Warning to 'Emerging Church'

I learned recently that John Hammett (SEBTS prof of theology) delivered a paper at The Evangelical Theological Society meeting a couple of weeks ago on the Emerging Church: "An Ecclesiological Assessment of the Emerging Church."  I don't know if it's online anywhere (it's online now) but he has kindly emailed it to those interested in reading it.  So I have it on my desktop right now, but I haven't read it yet.

Baptist Press has picked this up as a news story: "Baptist Scholar Sounds a Warning to 'Emerging Church."  Here are a few snippets.  I've pointed out a couple of things in bold.

The leaders of many "emerging" churches echo McLaren’s claim, saying that traditional churches must change or die. Hammett, however, charges that this type of approach is overly simplistic. Many so-called "traditional" churches, he said, are reaching people by simply teaching the word of God and sharing the Gospel, he said.


Hammett also criticized emerging church leaders for letting cultural concerns over postmodernism drive their agendas, rather than being driven solely by Scripture.

"Key leaders of the emerging church affirm that they love, have confidence in, seek to obey, and strive accurately to teach the sacred Scriptures," he said. "I see no reason to doubt the sincerity of these leaders, nor the reality of their commitment to Scripture. But in reading their material in books, websites and articles, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the concern to respond to postmodernism is what is really driving the movement.

"It seems that the central problem with the emerging church ... is that in its zeal to respond to postmodern culture in a way that is evangelistically effective and personally and ecclesiologically refreshing, they have not yet carefully critiqued postmodernism," Hammett continued. "Without such critique, there is a real danger that the movement will appropriate elements of postmodern thought that cannot be integrated into a genuinely evangelical Christian worldview."


While the emerging church’s desire to engage a lost culture is admirable, Hammett said, they should do so with caution and a willingness to learn from traditional churches, not with a willingness to uncritically accept postmodernism.

"The more desirable alternative is for all churches to engage the culture, with a zeal to understand its questions and to speak its language, but also with a resolute willingness to take the posture of Christ against culture where biblical fidelity requires it," he said. "This challenge of thoughtful engagement with contemporary culture lies before the emerging church and all branches of evangelicalism."

A couple of thoughts...

1. I wonder if Dr. Hammett sees the difference here between a desire to understand and reach a culture influenced by postmodernity and uncritically accepting postmodernism.  These are very different things.  And if I read him right, I think Dr. Hammett hasn't distinguished these ideas.

Maybe he speaks this way because he thinks EC'rs muddle the line?  Maybe so.  I wouldn't fight over that claim.  But as he assesses the movement he needs to be clear on the difference.  Though I have no problem saying some in the EC are too accepting of postmodernism, there are many who are simply trying to reach a culture that has been influenced by postmodernism.

2. He says churches need to have a "willingness to take the posture of Christ against culture where biblical fidelity requires it."  What does he mean?  I'm increasingly skeptical over the intentions of statements like this one.

Critics of the EC may wonder if my skepticism is based in an unwillingness to see what's wrong with the culture because I would rather speak of love and grace than sin and judgment.  That's not my point at all.  I'm skeptical because of the 'culture war' mentality of much of evangelicalism, and of the SBC in particular.  I think it's the wrong approach to culture, it always has been, and the EC in large part is looking for a way to be the Church without scolding the culture.

Again, I'm fine saying the EC has created new problems at times in this area and in other areas.  But I think a non-scolding approach to culture is a better approach, not a lesser one, and I'm curious to learn whether Dr. Hammett's quote above is intending to hit on this topic.

I appreciate Dr. Hammett and the other scholars and pastors who are working hard to understand the EC and approach it in a conversational way.