Russell Moore is the Dean of Theology and Senior Vice President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He also serves as executive director of The Henry Institute which is described as "a think-tank devoted to equipping churches and church leaders to engage the culture from a biblical worldview perspective."
I know Russ from back in the days when he was doing his PhD work and working as an intern for Al Mohler, the President of Southern. We lived in the same apartment complex and he and his wife brought us to their church one Sunday to visit, followed by a lunch at Wendy's. I consider him a friend and smarter than I'll ever be.
In his March 11th commentary he takes on the emergent movement in an article titled, "Bugs Bunny Meets Brian McLaren: Christianity, Pop Culture, and the Quest for Hip." I want to respond to some of his thoughts there.
Moore makes some good observations on evangelicalism.
American evangelicalism long ago sold out to cultural accommodation to the consumerist, therapeutic ethos of contemporary American society. Now that side of evangelicalism is as “lame” in the eyes of the culture as a Looney Tunes cartoon from the 1960s.
He also does what so few critics of the "emergent movement" do. He qualifies his comments instead of lumping everyone together in a movement that is anything but monolithic.
There is more than one expression of the “emergent” phenomenon—and not all of it is bad. The call to community and authenticity in life together are as old as the New Testament. Some of the worship practices that are emerging from the emergent church are an improvement on the canned infotainment of standard evangelical fare.
I agree with him to this point. But Moore then makes some connections that I think go too far.
And so, evangelicalism “reinvents” itself—in the image of a brooding, angst-ridden twenty-something coffeehouse culture.
Huh? Is he saying that emergents are simply giving evangelicalism a face-lift? It seems that's the case as he says...
But within the McLaren wing of the “emergent” church, the simultaneous rejection of propositional truth and Christocentric revelation—coupled with a suspicion of authority in general—result in a Christianity that just happens to coincide with the cynical milieu of reality television, NPR-style religious pluralism, and the postmodern fads of the local university English department.
That may be hip, but it certainly isn’t counter-cultural.
Okay, I have issues with they way truth is understood and explained as well as Moore. But if he wants to point the finger at the "McLaren wing" of the emergent movement, why not offer up a quote or two from McLaren to make his point?
The thing it, that isn't Moore's real point. He is really concerned that the emergent movement is about being "hip" like other cultural fads. He even calls the emergent movement a "fad." I agree with Moore that hipness should not be the goal, but I think most emergents would agree with him too. Yet Moore continues to paint this picture...
And if American Christianity seeks to move beyond being “hip” to real relevance, we must recognize that relevance comes with something more than black turtlenecks and goatees, just as it needed more than rhinestone leisure suits in generations past. Real relevance comes with a message that is so alien and so arresting that even the pagan culture mavens stop to ask, “What does this babbler wish to say?” (Acts 17:18)
Again, most emergents wouldn't disagree with being "alien and arresting" in a biblical sense. But I think the only group that might resemble what Moore is talking about are seeker-sensitive, church growth evangelicals who have moved on from imitating Hybels and Warren to imitating McLaren and Driscoll.
I've even heard some former emergent pastors lament over joining the emergent movement, and the way they characterize their departure is by saying they have put away the candles. Please, these guys aren't emergent-minded. They are looking for church growth by adopting a style that will "work" with younger generations. But all movements and denominations have their followers who put on the right externals in order to be "relevant," but in doing so only prove that they don't know what relevance is.
While I have great respect for Russ Moore and Al Mohler and others who think the emergent movement is heading the wrong way, I just don't believe they have understood it. There are plenty in the conversation who have their issues, no doubt, but the same goes for evangelicalism and Southern Baptists (I'm in both of these camps too). And to characterize a big part of the movement as seekers of hip more than seekers of Christ is misleading at best.
For evangelicals to caricature emergents as goatee wearing hipsters is as silly as emergents caricaturing evangelical baptists as fat, suit-wearing, non-dancing white-guys. Neither is truly and fully accurate. And that means, unfortunately, that Moore's article adds nothing to the evangelical-emergent conversation but greater division based on clever cartoon comparisons instead of the facts.