalism I pretty much jump back to a time roughly around the 1920's and 1930's, give or take a decade either side. And I realize I am narrowing this down maybe a bit too much, but I think two of the seminal events in defining conservativism and liberalism were the 1923 publication of J. Gresham Machen's book Christianity and Liberalism and the 1924 signing of the Auburn Affirmation.
I understand that the conservative and liberal movements took many different turns after these two documents. I also understand that banner under which Machen wrote was that of fundamentalism, the terms "conservative" and "evangelicalism" weren't being used back then the way I am using them today. But as fundamentalism diverged from what it was under Machen, Machen's work is more characteristic of what came to be known as conservative evangelicalism. But I digress.
The point I am making is that Christianity and Liberalism and the Auburn Affirmation helped draw clear lines in the sand between the conservatives and the liberals. The core rallying cry of liberalism was that Christianity was a life not a doctrine. Machen opposed this, saying that Christianity is a life founded on a doctrine. Doctrine was the foundation of Christianity - we are saved by what we believe, and there are historical realities which must be affirmed when we say what we believe.
The signers of the Auburn Affirmation affirmed some beliefs but then said they would not require ordinands to hold to these beliefs. Thus, the Auburn Affirmationists said that Christianity is not defined by its doctrines.
I am not doing any apologetic work in this post - you'll have to read Machen to get all the nuances of what he meant in defining Christianity as a doctrinal religion, but suffice it to say for now that most of the objections that I am sure are in people's minds right now were handled ably by Machen. Yes, Christianity is a life, but it is a life based on doctrinal beliefs.
Thus, for the conservatives, Christianity is a faith defined by doctrine and certain historical realities, and liberals refused to allow Christianity to be so narrowly defined.
Also, a particular sticking point today is over the place of the Bible in the Christian life. In the past a I read a good deal of material on the Bible from those in the liberal tradition. Almost always, those in the liberal tradition affirmed a very high view of the Bible, they just didn't want to use the same kinds of words the conservatives were using, like "inerrant" and "infallible." I'm hearing alot of the same kind of rhetoric from the emergent folks these days.
So, its probably easy to see where I am going with this. I read a lot from the emergent church in the "post-conservative" vein. The emergent church is transcending conservativism's doctrinairre approach, but what in the liberal church are they transcending.
The alert emergent person will observe that I am showing my true modernistic colors here. Speaking of the people of God in divided categories like conservatism and liberalism is a relic of modernism that i have yet to jettison. And, many of my fellow conservatives are captive to modernism.
As an aside, in this day and age a conservative can become a man without a country if he is not careful. For around a hundred years conservatives were rejected by liberals because we refused to adapt the faith to modernism. Now, we are rejected by those of a more post-modern flavor because we have allegedly adapted the faith to modernism. Talk about an identity crisis! It's worth pointing out that liberalism and modernism were nearly synonymous terms in the 19th and 20th centuries. So, even though people today want to say that conservatives are in the grip of modernism, the real modernists would never have claimed us.
But getting back to the point, though our emergent friends are "post-liberal" they seem to my untrained eye to be "post-liberal" in a way that can embrace the working assumptions of liberalism.
I know I am putting words in the mouths of my emergent friends here and invite them to spew those words back at me, but much of what I hear coming out of the emergent church sure sounds like they are saying that Christianity cannot be defined in terms of doctrine. In that, they are affirming the essence of liberalism. I have heard and read emergent folks say they are "post-liberal" I just haven't heard or read them deny any specific tenets of what used to be called liberalism.
Yes I know how perjorative that sounds and I welcome rebuttal. One easy rebuttal here is that the liberalism of the 19th and 20th centuries was driven by an extreme rationalism, and postmodernists and emergent types reject this. Fair enough, but if that is the case it only seems to me that the old liberals and the new postmodernists and emergent types got to the same destination by different roads.
This is the part where I will sound hostile and even more perjorative, but in some ways it seems to me that the emergent folks treat the older liberals as if they were basically on the right track, but maybe off base in some areas. Maybe they see the conservatives in the same vein. The older conservatives and liberals saw themselves as antithetical to one another and maybe the emergent folks today believe they understand conservatives and liberals better than they understand themselves. Maybe they believe they see commonalities and points of contact that these opposing groups couldn't see because of their respective blindness to modernistic assumptions.
So, I'll bring this cantankerous post to a close now and invite you to let me have it. Even though I have been pretty harsh here in what I have insinuated I am open to dialogue and correction. What I am saying is that the emergent movement has been pretty clear in describing how it is "post-conservative." Is there anyone who can give some specifics in how it is also "post-liberal?"
Related Tags: Religion, Christian, Christianity, Faith, Bible, Liberal, Liberalism, Modernist, Modernism, Conservative, Conservativism, Evangelical, Evangelicalism, Postmodern, Postmodernism, Post-conservative, Post-liberal, Emergent, Emergent Church